Education

Lucas Elementary investigation results in plan to 'restart' school culture

Some staff reassigned, support extended to principal

(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District will be transferring several teachers and staff at Lucas Elementary and providing professional development following an investigation into the school’s culture and climate.

The investigation was launched after staff, parents and community members contacted the district and school board members about concerns that Principal Kathy Jenkins — a Black woman — was being treated unfairly by staff and parents.

The investigation was conducted by Encompass Resolution, which investigates workplace complaints and offers workplace training and dispute resolution.

“I think this report should provoke each of us to examine how we’re contributing to a negative climate at times,” interim Superintendent Matt Degner said during an Iowa City school board meeting this week. “I believe no one escapes blame in a situation like this one.

“Those that suffer the most from something like this is our students. As a district, we need to do better.”

The district is taking the following initial steps to “restart that culture,” Degner said.

• Transferring and reassigning several teachers and staff members at Lucas Elementary, which is at 830 Southlawn Dr.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

• Working with Jenkins to identify ways the district can support and assist her success at Lucas.

• Providing professional learning to the school community, including culturally proficient teaching and restorative practices.

“There’s a lot of details and a lot of work that will go into those three different pieces, but we feel like those are critical steps necessary to improve the experience for our students,” Degner said.

Degner said the investigation called into question the district’s ability to “support a successful Black leader and her experience.”

“If we don’t have a foundational culture that can lead to success, what we do around that culture will have limited return,” Degner said. “We have to create equitable, inclusive school environments.

“We do support Dr. Jenkins and her leadership at Lucas. We’re committed to her and a successful start to the school year.”

According to the investigation, leadership style and communication were the primary staff concerns as well as cliques or factions among staff members.

The investigation concluded some of the negative climate and culture issues predated Jenkins being named Lucas principal in the fall of 2018.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

It also stated that Jenkins believes the resistance she has experienced from staff and some parents, including the Parent Teacher Organization, is caused by conscious or unconscious bias related to race.

J.P. Claussen, a school board member, said he hopes the investigation leads the district to explore other areas with similar cultural concerns.

Board member Charlie Eastham said he hopes the board and administration learn from the experience and strive not to let it happen in the future.

“I personally viewed this as a learning experience for me to understand how to respond to instances where a Black leader in the district has not been treated well at all,” Eastham said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.