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.
Rafael Jacobo, a business analyst at Verizon, is running for a second term representing District 4 of the Cedar Rapids Community School District. He has lived in Cedar Rapids with his family for more than 15 years.
Jacobo has a number of personal connections to the school district. He has two kids currently attending its schools, and his oldest son recently graduated from Washington High. Jacobo has also volunteered in numerous schools, is a former PTA president and current PTA member. Jacobo’s wife, Angel, is the associate principal’s secretary at Franklin Middle School.
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 have been active with the CRCSD Diversity Committee, Young Parents Network, and the Safe, Equitable, & Thriving (SET) Task Force and Grant Program (administered through the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation). I was elected to the CRCSD Board of Directors – Director District 4 in September of 2015 and I am seeking re-election. I have also served as a volunteer coach with numerous Cedar Rapids area sports organizations including: Metro Youth Football Association, YMCA, Jr. Warriors Baseball, Heartland Soccer Club, American Youth Soccer Organization, Cedar Hills Baseball and FC United.
I have had an interest in working with kids and their families as far back as I can remember, and this has served as a driver to seek additional opportunities in schools, sports and community organization settings.
Why did you choose to run for the school board, rather than some other elected office?
I chose to run for school board (in 2015 and again in 2019) as I felt that my perspective and voice as a parent and volunteer in schools and the community would have an impact on policy-making and programming decisions affecting all students, their families and staff. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve on the school board for my first term, representing countless stakeholders in our schools.
What do you see as the biggest long-term issues the district is facing?
The biggest long-term issues affecting our district involve student achievement and facilities.
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?
In the short term, I have seen problems with student equity, enrollment and student behavior. Students in our district come from all backgrounds, nationalities and socioeconomic statuses. Our district recognizes that action is needed to prepare for the future of our students, their families and staff. This is embodied in the district vision (Every Learner: Future Ready) and mission (To ensure all learners experience a rigorous and personalized learning experience so they have a plan, a pathway and a passion for their future.).
Preparing for the future means changing and evolving programs and providing opportunities and choice for all learners in all settings while recognizing that education is an equalizing force in the lives of all students from all backgrounds. The opportunities provided to students are of enormous value and importance as they progress through life. Recent district digital learning initiatives have further integrated technology in our schools by putting a computer in the hands of every high school student. This integration has spurred development and proficiency of 21st-century skills for all students, in addition to helping address inequity and student achievement gaps.
There is no longer a “one size fits all” approach to education. Students and families have a choice related to personalized, project-based and magnet learning options. These options are available in elementary, middle school and high school. The program offerings in our district make it clear that there are multiple paths students can take to receive an education and ultimately succeed. Some of these options are unique to Cedar Rapids schools and they have helped (and will continue to help) with student enrollment in the district.
The key to addressing student behavior is having the right systems and supports in place to recognize positive behavior and to address different levels of negative behavior. Systems and programs like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Practices have been implemented to address behavior; the systems and programs need continuous review and evaluation to ensure that they’re providing good outcomes. Additionally, mental health supports and service are currently available to students in schools, but they need to be expanded.
What in your personal skill set, or previous experience, would make you an effective member of the school board?
I was born in East Los Angeles and attended elementary school in El Monte, California; I knew Iowa as the place where the Basic Skills Tests originated. In 1989, my family moved to Winterset, Iowa, where I attended elementary through high school. I later attended and graduated from the University of Iowa with the desire to do something in education. While at the University of Iowa, I worked in the before and after school program at Shimek Elementary School and I volunteered in the dual language program in West Liberty.
I ended up not being an educator, but in 2006, my oldest son started school at Garfield Elementary in Cedar Rapids. Since that time, countless volunteer opportunities have allowed me to contribute to education, to the CRCSD and to the lives of countless students and families. Opportunities are plentiful for parents and community members who have a desire to share their talents.
I feel that it’s the volunteer experience (in schools and in the community) that allows me to be an effective member of the board. Serving on the school board is important to me as I can provide guidance on the educational offerings that are the foundation for future leaders. If re-elected, I will continue to be collaborative and considerate of all points of view to help identify problems and solutions, and I will continue to act without bias or a personal agenda.