Going for Woke in Ames, Iowa

Case Studies

Early February 2021 saw new activism in America’s K-12 schools with “Black Lives Matter at Schools,” a new national movement, rolling out at schools across the country.

It even took root in Ames, Iowa, where parents were shocked by the new activism in the classroom, including teaching the “13 Guiding Principles” of the movement. As it turns out, Ames is an archetype of a school district that went woke. 

The new activism had been a slow creep over the past five years, based on the timeline in a 23-page report the school district had to provide to the Iowa House Oversight Committee after angry parents called state legislators. What wasn’t in the timeline: the consultants that had come into the district with divisive ideas.

In the fall of 2016, Ames Community School District officials had recruited an outside consultant, Daniel Spikes, a Black academic at local Iowa State University, to examine “racial disparities in educational outcome.” 

A few months later, in January 2017, Ames Community School District officials signed up Spikes and his colleague, Katy Swalwell, a white professor, to a three-year contract to educate teachers and administrators on increasing “cultural competency.” Over the next five years, the Ames Community School District doled out an estimated $232,036 to the two consultants and another colleague, Erin Meeks, in payments they collected from 2017 through 2021, according to documents released to Parents Defending Education in response to public records requests.

Swalwell had a controversial point of view. She cohosts a podcast, “Our Dirty Laundry,” which she describes as an “irreverent dive into about the history of white women’s complicity in white supremacy.” She describes the podcast as “Stories of White Ladies Making a Mess of Things & How We Need to Clean Up Our Act.” The official website invites listeners with an unusual hook based on guilt, saying, “Join two longtime white lady friends as they reckon with the history of white women with humor and rage…​and figure out what it means for their obligations today.”

On her website, Swalwell promotes the “Spikes & Swalwell Consulting Team,” noting she “works closely with Dr. Daniel Spikes to co-facilitate sustained professional development on critical consciousness, implicit bias, and instructional, curricular, and structural changes to work towards equity and justice in education.” 

“Rates are on a sliding scale,” she notes, adding, “Katy and Daniel are typically available for booking 6-9 months out.”

Year one, in 2017, Spikes and Swalwell trained principals with a program, “Critical Consciousness training for staff.”

Around then, in early 2017, another local consultant, Abdul Muhammad, helped organize a local march with Black Lives Matter Iowa founder Sean Carlton-Appleton, who decried “soft racism” in the area. Years later, he registered Monarch Training and Development, LLP, based in Ames, Iowa, as a new business.

“According to a press release for the event,” the Ames Tribune reported, “those issues include the recent Ames school report card that highlighted significant racial disparities between black and white students, racial epithets being used at Iowa State University football games, swastikas being posted around the ISU campus and stories of subtle and blatant racism in Ames. Although the march is attempting to address some issues that have been experienced at ISU, Carlton-Appleton said it is not an ISU organization.”

With the Black population in Ames at about three percent, Muhammad acknowledged that meetings mostly had white participants. In the local media article, Muhammad said the community hadn’t had a significant racial event. “Just because we haven’t had that, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that affect black families and black lives in Ames, Iowa,”

In year two, 2018, Swalwell and Spikes expanded their work, Critical Consciousness: Year Two,” to coaches and certain building staff. In August 2018, over 50 Ames staff attended a conference, “Summit and School Culture and Climate.” In August 2018, another consultant, Paul Gorski, addressed teachers at a kick-off breakfast.

Year three, 2019, the school district hired a director of equity, Anthony Jones, and it rolled out the “Critical Consciousness” training to all staff. 

Spikes and Swalwell brought in a colleague, Erin Meek, a queer identity studies professor and “equity scholar” at Iowa State, to conduct an “equity audit.” They used all of the buzzwords of an audit to not “blame students and families” through a “deficit-based view” of academic shortfalls for Black students, but rather took an “asset-based view” that “assumes responsibility for those inequities and explores the ways in which schools create and perpetuate inequity in an attempt to disrupt it.”

On Sept. 30, 2019, the school district’s Twitter account @ACSD_News tweeted out photos of a training with the message, “Today, over 130 teachers and staff engaged in critical consciousness training with Dr. Katy Swalwell and Dr. Daniel Spikes. The conversations are always rich and challenging with the outcomes impacting all of our students. #AmesCSD.”

That year, the school district completed an “equity audit” for Ames High School and Ames Middle School. Swalwell hosted an “Amazing Education Podcast” on “Critical Consciousness. Part I. Part II.” She developed “Building Capacity Teams.”

The program expanded into a “Critical Consciousness Family Learning Series.”

The year 2020 was called “Critical Consciousness: Year Three,” with “over 150 staff members” who “participated in monthly professional development.”

“Building-level teams formed,” with Ames High School staff “participating in implicit bias training.” District officials participated in weekly administrative meetings with “equity learning.” Ames Middle School started teaching a “Critical Consciousness class.” 

The Swalwell and Spikes consulting team started a “Critical Consciousness Family Learning Series,” as well as “LGBTQ+ professional development training.” Swalwell hosted another “Amazing Education Podcast” with the director of equity, Anthony Jones, on “racial inequity. Part I. Part II.”

The morning of Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, Ames High School in Ames Community School District hosted a 2-1/2-hour event called, “Understanding Implicit Bias WORKshop,” led by the other local consultant, Abdullah Muhammad, the founder of Monarch Training and Development, for a $3,500 fee. 

According to Invoice #200302, Muhammad charged $15.56 per hour per participant, for a total bill of $3,500 for 90 participants. He waived a $700 fee for a half-hour time extension and included his three-and-a-half hours for event preparation, planning meetings and post-session debrief.

The contract noted the “WORKshop” would include “experience-sharing” and “individual reflection.” It said: “Host understands that the Host understands that the format of the WORKshop is designed to be a mixture of content-delivery methods including lecture, group discussion, experience-sharing, individual reflection, and preliminary action planning.

The next year, Black Lives Matter at Schools became the subject of statewide controversy, as “Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action” was launched in Ames, after years of consultants priming the pump.

On Jan. 22, 2021, the school district announced its “Black Lives Matter Week of Action” on Facebook, and that did not sit well with parents.

One of the comments posted: “Will the action include riots?”

Among the proponents of the controversial material? The consultant, Muhammad, spoke at an Ames board meeting to support Black Lives Matter Week of Action in the school district. Not long after, a local media report published a screenshot, allegedly written by his wife, Jean Muhammad, the student and family advocate in Ames High School since 2017. 

In the screenshot, she allegedly wrote: 

“Want a quick glimpse into *our* interracial marriage?

Me-Going to give Abdullah a kiss goodnight, ‘Okay, I’m going to bed…’

Abdul- singing in his reggae voice, ‘I say we kill da white people…’

Me-Laughing hysterically, ‘Okay, love you.’”

Muhammad didn’t comment about the post. 

Later, in a two-hour meeting of the House Government Oversight Committee, Anthony Jones, director of equity for the Ames Community School District, defended the week, saying: “What we are doing is bringing ideology into the conversation, but not just ideology, we are also bringing people.” 

He concluded: “If that is political, then yes, it is political.”

On June 17, 2021, the controversy still brewing, Katy Swalwell registered a new consulting firm, Past Present Future Consulting & Media, LLC, based in Des Moines, Iowa, with the Iowa Secretary of State, according to the company’s official filing. In her bio, she noted that, as a lead equity specialist for the Equity Literacy Institute, she has “facilitated workshops, helped develop curriculum, and provided other supports for schools across the United States and Canada.”

This included, of course, one school district in the United States: Ames, Iowa, now full-on woke.