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Charles City teacher receives IAAE’s Newcomer of the Year award

Charles City teacher receives IAAE’s Newcomer of the Year award
Charles City’s Karleen Sickman receives the IAAE’s “newcomer of the year” award last week, accompanied by Charles City teachers Josh Dean and Dan Caffrey. Photo submitted
By James Grob,

Charles City Middle School alternative teacher Karleen Sickman was named the Iowa Association of Alternative Education’s Newcomer of the Year at the IAAE’s state conference last Thursday at the Meadows Events and Conference Center in Altoona.

The award is presented annually to an alternative educator who has fewer than five years of alternative education experience. The award may be presented to a teacher, supervisor, administrator, or counselor who is currently employed in an alternative education setting.

“I was totally shocked,” Sickman said. “My co-workers are way too nice to me.”

It was Sickman’s Charles City co-workers in the alternative academic program — Dan Caffrey, Josh Dean and Julie Molstead — who nominated her for the position, while some of her students wrote letters of recommendation.

“There are a lot of school districts who do things with alternative learning, but Charles City is kind of ahead of the game,” Sickman said. “It’s more about what the district is doing, and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

The award honors “a person who is enthusiastic about alternative education, promotes a positive atmosphere in the school setting, and is an advocate for students.” The stated purpose of IAAE is to meet the needs of students, parents, teachers, administrators and Iowa’s general citizenry through a professional organization dedicated to the improvement of alternative education.

Sickman has been teaching at Charles City for 14 years, and this is her second year of working with at-risk students. Before that, she primarily taught English Language Learning (ELL), and before she came to the Charles City School District, she worked as a nurse’s assistant.

She said Caffrey, Dean and Molstead talked her into accepting her current role as intervention room coordinator in the Charles City alternative education program.

“I’ve learned so much from them,” she said. “We also have a great resource in Don Betts at the alternative learning school. He gives us so many insights, and he helps us to help these kids so much. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some pretty great people.”

Betts is director at the Carrie Lane school and Caffrey is Charles City juvenile court liaison officer.

This is the second consecutive year Charles City has received an honor at the IAAE conference. Last year, Dean was named the Iowa Alternative Education Educator of the Year. Dean is Charles City’s alternative education coordinator and started the CCHS Success Center in 2015.

“It’s kind of an honor to have a room right next to his,” Sickman said, and mentioned that the support of the success center, as well as the administration at Charles City, plays a big role in helping Charles City’s at-risk students.

“The fact that they trust us to do what we do with kids is really appreciated,” she said.

Sickman is a graduate of Upper Iowa — where she earned her degree in elementary education — and a graduate of Waverly-Shell Rock High School.

“I work with some of the kids who maybe don’t have the best breaks at home, and once you get past their stuff, these are just wonderful kids to work with,” Sickman said. “They’re wonderful, and I like the challenge, I love the excitement about it.”

The IAAE State Conference annually brings together superintendents, district administrators, school principals, teachers and related staff who work in alternative and/or at-risk programs for grades 7–12. For 25 years, it’s been an opportunity for “educators to connect and learn from colleagues throughout the state as well as enhance professional expertise.”