116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Ruthina Malone, Krista Burrus, J.P. Claussen, Jayne Finch and Sheila Pinter are running for three seats on the Iowa City Community School District board. The Gazette did not receive responses from Claussen and Pinter. ► Get to know the other candidates
Name: Ruthina Malone
Office sought: Iowa City Community School District board member (incumbent)
Age: 45 (born April 25, 1976)
Occupation: Administrator, University of Iowa
Campaign website: facebook.com/ruthinaforboard
Have you held office before? If so, what office did you hold?
I was elected to the ICCSD school board in 2017. I currently serve as the vice president.
Personal bio: I’ve lived in the Iowa City area since moving here in 1994 to attend the University of Iowa. My husband is a schoolteacher in the ICCSD system and our child attended ICCSD schools from kindergarten through high school when she graduated in 2018. Before I was elected to the school board in 2017, I began my service to our district by serving as the treasurer for Lucas Elementary’s before- and after-school program. I also served as the PTO treasurer before moving on to volunteer at SEJH and City High, where again, I stepped into the treasurer role for the PSTO. I currently work as a department administrator at the University of Iowa and have several years of experience related to financial planning, interpretation, and reporting as well as human resources.
Why are you seeking a seat on the school board?
I am running for reelection to continue fulfilling the work that I started. Over the last four years, I’ve worked with the other directors to continue to build a good working relationship with our teachers and staff; worked to address some of the inequities that our marginalized students have felt by addressing our discipline protocols; provided structure and support so that the administration team and staff can address issues related to our special education program; continued to create the atmosphere for administration to improve the diversity of our workforce while also highlighting the need for DEI to stay as a guiding principle in the work that the district sets out to accomplish.
During my tenure as a board member, I have served on many committees that have addressed the way that we are educating our students and helping them to grow. I was part of the Rethinking Discipline task force as well as the Curriculum review teams for History, Art and Music. These experiences gave me a look into how board policies impact teachers’ and staff abilities to work with our students while also allowing me to offer input from the perspective of a parent of a former ICCSD student. I chaired the Policy & Governance committee for 2.5 years as we worked to overhaul all of our policies. I also currently serve as Vice President of the board. In this role, I have kept lines of communication open between other board members as well as the Superintendent and community.
How do you rate the district’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
Looking back, I think some of our biggest successes have been how we dealt with the pandemic. I believe that this board set the health and safety of all our students and staff as a priority from the very beginning by deciding to start the school year online and then moving the year back two weeks when that was taken away as an option to joining in on a lawsuit to retain local control to keep our community safe. At each step, the board communicated our thoughts and plans by holding weekly meetings. I believe that administration as well as the board worked well with our stakeholders to ensure that they remained healthy.
Another success would be the work that the district, with the board’s support, has done to address the issues that have long plagued our special education program. I believe that as a board, we have been focused on the issues since 2017 and navigated a course of correction not by scapegoating our staff but by again empowering and holding them accountable to see needed change occur.
I believe any good leadership could look at their communication processes whether internally or with stakeholders and make improvements. The same is true in my opinion of the board. there were times, especially during the past 18 months, where families and even staff felt as though our communication to them was delayed or that what we were saying at board meetings were either unclear or contradicted our actions. Looking at a way to improve this should be priority.
What are the three largest issues facing the school district and what will you do to address them?
I think the district will be faced with a situation where difficult decisions will be on the horizon once ESSER funds have been exhausted. If reelected, I want to be at the table to help make those decisions and help set the following as priorities for our budget:
To continue to invest in hiring and retaining teachers and staff who would allow us to offer a top notch educational experience to our students. As a board, we would need to continue to take reasonable steps to ensure that we retain stellar teachers while also recognizing their dedication to our students and community.
Adhere to completing FMP 2.0 if the ballot measures passes. We completed FMP ahead of schedule and saved the district and our community thousands. However, there are many projects that still remain and we must continue the promise of making our schools and facilities as equitable as possible. Several projects address school safety as well as implementing critical space needs that we see throughout the district.
To focus on is continuing our diversity, equity and inclusion work that we started in the summer of 2020. We have invested time, effort and funding into various projects that overall impact the district for every student, teacher/staff and administrator. Our DEI work helps us to target the climate and culture for students who have previously felt marginalized and work to improve their educational as well as social-emotional experiences.
What level of local control do you think school boards should have?
All local school boards are elected into office by their community in hopes that they will make the best decisions that addresses the needs that they are faced. Elected local school boards, along with the administration, are the ones who are most closely tied to different factors that can influence decisions within their communities. I believe that it is essential for local control to be left in the hands of boards. Having this control taken away from school boards really takes away the power of the community who elected them into office. State leadership needs to apply the same concerns to local control as they do when the federal government threaten to step in. We have heard how they view this as an overreach and my only question to them is how taking local control away from school boards not the same thing?
What will you do to be responsive to concerns by parents, students and staff? What type of communications should they expect from you?
During my last four years, I have tried to respond to emails that I have received from parents, students and staff in a timely manner. Since I do work a full-time job as well as volunteer on another board, I know that I must sit aside time to make sure that they have an opportunity to have their voices and concerns heard. I block off vacation time on my calendar to devote to responding to emails or meeting with those that request it in order for us to have an open dialogue. I will continue to do this and people can expect respectful communication with me even if we don't agree. However, I will not engage in bullying tactics or conversations where we only repeat the same things over and over. Good communication allows for issues to debated and an understanding of where parties stand to be formed. Again, we all don't have to agree but we should be given an opportunity to be heard.
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?
While serving on the board, I have approached decisions related to health and safety policies by emphasizing how important it is to listen to the local health professionals in the area as they are most informed about our current situation. It is also important to take into consideration the guidelines from the CDC as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics. as well as being mindful of staying within any law or guidance that comes from state entities while weighing the risks to our teachers and students with any decision that is being made.
Following this approach, I voted for masks to be mandated in our schools, which was in accord with the recommendation of Johnson County Public Health and the recommendations of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it was legally permitted. It was also an action that was supported by many families, teachers and staff who contacted the board directly.
If I am reelected, I will continue with this approach as it is the most informed and hopefully keeps us all safe. I am proud of how our current board has handled this challenging dynamic. I believe that school districts under the direction of their elected boards, should be able to analyze their situation and make the needed choices that best protects the majority of the community that they serve.
If you were required to cut the district’s budget, what areas would you look to for savings and why?
If the district's budget would be required to have cust, I would want to work with administration to look at areas where the educational needs of students are not disrupted. We have to meet our requirement of providing a good foundational education for our students so cuts to curriculum that makes this harder, wouldn't be high on my list. In the past when this has happened, we have worked closely with the administration team to make sure that we didn't jeopardize the educational success 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?
As a district, we have continued the work of reviewing our curriculum through the lens of inclusiveness and diversity. I would want us to continue this path making sure that age appropriate materials exist that allows for students to be educated not only about our history but about the future that awaits them once they leave. I also want us to look into ways to better address the opportunity gaps that we see among our underrepresented populations and make changes that could help address these in reading and math.