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!

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.