Aug 22, 2023 - Education

Des Moines schools: 4 things we're watching this year

Superintendent Ian Roberts meets with students

Ian Roberts visits Des Moines classrooms after his hiring was announced. Photo: Courtesy of DMPS

Wednesday marks the return of nearly 30,000 students for Des Moines' 2023-24 school year.

Why it matters: It's a big year of firsts for the district as it welcomes a new superintendent and navigates new laws.

  • Four things to watch:

New superintendent

What's new: Ian Roberts, whose first day was July 1, leads the Des Moines school district as its first-ever superintendent of color.

  • Roberts has a 20+ year career in urban education and before that, competed as an Olympic runner.

What we're watching: How he follows the state's new rules on books and pronouns while supporting students and staff.

Academic achievement

State of play: Standardized test results in Des Moines are regularly lower than state averages.

Reality check: Students deal with more barriers to academic achievement, such as lower socioeconomic statuses.

What we're watching: If intervention bumps scores up.

  • The school board regularly monitors test scores and in June, benchmarks for reading and English scores for 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders were not on track.

What's next: School officials are trying to make sure instruction is equal across schools, invest more in teacher training and provide extra materials for students who need help.

School security

Flashback: Local families have recently endured deadly shootings at East High School and an at-risk program downtown.

  • The district was also the victim of a cyberattack that took students out of classes for two days in January.

What we're watching: If post-pandemic misbehavior and violence ticks back down.


What's happening: DMPS has struggled with declining enrollment and revenue loss, but it's been exacerbated since 2020 due to new open enrollment laws and families leaving after going 100% virtual in 2020.

What we're watching: If declines continue.

  • The state approved more than 3,000 private school scholarships in Polk County.
  • It's unclear how many of those students, as well as the state funding that follows them, would have gone to DMPS.

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