1. Should the school board ensure that elementary school students get more than fifteen minutes for lunch? If so, what should the minimum lunch period be? (See the petition about this issue here.)
Unquestionably, yes. My oldest Gavin, now in second grade at Weber, requests home lunch everyday because he knows his time is limited if he has to stand in line for school lunch. If an 8 year old recognizes the problem such that he changes his own habits I question how the district cannot similarly recognize the issue. I know the administration is finally starting to look at the issue because I had a conversation with Steve Murley in which he mentioned his own kids doing the same thing.2. On balance, has the No Child Left Behind Act been good for Iowa City’s public school children?
One option being talked about is placing the scheduled recess following lunch, instead of before or at some other time. It has had some success at a few of our schools and gives kids more time. The obvious concern is that kids may then voluntarily shorten their own lunch to go play. Thus, they should look at extending the time by 5 minutes in addition to moving around recess times.
NCLB and its accompanying designations have been extremely harmful to our district and the communities’ perception of many of our schools. Jason Lewis, Twain PTO President, recently wrote a very good op-ed piece in the PC that talked about the issue in depth. The jist of the piece was to stop calling his school a failing school just because of a designation. Like Jason, I am very critical of a designation that implies the school, teachers, or administration of a particular school are solely to blame for underperformance. The reality is that we have an ever shifting population with accompanying shifts in demographics in many of our schools.3. Do you think that standardized testing plays too large a role in our school system? If so, what should the school board do about it?
As a district, we need to get past the negative perceptions created by SINA designations and focus on the many positive things we have happening in our district. Simultaneously, we need to use the SINA designations as they arise to insure we have adequate teachers and programming in place to address the unique needs of each school.
Standardized testing is a fact of life and will never go away completely. It provides a measuring stick for performance and gains, as well as a tool for identifying students with specific or heightened needs. It also identifies students who are learning faster, thus keeping them engaged through placement in higher level classes.4. Local school boards have been increasingly subject to state and federal mandates. Do school board members have an obligation to think independently about whether those mandates are good for kids? If so, what should a school board member do if he or she concludes that those mandates are not in the best interests of the kids, or are contrary to our community’s values? (See this post.)
I do not think our current testing protocol is excessive. While we do have a number of tests, we have not as a district gone the way of many others by teaching to the test. Our curriculum is based up what is needed to best equip our students for either the next level of education, or the real world.
This issue will obviously have to be reexamined if merit pay becomes a reality as there would be heightened incentive for teachers to teach solely to the test. (p.s. I am against merit pay based upon standardized tests or student performance in part for this reason.)
The board’s job and mandate is to look out for the best interests of all of the children in the district and insure that all of them have the best opportunity for success. When faced with a state or federal mandate that runs counter to that obligation it is the board’s duty to work to address the issue on a state or national level. Our district, like many across the country, is part of associations focused on the betterment of our schools. These associations not only provide resources for boards and districts, but they also serve as a lobbying voice for its member districts.5. Do you support the current pervasive use of token rewards to get students to comply with school rules? If not, what role should the school board take in reining that practice in?
We also have a community that is very passionate about education. Rather then wait and respond to potentially negative mandates, it would be my goal to be proactive and utilize passionate community members to talk to legislators about and kill bills before they become law.
Pervasive is a very subjective term. Confounding the problem is the assumption built into your question it is truly pervasive across the district. My oldest is now in second grade at Weber and I have not found his teachers use of rewards to be either excessive or pervasive. He seems to appreciate the system not because it is a form of bribery, but it provides him added incentive. Thus, I think we need to examine first whether use of these programs is truly pervasive by talking to the teachers and, more importantly, the students and the parents.6. How should the schools approach the teaching of moral or ethical values? (See this post and this post.)
In the instances that it is truly being used excessively, based upon feedback from groups of parents, I think it would be the obligation of the board to work through and with the administration to address the issue.
The best way I can answer your question is through balance and deference. We need to balance the desire for having free and critical thinking young adults with the desire for having students with certain moral and ethical values. There is no bright line and as both your post and the critiques of your alternative statement show drafting a policy needed to accomplish that balance is perhaps impossible. Coupled with that is the need for deference to parents own moral and ethical guideposts. Teaching of moral and ethical values is a very slippery slope and has the potential to run afoul certain populations’ religious beliefs.7. What should the district’s plan be as the number of SINA schools grows and the number of schools into which those students can transfer shrinks?
The districts most recent action on this issue is a step in the right direction. Specifically, they opted to shift the 10% discretionary funding from busing to tutoring. Thus, more of the money is being spent on programming rather then transportation. As we continue to get more SINA schools, however, additional steps are needed. Of particular importance to me is the need to strengthen the PTO/PTAs of our allegedly underperforming schools. In addition, more alternative education opportunities need to be explored. One such option is converting one or more schools to year round alternatives – assuming there is sufficient community support.McGinness also asked that I include this link for “more general information about my background, motivation and goals.”
Links to other candidates’ responses are here.