In the Nov. 5 election, voters in the Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) will choose four of the seven members of the school board.
Incumbent Rafael Jacobo is challenged by Dexter Merschbrock in District 4. There are two open at-large seats and five candidates running: Jen Neumann, Cindy Garlock, Maurice Davis, Janelle Lund and Joseph Miller. David Tominsky is running unopposed in District 1.
Little Village emailed questionnaires to the seven school board candidates in contested races. All the candidates were asked the same set of questions.
Joseph Miller, an attorney at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, is “heavily invested” in the CRCSD. Five of his six children currently go to school within the district.
Miller and his family have lived in Cedar Rapids for almost five years.
What other public service organizations have you been active with? Have you served in elective office before? What made you interested in becoming active in public service?
I’ve never sought an elected office before. However, I have served as a bishop for a local congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and now serve as the Stake (Diocese) President of the Cedar Rapids Stake of the Church, meaning I am responsible for the seven local congregations in northeast Iowa (roughly 3,500 members). I also serve on the CRCSD Foundation Board. I’ve had the privilege of holding leadership or board positions in the Boy Scouts of America and other organizations through the years.
Why did you choose to run for the school board, rather than some other elected office?
I don’t consider myself the type of person to run for any office. I am a very busy husband, father and attorney, and have other community responsibilities as well. However, hearing the concerns of teachers and students (including some concerns about candidates who seem to have an ax to grind) and encouragement from these individuals, I felt compelled to run.
This is a critical time for the district. Though there has been much good done in prior years, there have also been some divisive issues that could have been handled better. Looking to the future, particularly with finding a long-term superintendent in mind, the community needs to heal and work together on behalf of our children and communities to find the right candidate.
What do you see as the biggest long-term issues the district is facing?
Leadership. The superintendent will be critical to carrying out the district’s goals and mission day-to-day. The superintendent needs to develop critical community partnerships, advocate for the teachers and staff, think big and work well with others.
What do you see as the more pressing problems that the district can solve in the short term? What would your approach be to solving these problems?
I think the board has the power to change the public perception of our school district. The board can be proactive in helping develop partnerships and set the groundwork for long-term success in other areas.
For example, we may not fix the achievement gap in a few short years, but we can provide a solution to the issues underlying the gap. The 2017 SET study identified, among other things, a feeling of disconnection and hopelessness as leading to poor performance and potentially youth violence.
As a bishop, we actively created experiences for youth to feel connection, value and hope by partnering with Mayor Brad Hart, Beth Malicki and Kids on Course to give the youth service opportunities in the community. Not only did they help address math and reading underachievement, but they also helped create connection and hope for themselves and others. I was able to witness young people who were insecure, dealing with anxiety or depression, or from various backgrounds, with smiles on their faces and confidence in their countenances. That was only a dozen kids. Imagine if we could expand that to 17,000!
Cedar Rapids is a great community with all the resources. The board can take the initiative to create/facilitate service opportunities for the rising generation by partnering with these leaders and resources — churches, schools, nonprofits, the Mayor’s Youth Council, the YMCA, etc. That is something we could easily do.
What in your personal skill set, or previous experience, would make you an effective member of the school board?
As mentioned, I have large-scale leadership and organizational experience, as well as a number of wonderful partnerships in the community. I feel a great desire to give back to the community and to provide all of the support we possibly can to our children and their teachers and staff. I consider myself a listener, collaborator and partner with all types of personalities and perspectives. We can always find the good in one another and work toward a common goal. Union voices, non-union voices, community voices, student voices, etc. are all welcome.
We need to learn from each other to do better and make our school district a magnet for economic growth and development and our next generation the leaders who will get us there.