(Photo by Ken Ross)
John Chalstrom, the new superintendent of the Cherokee School District, says schools face many challenges but he is confident that the Cherokee District is in a position to meet those challenges.
"This is a district that is moving forward. It has a climate that encourages setting lofty goals," Chalstrom said. What he saw of Cherokee before applying for the superintendent position was a big part of why he applied for the position.
He believes the biggest challenge facing schools across America is the need to change to meet the continuing changes in society. He said society is seeing changes in its mobility, ethnicity and family structures, all within a context of evolving national and global economies.
Despite the need to change, Chalstrom believes that public education retains the primary function of being a great leveler in our country.
"Public education's purpose is to provide all students in America an avenue by which they can achieve success," Chalstrom said.
He said that Iowa does a pretty good job in doing that but there are some problem areas in the country regarding education.
Chalstrom is generally positive toward the new federal mandates to improve education, although he feels the mandates need adjustments to make them more realistic. "This has caused us to focus on what needs to be done, to set goals and to develop meaningful ways in measuring progress toward those goals," he said.
He noted that there are ways to narrow the gap between the high achievers and the low achievers. "At the elementary level, there has been progress in closing the achievement gap of students from different economic backgrounds," Chalstrom said.
Regarding the direction of state mandates, Chalstrom said that there will likely be increasing pressure to have a higher percentage of students complete the core academic courses recommended for college bound students.
He said that on the flip side, this could come at some expense to the vocational programs in schools, particularly in the smaller districts.
Chalstrom expects school districts will continue to develop more effective ways to use technology. He regards the ICN network as having limited future potential but there will likely be more use of on-line instruction.
Chalstrom regards early education as a vital part of the school system, with research showing that big dividends are achieved by giving attention to the youngest students of a district.
Chalstrom graduated from high school in Fort Dodge in 1985. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in social science education from the University of Northern Iowa and his Master of Science Education from Drake University. He is currently working toward a doctorate degree from Iowa State University.
Chalstrom taught social science in the Jefferson-Scranton School District, then was an assistant high school principal in Muscatine before becoming the Clear Lake High School principal in 1998.
Chalstrom has found a home and settled into the community with his wife Jill, who worked part-time as a psychologist in Mason City for Area Education Agency 267, and their two children, Calvin. age 7, and Eleanor, age 3.
He has already enjoyed being a part of the community, including watching the state tournament bound Cherokee Braves baseball team play.
"It's really fun to watch good baseball, Watching Cherokee play, I've seen as good baseball as you can see."