Rain forest adds schools chief

Former state official to be named today

By Brian Sharp

Iowa City Press-Citizen

August 19, 2004

CORALVILLE -- One week into retirement, former Iowa Department of Education Director Ted Stilwill is going back to work.

Stilwill, 56, is expected to be ushered in today as the latest member of the Iowa Environmental/Education Project leadership team. A press conference is set for this morning at Coralville City Hall. Stilwill took early retirement effective Aug. 12 after serving as the state's education director since 1995.

"It's very significant," project board member Stanley Johnson said of Stilwill's coming onboard. "I think one of the places where we've let things go further than we should have has been building our outreach efforts, reaching all of Iowa's educational schools. Ted will be key to doing that."

Project chief administrator David Oman declined comment Wednesday, saying he did not want to pre-empt today's announcement. Stilwill did not return a phone message left at his Clive home.

The $180 million Iowa Environmental/Education Project is proposed for a 30-acre site southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue. Inside a translucent dome stretching three football fields in length and rising 18 stories would be a 4.5-acre re-created rain forest, a 1.2 million-gallon aquarium and informational galleries. Project leaders also have set aside 50,000 square feet, or more than one acre, for an educational component to include research and teaching space.

"His joining the project is going to add a lot of credibility to the education portion of the project," said board member John Hieronymus, president of the Iowa State Education Association. "The project has a tremendous amount of potential for schools. It just depends on how it's going to weave in."

Hieronymus is looking beyond field trips to the Internet, using computers and video capabilities of the Iowa Communications Network. He said there is talk of a "mobile station" as another avenue to bring the experience to the classroom. Just what direction Stilwill will take, or what his role will be should be better defined today.

"I have not talked to him since he signed on," Hieronymus said.

Stilwill is credited for helping develop the state's Teacher Quality initiatives, defining student assessment and reporting, and strengthening the school accreditation process. The University of Iowa graduate got his start as a grade school teacher in Council Bluffs.