Beyond the Classroom Walls

Beyond the Walls of the Classroom (1)I had a terrific visit last week at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa, referred to by many people as “the STEM School”. Wow, what an awesome place!

This center offers kids so many opportunities that can’t be provided in their home school building, plus they get college credit to boot, at no cost to them (OR their parents)! The credits are directly transferrable to our state universities and Kirkwood Community College. They are also transferrable to private colleges and out of state schools if the student works with Kirkwood and the entrance office at the college they want to attend, to make sure that the courses are coded to meet that particular college’s requirements.

With the large class sizes that we are seeing in our secondary classes in the ICCSD, the elimination of most industrial tech classes, and the funding issues that get in the way of expanding our curriculum, the STEM Center is a great alternative for our juniors and seniors.

The center also has great programming to offer kids that are not planning to go to college, in that they can receive certifications that will enable them to get a higher wage job directly out of high school. According to Jon Weih, the director of the center, what he sees as a very likely possibility is that kids that think they don’t want to go to college, after getting their feet wet at the STEM Center and studying a field that they are really fired up about, may be inspired to pursue a career path they never thought possible.

The school districts are charged $148/credit hour for each student that enrolls in the STEM Center. Given the state of Iowa’s education funding, my obvious next question was, how can Iowa school districts afford that? School districts receive funding through Supplemental Weighted Funding, from the Iowa Department of Education. This is funding that is outside of the “allowable growth” limitation.

The STEM Center is a wonderful example of the kind of collaboration between stake-holders in our community that I would like to see more of. Some of the instructors for the courses are local tradespersons or professionals. How great to have kids connect with a local person actually working in the field they have interest in, bringing a real life lens to the subject matter!

If elected to the board, I will be an enthusiastic advocate for creative programs and partnerships like these. The Iowa City area is blessed with a treasure trove of artists, scientists and innovative thinkers. We need to utilize these community resources to create more inventive curriculum and programming for our kids, from STEM to STEAM and everything in between. Imagine the possibilities for our children if we, as a district, broadened our students’ educational experiences beyond the walls of the traditional classroom!

I hope that we can build upon the success of the STEM school and create more opportunities for our kids to find and follow their passion– inside the classroom and beyond.



Pay Now, or Pay More Later

Pay Now,or Pay More LaterEducational funding – if you are reading this blog post, I think I can safely assume you don’t need me to tell you how ridiculously low the state of Iowa’s allowable growth for education funding is this year. Why is it so low? Because our governor and legislature wants to save our state money so that they can use it instead to grow Iowa’s economy?

Let’s talk about the economic impact of educational funding and not funding education.

A 20% increase in per-student spending for their 13 years of education (K-12) provides a return of 25% higher earnings and a 20% reduction in the annual incidence of poverty in adulthood! (Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014)

If the state of Pennsylvania had closed achievement gaps that fall along racial and socioeconomic lines ten years ago, their state economy could have grown up to 7% more, equaling $44,000,000,000. (RAND Corporation, July 2015)

How about looking at the lost economic impact of high school drop-outs? There is the loss of tax revenues which are estimated to be between 50 and 100% greater over a lifetime. (National Center for Education Statistics) Children who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of school (Anne E. Casey Foundation).

Then there is the societal cost: According to the Center for Dropout Prevention, high school drop-outs are 2.5 times more likely to rely on public assistance programs (e.g., welfare, food stamps), adding up to 8 billion dollars per year. Also, there’s the cost to the criminal justice system, also paid for by taxpayers. “Forty-one percent of all prisoners have not completed high school, compared to 18 percent of the general adult population. The annual cost of incarcerating an individual is about $32,000, while the annual cost of a quality public education is about $11,000.” (The Social and Economic Benefits of Public Education, 2011)

According to a 2011 NPR report, the annual cost to taxpayers of high school drop-outs is $320 billion when accounting for lost wages, taxable income, costs of health care payouts, welfare, and incarceration.

If I am elected to the school board, I will work to develop relationships with school board members in other areas of the state, where legislators are not supportive of a higher level of education funding. Since the difference in opinion about how much allowable growth there should be in education spending largely falls along party lines, I will encourage school board members around the state to talk to their legislators in terms that will resonate with their legislator’s party’s values. The economic impact of underfunding education needs to be stressed as this is an area that resonates with legislators of all political parties.    

Kindergarten: A Day in the Life

Kindergarten- A Day in the LifeCongratulations to all ICCSD students, parents, teachers, and administration on getting to and through the first day of school!

I had a great day yesterday volunteering in a kindergarten class at Coralville Central with Mrs. Canton and her 22 kids. Kindergarten teachers are certainly a special breed of person… full of all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to make the first (and every) day of school a great one for each and every child in their care.

I’ve been a kindergarten volunteer on the first day  for a number of years now and I always look forward to it. I just want to reach out and hug each of those tiny kiddos with their super big backpacks and apprehensive looks on their faces!

One thing that is super special about Coralville Central (yes, I am biased), is the wonderful diversity of students. The classroom I was in had kids from all sorts of walks of life and different cultures. It just warms my heart to see all these kids befriending each other, and learning to appreciate the things that make each one of them so special!

Yesterday I had the privilege of helping Mrs. Canton’s students work on a worksheet about what they did to get ready for kindergarten. Some of the things I heard: “eat cereal and carrots” (interesting combo), “ride my bike half-way to school” (bet there’s a story there), “learn ABCs with ___ (3 preschool friends listed)”, and my favorite one: “fly up high to see the lions and dinosaurs”.

Kindergarten is a special time and I love reliving it each year! Thanks to Anna Canton and her class for sharing your day with me!

Serving the Entire Community

Serving the Entire CommunityWhy am I running for school board? There are several reasons, but one of the reasons is because I am a social worker.

When I was in college, I learned that to be a social worker means that one has a duty to affect change, not just an individual level, but also at a systemic level.

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs.” (NASW Code of Ethics)

My twenty years of social work practice has primarily involved working directly with persons in need. I am ready to take my social work practice to the next level and hope to serve the community on the school board.

As I have watched the ICCSD school board over recent years and have seen firsthand the human impact of their decisions (and non-decisions), I have grown to believe that our school board would better serve our ENTIRE community, if there was more advocacy on behalf of the populations least able to actively participate in decision-making. Through my experience as a social worker, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges that impoverished families face. I have seen, for example, how well meaning programs and intentions can actually end up creating more problems and barriers to success.

I believe we are at a turning point in our district. The aspirational goals recently identified by administration and reviewed by the board for creating equity between our schools will have a huge impact on our students, both in the short term and long term. As decisions are made about how to reach these aspirational goals, it is extremely important that we not sideline our most vulnerable students. For example, if we draw school boundaries that require long distance bussing of low-income students we will create barriers to parental engagement and student involvement in extra-curricular activities.

As a social worker, I believe that I can help our board understand the human impact of proposed solutions so that those solutions don’t end up hurting the very children and families that we are aiming to help.

Is Fair the Same as Equal?

Is Fair the Same as Equal-

In a forum recently, I was asked the question, is fair the same as equal? This is a topic I discuss far too often with my kids so I am well acquainted with this concept!

Fair vs equal is an important question to consider when it comes to how to allocate our very limited resources. In the forum, I answered that no, I do not think that fair is the same is equal.

As I look at the school populations that make up our district, I see that each one is unique and has needs that are different from the others. As we can see with our district’s achievement gap, there is a currently a wide difference in the needs of the students in some of our schools. Thinking in terms of fair vs equal, I believe it isn’t fair if we give equal resources to all our schools. But, how do we determine where to provide more resources?

This spring, a model was developed by administration that aims to quantify where to assign resources. The model weights schools’ need by a formula that includes the number of kids receiving free and reduced lunches, kids that are English language learners, schools with children in three levels of special education, student achievement, mobility rates, and at-risk factors. Is this what people are referring to when they say “move the resources”? This has become a common phrase given as a solution for narrowing the achievement gap. This year the “Weighted Resource Allocation Model” (WRAM) is being used to determine where to place para-educators, clerical staff, and SAMs/Behavior interventionists. The plan is that next year the model will be used to assign certified staff (e.g. teachers) and administrators, although per Mr. Murley, “we may need to slow down that implementation to account for the implementation issues we are starting to encounter.”

“Moving the resources” is one tool that we can use to address our achievement gap, but I believe that we can’t depend on just one solution to address this complicated issue. The WRAM is but one of many tools we can use. Practical boundary changes are another. Creative programming adapted from other districts is another. We need many tools in our toolkit. Overall, I believe that the most important thing is that we move beyond numbers and ask our teachers and principals what their specific population of students need. They are the experts.

The WRAM is a place to start in equalizing our educational environment between our schools. Let’s remember though that it isn’t a silver bullet and we can’t stop there.

Growing Up in the Classroom

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Now, I know this may sound like I’m sucking up, but I just love teachers. 🙂

My kids have been so fortunate to have dedicated teachers in their lives. As a parent, it’s a wonderful feeling to send your child to school knowing they are being cared for and taught by smart, hardworking individuals.

In addition to the deep appreciation I have for the teachers who have worked with my children, I have a unique perspective on life in and out of the classroom. I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother, aunt, and great-grandpa were teachers. And, of course, mom Sandy Gingerich, was a third grade teacher at Mid-Prairie for 25 years. She went back to college when I was in elementary school and got her degree, while mothering four kids. She managed to get her masters degree later, STILL while mothering four kids AND working full time. She was a tremendous teacher and I am lucky to have her as my mom!

When you’re the child of a teacher, you learn a few things. For example:

  • I can recite all of the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived as a child. Not only have I heard the books many times, but my kids now have as well!
  • I am very skilled in the art of cutting out laminated shapes and decorating bulletin boards.
  • Teachers work nights and weekends with no shift differential. Who ever said teachers take the summer off? My mom didn’t! She just had different classroom hours in the summer, and guess who got to help? Yours truly. (Unfortunately, her school didn’t get air conditioning until after I left for college.)
  • When your mom is a teacher, you learn there is a difference between her “teacher voice” and “mom voice.” (Can you guess which one is nicer?) Also, meeting my mom’s students in public was always interesting.  My mom would switch instantly to the “teacher voice” and the students would act shy. They didn’t know what to think about the fact that their teacher also shops at Hy-Vee. Worlds colliding! 
  •  I recall many a conversation about things such as: is _______ “funner” or “more fun”.
  • An important life lesson I learned from my mother was that you always need to be nice to the custodian.

How does this relate to my run for school board? Well, I can honestly say, I KNOW how hard our teachers work. I KNOW the challenges they face when they have too many kids in their classroom. I KNOW that our teachers aren’t paid a fair wage for the amount of impact that they have on the lives of children.

They don’t leave their work at the “office” when they walk out the door. They bring everything home with them. And it’s not just the papers they grade at the dining room table. It’s not just the books supplies they purchase out of pocket. They think and worry about their students long after the last bell rings, after they hug and say goodbye at the end of May, after they graduate from high school. They offer up silent prayers for their safety and well-being when their students leave their care.

This is what I know about teachers. And this is why I will fight for them if elected. I will push for policies that reflect fair treatment of teaches. I will advocate for fair compensation. I will actively seek out and defer to the expertise of the teachers when programming decisions need to be made.

The teachers in our district deserve strong leadership and advocacy. I promise to be in their corner.




I’m so excited to be a part of this campaign! As a parent and a member of the community, I am very passionate about our schools. We have a lot to be proud of in our district. We are blessed with amazing teachers, caring staff, and of course, our wonderful children! While we have much to be thankful for, there is still work to be done. If elected, I will work tirelessly to make sure ALL children have what they need to be successful.