What do you believe the most important information or message concerning schools, the school district and education is in the Coalition for Racial Justice’s Report “Racial Equity in Iowa City and Johnson County?” (a copy of the report can be found at www.racialjusticecoalition.com)
The takeaway message from the Coalition’s report is that students of color cannot expect to access an equitable education from our current system. They will, for example, be more likely to be involved in school discipline and tracked into special education, and less likely to have the opportunity to take AP classes and to graduate.
In order to remedy these disparities, we will need a systemic approach that involves closing the racial and economic achievement gaps for ICCSD students, changing our approach to student behavior, and improving school climate.
Please describe the similarities and differences you have observed or know about between experiences children of different races or ethnic origins have in the Iowa City Community School District?
As a Grant Wood family, we have been fortunate to participate in a racially and ethnically diverse school community. My work at Big Brothers Big Sisters has allowed me to participate in the lives of a diverse group of students and their families. My wife, a special education teacher in the ICCSD, also has another perspective that informs mine. And despite my many different connections to children in the school district, I still cannot speak directly anyone’s experience but my own.
Still, I have listened and learned from students and families. What I hear as similarities include: Every parent and guardian wants the best for their children. Every parent and guardian looks to the public school system to provide an opportunity for their child to succeed. Every child goes to school hoping to learn, be welcomed, be treated with respect, and valued for their strengths.
Unfortunate and avoidable differences exist in the actual experience of students and families depending on their race or ethnicity, with white families having privileged access to public education. This isn’t to say that our schools don’t try to be welcoming and fair, with varying levels of success. I see attempts to be color-blind, to acculturate students of color, and to be culturally competent and aware, to celebrate difference.
Personal experiences of discrimination or marginalization and the structural racism that exists in and out of school combine to create significant barriers for students and their families. Some concrete examples of this may be communication barriers for families who speak a language other than English, black students who are/feel singled out for the way they dress, talk, and act, and—perhaps the most irrefutable example—a glaring achievement gap on standardized measures of success for students of color and low-income students and an acceptance on the part of many leaders and decision-makers in the community that these gaps are inevitable.
So the main difference, I would say, for students and/or families of color from white students and families is this: They want the same basic educational experience that we would want for any child, and they are not wholly surprised if they or their child fail to receive one.
What are 3 priority actions the school district and the school board should take to ensure that children of different races and ethnic origins enjoy the same educational opportunities and are treated and disciplined equitably?
1) Evaluate discipline protocols and outcomes for racial bias. Establish standardized screening tools and/or less discretionary discipline options for individuals or buildings if a racial bias exists. Provide support for staff who need to build their skills and understanding of racial bias and how it impacts discipline.
2) Implement our plans to balance socioeconomic disparities, and pass companion measures to make sure that school climate, social supports, and academic programs are also improved. Use the diversity policy as a down payment on a continued process of providing greater equity and opportunity.
3) Work with families of different races and ethnic origins to determine other measures that could be needed. Ask families for feedback and ideas, and then act in good faith on this feedback.
The data from the 2011-2012 report indicates 33% of the enrolled students in the ICCSD are children of color, and yet 94% of the employees are white. If you believe this needs to change, what do you propose the school district do to recruit, hire, and retain persons of color to fill teaching, staff and administrative positions?
If we want to hire employees and encourage them to stay, we have to create and commit fully to a culture of inclusion. As a board member, I will provide strong support to our human resources department to invest in recruitment and retention efforts. We can work with the University of Iowa, Diversity Focus, and other local resources to review our hiring practices.
Retention is probably our bigger challenge. The administration will have to be diligent in making sure that the ICCSD is a workplace that values diversity in all its forms and that supports all levels of staff with training, mentoring, and intervention as needed.
If we don’t see results from our current methods, we will need to change and improve them.
Why should people who are committed to racial justice support your candidacy specifically?
I am an advocate for every child, of every ability, from every area of the district. I have a demonstrated personal and professional commitment to equity and social justice.
With a seat on the board, I will work for greater racial justice in our school system. I will seek feedback from the community, especially communities of color and others whose voices are less frequently heard. Rather than just speak on behalf of families, I will actively create opportunities for families to speak for themselves.
I will follow through on my commitment to racial justice for youth and their families.
Thank you for your important work and leadership. I welcome your feedback about these issues and my comments.