116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Nine candidates are vying for three seats in the Cedar Rapids Community School Board election on Nov. 2.
The seven-member board serves about 16,500 students in the district, and board members are not paid.
Election Day is Nov. 2. In-person early voting is already underway at the Linn County Auditor’s Office through Nov. 1 and some satellite locations, and absentee ballots are being accepted. The deadline has passed to request an absentee ballot. For more information on where and how to vote, visit our Voter Guide.
Running for the at-large seat:
- Kerri Davenport, 53, a marriage and family therapist at Covenant Family Solutions
- Carrie Davies, 37, Farm Bureau Insurance sales associate and office manager.
- Bridgette Williams Robinson, 34, founder of Bridge Under the Bridge
- Marcy Roundtree, 46, community engagement advocate at Washington High School
Running for the District 2 seat:
- Incumbent Nancy Humbles, 70, retired
- James Sampers, 48, an engineer at Collins Aerospace
- Barclay Woerner, 49, an OTR Area Logistics Manager at Amazon
Running for District 3:
- Incumbent Jennifer Borcherding, 48, a community member
- Daniel Doyle, 47, Principal Program Manager at Collins Aerospace
Here’s where the candidates stand on requiring masks in schools to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, school resource officers, the district’s facilities master plan and the achievement gap.
COVID-19 and masks
Cedar Rapids schools reinstated a mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors last month after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order halting the enforcement of a state law barring schools from requiring masks.
Davenport: “Masks are helpful in mitigating the disease, but there’s a lot of parents concerned” about if masks create anxiety for students, she said. She is in favor of an “evolving” mask policy, and more parental input before the district makes decisions about reinstating mask mandates.
Davies: “I am a strong believer in parent choice. You do what you feel is good for your child, as you know them the best. I believe in putting kids first and parent choice first. Each story is valid and valuable.”
Williams Robinson: The reinstated mask mandate is “in the best interest of kids and staff,” Williams Robinson said. But she does think there needs to be options for students and staff who might struggle to wear a mask because of other health conditions.
Roundtree: Roundtree believes the district should be able to make a decision to protect our students and staff. “The type of requirement I want to see in place, is what is best for the precious people we serve,” she said. “I feel that the district has made this decision wisely.”
Humbles: Humbles, who is running for her fourth term on the board, said it is nice to be able to put a mask requirement in place “for our children for their protection.” The school board is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Linn County Public Health on when face masks will no longer be required. The board also will follow state law if the injunction on the law banning mask mandates is no longer in effect, she said.
Sampers: Sampers did not respond to this question.
Woerner: Woerner is against the mask mandate imposed by the district and believes parents should be able to make that choice for their children, he said.
Borcherding: Reinstating a mask requirement is something the district can do for “100 percent of our students,” Borcherding said, since many students cannot make the choice to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
A vaccine has not yet been approved for use for children under 12 years old.
Doyle: Before the mask requirement was reinstated, many students made the choice not to wear masks, Doyle said. “Their parents and families made those choices and without any input from the community, (the district) changed that,” he said.
School resource officers
The Cedar Rapids school board last month approved a number of changes to the school resource officer program, which puts police officers in Cedar Rapids schools, after some students and community members pushed for the program to be modified to address racial disparities. Under the amended agreement, officers will not play a role in enforcing school rules or discipline, will wear “soft” uniforms to be more approachable, and must allow parents or guardians to be present if their children are questioned by officers in school.
Davenport: Davenport is in support of the changes made to the program, and would like the school board to continue to review data in the future.
Davies: Davies did not respond to this question.
Williams Robinson: Williams Robinson is in support of school resource officers, who she says are like “first responders,” but they should not be used for policing middle and elementary students. “There are certain situations where calling 911 does come in to play, but I think there are a lot of other resources that should be used like therapy,” she said.
Roundtree: As staff at Washington High, Roundtree said school resource officers are needed in school buildings. However, she doesn’t want students to feel “uncomfortable” around officers, who need diversity training to better serve students from different backgrounds.
Humbles: The school board is planning to evaluate data from the school resource program every 30 days, said Humbles, who approved changes to the agreement to have school resource officers in schools. “We’re doing a reset,” Humbles said. “What do we need to do as a district so all of our children feel safe? … We want all of our students to thrive in this district and not be fearful.”
Sampers: Sampers is not in favor of pulling school resource officers from schools and said more research is needed.
Woerner: Woerner said it is a “negative” that school resource officers will no longer be stationed at middle schools. Under the amended agreement, school resource officers are available on-call for kindergarten through eighth grades.
Borcherding: With an amended agreement in place that includes a defined goal of what the program is trying to achieve, Borcherding said it could be “fantastic, the best thing ever.” But district officials need to continue evaluating the data to make sure it’s serving the needs of the students.
Doyle: Doyle said it’s “clear” the school resource officers did a really good job at keeping schools “secure and safe,” and there are “good ideas” for how the program can be improved.
Master facilities plan
Over the next 15 to 20 years, the district plans to build 10 new elementary schools and renovate three. This process will include the closure and repurposing of eight schools.
As a part of the plan, the district constructed and opened West Willow Elementary School this year, which replaced Coolidge Elementary School. Maple Grove Elementary School will open to replace Jackson Elementary School in the fall of 2022. The third school in the plan, Truman Elementary at 441 W. Post Rd. NW, would be closed once the two larger schools are built.
Davenport: There is a need for new elementary schools that are “falling apart,” Davenport said, but more public input is needed. While the district provides several opportunities for public input, attendance is low. “Possibly we could advertise it more,” she said.
Davies: Davies did not answer this question.
Williams Robinson: Buildings can only sustain so much, Williams Robinson said. “We can’t always make everyone happy … We need to look out for the best interest of the budget, the kids and what’s going to be most beneficial for them.”
Roundtree: “I think more schools are needed just from being in the buildings throughout the years,” she said. “How we implement that and make it fair for everyone is a different conversation.”
Humbles: “Our schools are pretty old right now,” Humbles said, adding that the district is revisiting its plans for secondary schools. “We have to hear the voices of the community because their children will be attending those schools.”
Sampers: The older facilities were “designed to last” unlike newer buildings, Sampers said. Tearing down old facilities is “upsetting to local community members” who may no longer be within walking distance of their school, he said.
Woerner: Woerner is against elementary schools being torn down. “It tears down the spirit of community,” he said.
Borcherding: “We have schools getting their heat from boilers and schools where in one part you have booming Wi-Fi and in another you have nothing,” Borcherding said, adding the current buildings don’t “support a modern learning environment.” Public input is “absolutely needed” as the district begins to discuss plans for secondary schools, she said.
Doyle: While Doyle said he was not initially supportive of closing schools, he thinks the district is “going down a good path,” and it’s time to start looking at improving secondary schools as well.
Student achievement gap
The Cedar Rapids Community School District saw drops in achievement scores in reading and math at each grade level that took the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress last spring when compared with 2019.
African American students have an achievement gap of almost 40 percentage points in each category compared with their white peers, scoring 32 percent in English Language Arts, 22 percent in math and 20 percent in science.
There is even a bigger gap for English Language Learner students and students with Individualized Education Plans scored even lower.
Davenport: “I like to think of it in terms of family achievement gap. Any child is capable of learning, achieving, growing and excelling. I think there is lack of family support in a lot of our children’s lives, and I think it’s more a family gap than it is racial,” Davenport said.
Davies: “Learning isn't a one size fits all for children,” Davies said. “They all learn at different paces and by different forms or teaching. Some are not good test takers, and yet we base how much they know off of how they do on state testing, which is not an accurate representation on how smart they are or what they may or may not know.”
Williams Robinson: “There’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed, and a lot of work to be done,” Williams Robinson said.
Roundtree: The pandemic and derecho exacerbated this problem, Roundtree said. “That’s something we’re going to have to dig in on and spend some time with. It’s definitely something on the mind of parents like me and the community.”
Humbles: It will take communitywide effort to close the achievement gap, Humbles said. Community partnerships with organizations with the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success will be key, she said. “How can we as a community support our teachers, our parents, to get their children up to speed? I’m serious when I say it takes a village,” she said.
Sampers: Sampers said the district needs to look at individuals instead of looking at it as a racial issue. “Equal opportunity for all students to achieve their maximum potential should be the goal of education,” he said.
Woerner: Students need to be taught the skills of studying, Woerner said. “It’s important to not only teach these kids reading and writing, but how to learn,” he said.
Borcherding: “There are many different kinds of learners. I think the achievement gap is better addressed when we’re looking at growth as opposed to looking at proficiency,” Borcherding said. “When we’re getting to those areas where we’re seeing positive growth, we need to look at how those students have been supported, what structures are in place and how those can be replicated.”
Doyle: When students are struggling academically, “an adult who cares can make all the difference in the world,” Doyle said, suggesting these students be connected with mentors and other services to help them catch up academically.
» More on the candidates: Get to know more about each candidate for Cedar Rapids school board
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