Sunday, May 22, 2011

Responses from school board applicants

Yesterday evening I sent a list of questions to the people who have applied for the open seat on our local school board. I’ve so far heard back from two of them. Jeff McGinness emailed right away to say:
Thanks for both emails. While I fully intend to respond to the questions, it may take some time as I want to insure I make thoughtful responses. As I indicated in my application, I strongly believe in seeking advise and conducting research as to issues beyond my immediate knowledge base. While I grasp most of the issues encompassed in the questions, the level of depth and specificity of some require more guidance, especially considering the detailed discussion of these topics on your blog.
Then, late last night, I received this disarmingly candid response from Art Small:

It seems apparent that you, rather than me, should be thinking of getting on the school board. You have obviously given more thought to the issues or problems than I have.

In large part I was stimulated to toss my name in when I read the school board was considering closing the Hills school. I had lived in Hills for three years around the time I first ran for the Iowa Legislature in 1970. Two of my children attended that school for a couple of years and we thought it was a fine neighborhood school. If my young children back then would have had to ride back and forth on a bus every day into Iowa City to attend school, I doubt if my wife and I would have wanted to live in Hills.

Once my children had grown up and got on with their lives I’ve given much less attention to local school matters then I did while they were going through the Iowa City schools. I did think, however, that I could make a useful contribution if chosen. I still want Iowa City school children to receive the best education they can get and I’m willing to put in the time required to try to achive that goal.

I spotted your email late this afternoon and I will be leaving later this evening to start driving from [out of state], back to Iowa City. I’m currently here visiting my daughter and her family. She has three children and I’ve spent the past week enjoying their doings. I was reminded again how much effort parents have to put in to insure their children end up well educated. Also, because I’ve walked the youngest, a 3rd grader, back and forth to school the past week, I been again reminded why I so much like neighborhood schools.

I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can. I can’t spend too much time thinking about my responses because when I finish I’ll have to be off on my long drive back to Iowa City.

1. Lunch period: Fifteen minutes for lunch seems much too short to me. I asked my three grandkids and they agree. They all seem to think their lunch breaks were a bit less than a half hour and that seemed about right. I would add that I think the lunch period should come after any recess break. Let the kids work off their willies before lunch.

2. I think the No Child Left Behind Act has not been good for Iowa City schools.
I looked at the state’s listing of Iowa City’s SINA schools and almost every school was listed. That’s absurd. The state must come up with better ways of evaluating school performance. I noticed that one of the elementary schools that was not a SINA was the school my children had gone to, Lincoln. I remembered how teachers there used to boast about how good that school was because the kids there used to score so well on various tests. I thought the kids scored well then not because of the teachers but because a significant portion of the parents of kids at Lincoln were Doctors, Lawyers, Professors and Indian Chiefs who worked hard at insuring their children performed well.

3. I do think schools put too much empasis on standardized tests although they can be an important guide. I’m not sure I can give you a quick response to how the schools can go about putting less emphasis on such testing. So I won’t try. I will note that when I went to school those tests didn’t exist and we got along just fine. The college boards were just coming in my senior year. I remember I took them but I certainly didn’t cram or study for them as students tend to do nowadays.

4. Should bad Federal and State laws and regulations be obeyed? This is a tricky question and an old conundrum. I can’t say ignore laws and regulations you don’t like. Maybe it’s ok to bend them but I won’t advise breaking them. How many books have been written, and movies made, that have examined the question of people simply “following orders”? Maybe someday when I have a bit more time I’ll write another.

5. Use of token reqards: Absent special circumstances, I think schools should not engage in this practice.

6. The teaching of moral or ethical values: I would place empasis on helping students explore and question moral or ethical ideas. Try to get them thinking. Don’t approach students as if they were empty vessels into which values needed to be quickly poured.

7. I haven’t the time tonight to explore the question of what the district’s plan should be in reaction to the shrinking number of non-SINA schools. I doubt if I will be selected for the vacant board position but if I am I’ll give this question you ask more thought.

Now I’m off to Iowa City. Again, you should consider running for the ICCSB yourself. It would keep you off the streets and out of the bars. And think of the money and power that goes with the position!
I’ll post any more responses as I receive them.

By the way, I’m flattered by Small’s suggestion that I should run for the board myself, but I don’t see that on the horizon. As it is, I can barely find time to write a blog post once or twice a week. Nor would I bet on my chances. But it does remind me to say that, even though I sometimes disagree with the school board members, I’ve got to give them a lot of credit for signing up for such a time-consuming, uncompensated, and largely thankless job.

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