Profile: Spirit of Collaboration in Marshalltown, IA | Not in Our Town

Profile: Spirit of Collaboration in Marshalltown, IA

As a school district administrator, Matt Tullis has played an important role in linking his school district to the Marshalltown Not In Our Town community effort to address bullying and intolerance. With his leadership, the school district has taken a strong stand, sponsoring Not In Our School schoolwide activities like Friday Night Lights and classroom activities.

In 2013, Matt was sent as an emissary from Marshalltown to Hungary as that country began to set up their efforts.

Marshalltown will be present in force with a contingent at the Not In Our Town National Leadership Gathering where you can learn more about their inspiring efforts.

—Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director

Tell us about your school community.

The Marshalltown Community School District is a very diverse school district with over 5,000 students. We have 6 elementary schools (PK-4), an intermediate school (5-6), a middle school (7-8), and a senior high school (9-12). Sixty-two percent of our student population is minority and 71 percent of the student population qualifies for free/reduced meals. Currently, 54 percent of the student population is designated as English Language Learners.

What kind of work do you do in your community?

I have been employed by the Marshalltown Community School District for the past 20 years. My career in education began as an elementary school teacher, primarily teaching the 5th and 6th grades. Currently, I am the District Director of Equity and Learning Supports. I am also the project director for two federal grant programs: Safe Schools/Healthy Students and the Carol M. White Physical Education Program. I am a member of the superintendent’s central office cabinet.

When did you become involved in anti-bullying work and why?

In April of 2012, Marshalltown Times-Republican Publisher Mike Schlesinger convened a meeting of community leaders to discuss the issue of bullying and engage these leaders in an analysis of bullying in Marshalltown.

Unlike most communities associated with Not In Our Town, Marshalltown did not have an incident of hate that led to a call for action. We have followed situations in other communities and have a desire to do all we can to prevent such an occurrence. Immediately, key leaders (business, education, social services, the faith community, law enforcement) were in agreement that we could join together to spread a message of acceptance and respect in Marshalltown. Through a search of potential resources, we found Not In Our Town and started the partnership.

What work are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the spirit of collaboration between the leaders of our community. We work together very well to make Marshalltown a great place to live. The community understands that the schools cannot exist in isolation and that the community must be willing to provide support and assistance to our children. I believe that the leadership in the community is the reason why our efforts to date have been successful. We have creative thinkers who are continually searching for ways to spread the message of acceptance.

What do you see as the challenges to anti-bullying work in your town?

Obviously, we understand that we cannot eliminate bullying, racism, and hatred. From the beginning, we had a desire for a simple message that everyone could agree with as a core value. We were challenged to develop this simple message without entering into philosophical differences on political issues that tend to divide.

Nobody can argue with the notion that acts of hate should be addressed and stopped as they are witnessed. This begins in our schools and carries over into our places of work and homes.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by the commitment of our city leaders to think creatively and do what it takes to make Marshalltown a better place. The community supports our schools and wants to help in any way possible.

What advice would you give to other school leaders who want to address bullying and intolerance in their town?

Gain the support of those with influence in the community. When this groundwork is laid, others will follow. Also, the message has to be shared throughout the community and citizens must be willing to discuss difficult, sometimes painful issues and situations. Pride cannot get in the way. A community must be willing to discuss its shortcomings and not sweep the dirt under the rug. When this happens, positive change can occur!

Join other educators and anti-bullying leaders at the Not In Our Town National Leadership Gathering in Billings, MT from Friday, June 20 to Sunday, June 22. Learn more and register here.

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