Thank you to the Central Rivers AEA Board of Directors!

May is School Board Recognition Month! Thank you to the Central Rivers AEA Board of Directors!

Join us in thanking our amazing board members during School Board Recognition Month! Serving almost 62,000 students, 5,000 educators and over 500 staff members, these nine dedicated volunteers are the backbone of the agency, setting the course for all we do! Help us thank them for their service by sending them an email of appreciation

  • Nicole Lovik-Blaser, Director District 1
  • Dr. Deb Rich, Director District 2 – President
  • Kathryn Enslin, Director District 3
  • Dr. Darshini Jaywardena, Director District 4
  • Dr. Mary Stevens, Director District 5
  • Maureen Hanson, Director District 6 – Vice President
  • Dr. Tony Reid, Director District 7
  • Bryan Burton, Director District 8
  • Dennis Craun Jr., Director District 9
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April Coffee with The Chief(s) recording is available for staff

April Coffee with The Chief(s) recording is available for staff.

If you missed the last Coffee with The Chief, the link to the recording and passcode to view can be found below. This month featured the new Chief Administrator, Joel Pedersen, who hosted a Q&A with staff.

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The 2022-23 Top Iowa Workplaces Survey results are in!

Thank you to the 472 employees who shared their opinions as part of the Des Moines Register Top Workplaces survey. That’s a nearly 87% response rate, which is incredible! In addition to the standardized response, we also received over 1,600 comments which we are in the process of reviewing for themes. We continue to learn a lot from the data and your responses and appreciate you taking the time to give us your feedback. Below, please find some general themes from this year’s data.

What three words best describe Central Rivers AEA?

  1. Supportive
  2. Positive
  3. Collaborative

Which two statements received the highest scores?

  1. Growth – My Supervisor helps me learn and grow.
  2. Values – Central Rivers AEA operates by strong values.

Which two statements received the lowest scores?

  1. Meetings – Meetings at Central Rivers AEA make good use of my time.*
  2. Inclusion – I feel included at Central Rivers AEA.

*Note: While our scores are above average when compared to our peers, this continues to be a consistent theme in our feedback.

From the comments in the survey, here are some of our “glows” and “grows.”
Why would you recommend working at Central Rivers AEA?

  • The people here are our best resource. Working here is an opportunity to collaborate with some of the best and brightest educators I know. (Administrator)
  • It has the best culture of any place I have ever worked. They hire high-quality employees so things are done efficiently and with a positive attitude. I feel like I work with a group of highly qualified and motivated professionals. (Team Rep)
  • I think CRAEA offers an opportunity to grow as a professional in a supportive system. I love how they treat employees as people and professionals at the same time. I feel we are treated with great respect (Consultant)
  • These past few years, leadership has made an effort to be more visible and transparent. It’s clear that they are working to create a positive, inclusive work environment with a strong culture. (SLP)

Share an example of Central Rivers AEA operating by strong values

  • Our agency has embraced work to build a positive culture within the agency. They have provided training and resources to stand behind the strong values of supporting staff well-being, so they, in turn, can support our families and educational partners. (OT)
  • Each time I have an evaluation with my supervisor we talk about self-care, and she motivates me to actually take the time to focus on self-care while tying that back to the work we do. I have never worked for a company that cares about its employees this much. Central Rivers talks the talk and walks the walk. My evaluations are targeted at my values and the work I do. It is not a one size fits all approach, I do feel that I am valued and respected at work! (Team Rep)

What makes you hesitate to recommend working at Central Rivers AEA?

  • CRAEA does a great job serving kids, families, and teachers but our jobs are VERY HARD! (Early Access Educator)
  • Better insurance packages/cheaper family insurance. (Work Experience Coordinator)

What do you dislike about meetings at Central Rivers AEA?

  • They frequently don’t pertain to my discipline and don’t allow me to gain knowledge in areas that I want/need to. (SLP)
  • Unfortunately, I think we have reached the point of diminishing returns with Zoom. While it has given us the ability to “cover more ground” in terms of meetings, relationships and quality may be starting to suffer a bit. Balancing face-to-face meetings with Zoom is something I’d like to see us consider. (Administrator)

Our data continues to indicate that our culture and climate is very positive, and we are performing well in comparison to our peers. However, we know we do have some opportunities for improvement which we will continue to pursue. Together, we can ensure that Central Rivers AEA stays one of the top places to work in Iowa!

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Attention Central Rivers AEA staff: keep an eye out for monthly phishing campaigns

Did you know… 20% of our Central Rivers AEA staff have failed the phishing campaign? Staff that are unsuccessful in monthly phishing campaigns will be required to complete an assigned training.

What does it mean to “fail” an agency phishing campaign?
Our agency regularly sends out test emails to staff with phishing red flags embedded within the emails. These phishing emails provide opportunities for staff to practice identifying phishing red flags and report/delete malicious emails. These test emails also provide us with data to identify staff who need additional training and support. Need a refresher on the red flags to look out for? Review our CRAEA Phishing Red Flags Poster.

What happens if I fail an agency phishing campaign?
If you fail a phishing campaign, you will receive a follow-up email from Sarah Nelson, Director of IT/Special Programs, notifying you of your assigned training. Once you receive the notification, you will have two weeks to complete the assigned training. If you are unable to complete the training within the two-week window, your supervisor will follow up with you.

If you have questions about the assigned trainings, please reach out to Ashley Samek, IT/Special Programs Coordinator, or Sarah Nelson, Director of IT & Special Programs.

To learn more about the previous phishing email in March and get a preview of the training you’ll receive if you don’t pass, watch this video. Remember that each training campaign will come with its own unique video.

(If you need closed captioning to the video, you can access the file here to download and view.)

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Complete your benefits enrollment before Friday, May 19

As a reminder, insurance open enrollment closes on Friday, May 19. All benefit-eligible employees must enroll or waive coverage, regardless if you are making no changes, resigning or retiring! This is the only time per year you can make any changes without a qualifying life event. The new rates and coverage take effect July 1, 2023. Important details can be found below.

  • New Benefits Enrollment System: EASE is our new benefits enrollment system. You will be able to access EASE via ClassLink, located in the employee dashboard.
  • There will be a slight rate increase to medical and vision coverage for the 2023-24 plan year. 
  • Coverage enhancements have been made to our dental and vision plans.

These changes were discussed in detail during a benefits insurance presentation for all staff that was held on Thursday, April 27. The Zoom meeting recording and passcode can be found below.

If you have questions regarding your coverage options, please contact Kevin Klobassa, Benefits Specialist, at (319)-273-8202 or via email at

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Join us on May 26 to celebrate your retiring colleagues!

Join us on May 26 to celebrate your retiring colleagues!

The virtual all-staff meeting to honor our retirees will take place on Friday, May 26. The celebration will begin via Zoom at 9 am. Please join us as we celebrate those retiring! The meeting details can be found below.

Zoom information:

Join your local colleagues from 9 – 11 am for cake and punch during the “watch parties” at each office! Please RSVP on this form by Monday, May 15, so that we have enough food for all that attend. Those retiring include:

  • Dr. Cathie Dangelser, Audiologist
  • Linda Decker, Print Facilitator
  • Gus Delamore, Supervisor of Buildings/Maintenance
  • Pat Heisterkamp, School Social Worker
  • Ann Lupkes, Work Experience/Transition Coordinator
  • Sam Miller, Chief Administrator, retiring 8/31/23
  • Lea Ann Peschong, Speech-Language Pathologist
  • Dr. Bev Plagge, Regional Administrator, Region 1
  • Deb Tensen, Teacher of Mental Disabilities, retiring 12/31/23
  • Kris Weak, Speech-Language Pathologist
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Summer office hours begin Monday, June 5 and end Friday, August 4

Summer office hours begin Monday, June 5 and end Friday, August 4. All CRAEA offices will be closed on Fridays in June and July.

Summer office hours of 7:30 am – 4:00 pm begin Monday, June 5 and run through Friday, August 4. As a reminder, the Central Rivers AEA Board of Directors approved a plan for agency offices to be closed on Fridays in June and July. This will provide greater flexibility to those on contract in the summer months.

Our office closed days start on the first Friday in June (June 2); however, the flexible summer schedule starts on the first full week in June (June 5). Year-round employees will be granted eight hours of holiday pay for Memorial Day and be required to work 8 hours the rest of the week (i.e. remote on Friday for those that can). Please see Friday closures in June/July FAQs. Questions should be directed to your supervisor.

In June and July, staff will work one of the following schedules with supervisor approval.

  1. Four, 10-hour work days with Fridays off.*
  2. Four, 9-hour work days with a half day of virtual work on Friday.
  3. Five 8-hour work days with Friday being virtual. 

*Please note that all offices will officially be closed on Fridays during this period so staff working on Fridays will do so virtually with the exception of those whose roles and responsibilities do not enable them to work from home.

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Dyslexia training is now required by Iowa Department of Education

As a part of Iowa’s Dyslexia Law, passed in July of 2020, certain educators must complete a Dyslexia Overview Module on the IRRC’s eLearning website by July 1, 2024.

  • This requirement concerns, “any person employed by an AEA who holds a license, certificate, statement of recognition or authorization other than coaching.”
  • You will need to create an account, by following the prompts on the eLearning site to log on and complete the module. This is a one-time training that can be completed any time before July 1, 2024. 
  • There is another training on the IRRC site called “Understanding and Observing the Literacy Skills Associated with Dyslexia Module.” (This training is not required but is highly recommended.)
  • Please send a copy of your certificate to the HR office. The IRRC link can also be found on the Mandatory Trainings list found on the staff website.

For more information about dyslexia, please reach out to Central Rivers AEA Dyslexia Specialist, Danielle Hakeman, or visit the Iowa Department of Education’s dyslexia website.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month… Make It OK!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month… Make It OK! Wear green on May 18 to show your support.

Thank you to those of you who ordered t-shirts from our incredible Empowered students! If you didn’t order a t-shirt, feel free to wear anything green on May 18 to join the fun and raise awareness.

At our April regional meetings, many of you made a commitment to do something to tend to your own mental health and/or a commitment to change how you talk about mental illnesses. Here is another resource from Make It OK that reminds us to make a note and make it happen! Simple changes can make a big difference.

Show your support for Mental Health Awareness Month by wearing your favorite green shirt, custom Empowered shirt or other apparel on May 18! Share your photos on social media using #MakeItOK.

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Ann Lupkes receives Iowa’s Council for Administrators in Special Education (I-CASE) Service Award!

Ann Lupkes receives Iowa’s Council for Administrators in Special Education (I-CASE) Service Award.

The Distinguished Service Award is presented to individuals making significant contributions to programs and services for students with disabilities. “I am so humbled and grateful to receive this award in recognition of my work,” said Ann. “I appreciate those who nominated me and am honored to be chosen. I am truly blessed!” Ann’s colleagues say…

  • “Ann Lupkes has spent her entire career working with students with disabilities.”
  • “Her leadership and expertise have helped our team develop and deliver services to students across the agency and assist teachers in building capacity around transitional programming. Her knowledge and impact reaches far beyond our agency, as I know she is well regarded across the state of Iowa!”
  • “She is there to answer any questions and is willing to help with anything.”
  • “Ann goes above and beyond for students and their families. She is so knowledgeable and works hard to find answers to help families with transitioning their child out of high school to post-secondary!”
  • “She creates an atmosphere of team work while using others’ expertise and experience to build a system for the student. She is on state committees, often the driving force of reason and knowledgeable in the areas of curriculum and transition. Ann is a well-respected trainer for our agency and throughout the state addressing current needs and instruction, emphasis on using SDI framework and differentiated accountability.”

What an excellent way to wrap up a successful career. Happy retirement, Ann!

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What’s new with INspired Leadership?

Central Rivers AEA wellbeing team logo

2023-24 INspired Leadership Two-day Workshop Dates
If you have yet to experience a two-day INspired Leadership Workshop or haven’t attended in the past three years, you might wish to check out the fall workshop dates and locations. Registration is now available in the AEA Professional Learning System. Contact Dr. Leslie Moore with any questions.

Awareness of Internal Energy Micro-credential Available Now
All staff now have a personalized opportunity to heighten awareness of their internal core energy levels in order to enhance relationships and meet their personal and professional goals. Check out the Awareness of Internal Energy micro-credential now available in the Central Rivers AEA On-Demand Library.

  • Staff who demonstrate and submit evidence of meeting all success criteria will earn the micro-credential. If earned before June 30, 2023, staff members may be eligible for $250.
  • Check out the micro-credential Explanation document for more information or log in now and register in CRAEA’s On-Demand Library by selecting “Micro-credential” in the “Categories” dropdown.
  • You will also need to register in the AEA Professional Learning System. You have the opportunity to register as a “participant only” for $0 or to earn License Renewal Credit for $35.

If you have registration questions, please contact Angie Gansen.

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Want to engage in Courageous Conversations?

Join us on Monday, May 15 for our next Courageous Conversations! Courageous Conversations are a space, either virtual or in person, for staff to gather for 30 minutes to have guided conversations, ask questions and learn about DEI topics. Meeting information can be found below. All meetings are from 11-11:30 am.

More information can be found on the “Courageous Conversations” page on our staff website. Please reach out to Gina Weekley, Coordinator of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, with any questions.

Did you know… May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month? The Everyday Inclusion App is offering a new badge challenge to complete by the end of the month!

  • May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, as the majority of workers who laid those railroad tracks were Chinese immigrants.
  • A rather broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
  • Some resources to learn more: Origins and history of AAPI Heritage Month | 22 Ideas To Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month (2023)
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