As I’ve watched my kids making their way through the school system here in Iowa City, I’ve been struck by how insulated education policy is from the people that the system is supposed to serve. Many school policies are driven by decisions at the federal and state levels, and there is increasingly an ethic that policy judgments should be left to professional administrators (or to business leaders like Bill Gates), who supposedly know best about what we should want for our kids.
Even at the local level, I’ve been surprised by how many decisions seem to be made without regard to community input. For example, at every opportunity our community has expressed opposition to school closings, but our administration continues to float more proposals to close schools. Our administration has also introduced policy changes — such as the recent changes to the school day schedule, or the budget cuts last year — at the eleventh hour, when there is little or no opportunity for community reaction to have any real impact on the decisions.
Other times our district has made changes without sufficiently consulting the people who would most directly be affected by them — for example, in changing the way it employs special education para-educators and in moving special education classrooms from one building to another. Consulting with affected families and staff is a wise management practice and can only improve the resulting policy decisions.
It is important, of course, to have competent professionals to administer our school system on a day-to-day basis. But the whole point of having an elected school board is to ensure that our school practices and policies are responsive to the community, and not just the preferences of professional administrators.
I’m running for the school board because I want to help make the district more responsive to the community. I’d like to see the board think more critically about policy decisions and, when necessary, stand up to the administration to ensure that the voice of the community is brought to bear on the choices that we make. I believe in the great potential of a democratically responsive public school system.
• More information: chrisliebigforschoolboard.blogspot.com; firstname.lastname@example.org