Education

Iowa City school board candidates on hiring a new superintendent

Stephen Murley is leaving at the end of his contract in June 2021

Seven candidates are on the Iowa City school board ballot Tuesday. One of the big jobs awaiting the board: Hiring a superintendent to succeed Stephen Murley, who is leaving the district at the end of his contract, in June 2021.
Seven candidates are on the Iowa City school board ballot Tuesday. One of the big jobs awaiting the board: Hiring a superintendent to succeed Stephen Murley, who is leaving the district at the end of his contract, in June 2021.

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

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

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.

A Gazette questionnaire asked each candidate for their views on four issues:

NEW SUPERINTENDENT: How do you intend to proceed with hiring a successor for Superintendent Stephen Murley, who is leaving the district in June 2021? Responses to that question are below and have been edited for length.

To read responses on the other three issues, click through:

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

BOARD TURNOVER: How do you think the high turnover on the school board impacts families and staff, and how would you minimize it?

MOST IN NEED: How will you increase support for underserved students?

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Candidates are presented here in the order they appear on the ballot.

Hiring a new superintendent

Charlie Eastham: Such a change of district leadership invites us to engage in a process of choosing the next superintendent of schools that is thorough, open and transparent and, just as important, diverse, inclusive and equitable — a process that will culminate in attracting a superintendent committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable school system that is dedicated to supporting every student’s pursuit of an excellent public school education. I am looking forward to working with all members of the board to achieve these ends.

Michael Tilley: I’ve met with most of the principals in the district, and I’ve asked each of them this question. Although their answers have varied, the common responses were that we need someone who is committed to helping our most vulnerable students, someone who would bring new energy and ideas to help the district achieve its goals and someone who would also have a strong awareness of what is going on throughout the district by spending some time in each of the buildings.

I would add that the superintendent should be independently committed to the vision that the board has for the district as a whole so that the board and the superintendent function as partners rather than adversaries.

I think the first step of that (hiring) process will be to identify the overarching vision and mission for the district, which includes input from all key stakeholders, such as teachers, staff, parents, community leaders and students. The second step is creating a request for proposals for search firms to help us get a high-quality superintendent. That process also will have substantial community input from all stakeholders, and we also need to ask hard questions about each firm’s ability to attract a diverse pool of excellent candidates from which to choose.

Stephanie Van Housen: Prior superintendent in a district of similar size, proven track record in equity and special education teacher and staff satisfaction in prior districts, exceptional/proven skills in educational instruction and leadership; honest and a positive role model, enjoys Iowa City and what our community has to offer, goal directed, with the goal being all kids are learning, lifelong learner and Ph.D. in education when walking in the door.

The process needs to be completely transparent. We should be honest in what we are looking for and honest with the community about our failure in the past. We should take our time finding a truly qualified leader who encompasses our values and the values we want to instill in our children. We should not use the same headhunters we have used in the past. I have ideas for recruiting so that we don’t end up with a superintendent who failed in another district only to come here and we are stuck with them.

Julie VanDyke: The Iowa City Community School District needs an experienced, qualified, proactive, compassionate, open-minded, welcoming superintendent to prioritize the needs of our children, families, teachers and staff, and who comes ready to do the significant outreach and public engagement throughout the district that will be necessary to begin to rebuild trust in our district leadership with families, students and diverse communities.

Our superintendent should want to give the district their entire focus, addressing significant need for progress on the issues that directly affect our district culture, student success, classrooms and climate, instead of outside consulting, travel and other moonlighting. The hiring process should be community-driven this time. We need to have extensive public engagement events in all of our municipalities, communities and stakeholder groups regarding their priorities FIRST. When we let the board and a search firm entirely drive our hiring process, we leave the community out.

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Lisa Williams: I believe the next superintendent needs to be a dynamic leader, a skilled communicator and possess a clear vision of where the district needs to head in the next 10 years. As a prospective board member, I envision our district staying ahead of the curve by ensuring all students possess the knowledge and skills they will need to compete in an increasingly global, integrated and tech-centered workforce. The new superintendent will need to communicate the board’s vision clearly to the community and inspire staff to execute that agenda. The new superintendent must be effective at analyzing the existing challenges confronting the district, such as growing class sizes, a stretched budget and widening socio-economic discrepancies between schools.

I understand how critical it is to establish a diverse hiring committee composed of stakeholders from across all demographic and interest groups, including underrepresented voices in our community. Because the board is democratically accountable, I believe transparency is critical in our decision-making process.

However, I also recognize that when it comes to hiring, guaranteeing a degree of anonymity to prospective candidates might ensure a deeper and more qualified candidate pool. Additionally, giving our diverse hiring committee the space it needs to deliberate and reach a judicious recommendation without fear of constant outside pressure will be critical.

Paul Roesler: The first thing the school board will need to do is work with the teachers, staff, students and community to develop a vision of what they want the district to look like and what goals they want to achieve in the coming years. It is incredibly important to have a well-defined process for a superintendent search. I agree with bringing in multiple voices in the form of former board members, community leaders, teachers, staff, students and even some members of the public. However, the voices of those in our buildings and knowledgeable about our district’s needs should be the leaned on the most.

All meetings to define the process should be held like work sessions in that they are open to being attended by the public and are recorded and posted on Board Docs along with meeting minutes and agendas.

Personally, I would like our next superintendent to be a strong communicator, not only with the community but with the teachers, staff and students as well. The superintendent would encourage teachers to work to unlock each student’s individual potential because teachers know their students the best. I would like to have a superintendent that views each student as an individual learner and not simply a test score. During the board meetings and work session the superintendent should be helping the board understand the why in decision-making. They need to be vocal and support and encourage their team of administrators and staff to be vocal and be heard as well.

Shawn Eyestone: An excellent superintendent has a firm grasp on where a district is and where it should be. He or she would need to understand when delegating work is appropriate or when leading by example is needed. They would be visible and accessible out in the district. They would have to provide direction to the board while at the same time hearing the wishes of the board. They need to balance the day-to-day operations and budgets of the district with the overall strategic goals of student achievement.

This position is extremely important for the district and everyone in it. So the process to hire for it needs to be transparent and have input from several areas of the community. For the new superintendent to be given the chance to succeed, multiple stakeholders need to have some ownership in the decision-making process. If a small group, such as the board, makes the decision in isolation, there is no benefit of the doubt given to the new hire. This gives them little chance to succeed.

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

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