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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Small Schools Anonymous

Hi, my name is Brian and my children attend a small school. That school is Shimek.

Shimek elementary only has about 200 students which makes it one of the smallest schools in the district.   Only 91 of those students live within one mile of the school.   If it weren't for the fact that Shimek serves the entire area reaching out to Newport Road and there are no other alternatives that are nearby, I'm sure Shimek would be targeted frequently for closure.

Traditionally, Lincoln enrolls about 250 students.  93 of those students live within one mile of the school. Like Shimek, it serves an area that really doesn't have another alternative facility within a reasonable distance.  I know that Lincoln has been mentioned at times in sentences that end with closure, but for the life of me, I can't imagine what alternative facility those 93 students who live near Lincoln would attend.

Then there's Hills.  108 students attend Hills.  39 live within one mile.  There is no alternative to Hills Elementary school in the immediate area.  Hills is the only school for roughly a 7 mile radius.  Their community has taken exciting steps to address infrastructure needs and is poised for growth.  That school serves a large area. I think that to consider closing Hills would be extremely short-sighted.  Remember, 20 years ago Penn was the only school in North Liberty.

Which brings me to Mann.  Mann has about 250 students enrolled each year over the past decade.  105 live within one mile of the school. After the anticipated renovations that are part of the Strategic Facility Plan approved by the Board in July, it is projected that Mann will be able to house over 400 students. Mann serves the historic GooseTown neighborhood and, like Lincoln, doesn't really have a nearby walkable alternative.

I want to share these thoughts because as we move toward new, larger,  more peripherally-located and cost-efficient schools as part of addressing our district's explosive growth over the previous and coming decade, we must still recognize that there is intrinsic value to maintaining a small school when and where there are no other alternatives.  Although larger schools are more cost efficient to operate, the true test of a neighborhood school is its sense of community.  Being able to walk in as a parent and have the principal and the school secretary able to recognize you by face and know where your children are at is comforting.  There is no dollar value that can reflect that.

Exciting changes are about to occur with our district-wide facelift.  Let's ensure that we don't lose track of our roots.

Hi, my name is Brian and my children attend a small school....

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Video Killed the Amateur Blogger

Thought I'd check in to invite you to watch this brief video to introduce you, constant blog reader, to me.  One take, no editing.  My apologies for the Umms and Ahhs.  This wasn't as easy as it sounds.

And now, on with the show....

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Falling into the Donut Hole

Well, I guess I did it.  I made a mistake.  I went to City High last Friday before the teachers' first scheduled staff meeting and took some Daylight Donuts and a card table.  I checked in at the office and set up my table by the north entryway in order to take the opportunity to be present to meet teachers and hear their primary concerns regarding the facility and the upcoming school year.  I guess I thought that the only way to actually understand the needs in a facility is to go there and ask the people who work there.  Mea culpa.

You see, up until this Monday morning, there was no clearly stated district policy regarding candidates visiting a facility.  Most, if not all, of the nine candidates have toured numerous facilities in order to see firsthand what is needed at each location.  If the campaign process is a prolonged job interview, then it seems pretty smart to me to actually go out and learn about the job, just in case you end up getting hired.

I know other candidates have toured other facilities with me with the school principals present.  There was no indication from our administration that visiting a school was frowned upon. This is entirely evident in that numerous principals were willing to make themselves available for candidates to tour their respective facilities.

I did not file a facility room request at City High because I did not use a room and I was not holding an actual listening post for the public. My public listening posts have been at the Coralville Public Library, the ICPL, the North Liberty Community Center, the Senior Center, and Coach's Corner.

Which brings me to the next thing, Hills.  It has been reported that I held a public listening post at Hills on Tuesday, August 13.  That is not correct.  I visited Hills that evening from 6-7 pm at the invitation of the Coalition for a Greater Hills Community who held their meeting at Hills Elementary that night.  I had contacted them to learn more about the community of Hills and hear their concerns.  I would assume that since the door was unlocked and they were there, that they had filed a proper facility room request.

It is disheartening to me that my ethics have been called into question by individuals and media outlets over the last two days. I am committed to running a positive campaign focused on the issues.  I will not let these insinuations and allegations sway me from my real focus, which is our children and their education.  They deserve it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How to NOT Reinvent the Wheel

There has been an ongoing discussion about magnet schools and how they may play an important role in helping us, as a district, to solve our socioeconomic disparities in elementary schools. I truly feel this is one way that, when paired with comprehensive redistricting as new and newly renovated elementary schools come online, that we can work proactively to greatly reduce the existing significant disparities in poverty in our schools. However, there's a lot of concern among parents from all across the district that as we begin to implement the recently passed diversity policy, that means their child will have to get on a bus and be shipped to some other school.  The good news is that we don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Free or reduced lunch (FRL) is how we measure poverty in schools. Years of education research show that when a school creeps above 40-50% of the children qualifying for FRL, that school performance, as measured by standardized test scores, begins to fall (the merits of theses tests is a WHOLE different discussion).  Due to No Child Left Behind, this can lead to schools being labelled as a School in Need of Assistance (SINA).  Having even one SINA school should be unacceptable to us as a district and as a community.  Our recently passed Diversity Policy is an attempt to limit the percentages of FRL in any one elementary to 15% above the district-wide mean, which, at this time, would be mean a target FRL in the mid-40's or below.

Tackling disparities in poverty to improve school performance is not a new concept.  This issue has been dealt with by 80 other school districts across the country.  Many, like LaCrosse WI, were pioneers in this realm, so our task is not nearly as difficult as theirs was.  The good news is that we can go to them to find how they tackled this issue and what pitfalls and problems they encountered without bringing in more expensive consultants.

Since magnet programs are a hot topic, lets discuss those. Magnet elementary schools are essentially schools that provide K-6 education along with some added incentive.  On a smaller scale this might be as simple as having a prairie field campus similar to the one at Shimek. Or perhaps an outdoor classroom and arboretum like at Coralville Central.

On a grander scale, this might mean asking the teachers and the public what types of programs might interest them and entice them to consider enrolling their child in a school other than then one closest to their home.  Some examples of this are a year-round calendar school, a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) school, a young writers workshop school, or perhaps a language immersion school where children receive a multilingual education.   The idea is that we could design programs within the walls of existing elementary schools that would entice and give incentive to parents to enroll their children there.

Champaign, IL is a community that is especially interesting to me.  It's a Big Ten university town.  It had elementary schools that had been labelled as failing.  It had similar issues regarding high concentrations of poverty.  It had many facility needs that had to be tackled as part of a long term plan. They are currently going through phases of new construction and renovations just as we will be in the near future.  Sound familiar?

After involving the community to determine what types of magnet programs might be successful, they decided on starting a STEM program, an international education school and a MicroSociety school.  Check it out here:

The enrollment process is easy to understand and the process of assigning children to facilities is transparent.  In other words, the parents have choices and the rules are clear and transparent to the community.  Interested yet?

There three stages to the process: Review, Rank, Request.
REVIEW: In January and February, parents get the opportunity as their child enters a grade school to visit the different schools and meet the administration, teachers and parents already there to learn about the different programs.
RANK: By March, parents submit their FIVE top school choices in order of preference.  Each family may use different criteria for their choices. It's up to them.
REQUEST: Submit the registration forms. The district then uses four criteria to assign children based on Proximity, Siblings, Transportation and Waiting Lists.  See here:

OR...if you like video instead of reading the web site, try clicking on the picture of the little guy with the yellow binoculars on the upper right of the page at the link above.

The point is that most parents get their first or second choice. In addition, the administration has been able to level the FRL statistics across their district and previously failing schools have shown vast improvements in test scores.  They are also able to limit class sizes and limit busing which provides a better classroom experience for students and teachers while committing to decreased transportation costs.

This may not be the way that we decide to go as a community, but the status quo is not acceptable.  We are on the verge of big shifts in our thinking about schools.  The good news is we don't have to go it alone.  Other districts can help us learn from their experiences. We just have to be willing to ask.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

...With a Little Help From my Friends

Those Beatles were indeed wise....

From the beginning, I've believed that this campaign is about the whole district and that my relationships with individuals representing the entire district would be something I could rely on.  I had no idea, though what incredible people I have working with me.

You see, this morning, I woke up in Nevis, MN at a cabin on Lake Belle Taine.  After trying to relax for the past week while blogging, making phone calls, reading and answering questions in preparation for the next month, I was leaving my wife and children behind to work diligently for the next week on the campaign back in Iowa City.

Leaving was not easy. My son, Cooper, asked, "If this is about the kids, then why do you have to leave your kids?"  His sister, Grace, was sobbing...even though minutes before, she'd been singing the candygram song Will Ferrel sings to James Caan in Elf (gotta love 7 yr olds).  I was pretty distraught and down for much of the ten hour drive home and the standstill traffic on 35W south of the twin cities didn't help either.

Imagine my surprise to return to see all of the Kirschling yard signs and a calendar chock full of meetings and listening posts.  It appears that in my absence, my own elves have been busy in the workshop. I feel like someone threw me a welcome home party.

I am thankful to all my good friends who believe in what we are doing.  I look forward to meeting those of you that I'm scheduled with over the past week.  I am re-energized and ready to roll for the next month.  Lets focus on the sprint now, so we can win the marathon that comes next. We've got a lot of work to do, but if we continue to focus on the well being of the entire district, then our efforts will bear fruit.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I can never repay you all for what you've done for me.

"I get by with a little help from my friends...with a little help from my friends."
-Lennon and McCartney

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

E Pluribus Unum...

I'm sitting up here in the north woods of Minnesota with my family taking a brief vacation before heading home for the last month leading up to the September 10th election for School Board. I went out fishing this morning with my son, Cooper, and after we caught a few decent-sized bass (and released them, thank you) we headed home.  I hate to admit, but much of the time I was chewing on the big issue of how to really move ahead in our school district.  We have a LOT to cover in a little time and the facilities master plan was only the first step.

You see, the type of changes we have to make are going to take optimism and enthusiasm.  It's also going to take public confidence.  This can only be gained by involving the public voice from the very beginning.

Anyhow, as we were returning to the cabin from our morning fishing expedition, it dawned on me that right there on our U.S.currency is the answer to my dilemma.  E Pluribus Unum.  Out of many, one.  You see we've been going about this all wrong.

For example, the ONE District facilities master planning process was long and drawn out. It involved a planning committee made up of individuals from across the community who put in many, many hours over many months of time to work with BLDD to design multiple scenarios for our district.  The scenarios were then presented to the public multiple times for their input. A district-wide phone survey was done to gather even more public input.  The scenarios shifted and re-shifted, then a final presentation was made to the Board for their consideration.  Information Gathering, Recommendation to the Board, Decision. And yet....many still feel that their voices were not heard.

I think that going forward to the next big decisions with regard to the Diversity Policy and a broader redistricting effort, we must take the process we used for the facilities planning and strive to make it better still.  There has been MUCH improved transparency as of late and the effort to include the public was significantly better than previous attempts in past years, however, there is always room for improvement.

I think that perhaps what we need to do going forward is:

  • START with gathering community and teacher input through district-wide surveys by phone, focus groups, social media, email and snail mail.  We need to analyze and utilize that data to spend time focusing on what the public wants, not what their assumed wants are. 
  • Next, we need to go out and gather a committee of diverse community members who can act as not only representatives, but also liaisons to their neighborhoods, organizations, PTOs, etc. In this way, we can involve community members in a cohesive effort in which their voices are heard in a transparent fashion BEFORE any recommendations or decisions are made.  These meetings must be held in the open and recorded to serve as public record every step of the way. The information must flow both ways.
  • The committee must be given a clear directive from the community and not put into a position where they are trying to determine what the community wants. They can then focus on achieving their goal, not trying to reach a shifting goal line. 
  • Finally, a recommendation can be made to the Board for their consideration.  To go out of order may give the perception and feel that the public isn't being heard or worse, ignored. 
These next decisions and processes must start with a massive public relations campaign from day one. These are groundbreaking changes we are trying to make and it will take a true campaign on the part of the Administration in order to get it done.  The campaign must be aimed at ground-up ideas and implementation, NOT top-down. The most powerful changes in history started with the voices of many.   Out of many, one....One district with one unified direction.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Teacher, I have a question......

"Happy wife, happy life."  That's the unofficial advice given by many married men to each other.  Often, this phrase is paired with a knowing wink of one who has dared to go against sage advice.  Those of us who have visited the dog house for something we've done, learn this lesson quickly.

In many ways this wisdom can be applied to our schools.  Although it doesn't really have that poetic ring to it, "Happy teachers, happy schools" isn't a bad credo to strive for.  I suppose it was my wife, the daughter of an Iowa City teacher and an English Ed graduate herself who continually reminds me of BOTH of these cardinal rules.

When I sit down and share with her my ideas for magnet school programs to give parents choices in their child's school calendar or pedagogy, her frequent response is, "What do the teachers think?"

When I share ideas that I have for lessening the achievement gap between minority students and their peers, she stops me curtly and asks, "Have you asked any teachers?"

When I get excited talking about the possibility of equity in our facilities, building new schools, broad redrawing of school boundaries and creative ways to implement the district's new diversity policy, her guessed it...."How do the teachers feel?"

I was reminded of this in a recent meeting when a teacher in the district shared with me that he understands the diversity policy and the research behind trying to equilibrate socioeconomic status in our schools.  He gets it. He understands how years of  data supports that children are most influenced by their peers and that the resources in parent sweat equity and finances are greater in middle income schools.  What he's concerned about, is that if teachers are the ones in the classroom, will they be a part of developing the plan for diversity policy implementation?

Another teacher friend of mine who has taught at both City and West as well as at the elementary level, recently confided in me that he really didn't need a new smart board for his classroom. He needed smaller class sizes and new textbooks.  His teaching needs didn't require the smart board as much as another classroom might.  He was thankful, but perplexed, as to why he, the teacher, wasn't asked what he needed.

A good writer always returns to what he knows (or so I'm told, since I don't profess to be a good writer).  I work at the VA hospital with veterans and I enjoy military history immensely.  I've often heard stories of bad officers and their follies, as well as leaders who earned, rather than demanded the respect of their troops. (Funny thing about titles and rank....people who insist on being referred to by a title or rank, usually are the least deserving of the accolades....something to ponder).  The best loved and most successful military leaders in our history were the ones who went to the frontline soldiers and asked them point blank "What do you need to fight this battle?"

So, here we stand. Our district is perched at the precipice of doing great things.  We can start to move forward and take groundbreaking steps that are reflective of who we are as a community and who we wish to be.  We can start to balance our district to ensure our children will have modern, technology driven, environmentally friendly 21st century schools and equal opportunities regardless of their street address.   We can start to decrease the achievement gap between minority students and their peers.  We can look ahead to begin shaping growth in our little corner of the world.  It's going to have to start from the ground up, though....not from the top down.  To do that we are going to have to not just turn to the community, we need to enlist the teachers.

I very humbly admit, I don't know everything about education. I do know a lot about my community. I do know how to listen.  I have faith that we can do this and we can tackle these conversations. I believe we will emerge a stronger school district and community with pride in what we've done.  My wife is's all going to have to start with the teachers.  So, Teacher, I have a question....what do you think?