Ross Nielsen

Laboratory School Director

5/30/86 -- 'SCHOOL'S OUT' FOR LONG-TIME UNI EDUCATOR/PRICE LAB ADMINISTRATOR ROSS NIELSEN CEDAR FALLS--When the bell rang at 11:30 a.m. Friday (May 30) at the University of Northern Iowa's Malcolm Price Laboratory School, it not only signaled the end of another school year for the more than 600 students, but also marked the beginning of a new era for the school's "superintendent." Dr. Ross Nielsen, UNI professor and head of teaching, retired Friday, following 39 years of service in the Department of Teaching, the last 24 as its head and director of Price Laboratory School. Conversations with Nielsen and his colleagues leave one aware of how significant this University and this School have been in the life of the man, and how significant the contributions of the man have been to the School and the University. "I an absolutely convinced a laboratory school environment is necessary to produce high quality undergraduates in teacher education," said Nielsen. "This is not unique to my thinking---some of the best minds in teacher education today are saying the same things." Nielsen said traditions of teacher education going back to the normal school "all sort of direct experiences in laboratory school to be an apprenticeship, to observe the master, as though teaching were a craft. "We now know that approach is inadequate. Teaching is an art and a science and apprenticeship should come after a period of study." While fulfilling this clinical role is important, Nielsen said it is not adequate in itself. "There are two other roles a good laboratory school needs to play. One is that the faculty needs to be involved in the development of institutional methods and techniques and in the development of new curriculum and materials, obtaining grants and conducting a variety of projects. "The second is to play an important role in state leadership, sponsoring conferences and workshops, teaching extension classes, consulting in the field and publishing materials for teachers in the classrooms." Nielsen points out that while these things are extra work, they are all part of being what a laboratory school ought to be. "It should be more than a typical school. It should be leading the way challenging the intellect of students preparing to become teachers and providing leadership for teachers in the field." The veteran administrator believes important strides are being made with the laboratory school faculty becoming full partners in the teaching program, and a strengthening of ties between the teaching department and other departments on the campus. "When I became director of teacher education, we were primarily a teacher education center and a teacher might have two or three student teachers at a time," Nielsen said. "I began changing that as quickly as I could. "The Laboratory School began its involvement in pre-teaching experience training, an area in which we now make one of our greatest contributions. This is an area (of training) that other schools often cannot provide. It gets the focus on the learning of teaching, not just the teaching experience itself." Nielsen, who has been active at state and national levels with teacher education and laboratory school groups, as well as the North Central Association, said there has been a significant resurgence in support for and development of laboratory schools in the last two years. He cites as reasons for this resurgence, efforts to improve teacher education, and research results over the last ten years which indicate that just to put students in the field for student teaching experience is not enough. "We need programs where there is some control over what is happening and how it relates to the training program. We need clinical laboratory experiences where one can critically look at teacher training experiences and see the application of theory, and not just serve an apprenticeship. "The mission of laboratory schools is going to become increasingly important in the future because we are just now beginning to realize their full potential." Nielsen has had ample opportunity during the past two decades to become familiar with the "national thinking" on teacher education and laboratory school issues through his service with numerous state and national committees and organizations. In 1972-73, he was president of the National Association of Laboratory Schools and then represented that Association on the executive committee of the AOPE (Associated Organizations for Professionals in Education), a confederation of the specialty organizations. He served a three-year stint, from 1981-84, as chair of the AOPE executive council, which then made him a member of the board of directors of the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). He served on a number of task forces and writing panels for AACTE and, as president of the Iowa ACTE from 1984-86, was a member of the advisory council of state representatives to AACTE. He is a member of the Iowa Department of Public Instruction's Steering Committee for the Development and Adoption of New Education Standards, charged with re-writing the K-12 standards for education in the State of Iowa "These have been very enriching years," Nielsen said, adding the past thirty years have also included many valuable experiences with the NCA (North Central Association). For nearly that long, Nielsen has chaired one or two secondary school evaluation teams each year. He considers this to have been important to gain a "sense of the nature and quality of the commitment Iowa teachers make to the students in the schools of their communities and to begin to sense the high value boards and communities place on their schools. "I have always valued the quality of the NCA. Of course, our secondary school has been a member since 1913 and, in 1975, when elementary schools became eligible for membership, our elementary school was one in the first very small group of elementary schools to be accredited." Nielsen's career has not been spent solely in administration. Following his graduation from Plainfield High School in 1935, he enrolled at Wartburg College, receiving a B.S. degree in mathematics, physics, and physical education in 1939. He taught and coached at Blairstown Consolidated School for three years, and one year at Hudson Community School, before spending three years with the Navy. He served as a combat information officer aboard a destroyer, during World War II, then continued as a Navy Reserve Officer, retiring in 1968. In 1947, he was named a supervisor of student teaching for UNI, assigned to the Hudson Schools. He also taught mathematics and physical education, and served as the baseball and basketball coach. During his tenure, he took both teams to state tournaments. Nielsen joined the laboratory school faculty in 1955, as mathematics chair. Re had just completed a Ph.D. degree in education and mathematics from the University of Iowa. During his tenure in that position, the mathematics staff at Price Lab, along with the UNI math faculty, was involved directly in the pioneer development of the modern mathematics movement. "We really provided leadership nationwide, which caused UNI to be identified as the 'cradle of modern school mathematics.' This was a significant effort to improve the learning and programs in mathematics." Faculty were busy offering a number of institutes for teachers and other educators, and writing textbooks for this "new" field, as well as instructing parents. Nielsen said northeastern Iowa parents of the late 1950s may remember George Immerzeel, then on the Price Lab faculty, who taught a modern mathematics class by "electro-writer" to them, so they would understand what their children were learning. He would write on a screen, which was then transmitted by phone to five or six centers In N.E. Iowa. "Bill Maucker (UNI president from 1950-1970) once said of all the contributions this institution had made to improve elementary and secondary teaching in Iowa, he thought the contributions in mathematics topped the list," said Nielsen. Nielsen added that contribution has been twofold, for the mathematics faculty has continued to play a significant role nationwide, through its computer curriculum project, problem-solving materials, and Project IMPACT. The second contribution was also on-going, for as Nielsen moved into his role as director of the Lab School, he continued to encourage faculty to do that same kind of development work in other academic disciplines. "That, I consider one of my major successes---bringing in people who have continued to develop curriculum. "These people have been knowledgeable and energetic, but have also had appropriate backgrounds in their subject field and teaching which has allowed them to be productive in curriculum development and preparation of materials. "The development and preparation of materials for use in elementary and secondary school levels has become a hallmark of our school. "There is a respect at the Laboratory School for leadership and ideas that come from each of the faculty. They all have a stake in what happens here, which helps faculty morale." Other highlights during his 39-year career with the University, include the development of Price Laboratory School from a teaching center to the three-phased role it has today in pre-teaching; writing, research, and publications; and providing services to schools, as well as his further expansion of the teaching center program to a statewide concept. Another significant contribution of the School during his tenure was the initiation and development of the program which has enabled minority students from Waterloo to attend Price Lab. After more than a decade, the program is now being phased out. This program has made a three-way contribution to the School, Nielsen believes, by making it a better teaching laboratory, giving faculty a different perspective as they work on curriculum and materials development, and providing an enriching experience for the children and families of children who attend Price Lab. In 1957, Nielsen wrote the first Department of Teaching federal grant proposal, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. He has fostered and encouraged a continuing research effort and, over the years, the School has received funding support from outside sources for projects in language arts, social studies, science, mathematics, industrial technology, and school counseling. "I have received a lot of satisfaction from simply being a colleague and observer of the successes of other members of our Laboratory School faculty," he said. "During the last ten years, more than $6 million in grants have been awarded. Seeing those individuals and teams of people work so successfully has been a reward in itself." Nielsen's own efforts have netted him numerous awards, including honors and recognitions from many of the organizations which he has served, inclusion in "Who's Who in America," a Wartburg Distinguished Alumni Citation, and, more recently, the 1986 "Kappan of the Year" Award from the UNI Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa. His awards "cake" was "frosted" this spring when he was named one of the first recipients of the John Vaughn Excellence-in-Education Awards from the North Central Association Commission on Schools in recognition of his "direct contributions for enhancing the quality of education in the classroom." More than forty educators were nominated for the award according to the NCA's Meg Stanavage, who said it was "a moving experience to see colleagues who think so highly of their peers." Nielsen was nominated by the elementary and secondary principals at Price Lab, Dr. James Doud and Dr. Charles Moore. "When one considers the significance of his activities, and the fact that they span the entire range of nursery school through higher education," wrote Doud, "it is difficult to imagine anyone more deserving of NCA recognition. ". . . in the 26 years I have been in education, I have never found a better model nor mentor for guiding my own professional development. We need more leaders with the personal and professional skills of Dr. Ross Nielsen in our profession." Moore wrote, "In the three years I have been associated with the Price Laboratory School, I have been continually impressed with the breadth and depth of Dr. Nielsen's ability to be on the cutting edge of innovation." He said through all facets of his career, Nielsen has provided support and leadership, always sharing an optimistic theme in his presentations and providing his fellow educators "not with a prescription for success, but a framework upon which to achieve success . . . " There are only a few individuals who ever achieve his ability to be a change agent, and I firmly believe that this ability should be recognized." Of the award Nielsen said, "It is nice to receive these things. It sort of makes you feel you have made an impact and it's been worthwhile." Ross Nielsen's retirement will mean another change for the school he has served so long, but he takes that in stride. "I've had an opportunity to work in a state and with an institution that recognize the importance of quality programs that prepare educational personnel for the schools," he said. "It is a great place to work in an area that people really care about . . . to have shared these things and to have worked with the people I have in the Laboratory School and the University, is really more than anyone has a right to expect." Ross A. Nielsen, 82, of 2523 Loma Street, Cedar Falls, died February 8, 2001, in Corpus Christi, Texas, following a heart attack. He was born May 12, 1918, in Wiota. Mr. Nielsen received a bachelor's degree from Wartburg College, Waverly, in 1939; a master's degree in 1948 and Ph.D. in 1955, both from the University of Iowa. He taught and coached at Blairstown Consolidated High School for three years and then taught at Hudson Community School, Hudson. He served in the U. S. Navy during World War II, and continued on as an officer with the U. S. Navy Reserve, retiring in 1968. In 1947 he became supervisor of student teaching for Iowa State Teachers College (UNI), joining the Malcolm Price Laboratory School in 1955 as mathematics chair. In 1962 he was named director and head of the Department of Teaching at Price Lab, retiring in 1986. From 1962 to 1980 he also served as UNI's director of student teaching. He served as chair of the National Association of Laboratory Schools and Associated Organization for Professionals in Education. Survived by: three grandchildren; and a brother, Keith, of Arkansas. Preceded in death by: his wife, Jeanne, in 2000; and a daughter, Sharon. Memorial services: will be later. Memorials: may be directed to the Ross A. Nielsen Endowment Fund in care of the UNI Foundation, or the Jeanne Nielsen Collection at the Plainfield (Iowa) Library. Copyright Waterloo Courier, February 16, 2001. Director, supporter of Price Laboratory School dies at 82 By LISA SMITH, Courier Staff Writer Ross A. Nielsen will be remembered for giving time, talents, money, and even a kidney to people in need. The former director and longtime supporter of the University of Northern Iowa's Price Laboratory School died last Thursday in Corpus Christi, Texas, following a heart attack. He was 82. His body was cremated and a memorial service in Cedar Falls will be held at a later date. Nielsen, who had been residing in Cedar Falls, served as director of Price Lab from 1962 to 1986. He was also UNI's director of student teaching for the majority of those years. "His generosity was not only in the intellectual part, but in financial (ways)," said Rosa Maria de Findlay, Spanish teacher at Price Lab. Findlay knew Nielsen for 36 years. He hired her to teach at the school. Findlay said Nielsen's generosity was expressed in myriad ways. He established a minority scholarship in honor of a student who passed away. Money for the award was from Nielsen's own pocket. Nielsen also anonymously funded a $2,000 UNI professional service award for outstanding research and teaching. Nielsen was born in Wiota and graduated from Plainfield High School in 1935. After receiving a bachelor's degree at Wartburg College in Waverly, he earned master's and doctorate degrees at the University of Iowa. He taught at Blairstown Consolidated High School and at Hudson before serving three years in the U. S. Navy during World War II. Before he became the school's director; Nielsen was math chair at Price Lab for seven years. After retiring from the school, Findlay said Nielsen was still very much a part of Price Lab. He helped organize UNI's emeritus faculty association and and the Alumni and Friends of Price Laboratory School group. "He was very instrumental in forming the group," Findlay said of his involvement in the emeritus association. Nielsen demonstrated generosity in other ways, too. He lived for many years with one kidney after donating the other to his brother. "That is a gesture that says everything," Findlay said. She described Nielsen as an active person, even in his later years. Nielsen was playing golf the day he was taken to the hospital with chest pains, she said. "Golf was his passion--that and education," Findlay said. She said friends referred to him as the "white fox, in a warm and colloquial way, because of his beautiful white hair." Nielsen was the recipient of numerous awards. He won Distinguished Service Awards from the National Association of Laboratory Schools and the Association Organizations for Professionals in Education. He was elected to the Hall of Fame of the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association in 1991. While teaching and coaching at Blairstown and Hudson, his teams won 13 sectional titles, four district titles and one sub-state title. Northern University High School's Nielsen Fieldhouse is named for him. "He was nationally known. He will be missed," Findlay said. Nielsen is survived by a brother, Keith, of Arkansas, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by wife Jeanne, who died last year; and a daughter, Sharon: Memorials can be sent to the Ross A. Nielsen Endowment Funds in care of the UNI Foundation or the Jeanne Nielsen Collection at the Plainfield Library. Date and location for memorial services will be announced at a later date. Copyright Waterloo Courier, February 15, 2001.