Campaign Description

Here's what this campaign is about:

Ensuring equal opportunities in curriculum and programming for all students

Providing our students and faculty with safe, healthy, technology-driven learning environments

Committing to our neighborhood schools

Guaranteeing responsible stewardship of public funds

Celebrating the diversity within our district

Engaging parents to become active participants in the schools

Making data-driven decisions with measurable results

Email us at or call 331-6746

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A State of Minds?

I realize I really need to change the name of this blog, but I have yet to do so.

At any rate, I delivered the following comments today during a House Education subcommittee meeting in Des Moines.  Hope you enjoy.

“A State of Minds”  

Many might remember this slogan from when it was proposed for our license plates by then first-term, Governor Branstad back in 1983.   Back then, the governor wanted to emphasize Iowa’s high literacy rate and education prowess in order to attract businesses from outside of the state to relocate to Iowa.  

That was then, this is now. My, how times have changed.

We are at a crossroads in our state. Iowa stands at the precipice of a future economy that relies on emerging new technologies.  The business growth in the Technology Corridor between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids is a perfect example of this.  We, as a state, have to decide now if we are preparing our future workforce with just the three R’s or with the technology and skills necessary to compete in today’s global economy.  In order to win in Business, we need to win in Education. A highly skilled workforce leads to higher earning potential and a higher standard of living, which is critical to attract new businesses to our state.  Education is the first step in creating a self-perpetuating cycle of prosperity…. It begins in our classrooms…..with our students.  

Our neighboring states, however, are beating us to the punch.  The gap in education spending between Iowa and surrounding states is widening and our kids are paying the price.  We live in a state that ranks 22nd in per capita income, but has plummeted to 35th in per pupil spending. We are currently spending $1612 less per pupil than the national average.  Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois all fund education ABOVE the national average.  Nebraska and Missouri are BELOW the average, but still ahead of Iowa. Can we really compete for future business if our students aren’t prepared? 

Surprisingly, our teachers have managed to produce amazing results, with too little, for far too long.  What’s the return on investment for education funding?  Lets examine what Iowa students are capable of.  Despite the steady loss of $641 in inflation-adjusted funding since 2008, our students have:

  • 2nd highest ACT composite in the nation
  • 89% graduation rate
  • Steady increases in AP testing and students taking concurrent collegiate classes
  • Statewide voluntary preschool has quadrupled to 21,429 students over the past five years. 
These gains have been made despite a substantial statewide growth of students living in poverty, as well as those for which English isn’t their first language.  This shows that we have the right teachers and the students willing to do the work to succeed.  What we don’t have is the classroom supports and technology to continue to maintain the Iowa standard. 

Setting Education funding as the premier priority for Iowa with an increase in Supplemental State Aid next year of 4% with 6% the following year would be the first steps to reversing Iowa’s quick slide toward the bottom.  It wouldn’t get us to the national average, but it would be a start.  We can’t afford to NOT emphasize education in this state.  What good is a decrease in corporate property tax if we don’t have a highly skilled workforce ready to compete with the rest of the world?

I’ll admit, I didn’t like the slogan “ A State of Minds” back in 1983, but I understand what the governor was trying to emphasize back then.  He was right to tout our strengths.  He was right to let those outside Iowa know about our commitment to education.

But he’s wrong now, and our students of today and workforce of tomorrow will pay the price.  I ask that you do the right thing for our students and for our future economy: Set Supplemental State Aid immediately for FY 2016 and FY 2017 at 4% and 6% respectively.  

Horace Mann said, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”  Lets make education the top priority for our state once again. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Keep Calm and Carry On

Long time, no see folks. It's good to be back.

It's been an incredibly busy year since my last blog post and despite many, many reasons to write about my thoughts on the goings on in the district, I have not done so.  There have been significant challenges we have faced, pitfalls to avoid, and decisions that have kept me up at night. Throughout all of it, I have had many ask if I would ever go back to writing my blog. In fact, the blog title even seems inappropriate now. Simply put, I have not had the energy to do so. My real job, our family calendar and my volunteer commitment to the ICCSD Board leave me completely drained by days end most of the time.

This last 24 hours, though, has me spinning.....

All that I believe in regarding fairness and equity in our classrooms has been dealt a significant blow by one USDA letter regarding the usage of FRL for redistricting purposes.  Was the Diversity Policy that passed in Feb, 2013 perfect?  Not by a long shot.  When the policy got referred to the P&E committee two months ago, I viewed it as an opportunity to tweak the policy, to address valid concerns, and to make it a stronger and better-backed commitment from the Board to combat one of our biggest barriers to student achievement: Poverty.  I firmly believe that we were on track to do so and would have brought a much improved policy back to the Board to consider in the near future. That's all on hold now. 

For me, this isn't about race. This isn't about neighborhood schools.  This isn't even about the various municipal governments.  For me, this is entirely about trying to ensure that every single one of our over 13,000 students receives an excellent education and has a level playing field.  Right now, too many of our kids are at a disadvantage.  I am not okay with that. None of us should be. 

Quite frankly, I am shocked and disappointed that there are people in this community, my community for nearly forty years, who are happy to see that the most meaningful step this district has taken (flawed, though it may have been) toward correcting this inequity was just swept away.  This is a major loss for our students, especially the ones on the wrong side of the achievement gap. No one should be celebrating political points when students are the casualties. we sit, back at square one.  Tabula rasa.  It's time for a gut check.  I am choosing to take this opportunity to focus on what is right and do all that I can to ensure that we improve our student achievement. Whatever happens next, I will continue to use that as my compass. I will continue to advocate for all students.  I will refocus my efforts on finding ways to work with my board colleagues to right the ship. I will keep calm and carry on. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Start of a Longer Journey

For the past four months this campaign process has been a bit like planning a wedding.  There's lots of busy work, lots of meetings. Some things go well, others are a little bumpy.....but overall, you're focused on the invitations, the DJ, the florist, the caterers, etc.  In fact, the whole event becomes a bit of a whirlwind and not surprisingly, most people get swept up in it.  Two days later, the gifts have been opened and most of the guests have gone home (except Aunt Phyllis, she always overstays her welcome).  The crazy thing is that after the cacophany and the excitement, you realize that you just got married and now the hard part begins.

That's pretty much how this feels right now.  It's been a long summer, with a sprint to the finish.  The party's over and now it's time to get to work.  We have so many varied issues facing our district, it's hard to know exactly where to begin.  It won't be easy, but I'm grateful that I've been given this opportunity to help to shape the schools our community deserves.  I want to be able to look back at this moment and recognize it as the time when we decided to move ahead to tackle these challenges and to commit to equity in facilities and programming that would give each student the tools they need to achieve their highest potential.

I've met so many great people throughout this summer and learned so much from each of them.  I am blessed to have so many resources to rely upon to help me really understand an issue and think about it from as many angles as possible.  I couldn't have done it without you.  We need to focus all of that positive energy and excitement away from the campaign and into the schools themselves....of course, I suspect I'm preaching to the choir. 

I've very much enjoyed getting to know the other candidates throughout this race.  After the last month's festivities I'm going through a bit of withdrawal, actually.  This whole experience reminds me of The Real World where nine unlikely strangers decided to run for school board. Thankfully for the most part no one stopped being nice and decided to get real.  Perhaps we'll have to schedule a reunion tour.

I am looking forward to working with Chris, Sally, Jeff, Tuyet, Patti and Marla.  I think we'll make a great team.  We won't agree on everything, but I have a great respect for all of you and I look forward to hopefully earning your respect and trust as well.  Let's collectively roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We have a golden opportunity to dictate our own future and there's a lot of work to do. I'm excited about our chances to ensure that all parts of the district begin to see tangible change and that all decisions are driven by a desire to heal the whole district and help every single student.  

Last, but certainly not least, I wish to thank the 8733 people who voted.  I've written before that my grandfather's greatest fear was apathy of American voters.  While 12% of registered voters doesn't sound that big, it's really quite impressive for a school board election.  By growing the pie, we increased the turnout and reached more people about the issues than ever before.  Record turnout means record interest.  Again, we need to harness that enthusiasm. we go, folks. The party is over, the gifts have been opened and now, because of you.....I've got a lot of thank you notes to write. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (and Thanks for Your Support)

Over the past four months, I've met a lot of new people, had innumerable conversations, taken part in five forums, multiple interviews, and consumed enough coffee that I'm getting java-scented thank you cards from Juan Valdez. I knew this would be hard on my family, but I didn't realize how hard.  Even the dog has started looking at me like I'm a stranger.  Through it all I've been happy to have a strong support network of old and new friends to rely on, to pep me up, to defend me, to cheer me on, and to believe in me.  I am truly grateful.  I will never be able to repay you all for the countless hours spent on this endeavor.

From the beginning, I promised to run a positive, issues-based campaign. I laid out what issues I believed in and went out with the help of my awesome campaign staff and my good friend and new MBA grad, Amber, and we tackled this seemingly impossible task. I don't know how the journey will  end today, but if nothing else I know I've formed a lot of great relationships.

I believe that we need to take control of this unique moment in our history and focus on our district's long-term future in both facilities and programming. We need to ensure that every child in every neighborhood has an opportunity to achieve their highest potential.  That's what a public school system should be about.  To have the perception that there are good and bad schools does a disservice to our students and our teachers and is unhealthy for our community.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way and the sentiment is district-wide.  The outpouring of support both in sweat equity and in donations to our cause was humbling. We couldn't have run our campaign without all of you.  Win or lose, I am forever grateful.

When the campaign finance reports came out last week, I did a little breakdown:
68% of our contributors gave under $100 with an average of $37.50
32% of our contributors gave over $100 with an average of $135
There were 127 total donors and I have known most of these people for much of my life.
By ZIP code 42% were from 52240, 4% were from 52241, 1% from 52244, 34% from 52245, 14% from 52246, 4% from 52317, 1% from other areas.

You can view all of the candidate reports of income and expenditures by clicking on each candidate's  individual dollar amounts HERE if you don't believe me. It's all public record now anyway.

Some have focused in on the record contributions this year. I think it speaks volumes of our community that collectively $35,000 was donated to help the candidates get the word out.  In our 24/7 media based society that's a tall order. People obviously do care about education and it's future in our district. I think it's a relatively small price to pay to raise awareness of the issues facing our students and teachers.

Speaking of the other candidates, I have a great respect for all of them. I've met nearly all of the spouses and children and I have just as much respect for them.  I know everyone has given it their all and it shows.  The physical, emotional and mental toll is incredibly difficult to deal with and I don't wish it on anyone.  Jim, Jason, Chris, Karla, Sara, Phil, Tuyet and Greg, my hat's off to all of you and whatever happens today, I've enjoyed getting to know you. Believe it or not, we share a common bond now. I think our little "reality show" is going to set an all time record for voter turnout.  No one can ever take that away.  Best of luck to all of you today!

What a long strange trip indeed.....see you at the finish line!

Now, get out there and vote.  Find your polling place HERE

Our community is at a crossroads.  I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work for all of our kids.  I hope you'll join me.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Works Well with Others, but Socializes Too Much in Class"

I still have many of my report cards from when I attended Lemme Elementary, South East and City High.  Beside each grade given, there is a space for teacher comments.  There must have been certain canned phrases to select from because the following two comments are repeated over and over throughout the years:  "Works well with others" and "Socializes too much in class."

While these traits definitely were a blessing and a curse in the classroom, I think that my teachers all hit the nail on the head.  I do play well with others and, yes, I do socialize too much.  As a potential board member I hope these traits serve me well.  It may be too late for me to try to change.

I guess if you really want to know something, ask a teacher.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Remembering Bill

There is a great opinion piece in the Press-Citizen today by Jan Martins regarding special education needs in our district.  Stability, Safety and Continuity specifically are mentioned in the article.  I highly recommend giving it a look. Martins' piece is a perfect segue to share a story about a long time Iowa City entity named Bill. 

Bill Sackter was a man who, by today's standards, would be considered as special needs.  Bill lived in a time when institutionalization was the norm for people with special needs.  He spent much of his life in a very sheltered existence until a young film student at the University of Iowa named Barry Morrow met Bill and little by little broadened his horizons.  Listen to this audio clip of the story by clicking here: Barry and Bill

Barry Morrow went on to write the screenplay for the movie Rain Man.  Bill Sackter successfully ran Wild Bill's Coffee Shop which still exists to this day in North Hall on the University Campus.   There were even two movies made about Bill and Barry starring Mickey Rooney and Dennis Quaid.  

I remember seeing those films as a child and I remember getting to meet Mr Sackter on numerous occasions around the town.  My parents made a point to see that I was introduced to the man who became an Iowa City icon whether he was just out and about, working at the coffee shop, or playing Santa Claus to the children of Iowa City.

At the Friends of Community Inclusion Forum last Monday, I noted that the District Belief Statements list that each person has intrinsic worth. Also listed is that the understanding of and respect for human diversity are fundamental to individual rights and enrich community life. In Bill's case, all it took was one man to recognize that intrinsic worth and give Bill the tools to achieve his highest potential. 

Bill Sackter's intrinsic worth and his contribution to our community still exists today.  He personifies what Iowa City is about and is just as much a part of our city's history as Helen Lemme, Irving Weber or James Van Allen.  I am honored to have met him and believe his story to be one worth keeping alive in our collective consciousness as we consider our commitment to students with special needs. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Psst, pass it on.....

My WWII Marine Corps grandfather had a book that someone gave him called The Grandparents Book.  If you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend you check it out.  It's full of introspective questions that you're supposed to take the time to sit down and handwrite your answers to.  The idea is to share the answers with your grandchildren so that they can get to know you.  Long story short, grandpa was a pretty quiet man and for whatever reason, he never shared his book with us grandkids. After he passed away in 1999, all of us received a photocopied version of his book.

As I read through it, trying desperately to understand a man who had never opened up to any of his family, I was struck by one question in particular. Under the section for History and Politics, in response to a question about what issues and causes he felt strongly about, he answered "Apathy of American voters.  Democracy will fail if 70% of eligible voters do not: 1. Inform themselves and 2. Vote.  Apathy is one of the reasons for the sad state of politics today - we get what we deserve."

This is true of school board elections in particular.  People don't inform themselves and sadly, people don't vote. Typically here in our district, we can only expect 4500-5000 voters to vote in school-related elections.  That's less than 8% of eligible voters.  Sad, indeed.

I believe and have stated numerous times that schools are the most important public service that we can provide to our citizens.  Roads, sewers and stoplights are important, but people don't move to an area because of those things.  They move to an area because of the schools.

Our schools prepare our kids for their future.  Our schools teach our kids to think critically and analytically.  Our schools provide the social structure where our kids learn about the world beyond their  community.  Our schools can provide inspiration and teach not how our world is, but how it ought to be.

We owe our entire district and all of our kids a fair shot at a good beginning to the rest of their lives.  We owe them safe facilities that inspire and nurture them.  We owe them creative programming that allows them to achieve their highest potential. It is our duty.

I feel that if you believe in something strongly, you should roll up your sleeves and work for it.  I believe that if you feel that there is injustice, you should work to make it right.  I feel that you should advocate for those that can not advocate for themselves.  That's why I'm doing this and that's why I want you to get out and vote.

If you're tired of feeling like it should be better for our kids and teachers, get out and vote.

If you're fed up with the back and forth tit-for-tat in this district, get out and vote.

If you believe that our entire district deserves to have a bright future, get out and vote.

If you are optimistic that we can be more transparent and communicate better, get out and vote.

If you believe we can do better and should, then get out and vote.

Voting is the only way that anything is going to get better.  No matter who you vote for, just get out and vote.  Apathy is the enemy.....

Pass it on.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not."
-Dr Seuss from The Lorax