Liberty High staff hiring almost complete

A majority of the new staff is coming from within the district

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IOWA CITY — Kay Nigg has amassed a collection of knickknacks from her 18 years of teaching at West High in Iowa City — a stocking cap from a swim team fundraiser, a plaque from the robotics team, photos from graduation ceremonies.

She’ll take those mementos home to stay this summer. They wouldn’t belong in her new classroom at Liberty High in North Liberty.

“I’m excited, but I’ll miss West High,” said Nigg, a math teacher. “A little bittersweet there — to have a brand-new high school open up in (the Iowa City school district) is very exciting, and yet I’ve loved my time at West High School, too.”

Nigg is one of 27 teachers leaving West High at the end of this school year for the Iowa City Community School District’s new high school.

Liberty High School, near the intersection of Dubuque Street and North Liberty Road, is on track to open this fall, Principal Scott Kibby said. Classrooms in the $75 million building have been carpeted, the gym floor is being laid and light fixtures in the auditorium have been rigged.

The school’s hiring also is near complete, said Kibby, who has conducted a flurry of in-person staff interviews since January. Of the 44 staff members who will open Liberty High, more than 60 percent are moving from West High.

“When (approximately) 675 kids are moving from West to Liberty, the district has to manage that displacement,” said Kibby, who also was had been at West. “They can’t keep all 110 teachers that they have and have 700 less kids. That ratio would be out of balance.”

Assistant Superintendent Matt Degner said the district took a data-driven approach when hiring staff for the new school. As West High’s student count decreased, so would the number of required employees.

When teaching positions at Liberty became available, Degner said the district opened them internally to teachers at West High, then the rest of the district, and then outside, if they were still unfilled.

Should the district continue to grow, Degner said it would take the same approach for future staffing levels. If Liberty High’s head count grows as West High’s drops, more teachers may need to transition.

If both schools grow, the district may have to look at hiring more staff.

“What we don’t want to do is give a (full-time employee) to one school at the disadvantage of another,” Degner said.

No teachers were forced to move to the new school, Degner and Kibby said. Degner noted the district wanted to avoid involuntary transitions.

Although West High’s teaching staff is declining as Liberty High opens, Degner said he doesn’t expect the transitions to directly increase the number of students in the classrooms.

“Class sizes are not where we would want to have them, but I don’t see that West High or City High’s class sizes are going to be affected by what we’re doing at Liberty,” he said.

The bulk of Liberty High’s students are coming from West High, as well. Junior and senior students zoned to attend Liberty were allowed to choose whether to transfer.

About 30 seniors and 90 juniors decided to move to the new high school. That’s fewer than Kibby had hoped, he said.

“I understand why a kid would want to stay at their school,” he said. “We’ll grow into it. It won’t take us long to get closer to capacity out there.”

Of the 661 students scheduled to start at Liberty High, about 30 percent identified as a minority, according to data provided by the district. The gender breakdown among the students is about half male and half female.

Nigg, the math teacher, said she saw applying for a position at Liberty as a chance to “build the character of a high school,” an opportunity that doesn’t arise in Iowa often. The last new high school to open in the state was Ankeny Centennial High in 2013.

With so many staff and students from West High relocating, Nigg said she expects a similar school culture will grow at the new high school.

“There will be a lot of same feeling, with a lot of the same people,” she said. “West will still be an outstanding high school in the Iowa City school district, and we hope Liberty becomes that, too.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330, molly.duffy@thegazette.com; (319) 398-8336, matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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