Shelly Vroegh helps first-grade student Keelee Price with a math assignment during a visit to Ar-We-Va Tuesday.
Shelly Vroegh helps first-grade student Keelee Price with a math assignment during a visit to Ar-We-Va Tuesday.

October 11, 2017


Dice rolled across the table as kids held out their fingers to count their results — sometimes running out of fingers. Fortunately, two visitors popped in to help.

Ryan Wise, director of the Iowa Department of Education, stopped at Ar-We-Va Community Schools Tuesday with Iowa’s teacher of the year, Shelly Vroegh.

Their visit to Ar-We-Va included meetings with the district’s “teacher leaders.” The Teacher Leadership and Compensation System trains teachers as instructional coaches to help their peers with integrating technology into the classroom, modeling various lesson plans and other approaches to improve student performance.

They ate lunch at the school before touring the classrooms.

“The best way to learn what they are doing is to ask the kids what they’re doing,” Wise said.

Each month, Vroegh, joins Wise on his school tours. She stepped into her role as teacher of the year last October and will remain in the position until the end of May.

Vroegh has been a teacher for 21 years at Lakewood Elementary School in Norwalk. This year, she is on a sabbatical from teaching and is spending her time touring and speaking at schools and meeting with colleges and universities to provide advice to future teachers.

During the visit, Wise and Vroegh met sixth-grade students in the school library and heard out some of their reading interests. They stopped by a variety of classrooms, where they helped students with their assignments and answered questions.

The big question of the day: What kind of doctor is Director Wise?

To the students’ dismay, he is not a medical doctor. He received a doctorate of education leadership from Harvard University in 2013.

Although Dr. Wise cannot treat medical illnesses, he can help with “people sick in education,” fourth-grader, Kaden Ransom suggested.

Iowa has 333 school districts, and Wise wants to visit them all. He tries to visit schools every week and is about a third of the way down the list, he said.

“In a perfect world, my goal is to be able to visit every single one of them,” he said with a laugh. “Once I do that I’ll come up with a new plan.”