Education

Iowa City school board candidates on how to better support students

7 candidates pitch ideas for those with special needs and challenges

People living in the Iowa City school district will be able to vote Tuesday for four school board candidates out of a slate of seven. The four members will represent a majority on the seven-member board that will be charged with hiring a new superintendent and with setting policy on the big issues facing education today.  (Gazette file photo)
People living in the Iowa City school district will be able to vote Tuesday for four school board candidates out of a slate of seven. The four members will represent a majority on the seven-member board that will be charged with hiring a new superintendent and with setting policy on the big issues facing education today. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — Seven candidates are seeking four seats on the Iowa City school board in Tuesday’s election.

The next school board, which governs the 14,000-student district, will be charged with hiring a superintendent, working with each other on the seven-member board and weighing in on issues such as the relationship between the school district and police.

Two incumbents are on the ballot — Paul Roesler and Shawn Eyestone — as are five others: Charlie Eastham, Michael Tilley, Julie VanDyke, Lisa Williams and Stephanie Van Housen.

All terms on the board are for four years and at-large — meaning everyone can vote on all the candidates.

In a Gazette questionnaire, each candidate identified the students Iowa City schools could better serve and how they would increase support for those groups.

The candidates pointed to students with mental health needs, those who receive special education services and students of color, and they pitched ideas for improving the achievement of those students.

To read candidate responses to three other questions:

POLICE IN SCHOOLS: Should law enforcement have a bigger role on school campuses?

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BOARD TURNOVER: How will candidates bring stability to the school board?

NEW SUPERINTENDENT: What are the candidates looking for in a new district leader?

Candidate responses have been edited for length. Candidates are presented in the order they appear on the ballot.

Serving students

Charlie Eastham: Our biggest challenge to serving all students is finding remedies for the long-standing disparities in educational results experienced by students of color. Using data-informed, evidence-based and inclusive processes of decision-making, we can accomplish these goals: eliminating disproportionality in academic achievement, discipline, special education assignment, course taking and graduation rates; providing support for and increasing the numbers of staff of color; ensuring curriculum is culturally inclusive and cultural competency professional development training is completed by all staff; deepening parent and community engagement; supporting district educators as they work to provide equitable instruction and inclusive school climates for all students.

Michael Tilley: Our district does not adequately meet the needs of our black, brown, low-income and differently abled students. I don’t think the board should be the primary agent to come up with particular strategies for better serving these students. Rather, I think the board needs to (a) establish a vision to create a more inclusive and just educational system and (b) set outcome-based academic goals that would flow from that vision.

Still, I think virtually every area of the district affects how we serve our students, including curriculum, professional development, school boundaries, resource allocation, and hiring and staffing decisions, including the hiring and retention of teachers and administrators of color. Furthermore, it is essential that we create a culture where the board, faculty, and staff believe that we can make progress toward creating a more inclusive and just educational system.

Stephanie Van Housen: I believe our English Language Learning students, our special education students, our black, African-American and (Latinx) students and our Extended Learning Program students could be educationally served with better outcomes for learning. I have advocated for these students as if they were my own since 2003 and will continue to do so.

The district might do a needs assessment and look at our data, and then work with the University of Iowa researchers to uncover what is needed, best practices, where we need to step up our educational services and evaluate us on a periodic basis until we reach our goals. We can do better, and it is up to the board to lead us to a better place where all of our kids are learning.

Julie VanDyke: We’re living in extremely stressful political, environmental and economic times. Students are under a great deal of stress, and it shows in many different ways.

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It will require positive engagement and a new districtwide effort to improve the climate in our schools by addressing the loss of social trust. ... Special-education students and children of color have been poorly supported and served in this district. These students have been disproportionately targeted and disciplined. (I would advocate to) better fund the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Ask any teacher if they can imagine what they might be able to do in their classrooms if IDEA were funded and the state funds were shifted back into appropriate staffing, student, and teacher supports and smaller class sizes. Win-win.

Lisa Williams: I believe the district could do a better job serving students with mental health needs. The trend lines in the national data are clear — depression, anxiety and suicide rates among adolescents are all on the rise.

We need to do a better job of training teachers on how to identify the early warning signs of students in need of mental health supports.

We also need to better address the mental health needs of our teachers and support staff. We just keep asking more and more of our dedicated educators. We need to consider developing a more robust and comprehensive mental health and employee assistance program to support our educators as well.

Paul Roesler: We need to do a better job of supporting our students who are being bullied. Students need to feel safe, and we need to ensure that students have a confidential means of reporting bullying and that parent/student concerns are addressed and rectified.

Our students with behavioral disorders, barriers to learning or special education needs need to be supported. Most general education teachers are not trained in special education. Our professional development days need to be restructured so that instead of one to two hours of professional development on an early-out Thursday, you have full or half-day professional development days.

We need to take a hard look at our student-to-counselor ratio. We need to continue to advocate at the state level for adequate funding for mental health needs.

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Shawn Eyestone: Our students of color report inequities that we need to address as do our LGBTQ+ students. One of the biggest things we can do to address this is hiring and retaining a more diverse staff. In addition, we can ensure a culturally responsive teaching and learning environment.

To support all of our students in terms of academic achievement, we need to be looking at growth as opposed to proficiency. This is helpful for students at all levels.

The last big piece is looking at how to reduce class sizes as we work our way out of our recent budget deficit. Allowing for more direct interactions between students and teachers has an impact on all of these issues.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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