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Chef Clarke The New Food Service Director For Gilbert CSD

The Gilbert Community School District is thrilled to welcome Tace Clarke to our team as the new Director of Food Service.

Chef Clarke got right to work at each of the four buildings last week. She replaces Deb Purcell, who served in the role for more than five years before her retirement last week.

Previously the Food Service Director at Baxter Schools, Chef Clarke comes to Gilbert with more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant and food service industry. She says she has a friend to thank for pointing her in Gilbert’s direction.

“I actually had a close friend who worked here as a long-term (substitute teacher) and I asked her what she thought of Gilbert. She said the processes and routines and families were incredible, and she really sold it for me,” Chef Clarke said. “The opportunity to have multiple buildings and be able to grow a program in a growing community at a school like Gilbert that has a reputation for excellence, it’s just fantastic.”

Chef Clarke grew up just outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and began her culinary career in Little Italy, Baltimore where she learned under well-respected chefs on the east coast.

She moved to Iowa a decade ago to serve as the Regional Operational Lead at Life Time Athletic in Des Moines. She eventually took over as the Associate Director of Food Service at Grinnell College and then moved into a leading role at Baxter Schools, where she was in her third year before accepting the position at Gilbert.

Chef Clarke says the move to Iowa has been all she and her family had hoped for when they made the decision.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “My parents moved out from Maryland about two yeas ago … we love it here.”

Chef Clarke is excited to get to work with her new Gilbert CSD staff and put her plan in place.

“I love being able to teach the cooking to my team,” she said. “I love homemade cooking from scratch and I’d like to move in that direction instead of processed ingredients. That’s not a tomorrow thing, but the goal is to start that one day a week and go from there.”

Dr. Christine Trujillo, the Superintendent of Gilbert Schools, sees the passion and enthusiasm Chef Clarke brings to her department, and is excited to see her become a leader in the district.

“Chef Clarke brings a new and exciting energy to the nutrition department,” Dr. Trujillo said. “I look forward to watching her creativity come alive in the kitchen for our children.”

Chef Clarke and her husband, William, have two young children: Liam, 8, and McKenna, 5. William is also a former chef and currently serves as an EMT and firefighter. Liam, a second grader, and McKenna, who is in kindergarten, attend school in the West Marshall Community School District.

An avid equestrian, Chef Clarke and her family live on a farm where they all spend quality time riding.

“Before getting into the culinary world, I actually rode for many years,” Chef Clarke said. “Now I just do it for fun. We all ride and just have fun with it.”

Dr. Trujillo also wanted to thank Ms. Purcell for her commitment to Gilbert CSD during her years as the Food Service Director.

“I’m so grateful to Deb for her hard work and dedication in the area of nutrition for Gilbert students,” Dr. Trujillo said. “We wish her nothing but the best in retirement.”

Student Synergy Brings Positive Impact to $1 Challenge

A single dollar doesn’t have the buying power in had 20 or 30 years ago. Can you still buy a pack of gum? Maybe. A candy bar? Not likely.

But what can 25 people do when they each take a dollar and pool their resources? Well, now we’re getting somewhere.

That was what was presented to our students in late December when the $1 Challenge returned to the Gilbert Community School District for the second straight year.

And what is the $1 Challenge? In 2022, a generous district family anonymously donated $1 to each of our students with the idea that the students pay it forward in some way to make a positive impact on others, and it was quite successful.

That’s approximately $1,600 donated. Please, give this family a round of applause.

This year, the challenge was, well, more challenging. With synergy and abundance mentality in mind, the students were asked to work together, to pool their money, and find a cause where their combined dollars could have an even greater impact.

The results, which we’ll get to shortly, speak for themselves.

“The challenge encompasses many of the traits we teach and work on each day with our kids,” Gilbert Intermediate Principal Amy Griffin said. “Think about others before yourself, give time, talent or money to a greater good and work together to be our best.”

Their best, as it turns out, put smiles on many faces.

Through service and teamwork, our students came up with a multitude of ways to make a difference in the area.

Six different classes donated their funds to the Salvation Army. Eight classes offered their funds to various animal shelters for items. Blank Children’s Hospital received donations from seven different classes with some taking the added step of purchasing specific items such as books, games, and even swaddles for infants in the NICU.

Toys for Tots, Food at First, the United Way, Maggie’s Drive, and the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital were a few of the other organizations that received donations from various classes.

Students working together to become leaders for causes greater than themselves. What’s better than that?

“We love how Gilbert is committed to helping students become leaders,” the anonymous donors to the $1 Challenge said. “When we started this (in 2022), we did it because we wanted to provide all kids an opportunity to make a difference for someone else. This year, we love how classes and groups have put their dollars together to make a bigger impact for so many!”

Chelsea Steil’s fourth-grade class at Gilbert Intermediate took it one step further. After selecting Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry to donate to, the students wanted to do more than a monetary donation. They wanted actual items delivered to the organization, and more than they could buy with their combined dollars. So they raided their own pantries at home to add to what Miss Steil was able to buy with their dollars.

“It made me very excited to see (the students) take ownership and come up with the ideas themselves,” Miss Steil said. “This challenge is amazing and it’s such a great opportunity for our kids.”

At Gilbert Middle School, the eighth-grade class used the $1 Challenge to enhance a fundraiser it was already working on. During a collaborative unit with Lauren Stephens and Laura Kautman, the students had already begun work to raise funds that would benefit the Ames Interfaith Refugee Alliance, and their combined dollars pushed the amount it was able to donate to $420. That money went to help 17 refugee children in the area from Ukraine, Venezuela, and Honduras.

“When the opportunity came with the $1 donation, we asked the kids and they overwhelmingly said they would use that money to support the cause we were already learning about,” Mrs. Stephens said. “Anytime you can give kids a position of advocacy, give them an opportunity to engage in their own community in something, that feels much more real. The closer you can root what they are looking at and grappling with in a worldwide lens into a local lens, the more lasting impact I think it has on them.”

Graham Lundt’s leadership and wellness class at the high school put its money together, and then the class members sought out other students to share their dollars in order to purchase Christmas gifts for four local children. The class eventually raised $200 in all.

“Their why was they wanted to give these kids gifts for Christmas,” Mr. Lundt said. “Then they went out as a group and bought gifts, came back and wrapped them, and then the next day they delivered them. The $1 Challenge is a really cool thing and it gives kids an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.”

Mr. Lundt says the idea actually came out of a failure from a different project, and that too is a valuable lesson his students can learn.

“At any leadership position, the only way you grow is by being unsuccessful,” Mr. Lundt explained. “This group saw a failed situation and found an opportunity, and sometimes the best ideas come from not being what they started as.”

We cannot thank our students and staff members enough for the time, effort, and enthusiasm they put into this project. And to our anonymous donors, your continued dedication to our students, our school, and our community is a shining light on what makes Gilbert CSD such a special place.

Thomas Named Iowa Coach Of The Year By National Organization

U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association honor Gilbert XC leader for second time

Gilbert head boys’ cross country coach Aaron Thomas earned another prestigious award on Thursday when he was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association 2023 boys’ high school cross country coach of the year for the state of Iowa.

It is the second time Thomas has received the award from the national association. He was also named the Iowa coach of the year in 2018.

“This one is definitely a reflection of the program,” Thomas said. “It’s a reflection of what the guys did this fall … when you think of all the great coaches and programs year in and year out, being recognized is definitely an honor.”

Thomas guided the Tigers to their fourth Class 3A state championship over the past 10 seasons back in late October. Gilbert placed four runners in the top 15 individually en route to the team crown.

Thomas also led the Tigers to state titles in 2014, 2017 and 2018.

All-Time Hoops Great Ava Hawthorne To Be Honored Monday Night

Program’s leading scorer to be presented with Tigers’ jersey

For four seasons, Ava Hawthorne was a walking, talking highlight reel on the court for the Gilbert girls’ basketball team. On Monday, everyone who watched her shine will get the chance to applaud her career one more time inside the Gilbert High School gymnasium.

Hawthorne, a 2022 GHS graduate and current sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines, will be honored at halftime of the boys’ game against Nevada Monday evening. She’ll be presented with the white No. 10 jersey she wore while setting so many records over her four-year varsity career.

“I am so proud of her accomplishments and proud of her ability to play Division I basketball at Drake,” Gilbert head girls’ basketball coach Mike Frisk said of Hawthorne. “I am lucky to have had the opportunity to coach her … Ava will be successful in anything she chooses in life because of her competitive nature and her ability to work as a team.”

The 5-foot-9 guard holds 13 career, single-season, and single-game 5-player school records, including the most prestigious of them all — career points. She poured in 1,409 points in 86 career games, an average of 16.4 per outing. She surpassed the previous record of 1,379 points, set by Tina Zitterich in 1997, with a 30-point effort in a 78-27 rout of Storm Lake on Feb. 6, 2022.

Hawthorne’s other program records include:

•Career steals (278).
•Career assists (333).
•Career 3-point field goals (168).
•Single-season steals (93 in 2021-22).
•Single-season free throw percentage (84.5 in 2020-21).
•Single-season 3-point field goals (60 in 2018-19).
•Single-season free throw attempts (158 in 2021-22).
•Single-season free throws made (131 in 2021-22).
•Single-game steals (9 in 2021-22).
•Single-game assists (10 in 2021-22).
•Single-game field goal percentage (94.7 — 16 of 17 from the field — 2021-22).
•Single-game free throws made (16 in 2021-22).

And, oh by the way, she also ranks fifth on the program’s all-time rebounds leaderboard (485). Not bad for a guard.

As a sophomore during the 2019-20 season, Hawthorne led the Tigers to the Class 4A state tournament and put on a show-stopping performance in an 89-75 Class 4A quarterfinal-round loss to Glenwood. She erupted for a game-high and still 4A single-game state tournament record 31 points to go along with six rebounds, six steals, and five assists. Hawthorne’s one-game performance landed her a spot on the all-tournament team.

Gilbert won better than 71 percent of its games and averaged 16 wins per season with Hawthorne in uniform.

Now a guard with the Drake women’s basketball team, Hawthorne has seen action in all 16 of the Bulldogs’ games so far this season.


Drake University photo by Luke Lu
Gilbert photos by Debbie Gray and Troy Banning

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

103 Mathews Drive, Gilbert, Iowa 50105  |  (515) 232-3740