Staff Columnist

Iowa schools should serve all students, not just the college bound

Iowa City to introduce agriculture education

Cole Jamison (in red shirt), 18, of Anamosa talks with family members and friends at the Great Jones County Fair in Monticello on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Cole has been in 4-H for 9 years and FFA for 4 years and has been showing animals at the Great Jones County Fair for 9 years. This year he is showing 6 beef cattle in the 4-H/FFA Beef Show. He will be attending Iowa State University this fall to major in animal science. Visit www.thegazette.com to see a video of his day loading up his animals to get them to the beef weigh-in on Tuesday. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cole Jamison (in red shirt), 18, of Anamosa talks with family members and friends at the Great Jones County Fair in Monticello on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Cole has been in 4-H for 9 years and FFA for 4 years and has been showing animals at the Great Jones County Fair for 9 years. This year he is showing 6 beef cattle in the 4-H/FFA Beef Show. He will be attending Iowa State University this fall to major in animal science. Visit www.thegazette.com to see a video of his day loading up his animals to get them to the beef weigh-in on Tuesday. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa City schools are moving forward with a new agriculture education program, but it’s not all sunshine and cornstalks.

The Iowa City school board narrowly approved the plan after a lengthy discussion at its meeting Tuesday night. Board members voted 4-3 in favor of spending $200,000 in the program’s first year to pay for one teacher, materials, and curriculum.

Course offerings associated with the National FFA Organization — formerly known as Future Farmers of America — will be the first of their kind in Iowa City schools. It’s a victory for School Board member Phil Hemingway, a professional mechanic who has spent the past several years lamenting the lack of technical and vocational offerings in the state’s fifth-largest public school system.

However, three dissenting members would have preferred one of two other possible scenarios proposed by staff — one to send students to take a class at neighboring Clear Creek Amana schools, and another to hold off on offering agriculture programing until more comprehensive career training can be established.

Both of those options are variations of the status quo, making clear to students and parents that some academic pursuits are more important than others.

Shuffling students away to different facilities presents scheduling and transportation challenges. Students taking courses off-campus are often precluded from taking a full course schedule.

“In the past we haven’t necessarily promoted that or tried to recruit students into that program,” Assistant Superintendent Matt Degner told board members on Tuesday.

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Imagine telling every music or foreign language student across the whole district they have a 30-minute commute each way to their classes. Our community would not stand for it, because we value the types of classes that serve college-bound students.

Vocational education has been brushed off for years. Even the new agricultural program is temporary, now with only a three-year commitment.

Yet many of our students have not aptitude or appetite for a four-year liberal arts degree. Those students deserve options as well, and they shouldn’t have to leave their school building to reach them.

“When we talk about these opportunities, they really need to be at the school. … We have to make sure these opportunities meet a five-minute bell schedule where the kids can actually take it,” Hemingway said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Consider that the school district has a $273 million budget this year. The amount committed for agriculture classes represents less than 0.1 percent of total

School Board members think the budget is enough to justify three assistant superintendents, athletic directors in each high school, and more than 20 advanced placement courses. Voters also recently approved $192 million in debt for construction. We can deliver a year of agriculture materials and personnel for less than the price of our superintendent.

Public schools are for all students, not just the ones who will end up being college professors and corporate managers. Iowa City schools are plowing in the right direction.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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