Iowa City school board candidate questionnaires

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IOWA CITY — Voters in the Iowa City Community School District have four school board members to elect Tuesday. Five candidates are running for three at-large seats and two are vying for one abbreviated two-year term that was created by board member LaTasha DeLoach’s resignation.

All responses come directly from the candidate and have not been edited for space or grammar by The Gazette. We are providing their full unedited responses, so that the public can experience the candidate’s thoughts and stances in full.

Charlie Eastham
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 75

Educational Background: B. A. from Texas Christian University

Occupation: Retired since 2007 from the UI

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

No

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

I was elected as a staff representative to the University of Iowa Staff Council and then by the Staff Council to serve as the Council President.

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I am currently serving or have served on these boards and commissions and organizations: ICCSD Equity Committee, Center for Worker Justice, ICCSD Support for Immigrant Students and Families Taskforce, Black Voices Project, Coalition for Racial Justice, FasTrac, Little Creations Academy, Johnson County Empowerment Board, The Housing Fellowship, Iowa City Housing and Community Development Commission, Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission, University of Iowa Staff Council, Consultation of Religious Communities

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

I do not know of any conflicts.

Why are you running for school board?

Foremost, I am seeking a seat on the Board of Directors to address the long standing disparate educational results experienced by students of color in this school district. Some 50% of Black or African-American and Hispanic/Latino students are not receiving an education that enables them to achieve standard levels of proficiency in reading, math and science. The gaps in proficiency between students of color and white students has been at 30%-35% for at least two decades. We can reduce those gaps to 0%. We are morally obligated to reduce those gaps to 0%.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

Addressing the long standing disparate educational results experienced by students of color in the district. I will call for obtaining detailed analysis of student achievement data to guide teachers, staff, and the board in refining our educational programs to continuously reveal equitable achievement outcomes. I will support initiatives and programs that are underway now and intended to improve student achievement, such as implicit bias training, restorative justice training, AVID, external student and family support and engagement efforts, and implementation of recommendations arising from recent student climate surveys conducted by University of Iowa researchers.
Completing the Facilities Master Plan whatever the bond referendum election result. If the referendum is approved I will support completing the facilities plan on time and on budget. If the referendum is not approved I will recommend convening a task force including all parties to develop a facilities plan and financing method that has wider community support.
Increasing vocational training opportunities and course offerings. I will work with other board members to extend on campus vocational course offerings.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

My funding priorities are the same for budgeting whether for deficit budgeting or surplus budgeting. The priority is always to maximize support for student teaching. The question that should first be asked is, if we can increase the district’s budget where should we look to invest for improved student teaching. The opportunity investments may likely be in educational staff training and professional development and in looking to research supported best practices for optimizing student/teacher ratios. Our attitude towards budget reductions should be to avoid them.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

For many students, the quality of public school education that is found throughout the Iowa City Community School District is exceptional. I will give my full support to the teaching and educational staff whose dedication and effort continuously sustains that quality and who are working tirelessly to extend the benefits of a quality educational experience to all students.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

Two years ago the Equity Committee recommended and the board approved the district’s Comprehensive Equity Plan. The goal of the plan is to “annually improve the educational experiences for all children through culturally inclusive and responsive school environments and classroom instruction, as measured by various student assessments with a focus on equitable outcomes for students in protected classes.”
The plan outlines four objectives, each with action steps, time lines and assessments designed to result in: • reducing disproportionality in discipline, special education assignment, graduation rates, course taking and achievement; • increasing staff of color in all areas; • incorporating multicultural/gender fair curriculum in all schools; • increasing community engagement in district initiatives.
With clear and persistent leadership from the Board of Directors as we carry out the elements of the Equity Plan I believe we can have an educational system of teachers, support staff, and administrators that is free of racial and ethnic achievement gaps in any educational area. I will work cooperatively with other members of the Board of Directors to accomplish these equity goals.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

I believe I have gained different perspectives and come to respect the lived reality of people who do not look like me from being a part of the Black Voices Project, working with the members of the Center for Worker Justice, and serving on the district Equity Committee. I hope to bring those perspectives and such respect to my work as a board member. Friends say that I listen and try to understand before offering advice and that I have been on the side of the people in times of struggle.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

Personally, I will try to always be available for conversations and to listen to concerns and questions. I use email, phone, and some social media now. I do not want to limit communication with me to district provided methods and will make my personal contact information available. There may be opportunities for the district to cooperate with other local governments to broaden knowledge about district matters for residents who access those public bodies electronic communication modalities.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

Parents and community members seem too often be very well informed about areas that will probably see additional K-12 student growth. I am interested in incorporating their analysis into the growth projection process the district is using now. Doing so may sharpen our ability to accurately plan for new schools, especially elementary schools.

J.P. Claussen
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 43 (I will be 44 by the time of the election)

Educational Background: BA English University of Iowa 1997, MA Special Education University of Iowa 2004

Occupation: Educator on the inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric unit at the UIHC

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

Past President Iowa City Education Association (also a long time member of the negotiations committee, the health insurance committee and the labor management team), member of the Rape Victim's Advocacy Program's Advisory Council, community member of the Johnson County Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Committee, co-president of the Kirkwood Elementary PTO.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

I believe we need a teacher's voice and perspective at the Board table. I feel my background in special education will be particularly helpful in helping the District solve the problems we are having in that area.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

1. Completing the Facilities Master Plan, I am hopeful for the passage of the GO Bond. I feel that is the surest way to complete the FMP on time. In either case I am committed to seeing these worthy projects completed.
2. The information gathered in the past two Climate Surveys show that some students, particularly students of color, and GLBTQ students do not always feel understood, safe or supported in our schools. I will work diligently with the District administration and pertinent Board committees to help push for needed training to support all District staff as we figure out how we can be certain that of our students feel safe and supported in their schools. I feel that some of the discrepancy in the achievement gap can be attributed to students feeling supported in school.
3. The Accreditation report that the Iowa Department of Education released in June of 2016, and the discovery of the wide spread use of seclusion boxes are both complicated issues that I feel will require a great deal of work in order to ensure that our District culture and practices in Special Education, and behavior specifically, are in line with not only the law, but with best practices. I would like the services we offer to special education children to be the best in the state of Iowa.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

I would look for savings in the 20% of the budget that are not dedicated to staff pay and benefits. My priorities are staff salaries and benefits. I believe that the best money we spend in education is the money we spend on our teachers and staff, so that our students have the best educational experience possible. In addition we have many infrastructure needs that have been neglected for too long, and we desperately need capacity. I don't see how we can do this without a GO Bond. We certainly can't do it with the trend of limited funding from the state, and I feel the only way to gain the needed resources for our infrastructure needs to to raise revenue. My opinion is that the best way to raise that revenue is through passing the GO Bond in September.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

"The district's primary strength is the overall support for education in our communities. I believe this is demonstrated in how passionately the citizens in this district engage in school decisions. In addition the quality of our staff is amazing. I will support the passion for education my constantly being an active listener who looks to find areas of agreement where they exist, and by being transparent and genuine in my decision making. In addition I would like us to do more work to engage members of our community who aren't as engaged. I believe we could do much more outreach as a district to understand the thoughts and feelings of all our citizens, and not only the people who show up at meetings and at forums. I think that I can best celebrate and foster ICCSD's passion and involvement by being open to new ideas and thinking outside of the box when dealing with our opportunities. I feel I can best support our staff by honestly and fairly evaluating and supporting the Superintendent so that he or she is able to provide steady leadership. In addition, in light of the new Collective Bargaining law in Iowa, I will work to ensure that ICCSD protects and supports its teachers by guaranteeing their pay and benefits through Board Policy and not just via a handbook that can be changed at the discretion of the Adminstration, I will work to gain my fellow Board member's support and understanding for why I feel this is important."

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

I mentioned some of this in a previous answer: we have a great deal of work to do in Special Education and we need to ensure we are supporting and respecting students of color and students who identify as GLBTQ. We have vast achievement gaps that have not narrowed sufficiently since we began measuring them. We also need to do more for our students who may not be headed to a 4 year college. I will be a fierce advocate for all of these issues. There is already important work underway, and I will be diligent in both pushing and supporting our administrative team as they work through these challenges with staff. My knowledge of how Board policies affect teachers and students in the classroom, and my expertise in special education, and behavior specifically, will help my fellow Board members understand the potential impact of any decisions.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

Because I am the only candidate who brings the first hand experience of not only being a teacher, but having recently been a teacher in the ICCSD. In addition I believe I have an ability to quickly build productive relationships and can bring people together to find common ground on issues.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

I will communicate by being responsive to emails and questions. In addition I would like to hold frequent listening posts so that community members can have the opportunity to discuss their concerns in person. I believe the district would benefit by putting more resources into the way we communicate with the community. I believe that the web, social media, print media, celebratory events, community forums and listening posts are all great ways to spread our message. We do need to do more outreach into our more marginalized populations. I would like to see the district be proactive in engaging families new to the district, or families who may struggle with barriers to their education such as immigrant families, homeless families and families who struggle with a low socio economic situation.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

I support the Facilities Master Plan, and as it nears completion we should continue to identify our needs and plan for them 10 years out. Because we are growing so quickly, we must continue to look at how we can best meet the needs of the communities we serve. As we move forward I would like to keep educational experiences at the heart of our facilities discussions. Can we be flexible in the way we utilize space and in the programming we offer to compliment our facilities? Do our facilities reflect our educational expectations? The newly completed Liberty High School is an example of how attention to detail, and placing educational experiences at the heart of the design, create a learning environment that will compliment and enhance the educational experience. I would like to see more facilities dedicated to career and technical education.

Janet Godwin
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 51

Educational Background: BA English, University of Oklahoma; MA English University of Iowa; Coursework Complete Instructional Design and Technology, University of Iowa; Graduate of the Advanced Management Program, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Occupation: Chief Operating Officer

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I am currently vice president of the Community Foundation of Johnson County. I served two terms on the board of the Iowa City Community School District Foundation, serving two years as president. I have volunteered for United Way of Johnson County.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

I am unaware of any past contracts between the school district and my company. Should the district ever seek services from my company, I would recuse myself from any relevant votes.

Why are you running for school board?

"Now, more than ever, we need strong, experienced leaders on our school board.  Professionals with vision, an open mind, and the leadership skills to make tough decisions and follow through on them. I believe strongly in the value of public education. I am running for school board to protect and grow our local public schools so that every student in our district, regardless of race, income, parents’ occupation, educational background or zip code has the opportunity to receive a world-class education. "

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

"Trust. I want to establish a climate of trust and transparency on the school board. I will work with my colleagues on the board to revitalize the way the board functions by clarifying the role of the board and rebuilding trust between board members, the district, and the community. A well-functioning board working in an environment of trust and in conjunction with district administration, teachers and principals, the teacher’s union, and community stakeholders is key to a district’s success.
Facilities. I want to oversee the completion of the facilities master plan (FMP). The FMP was developed with significant community input and planning, and it successfully addresses issues of equity, access, capacity, and flexibility. If the bond passes, the board's job will be to provide oversight and hold the administration accountable for delivering the projects outlined in the FMP. If the bond does not pass, completing the FMP will require the board to regroup and organize around another bond based on the priority and sequence of projects outlined in the FMP.  
Achievement gap. I will work to advance plans and initiatives designed to close the achievement gap.  As a nation, state, and community we leave far too many kids behind. By working diligently together with a clear vision of success, we can, year after year, make progress on issues of equity, access, and achievement. By setting high standards and providing strong support to students and teachers we will help all of our students become confident, accomplished citizens prepared to lead successful lives after high school.  The district is already using many tools to reduce the gap, including the weighted resource allocation model, the equity plan, and innovative learning programs, but we must do more. The board must continue to set aggressive goals in this area and provide unwavering support in accomplishing them. "

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

"It's tough to look for savings when budgets are already so tight and the forecast for state level funding remains dire. In this climate, it's more important than ever to be extremely clear on priorities and areas off-limits from budget cuts. My funding priorities would be teachers, school support staff, principals and initiatives focused on closing the achievement gap. I would ask district administrators to assess programs for ""return on investment"" and determine where there might be opportunities for reallocating funding from underperforming initiatives. I would seek to minimize the number of students transferring out of the district. I would also look to find creative funding sources to offset budget shortfalls. The school district foundation has demonstrated the ability to raise money for district priorities. We should fully leverage this group to fund programs or initiatives that might otherwise get cut or diminished. We should also pursue opportunities with local businesses and postsecondary institutions to support district initiatives. "

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

"The district's single most important strength is our teachers and principals. As a board member I would advocate for teachers in the following ways: completing the FMP so teachers can quit worrying about when/if they will get decent work conditions; developing strong employment policies to replace the negotiated contract; ensuring ICEA has a seat at the table for district decisions that impact teachers; elect a strong school board that will listen to teachers and support them as the most important asset of our district. Principals are another key asset. As a board member, I would support them by engaging them in discussions of district priorities, especially around equity and closing the achievement gap. "

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

"Trust needs to be rebuilt in the district. As a school board member I would work with my colleagues to lead that effort by modeling behaviors at the board level that support open, honest, transparent dialog focused on achieving shared goals for the district. I think the school board needs to take the lead on rebuilding trust with district administration. I think both the school board and district administration need to take the lead on rebuilding trust with parents and community stakeholders. I would seek to accomplish this through setting a district goal for developing an active school district engagement and communications program, leveraging established groups and forums in the district like DPO, PTO's, ICEA, community parent groups, and joint entities meetings and looking for new ways of engaging with stakeholders. The district needs to set high academic standards for the entire district and then focus on making sure all students hit those standards. This will require focus on closing the achievement gap and setting aggressive goals for every initiative designed to close the gap. The district needs to continue WRAM, focus on delivering results from the equity plan, and continue to seek additional approaches for closing the gap. As a board member, I will ensure the district has the board's support in leveraging every tool possible to ensure the success of every student. "

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

"My leadership experience sets me apart from the other candidates, and that leadership experience is needed on our school board. I started at ACT in 1990 as an entry-level content development specialist, and I've worked my way up to Chief Operating Officer. I have a great deal of experience working for and serving on boards. I know from experience that a good board puts good people in place, sets policies and goals, and holds management accountable. Through my work at ACT and serving on boards, I have honed my leadership skills. Strong leaders create a vision and rally people behind that vision. They create challenging goals and provide support for reaching them. They hold themselves accountable when things go wrong and highlight their teams, not themselves, when things go well. Strong leaders are humble, they listen, they continue to learn. They empower their teams. They make tough decisions based on accurate data and stick to those decisions. I will bring my management and leadership experience to the school board to help all students in our district achieve success. I'm also a mom. I have two children who have gone to Iowa City schools. My daughter attended Longfellow, Southeast, and graduated from City High. My son will be starting 6th grade this fall at Longfellow. I’ve experienced first-hand the care and expertise of our teachers, staff and principals. I know the immense value of our public schools, and I want to serve as a school board member to ensure our schools stay strong for our kids. "

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

"Through the development of my leadership skills, I've also refined my communication skills. I've learned that it's critical to develop and maintain strong, two-way modes of communication with a focus on listening to understand. I will communicate openly with board members, both at the board table and in board meetings and on specific topics. I will always welcome input and feedback from community members through email or public comment at board meetings. I will seek to participate in forums and other events to gain input and feedback. Throughout my campaign, I've learned how important it is to get input from teachers and principals, the people serving our students every single day, and I commit to developing a regular mechanism for getting teacher and principal input on district priorities, issues, and opportunities. I would also like the district to investigate the feasibility of providing key information in multiple languages to provide greater access. To communicate with stakeholders who don't have students in the district, I think the district should identify communication channels used by these stakeholders and create a regular process for providing school district updates on priorities and progress."

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

"The district needs to complete the FMP, which improves our buildings to the point they become sustainable for the long-term within typical life cycle maintenance activities funded under PPEL. The district should advocate for the state legislature to renew SAVE, so there is a funding source for more significant needs, like the development of new school buildings. If SAVE is not available, and new significant facilities priorities emerge, I would consider defining a new GO bond to fund the effort. "

Karen Woltman
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 46

Educational Background: B.A. in History, New Mexico State University; M.L.S., University of Arizona; J.D., University of Iowa College of Law

Occupation: Mom and education blogger

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I have served on the Iowa Department of Education’s Assessment Task Force and have served two terms on the State Board of Health. I have also been an active volunteer with my children’s school band and orchestra programs for four years.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

I am running because I hope to see a renewed focus on curriculum, instruction, and school climate. Great things happen in our schools every day, but it’s no secret that our district is facing challenges, including persistent achievement gaps. Conversations about curriculum, instruction, and school climate are our most direct route to improving the school experience for all children in our district.
Facilities issues have dominated much of the public debate in our district in recent years. Our children need a school board that can work on improving facilities and, at the same time, work on improving the programs that take place in those facilities. I hope that by running I can help make that happen.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

Achievement gaps and equity. I will support the continued implementation of the Comprehensive Equity Plan and evaluation of its effectiveness in closing achievement gaps and increasing equity. In addition, I think that we need to focus more on ensuring the effectiveness and inclusiveness of universal classroom instruction. Improvements here are an opportunity to reduce the need for and importance of outside tutoring and parental help, and thus, improve equity in our educational programs.
Special education program. The district has had serious problems in its special education program and needs to work diligently to address them. One important part of that should involve giving special education families a safe way to speak up and raise questions and concerns. To that end, I think the district should have an annual, anonymous survey of special education parents to determine the perceived quality of district interactions with parents and parental satisfaction with special education services provided for their children. The results should be reported to the board and be used to evaluate and continuously improve special education services in the district. Special education should be a regular board agenda item so the board will continue to monitor administrative efforts to address problems in the special education program. In addition, I will ask that special education facilities needs be explicitly addressed in the Facilities Master Plan to ensure that special education programs have specially-designed, inclusive, and accessible spaces that meet the needs of our students and staff, including inclusive and accessible playgrounds.
Facilities needs. The district is growing and it is essential to keep moving forward on creating capacity to accommodate growth and to make much-needed improvements in existing schools. I will continue with the facilities master planning process of assessing, prioritizing, and planning for facilities needs. If the September 12th bond passes, I will work to implement the plan with fidelity. If this bond doesn’t pass, I am committed to working hard to listen to the community to put together a bond proposal that will pass.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

My budget priorities and goals will be to keep cuts as far from students as possible. The District needs to continue to look for opportunities to save money; however, when budget cuts need to be made, the district needs to follow a budget process that allows the board to consider community feedback and alternatives to the cuts proposed by administrators.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

Our district has an engaged community and strong support for education. It has been my experience that if we do not take disagreement personally and we are open to hearing and considering the perspectives, knowledge, and experiences of other stakeholders, we can improve decision-making. I will support ensuring that the board has an opportunity to hear from our teachers, students, parents, and other community members to improve board decisions as we work toward our common goal of providing the best education possible to all of our students.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

Underlying all of the issues in the district is a need to rebuild community trust in the board and the administration and a need to change district culture around openness and responsiveness toward criticism. We can’t improve our programs and decision-making if we ignore or silence negative feedback we simply don’t want to hear.
Are we open and responsive to community feedback from multiple perspectives? Is district business conducted in an open and transparent manner? Does the community know and understand the basis for board decisions? Are problems candidly acknowledged and addressed? Do board decisions have sufficient, broad-based community support to be sustainable over time as individual board members come and go? I will work toward being able to consistently answer yes to each of these questions.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

I bring to the table the knowledge, skills, and perspective gained from my training and work as a lawyer, my service at the state level, and years of writing about local and state-level education issues.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

Respectfully. The district should use its website, conversations at the board table during regular, televised board meetings, and press coverage to communicate with everyone, with or without kids, in the district.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

I support the facilities master planning structured process in place for assessing, prioritizing, and planning for needed facilities projects. The district is growing and it is essential to keep moving forward on creating capacity to accommodate growth and to make much needed improvements in existing schools so that all students and teachers can study and work in safe, comfortable learning environments.

Laura Westemeyer
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 53

Educational Background: BBA University of Central Oklahom

Occupation: Wife/Stay at Home Mom

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I am currently the Vice-President PTO chair at West High School. I also served as the President of the Northwest Junior High PTO. This past year I served on the Liberty High Transition Committee and the Immigration Task Force. Throughout the years, I have been a member of the Special Education Advisory Committee.I have also been involved in volunteer work outside the ICCSD community. This year, I served on the Grant Committee of Johnson County Foundation. I have served as a board member to the Iowa Children’s Museum and Iowa City Compassion, supported Girls on the Run and was a Big Brother/Big Sister for 6 years. Further, for 8 years, with the help of the Hills community, St. Joseph and St. Thomas More churches, I have led a team of elves that provide a dinner and gifts to over 400 people who live in mobile home parks.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

For 12 years I served our community as the founder and owner of the Children’s Center for Therapy, a place that provided therapy services for children with special needs. As I built the Center, I learned from the families that I served. I saw their tireless dedication to their children, and I created programs to support their work. I am very grateful for this community. My purpose for running for the ICCSD Board of Education is because of my love and concern for our children. We need to address the growing concerns with our school district leadership and to make sure ICCSD represents the values of our community and the families the district serves. ICCSD families should not be fearful of asking the administration questions. I want to ensure that services are provided to all of our students, and I want to change the current retaliatory culture of our district. We have a lot of work ahead of us in rebuilding trust within our community. My ability to listen to all stakeholders, as well as my strong relationship with many immigrant and special needs families will be instrumental in rebuilding trust as these stakeholders know I will effectively share their concerns and work positively with other board members to resolve them.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

"There are many challenges facing our district. Below are what I consider to be three of the largest issues--they are all important and not listed in order of importance.
First, we have had many challenges with our Special Education Services, including sanctions that have been handed down from the state and federal level. Having effective Special Education Advisory Team Meetings with committee members who broadly represent the Special Education Community would be my first step in improving our special education experience. Our community is blessed with experts in this area, and their thoughts and concerns should be sought out and taken under consideration. I feel if we had effective meetings, many of the issues in Special Education that our district has been bombarded with would have not have led to the state and federal violations we have recently faced. We need to be sure the administration is following through on the recommendations of the committees they form and that the superintendent ensures that committees are populated by a wide-representation of the stakeholders. Further, we must ensure that issues are encouraged and discussed in an authentic environment and resolved going forward.
Our second largest issue is that our school leadership has created a culture where many are hesitant to bring up concerns as they feel unsafe and fear retaliation against themselves, their families or their student(s). My philosophy is that everyone should be comfortable talking to any administrator or board member. When a Board of Director’s meeting is opened with the comment “Please remember you are making comments in a public meeting. Should you make comments that the subject of the comments considers to be inflammatory or libelous, you, as an individual, may be subject to legal action brought by the subject of your comments” it does not set the tone for a welcoming environment that encourages free speech. The district/board should encourage families to share their concerns freely and without fear of retaliation. A parent or guardian’s involvement in their child’s education and at their child’s school is a key factor to the success of the student. It is vital parents feel their input is welcomed and that their child’s care and education is being effectively provided. In fixing this undesirable culture that has been created, I would suggest the following: First, I would eliminate this warning. Second, the board should hold the superintendent responsible for ensuring that our district responds to requests for information that are easy to fulfill without requiring community members to go through an open records request and pay the requisite fee. I have been told some individuals are required to go through this process while others are not. Third, the board should ensure that its is listening and reacting when necessary to stakeholder’s concerns, not simply ignoring them. The district’s goal should be to meet the educational needs of all of our students, not just a few select groups. ICCSD is very lucky to be a growing and thriving community; however, we must pay attention to future needs (using accurate data, listening to stakeholders, etc.) so that the district is planning ahead.
Our third largest issue is that the board must oversee and advocate for the ICCSD school district in its goal of educating all of our children and inspire excellence, knowing that our budget is finite and that the state has not provided sufficient educational funding. Clearly, the board must continue to advocate for additional state funding, educate itself about school finance, and consider and weigh alternatives for better managing the district’s resources. Please see my answer to the question below for my thoughts about how to accomplish this goal."

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

"If the district is forced to cut the school district’s budget, administration, board members and the ICCSD stakeholders need to work together to try to come up with alternative/creative means to make up for this loss funding. Some ideas I have are: We need to continue to lobby our state legislature for adequate funding. This needs to be done on a weekly basis not just once or twice a year. We need to get more members from our community involved in writing letters to the state legislature and participating in meetings with our elected officials. The board should evaluate our district’s central office staff to ensure the central office is operating efficiently. The board needs to require the superintendent, its sole employee, to provide a list of all outside vendors with which the district has contracted for consulting services along with the term of the contract and the fees/expenses associated with such contract. Conflicts of interest should also be identified by the superintendent prior to any vote on a contract. The board should further require the superintendent to outline the end goals of any vendor contract. Upon completion of any vendor contract, an analysis should be done to make sure the contract’s end goals were met by the vendor as well as feedback obtained from teachers, etc. We should revisit the topic of magnet schools. Establishing one or more effective magnet programs could attract a sufficient number of students from not only our district but other nearby districts or those ICCSD students currently open enrolling into other districts . We need to open a discussion about the pairing of smaller schools in our district so that they can operate more efficiently. We need to understand why over 500 students are open enrolling out of our district each year. These students represent over $3,000,000.00 leaving our district each year."

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

"ICCSD has extremely talented and dedicated teachers and staff. If elected, I will work with the new team of board members to bring a more positive culture and environment that will help our staff and the families they serve feel more supported. Our students are also an amazing group of people who are a huge strength of the district. As a board, we need to continue to cultivate and support an inclusive environment where all of our students can excel to their potential. One of the boards most important jobs is to make sure that resources are properly allocated and that decisions are made in a timely manner. I fully intend to listen to all of our district stakeholders whether they be students, teachers, staff, administrators or community members and hear what their needs are."

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

"Board members need to be able to work together so we as a board can foster a more inclusive environment and continue to support students, wherever they may come from and at whatever academic level they may be at. Toward this end, our district has made some progress in working with students to improve their reading and math scores; however, we can always improve and I will work to keep academic achievement at the forefront of the board’s agendas. Additionally, our priority as a board must be to ensure that the classrooms in our district are adequately sized and staffed with teachers and paraeducators. My understanding is that while 80% of the ICCSD’s budget may go for personnel costs, not all of those personnel costs are teachers or paraeducators. While we do not know what the future holds, my intent would be to work with fellow board members to examine all areas that are not instructional in nature (e.g. not teachers), including central administration personnel and money spent on consulting contracts to determine how to best keep cuts from impacting the classroom and ultimately our students. Hopefully, our lobbying efforts will be successful and the Iowa legislature will recognize that Iowa must fund education to better compete against other states and prepare our children for the future."

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

"My work with my children’s PSTOs and District Committees have given me an overview of all of the district’s schools and a broad based understanding of how the district works. Through my long term work and development of the Children’s Center for Therapy, I have gained much insight into how to effectively support children of all abilities, and this insight will enable me to leverage my service on the board so I may be effective in setting agendas, asking for and reviewing information, and making informed decisions in the best interests of children. I have effectively worked with people from many cultures and have learned from and greatly valued these experiences. I fully support a culturally diverse school with a welcoming environment that is responsive to the needs of our children and their families and am willing to work as a board member to enhance our schools in this regard. I have experience as a leader and as a board member, and I am ready, willing, and able to use my knowledge as a professional, parent, volunteer, and collaborator to work positively with other board members to best serve our children."

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

I fully intend to listen respectfully to all individuals and groups who contact the board and am willing to embrace a variety of communication mechanisms to do so (e.g. phone, email, social media platforms, etc.). Having stated this, board members always need to be cognizant of Iowa’s open meetings law and not engage in activity that would go against the open meetings laws.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

"I support the District having a Facilities Master Plan. I recognize that growing enrollment, while a good situation to be in, may be challenging going forward for many reasons. I also support the District seeking a general obligation bond. However, I do have some concerns about the present bond referendum. Having said that, if I am elected to serve on the board, I will fully support the community’s vote on the matter. If it is necessary to bring a future bond forward, I would work with my fellow board members to bring unified support to pass it as well as work diligently with the ICCSD community to listen to their concerns/issues with the prior bond and understanding why it did not pass. I would hope that the current board has a contingency plan in place to quickly move forward with a new bond vote should the current vote fail. If not, I envision that new board members will build upon the work of the current board."

Ruthina Malone
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 41

Educational Background: MA Rehabilitation Counseling; BA in Psychology

Occupation: UI Administrator for CLAS

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I served on the board of my daughter's before and after program, Lucas On Campus at Lucas Elementary be serving as the treasurer for 5 years; I served as the treasurer for Lucas elementary PTO for 4 years I chaired the annual magazine fundraising for South East Junior High PTO and was an active member; I'm currently entering my second year as City High's PSTO treasurer. As part of my service to the University of Iowa, I have served on the following committees: CCOM Diversity Committee 2008-2010; UIHC/CCOM Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee 2010-2012; Diversity Catalyst Award Committee 2011, 2016; CLAS Staff Recognition Committee 2013-2016; UI Conflict of Interest in Employment Committee 2014-2017; UI-HR 10 Implementation Advisory Committee 2014-2015

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

At this time, I am unaware of any.

Why are you running for school board?

"I am seeking a Board of Directors seat to serve our community as I am able. I am particularly focused on being an advocate and voice for groups who may have felt marginalized in our district, including students and families of color as well as students with special needs and their families. Besides being an active parent, I also bring with me a host of professional experience, including as a Departmental Administrator for multiple departments at the University of Iowa. In particular, I have several years of experience related to financial planning, interpretation, and reporting. I also have experience supervising 10 direct staff members. I am also the wife of a school teacher in the district; I have met several principals and a host of other teachers and staff members across the district, and as a result, I am well acquainted with the issues and concerns on the minds of our teachers. Lastly, I think the most important experience that I can bring to the board is one of an engaged community member that understands the hard work, knowledge, and dedication that this role will require. I have lived in our community since 1994 and bring with me my experience of living in a growing and thriving community with a diverse population."

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

"I believe the 3 largest issues facing the district are:
1)Rebuilding trust between the community, district administration and school board: As the parent of a current student, wife of a teacher, and candidate who has spent the last four months meeting with voters, I have had an opportunity to give this some extensive thought. The lack of trust is a common theme I have heard for several years, and has been amplified as I have met with voters and school principals. They view this to be a damaged relationship and hope that this can be addressed with people like myself who are willing to bring an open mind to every discussion and who is willing to hear from community members.
2)Investing in our teachers: In the wake of state-level changes to collective bargaining, I believe the Board needs to give concrete assurance to our teachers that they are invaluable components to our success as a district. Our Board and district must take all reasonable steps to ensure that we are able to retain stellar teachers, recognizing their dedication to our students and our community. By doing this, we will ensure that we are providing our children with the best people who can lead them on their educational journey to eventual success.
3)Creating a welcoming climate in the ICCSD: I want our district to be open and welcoming to all students, families and staff. We have people from a variety of backgrounds attending and working within our schools and we must take the effort to see that they have the tools to be successful. We have taken steps to address some of these concerns for our student population by administering an annual climate survey for them and creating policy that address areas of concerns. As a board, we should work to ensure that this is also happening for our many employees and not just the teachers because each role is an important part to ensure that we are a successful district."

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

"My first goal would be ensuring that I am thoroughly educated on our budgeting model. Like the University of Iowa, ICCSD has different funding streams that have restrictions. It will be important to ensure that I fully understand what those are within a very short timeframe so that the information our CFO presents is fully understood. This is something that I believe so strongly in and can be seen by the fact that I have already opened the lines of communication with Craig Hansel. We have met and started the discussion of our budgeting model and the constraints that we are faced with. I want to ensure that we have a budget that can allow us to do that work for which we are here, which is educating our students. I recognize that personnel costs are one of the first areas looked into when cuts are needed but I have also seen the repercussions that follow with increased class sizes, greater growth in achievement gaps and losing quality teachers to other professions or districts. As a board member, I want work to avoid these things and look at all possible cost saving measures that would allow us to avoid losing one of our most valuable commodities and damaging our mission of educating our children."

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

"One of the district's strengths are the people that we have working on policies that directly impact our children's educational growth . I have met with several of them over the last few months and have been impressed with their knowledge and skill set. We have to ensure that we keep highly qualified people within our district because they are the experts that our children need providing a good board with all possible options to make the right decisions. I would want to work with other board members to ensure that we are asking the right questions to get the best data that will allow us to work staff to design and implement policy that leads us to success."

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

"I believe that the areas the district can improve in are also some of the largest issues that we are facing as a district with the addition of one: We must rebuild trust between the community, district administration and school board: As the parent of a current student, wife of a teacher, and candidate who has spent the last four months meeting with voters, I have had an opportunity to give this some extensive thought. The lack of trust is a common theme I have heard for several years, and has been amplified as I have met with voters and school principals. They view this to be a damaged relationship and hope that this can be addressed with people like myself who are willing to bring an open mind to every discussion and who is willing to hear from community members. We must invest in our teachers: In the wake of state-level changes to collective bargaining, I believe the Board needs to give concrete assurance to our teachers that they are invaluable components to our success as a district. Our Board and district must take all reasonable steps to ensure that we are able to retain stellar teachers, recognizing their dedication to our students and our community. We must adhere to the GO Bond and/or the FMP: I believe that we as a board must guarantee that either the GO Bond is adhered to if passed or make a commitment to focus on our educational needs as outlined within the FMP if the bond doesn’t pass. This is also a common theme that voters have shared with me as it relates to the underlying issue of lack of trust and transparency. The board will have the power to see that these things happen if we elect the people willing to do this work. And finally we must create a welcoming climate in the ICCSD: I want our district to be open and welcoming to all students, families and staff. We have people from a variety of backgrounds attending and working within our schools and we must take the effort to see that they have the tools to be successful. We have taken steps to address some of these concerns for our student population by administering an annual climate survey for them and creating policy that address areas of concerns. As a board, we should work to ensure that this is also happening for our many employees and not just the teachers because each role is an important part to ensure that we are a successful district."

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

I believe that my experience as a parent volunteer and my professional background offers voters an opportunity to elect someone that will bring skills to represent our entire community. I have spent the last four months building relationships with families, community members, other candidates, current board members, teachers, principals and other district employees because a solid foundation will be needed in order to get to work on issues that we are faced with. I am only interested in seeing that our district not only meets the needs of the children but also works to ensure that teachers and staff are supported to do the job that we have hired them to do. By doing this, I believe that our community as a whole will benefit and continue to attract get people and families to the area.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

"If elected, I want to make sure that the lines of communication are open between myself and the people hat I represent. This would mean holding listening posts/meetings/ or other opportunities that spurs dialogue that would encourage people to bring their concerns to my attention I must be willing to not only listen but ensure actin is taken when needed. All stakeholders, even those without children in our district, should be encouraged to bring their thoughts to the table to ensure our community stays focused on the mission of educating our children. As a board member, I would also like to see open dialogue that allows us to grow as a unit to better serve our community. I recognize that we may not always agree on the best path to addressing issues but we must be willing to hear each other out and then act as one unit to ensure that our policies are carried out. By doing anything other than this, is damaging the relationship of not only the board within but the trust that the community has in us and potential our ability to ensure we are serving the children."

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

Currently, the district is addressing the long term facility needs through our Facilities Master Plan. This plan allowed for community members to have an active voice in the decision making process of what direction we wanted to take as a district on the needs we were faced with. I believe that this collaborated process is one that must be used going forward to address our needs. This allows for all stakeholders to come to the table and make initial decisions on the direction we should take to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our growing district. The board can then use that feedback to work with district employees to ensure that a plan is devised that uses the community feedback as a building block.

Shawn Eyestone
 

District: Iowa City

Age: 45

Educational Background: Bachelor's Degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa in Biology

Occupation: Analytical Lab Manager

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

Executive Board of the District Wide Parent's Organization for 5 years, elected President twice.

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I've been involved with my children's schools' parent teacher organizations for 10 years. This includes elementary, jr. high and high school. I volunteer my time with Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa City where I sing in the choir.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

I am running in part as a way to help protect our local public schools from the destructive changes that are happening at the national and state level. The push towards school vouchers, privatized education and decreased funding have already or will have a detrimental effect on the quality of our public schools. Our Board needs to work closely with other Boards across the state to remind our legislators from all areas of Iowa of the benefits of a strong public school system. This is the first step towards keeping our district moving forward.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

"Special Education in this district has a lot of room for improvement. I’m encouraged by the hiring of a new Director of Special Education. But it doesn’t stop there. I want the Board to ensure that the environment is such that the new Director is free to affect change. We can’t say to her that this is how we do Special Education in this district and you are the new person to do so. There has to be a level of comfort such that she is willing to suggest changes and we are willing to listen. Any improvements will be most successful with a collaboration between the Director, District Administration, the Board, Special Education Teachers, parents and the community.
Another area to work on is our technical and vocational education. As a general rule we have a highly educated community which yields the thought that all of the students in the district should be and will be attending college. While college is becoming an increasingly required component for many careers, it still isn’t the path for all students. There are plenty of skills to be learned while in our district that can propel a student to have a successful career after high school. They may still end up attending college, but may have a better understanding what they would be working towards. Working with local businesses in creating internships or apprenticeships would be a way to get students experience while minimizing the cost impact to the district. If we are willing to accept the cost, we can create better vocational training classrooms within our schools. This would be an example of how investing in our facilities will yield improved curriculum experiences.
Lastly, the trust in the Board from the community has greatly diminished over the last several years. We must provide a better example of how we want our district to be seen by families and the community. We need to actively listen to each other and be able to have constructive conversations at the Board table. If the Board can work together as a team to reach some common ground, the community will regain some of the trust it has lost. "

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

We will be faced with tough choices at some point with the budget. My goal would be to keep that impact as far from the classroom as possible. As a district, I feel like we run fairly lean on administration for our size, but we could look at the numbers to make sure we aren’t creating redundancies. With the opening of Liberty High this fall and the new boundaries coming in 2019 to go along with new elementary schools, we should be able to save overall on busing costs as well. We can also leverage one fund for another. For example, we have already seen a decrease in utilities costs which come out of the general fund due to changes in the lighting and HVAC systems being upgraded via facilities funds.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

The greatest strength this district has is it's teachers and support staff. With the changes at the state level in regards to contract negotiations, it will be incumbent on the Board to create an environment to retain them as well as attract new staff to our district. We have an active and engaged community and we should celebrate that by actively listening to their input and find ways to incorporate their support into our decision making process.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

Besides the areas I listed earlier, Special Education, Technical and Vocational Training and community trust, communication is always the biggest struggle. This is true of most large entities, but our district in particular. When we make mistakes, which we will, it is important to be clear to everyone that we recognized the error. Let everyone know what we the plan is to correct the error. Have an idea of a metric that will tell us whether or not our change was successful and what would be the next step if it wasn't.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

In my professional life, my years as a manager at Integrated DNA Technologies has allowed me to work with many personality types. It has given me the opportunity to work on my communication skills as well as learning how best to work as a team in order to reach a common goal. I have also had to work on multi-million dollar annual budgets. I’ve had to create the budget and stick to it. This includes personnel, equipment, materials and training. I believe this correlates well to what I would need to accomplish as a Board member. Specifically, I work in an analytical lab which means I spend most of my days looking at data trying to see the big picture to determine next steps. This experience would give me the ability to look at the big picture as well as the details to help in my decision making process as a Board member. I have already put in a lot of time working with our schools' teachers, administration and community members and am willing to continue to do so.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

I prefer face to face communication if I can. I also appreciate honest and thoughtful dialogue. Most everyone that is willing to be part of this process is trying to do the right thing by the students. Remembering that point is key to collaborative and constructive discussions. Seeing a point of view that differs from you as "bad" will not move discussions forward. Holding occasional town halls to discuss the state of the district and upcoming topics at board meetings would help the community feel like they are a part of the district even if they don't have children attending school.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

Continual planning is key. We have been behind for years and are trying to get ahead of the game. This poses it's own challenges. We need to keep adding to the timeline of projects that the Facilities Master Plan encompasses. This should be done even without knowing all of the funding streams. Many questions have arisen regarding how to prioritize projects. Perhaps there should be some general guidelines created around priorities. What does the board, as a whole, consider to be the most important factors when considering a timeline for projects?

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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