CEDAR FALLS — Xiang Zhao admits to having spent “quite a lot” of time preparing for the ACT.
CEDAR FALLS — Leah Fairchild did very well on her first attempt at the ACT college entrance exam.
But the Cedar Falls High School senior wanted to do better when she heard a classmate had earned a composite score of 36 on the tests. “Then my mom said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up,’ and I wanted to do it all the more,” she recalled.
It’s very rare for test-takers to achieve a 36, which is a perfect score. Fairchild accomplished it when she took the exam again in October.
So did Alex Glascock, a 14-year-old Cedar Falls junior who took the ACT at the same time. “I had gotten a 35 last time I took it, and I really wanted to get a 36,” she said.
CEDAR FALLS — Xiang Zhao admits to having spent “quite a lot” of time preparing for the ACT.
Glascock, who skipped some grade levels in early elementary school, first took the tests when she was a 10-year-old seventh-grader and earned a 30. She got the 35 as a freshman.
Fairchild, who is 17, earned a 33 on her first try at the ACT as a junior. The third Cedar Falls student, senior Xiang “Shawn” Zhao, earned a 36 after taking the ACT during the summer. The Courier wrote a story about him last fall.
“I don’t know that there’s a huge difference between a 35 and a 36, but it is a draw for colleges to have a perfect,” said Glascock.
“That 36 is a cool thing to have on your application,” added Fairchild.
The ACT is made up of English, reading, math and science tests plus an optional essay. The girls noted it is possible to miss a couple of questions in some sections of the exam and still achieve the “perfect” score. Both said they got a few answers wrong.
They offered some tips to those who would like to repeat the feat.
“Definitely do study, because it helps, especially essays,” said Glascock. “The first time you take it, don’t stress yourself about it. It’s not going to be as bad as you think.”
The two also noted there are some better ways to go about preparing than they did.
“I was up until 2 a.m. the night before,” said Fairchild. “Which is not good, because you should sleep the night before.”
Procrastination had kept her from preparing, so she stayed awake to take three practice tests.
“I had the SAT (another college entrance exam) the weekend before,” said Glascock. Immediately after completing it, she went out and bought the official ACT study guide to begin preparing for her third try at the tests. She worked on practice tests in the subjects of math and reading, which she had the most difficulty with in the past.
“I knew math was my problem section the first time,” said Fairchild. She worked through the math “more carefully” and did a better job of managing her time while taking the timed test.
Since she’s a senior, Fairchild already has applied to colleges. Her goal is to be accepted into the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. Others she has applied to are the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and California State University at Long Beach.
“So, I’m trying to go out of state and then the University of Iowa would be my backup,” said Fairchild. She wants to study in a field that incorporates dance in some way. Another possibility is to study physical therapy.
Glascock’s “dream college” would either be Massachusetts Institute of Technology or California Institute of Technology. However, “I’m going to be 16, so I’m going to stay in-state.” She will attend the University of Iowa and work with a program at the Belin-Blank Center which helps students who start college early.
Glascock plans to study bioengineering and perhaps go on to one of the other colleges for graduate school.
CEDAR RAPIDS — A lawmaker who says he’s “on a war path” against public entities sidestepping typical competitive bidding rules is adding the Board of Regents to his list of targets, proposing to change the way Iowa’s public universities, including the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, pursue large capital projects.
The bill — backed by Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, chairman of the House Local Government Committee — would change the regents’ process by expanding advertising requirements, requiring an engineer or architect to prepare plans and cost estimates, and “identify a specific reason” for rejecting bids if the board determines none are acceptable.
It would affect construction projects at regents-governed institutions, including UNI, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
The goal, according to Highfill, is to ensure transparency and curtail favoritism within government bodies that receive taxpayer dollars. Among other things, the bill would end the “design-build” construction method that regent universities have been using lately. That process allows them to award a single contract to one company for both design and construction.
Supporters say the method can cut costs and increase speed. Opponents say it limits competition and is an inappropriate way to spend public dollars.
“I don’t believe in design-build,” Highfill said. “I don’t think (the Board of Regents) has authority to do it now.”
The board says it is exempt from a portion of Iowa Code regulating competitive bidding for public improvement projects. That law mandates boards and commissions follow a “design-bid-build” process, which requires an engineer or architect to prepare plans, estimate costs and then advertise them to bidders.
Operating under a separate section of state code, the regents are allowed to reject bids they find unacceptable, choosing instead to proceed in a different way.
Some lawmakers, including Highfill, think the board’s use of design-build already is in violation of the law. For years, the board tried to change the law to explicitly allow public universities to use alternative building methods, until deciding in 2012 they’re already able to use design-build under current law.
Projects the universities have erected through design-build include an $11.8 million addition to the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex on the UI campus, along with its 12-story, $95 million Elizabeth Catlett Residence Hall. Iowa State University has used design-build for a $49.5 million residence hall.
But Highfill argues the method lets institutions skirt open bidding and “pick their friends and political allies.”
Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said the board opposes the bill.
“The board has successfully utilized alternative delivery construction methods such as design-build in the past,” Lehman said. “We believe strongly that these methods used for appropriate projects can deliver these projects more efficiently, thus saving students and taxpayers significant dollars.”
The proposed legislation curbing regent building options jibes with another proposed bill Highfill is backing to change a seldom-used law allowing local governments to have a developer build a project to its specifications and then buy the building at a predetermined price.
Linn County used the provision recently to invite only seven contractors to make pitches for a new public health building in Cedar Rapids.
ANKENY — Eight months ago, Adam Gregg was working in relative anonymity as the state’s public defender, responsible for ensuring low-income Iowans are provided legal representation in court matters.
Then he was suddenly thrust into the middle of a transition at the very top of the state’s leadership, not to mention a legal debate over the powers of his new job.
Public defender one day, lieutenant governor the next.
Eight months later, Gregg says he has become accustomed to the pace of his new position as Iowa’s acting lieutenant governor, second in command to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
And he said he harbors no disappointment nor ill will over the fact he holds the position but not its normal standing in the state’s line of succession.
On this day, Gregg is speaking to a young professionals’ group in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny, telling how he was overwhelmed to be in the Iowa Capitol with his family, including his daughter, to hear the first Iowa condition of the state address to be given by a female governor.
“I’ve compared it to stepping onto a rocket ship,” Gregg said.
Gregg served under former Gov. Terry Branstad as a liaison to state legislators and policy advisory. In 2014 he was the Republican nominee for state attorney general; he lost that election to longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Miller.
After the 2014 election, Branstad named Gregg public defender, a role in which he served until the summer of 2017, when a political transition swept Gregg into the highest level of the administration.
New President Donald Trump appointed Branstad to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, and Reynolds was promoted to governor.
As Reynolds prepared for the transition, questions were raised over whether she would have the legal authority under the state’s laws and Constitution, to appoint a new lieutenant governor.
Miller issued a formal legal opinion that the state Constitution does not grant that authority to a governor who was promoted from lieutenant.
That legal opinion was met with backlash from some Iowa Republicans, who accused the Democratic attorney general of forming a politically motivated opinion.
The newly minted Reynolds administration opted against challenging the legal opinion and named Gregg as lieutenant governor without placing him in the line of succession, making Gregg an acting lieutenant governor. Should Reynolds vacate the office for any reason, Jack Whitver, the Iowa Senate President, would become governor.
Gregg insists he is fine with the arrangement.
“It has been a non-issue, seriously,” Gregg said during a recent interview with the Courier Des Moines Bureau. “It has just been an absolute non-issue. We operate the same way that we otherwise would, with minor exceptions like I don’t have a trooper detail. Other than that, I’m in the all the same meetings that I would be. Other than that, the governor asks my advice the same way she otherwise would.”
True to form as the governor’s top assistant, Gregg praised Reynolds for her solution to the legal quandary surrounding his position.
“I thought it was a very politically astute decision by Gov. Reynolds to find a way to get everything that she wanted out of (the position) and to totally deflate the arguments against it,” Gregg said. “And I think it’s a window into the way that she is going to lead our state and has been leading our state. She has a way of being able to find creative solutions to problems that other people can’t see. And I think that was Exhibit A of that on Day 1 of our administration.”
Gregg said he has embraced his role in helping Reynolds daily and spreading her vision across the state. He said he appreciates the opportunity to work as Reynolds’ partner in the administration, especially when he sees lieutenant governors from other states who are not as involved in their administrations, he said.
“It just makes me appreciate it that much more because it gives me that opportunity to be more involved, more influential, have a very meaningful role in improving the state of Iowa,” Gregg said.
One of the first tasks with which Reynolds has charged Gregg is an initiative to help struggling rural Iowa communities. Reynolds laid out the initiative earlier this month during her first condition of the state address.
Gregg said he has been meeting with community, business and organization leaders in order to fully grasp the issues facing Iowa’s small towns with the hopes of developing a way to provide new programs or streamline existing ones to help those small towns retain their residents.
Gregg said he wants to encourage business investment in rural Iowa, help those small towns’ populations grow, and help foster more investment in high-speed internet access in those areas.
He acknowledged the challenge of combating a migration from rural to urban areas that is happening not only across Iowa but across the country. In Iowa from 2010 to 2016 the largest population growth happened in the state’s most populous counties — Polk, Dallas, Story, Warren, Linn, Johnson, Scott, Jefferson and Dubuque — while 79 of the state’s 99 counties saw a decrease in population, according to the state’s nonpartisan data agency.
“There are definitely some economic and demographic trends and headwinds that underlie some of this. So that makes it challenging because there may be little that government can do about that,” Gregg said. “But that doesn’t mean that rural Iowa isn’t worth fighting for. I think it absolutely is. And it’s worth continuing to find ways so there’s prosperity there and opportunity to grow Iowa.”
Gregg said he hopes to help promote Iowa in a way that makes young people consider staying after they graduate from college, and that he would like to find a way to reconnect with young people who have moved away and may consider returning to Iowa.
“I think we can find a better way as a state of communicating with young people who have chased that opportunity out of state and maybe would consider coming back. You might chase that high-paying job in Chicago or Milwaukee or New York or what have you, but once you get to a point in your life where you’re ready to settle down and have kids ... at that point I think Iowa and specifically small-town Iowa starts to look pretty darn good,” Gregg said. “So I wonder if there is a way that we can identify folks who have done that and communicate with them about the opportunities that are available here.”
Gregg also must perform the role of co-campaigner as Reynolds seeks her first elected term as governor. After the legislative session ends sometime this spring, that role will increase for Gregg as the Reynolds-Gregg ticket first looks to survive a Republican primary challenge. Should they win that, it would be on to what is expected to be a hotly contested general election until the ballots are cast in November.
Gregg said he is not only ready, but embraces the challenge. He said he expects to campaign alongside Reynolds but also at times on his own in order to cover more ground across the state.
“I’m invigorated by it,” Gregg said. “I like getting out there and meeting with Iowans and learning about the companies that are doing cool things that have a reach that you’d never expect. And I’m looking forward to getting out there and advocating. That’s kind of who I am at the end of the day. I’m an advocate. I feel like that’s a skill set that I bring to the table.
“So that’s what gets me fired up, is the opportunity to go out and advocate for a position and advocate for our vision and advocate that the governor (Reynolds) is the right person for the job.”