A collaborative effort: Local administrators tout success of Western Outreach Center during state visit

Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise (left) speaks to Aplington-Parkersburg/Grundy Center Superintendent Rob Hughes (right) during a visit to the Western Outreach Center near the intersection of Highway 14 and Highway 20 on Friday. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photo)

For years, rural school districts have battled the perception that they don’t offer the same educational opportunities as their larger counterparts in metropolitan and suburban areas. Aplington-Parkersburg, Dike-New Hartford, Grundy Center and Gladbrook-Reinbeck, in conjunction with Hawkeye Community College, devised a unique solution of their own: a regional learning center located near the Highway 20/Highway 14 intersection offering a wide range of classes and focused on fostering career skills.


Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise visited the Western Outreach Center last Friday and spoke with A-P/Grundy Center Superintendent Rob Hughes, D-NH Superintendent Justin Stockdale, Grundy Center High School Principal Michael Vokes and Cedar Valley West Work-Based Learning Coordinator Stacy Ascher about how the districts are preparing their students with job skills, college courses and work-based learning.


The facility, which first opened in 2009, has become a model for collaboration between smaller districts, and administrators see it as a key tool in combatting one of Iowa’s most vexing challenges: the so-called “brain drain.” As part of Governor Kim Reynolds’s “Future Ready Iowa” initiative, a new work-based learning clearinghouse has been established to help match employers with prospective employees right out of high school.


“What I foresee it being is a huge resource for me,” Ascher said. “I’m being reaffirmed that the businesses I already have contacts with are coming on to the clearinghouse… I can find those businesses locally and know already that they’re willing to partner with our program.”


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