116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Michelle Emmel, Jennifer Downes and Matthew Johnson are running for the District 3 seat on the Clear Creek Amana Community School District Board. The Gazette has not yet received responses from Johnson. ► Get to know the other school board candidates
Name: Michelle Emmel
Office sought: Clear Creek Amana Community School Board District 3 (incumbent)
Age: 49 (born Sept. 30, 1972)
Occupation: Education services coordinator, graduate management programs, Tippie College of Business
Campaign website: facebook.com/Emmel4CCA
Have you held office before? If so, what office did you hold? Current District 3 school board representative
Personal bio: I live in Tiffin with my husband and daughter, a sophomore at CCA High School. I also have a son, who is a 2019 CCA graduate.
In my current profession as the Graduate Management Programs Education Services Coordinator, Tippie College of Business, I work with a diverse group of students from all over the world to help them achieve their education goals. I am currently working toward my BUILD (Building University of Iowa Leadership for Diversity) Certificate that will help me better understand the experiences of specific identity groups, provide strategies for successful communication, recognize patterns of marginalization, and teach me how to provide support to eliminate behaviors and practices that create barriers to inclusion. As the current CCA District 3 representative (and member of the PPEL, Transportation and Policy committees), I am knowledgeable about the district policies, guidelines, needs, challenges, and strengths.
Why are you seeking a seat on the school board?
I am running because our student body and community are becoming more diverse, and I wish to provide a voice for all. My vision is to help create an inclusive environment where every student can reach their full potential. As a current board member, some of the items I want to continue working on include: selecting our next superintendent; addressing our overcrowding concerns by selecting the site and beginning design work of the new elementary building; working with the community to emphasize the need to pass a March 2022 bond vote; supporting additional curriculum opportunities; and ensuring our students feel safe and heard.
I started my CCA volunteer journey in 2006 so that I could meet new people. As the schools’ and district's needs grew, so did my passion to continue exploring additional opportunities. I have been a tireless supporter of the district, with over fifteen years of experience in various volunteer roles and leadership responsibilities within district affiliate groups, in addition to already serving on the board as the District 3 representative since August of 2020.
How do you rate the district’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
I am proud of our amazing CCA teachers/staff and their dedication to our students. We recently received our high school ISASP test assessment data from the state. Our scores show that although there is still work to be done, CCA can be proud of the outstanding effort that our students put forth and the exceptional results achieved.
We also have an outstanding special education program in our district and an innovate director of special services. This was evident in their ability to get a mobile classroom up and running last year, during the height of the pandemic, to serve our most vulnerable students.
Unfortunately, other recent data that we collected from students showed we still have work to do related to respectful peer-to-peer relationships in our schools, and that is something I would like to see changed. Our counselors have already started to design solutions within the schools, but this is something that I would like to continue to work on as it relates to district unity, which is one of my priorities.
Like most school districts, we are also struggling with staffing shortages in all areas which is creating stress. We need to find solutions to support our educators’ mental health and allow them more time for planning.
What are the three largest issues facing the school district and what will you do to address them?
1. District unity: I will work with the board/superintendent to set up community forums so that all voices are heard, and solutions developed together. It’s extremely important that I represent the entire district, and always remain aware that CCA spans several towns, two counties, and many miles. No one area of our district is more important than the other. We have experienced challenges, and I recognize that healing and hope takes time. However, I hope that we will face our upcoming challenges through collaboration and understanding, rather than through divisiveness and isolation.
2. Inclusivity: The addition of our newly created Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture Director for CCA has already brought positive outcomes. I will continue to support DEI efforts, as well as to work with the CCA community group, Better Way Forward, to ensure our district is addressing the needs of all students. I will continue to work toward increasing my DEI education through personal/professional development and by engaging in open, honest, and even difficult conversations.
3. Funding growth/creating curriculum opportunities: I will work with the board and superintendent to create awareness and encourage the community to reach out to State legislators to support educational funding. I also plan to explore grant opportunities for creating/expanding vocational and STEM programs, as well as to reach out to community business partners to ask for support and program collaboration.
What level of local control do you think school boards should have?
While federal and state policies have their place, school board members are elected representatives from their community. The governing and management of schools should be controlled by those duly elected individuals closest to the students, having the most knowledge of the district, and who are invested in the welfare and success of our educators and students.
What will you do to be responsive to concerns by parents, students and staff? What type of communications should they expect from you?
If any parent, student, or staff communicates with me directly I will always respond respectfully and honestly to their questions. If I cannot directly help with an issue or concern, I will provide contacts or resources that can help. I vow to always keep an open mind, to be a good listener, and to keep communication open with our community. It is also my policy to prioritize students' needs and never use my position to promote a personal agenda.
Should school districts be allowed to enact a mask requirement for students during the COVID-19 pandemic? If yes, what type of masking requirement would you want to see in place?
I do believe that school districts should have the ability to decide if mask requirements are needed or not. I believe tiered mitigation protocols are necessary to try to contain massive outbreaks of the virus. Such as, not allowing visitors, extra cleaning, good hygiene, distancing as much as possible, encouraging mask usage, getting vaccinated when eligible, and staying home when symptomatic each play an important role in these mitigation efforts. My personal view is that those students too young (currently) to be vaccinated should wear masks. Once the vaccination is available to that younger age group and we have that extra layer of protection in place, then masks could be encouraged but optional. However, as a current school board member, I must weigh my personal views and all administrators’ recommendations. It’s important that we rely on those who interact with the students, teachers, staff, and parents, and who have a better idea of what’s happening in our schools daily. Their recommendations and the reasoning behind them must be seriously considered.
If you were required to cut the district’s budget, what areas would you look to for savings and why?
Luckily in a growing district like ours, that’s not an issue currently. However, in that event, I would look to defer building maintenance, and as a “1-to-1 school” (one computer to one student), I might ask our tech department to wait an extra year to replace old computers. It would obviously depend on the size of budget cuts necessary, but I would look at all non-educational expenses to see where cuts could be made. I would discourage any staffing cuts; our teachers are already stretched thin, and we should not ask more of them. We also would not want to jeopardize the education of our students.
Are there curriculum concerns that you have with the district? What are they? What process should the district use to address the concern?
I wouldn’t say I have curriculum concerns because our administration and teaching staff do a great job of continually evaluating and adapting the curriculum at all levels to ensure student proficiency and excellence. However, there are enhancements that I’d like to see, such as an advanced language arts program at both the middle and high school levels. We, like most schools, have advanced math programs that students can progress through if they show enhanced abilities; but we don’t have anything like that in the language arts, leaving those gifted students to remain in a program below their potential. We also need to expand our high school vocational options to give students who may not be college-bound a path to success. The district has a School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) made up of parents, community members, teachers, students, and administrators. Part of what that committee is tasked with is curriculum and instruction assessment. Curriculum concerns should be brought to the curriculum director and to SIAC who will then recommend any needed changes to the board. This process is necessary so that our teachers and administrators are not being micromanaged by those who might desire curriculum changes.