Board stability, diversity are key for Iowa City

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With a $191.5 million bond proposal on the ballot, facilities have nearly dominated election discussions in the Iowa City Community School District. But just as important is the opportunity for voters to select a new school board majority on Sept. 12. Five people are competing for three full, four-year terms on the board, while two others would like to fill the remaining two years of the seat vacated by LaTasha DeLoach when she resigned in July. Board members with expiring terms are Chris Lynch, Brian Kirschling and Chris Liebig, none of whom are seeking re-election.

Our endorsement focused on past experience and future stability. We believe the district faces several complex issues — including but not limited to facilities planning — better addressed by individuals who have mentally prepared for long-term public service, and by those who already have made a proven and significant personal investment in school governance.

TWO-YEAR TERM

While both candidates — Charlie Eastham of Iowa City and Shawn Eyestone of North Liberty — have a proven track record of volunteer service, we believe Eyestone’s experiences have been more varied.

Eyestone, a manager at Integrated DNA Technologies, is a district parent with a long history of building-based and districtwide volunteerism. He has spent the past decade within parent-teacher organizations, including the district organization, where he was elected into a leadership role by his peers. He also has served on several other committees, offering his voice to a wide array of issues.

Perhaps due to his profession, Eyestone is focused on facts, and data-driven decisions.

He is especially interested in seeing other pressing issues, lately overshadowed by a necessary focus on facilities, become more urgent priorities — disparate contact, achievement gaps and school climate.

And, finally, as a parent in the Liberty feeder track, Eyestone has no direct involvement in school boundary disputes, which allows him a non-emotional vantage point from which to view ongoing facility changes.

FOUR-YEAR TERM

Determining which three individuals should earn voters’ support was one of our more difficult decisions in this election cycle. The five candidates are distinct individuals, all of whom would bring positive attributes to the board.

Following much discussion, we offer our endorsement to Ruthina Malone, Janet Godwin and J.P. Claussen.

Malone, a department administrator at the University of Iowa and resident of Iowa City, is focused on restoring trust and accountability and she wants to first focus on relationships among school board members.

“We know that there are inequities within the district, and I don’t think we can efficiently address those concerns until we have a board that has taken stock of its own issues,” she said.

She wants to see action on the district’s equity plan, clear board policies regarding disproportionality of children of color and/or low socio-economic status across a wide range of concerns — discipline, special ed assignment, graduation rate and academic achievement.

As a district parent, the spouse of a teacher in the district and currently as a candidate, Malone says she has heard complaints of distrust from groups that should be working together. She believes she can forge a new path by healing damaged relationships, and is committed to a level of openness that she hopes will jump-start the process.

Godwin, chief operating officer at ACT and Iowa City resident, is an exceptional candidate with a long list of leadership accomplishments. As a district parent, she has been actively involved with the district for several years, and she is focused on rebuilding an environment of trust between students, parents, the school board, teachers, members of the community and district administrators.

Her professional experiences — of helping diverse groups identify common goals — will be a boost to a district that has fumbled in this area.

Specifically, she would like to develop an engagement plan with best practices for the board, where members not only hear from parents, educators and residents who attend meetings but proactively solicit more voices.

“No one expects every idea to be implemented, but people need to know that they’ve been heard and that their concerns have been thoughtfully considered,” she said.

Claussen, educator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and resident of Coralville, brings nuanced understanding to special education and classroom instruction.

Following a narrow defeat in last year’s special school board election, Claussen, a former West High teacher, hasn’t given up. He has remained active in the district, currently serving as co-president of the Kirkwood Elementary PTO. Two older children are graduates of the district, and he previously served as president of the Iowa City Education Association.

While it might be easy to pigeonhole Claussen as a special education advocate, his viewpoints are not limited.

He holds strong interest in the district’s climate survey and is intent on raising school experiences for vulnerable populations, such as LGBTQ students and those of color. He can offer a direct line of communication to district teachers, which may help ease tensions.

All four endorsed candidates support the bond issue and also agree, if it fails, the district will need to act swiftly to address facilities needs. None are opposed to placing another bond proposal before voters.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

The Gazette editorial board invited the candidates to submit a guest essay addressing their background and desire to serve.

Follow the links below to read what the candidates wrote:

J.P. Claussen

Charlie Eastham

Shawn Eyestone

Janet Godwin

Ruthina Malone

Laura Westemeyer

Karen Woltman

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