Voters in the Iowa City school district have a tough task ahead of them early next month, when they will choose board members to fill five of the district’s seven school board seats.
Thirteen community members have stepped up to serve. None are incumbents, although one candidate has served on a school board in another community.
In our communications with candidates, we have found each to be keenly interested in helping to ensure the school district’s excellence. Their ideas for how to do that and the strengths they bring to the table are details voters will have to explore before casting their ballot on Sept. 8.
We’ve tried to do our part by publishing guest columns from the candidates on these pages, and a grid outlining their responses to a Gazette survey on page 12A of today’s paper.
We also offer these endorsements for your consideration. In our deliberations, we considered the importance of selecting a board which represents a broad range of experiences and views, as well as our perception of each candidate’s willingness to work for the good of the district, as a whole.
This is not to say we think the other candidates would be a poor choice — we found none of the candidates in this race to be unqualified or unprepared.
And as always, we are thankful for each person who stepped forward to serve.
City High graduate LaTasha DeLoach knows firsthand the struggles that some of the districts must overcome in order to succeed. As a homeless high school student, she found support in Iowa City school staff and went on to earn her bachelors and masters degrees in social work from the University of Iowa. She now works as a community projects specialist with Johnson County Social Services, focusing on youth and families.
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She has founded or been involved with a host of community groups working on issues of diversity, racial equity, social justice, housing and other issues. Her sights appear to be laser-focused on Johnson County youths and families, particularly those who might not regularly participate in district decision making or be fully engaged with school.
In our conversation, we found her to be pragmatic and appreciated her focus on solutions, shown in ideas such as asking a district staffer to live-tweet or live-blog board meetings in order to make them more accessible.
Shawn Eyestone works as a lab manager and has two sons in the district. He is active in the Districtwide Parents Organization and Garner Elementary PTO.
He told us he is running to continue the forward momentum the district has gained over the past two years, and to follow through on the Facilities Master Plan in order to ensure equitable school facilities across the district.
When we asked what, specifically, he would do to build communication between the board and the public, he stressed the importance of sharing not only decisions, but also the reasoning behind those decisions. Of communication, he told us: “If the public thinks it’s an issue, it’s an issue.”
While Eyestone freely admits he’ll have much to learn, especially in the area of school finance, he seems up to the challenge and would bring a parent’s voice with a districtwide perspective to the board.
This is Phil Hemingway’s third bid for a seat on the Iowa City school board. Hemingway has been a regular fixture at school board meetings for years and is well known for asking pointed questions about district business. While his critical inquiries have not always been met with open arms, the questions he asks have been good ones.
We also appreciate that if elected, Hemingway, an ASE-certified Master Technician and Engine Machinist who owns his own shop, would be the only board member without a college degree. He would be a good advocate for technical education in the schools.
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Our one caution is that Hemingway will have to temper his “stubbornness” — which he fully admits to — in order to be an effective board member. If elected, we urge him to keep focusing a critical eye on district business, but to do so in a way that facilitates compromise and focuses on solutions.
Jason Lewis is another returning candidate, having run for the board in 2013. He is director of the Writing and Humanities Program at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and has significant experience as a professional communicator.
Lewis has been actively involved in the district and has long been a champion of magnet schools, which we support.
But perhaps most important, he strikes us as a connector who will be able to balance community input with decisive action. As he wrote in his response to a Gazette candidate survey, “It is impossible to build consensus through silence. We have to be an ear for the community while keeping our eyes focused on the goals ahead.”
TWO-YEAR TERM: MEGAN SCHWALM
Megan Schwalm’s varied resume and systems approach to policy and problem solving would be a great asset to the board.
Schwalm is a diversity consultant and Ph.D. candidate in educational policy and leadership studies. She has been a community champion for issues of equity and inclusiveness and has done significant work on behalf of children with autism. She would bring a needed focus on and knowledge of special education.
Her academic studies give her a unique insight into school administration and management and we were glad to see that her priorities include administrative accountability — a critical role of school boards that too often goes unmentioned.
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