Stites named Johnston’s first director of alternative programs

STITESMARY JANEJOHNSTON, Ia. (July 31, 2023) — Mary Jane Stites has been named the Johnston Community School District’s first Director of Alternative Learning Programs (ALPs), pending approval by the school board. 

The position was created to lead two district-level alternative learning programs that will be located within the District Office, beginning in the 2023-24 school year. The programs will help ensure educational equity for all students. They include:

  • Four K-8 therapeutic learning classrooms with an emphasis on social, emotional, behavioral and mental health (SEBMH) supports and skills in addition to academic instruction.
  • The Drop-In School to facilitate online learning with in-person attendance and support to students in grades 10-12. The school promotes success by re-engaging students in school with a safe, supportive setting and smaller class sizes.

“Until now, some of these students have had to leave the district to receive these services. With these new programs, we’ll be able to keep them right here in Johnston,” said Dr. Nikki Roorda, Interim Superintendent of the Johnston Community School District. “We are so excited to continue the success we’ve seen with the Drop-In School since 2022, while offering additional programs needed to best serve all of our students. Mary Jane Stites is a great fit to be our first director of these programs.”

Stites comes to Johnston from Dallas Center-Grimes, where she’s been Director of Student Services for the past three years. Prior to that, she served as Director of Student Programs at North Polk/Ballard, an agency leader for Heartland AEA, and co-lead for the Educator Quality Bureau at the Iowa Department of Education. She worked as an elementary principal in West Des Moines and Earlham for 13 years, and as a classroom teacher in Ankeny and Marshalltown for five years. In addition, she served as an at-risk coordinator and literacy specialist and trainer for Marshalltown schools. 

“My greatest strength as an educational leader is my ability to provide support while collaborating with the school community around how to support the various at-risk needs in order to help our students see success in their educational journey,” Stites said. “It is important to understand what the diverse background and learning needs are for each student to support teaching and learning within the various school settings.”

Stites said she enjoys working with educators and parents shoulder-to-shoulder to create a positive learning environment that is based on research, data and team feedback to help make decisions around the appropriate programming for each individual student’s need.

Stites received her masters degree in educational leadership from Drake University, masters in education from Viterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin; and bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northwest Missouri State University. As director of alternative learning programs, she will be part of the district’s admin team and will report to Chris Billings, the district’s executive director of school leadership.

Planning for Johnston’s new alternative learning programs has been extensive. Along with the school board, members of the planning team have included Vickie McCool, who retired as Director of Special Education; Rachelle Dawson, Regional Director of Heartland AEA; Chris Billings, the Executive Director of School Leadership; Chris Wilson, the Director of SEBMH; Student Services Coordinator Adam Busch; Nate Zittergruen, Director of Human Resources; and Chief Financial Officer Ryan Eidahl.