Interview: Iowa City school board candidate Charlie Eastham on the issues

Little Village conducted interviews with the candidates for the Iowa City School Board. All candidates were asked the same set of questions.

Charlie Eastham poses for a portrait outside of High Grounds. Thursday, July 20, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

Charlie Eastham wants to bring the analytical skills he learned working in a lab, and the insights he’s learned as a community activist, to the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD). Eastham retired in 2007 from the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, and in 2015 he received the Isabel Turner Award from the Iowa City Human Rights Commission in recognition of his work to advance human rights.

He is running for the opening on the school board created when LaTasha DeLoach resigned in July. If elected, Eastham would serve for the remaining two years of DeLoach’s term.

What is it in your personal background that has motivated you to run for school board?

“Work that I’ve done with groups in Johnson County that work to improve the state of racial justice and racial equity for the past several years, and my more recent experience on the school equity committee [a committee of community volunteers who advise the ICCSD District Equity Director on policy matters], has convinced me that the district can drastically improve the achievement gaps that have been present in the district for a long, long time.”

In ICCSD schools, black and Latino students, as well as all students qualifying for free or reduced lunches and those in the process of learning English, have significantly lower scores on standardized tests measuring proficiency in math and reading than the overall student body.

“More specifically, after former director LaTasha DeLoach resigned her position because of her health, one group that I am involved with [the Black Voices Project, which Eastham helped to create] asked if I would run to fill her remaining term. That group has been very active in working for better achievements in the school district, for students of color especially.”

What policy issues are motivating your run?

“The largest one is the achievement gap for students of color, especially Latino and black students. The reason I’m running is that school districts can provide an educational experience that does see equal educational outcomes in terms of measured proficiencies for students of color and white students. There’s now enough known about how to do that, both generally at the national level and at a local level.”

“There is also a lack of appropriate educational efforts being directed at special education students. This has to be addressed as well.”

What personal skills do you believe will help you be an effective board member?

“My skills have to do with an ability to look at data, to know what data needs to be obtained for a specific set of problems and to be able to analyze that data. The achievement gap data is not terribly complicated, and I think I have a good grasp of how to handle it, what’s important and what it can lead to.”

“That comes from having worked in a basic research lab for nearly 20 years. In medical research you do a lot of data analysis.”

Do you support or oppose the bond issue? Why?

“I am for the bond. I definitely hope it is approved. The reason is because I think that overall the facilities master plan does greatly improve the educational environment in most of the schools across the district.”

The ICCSD facilities master plan is a 10-year program for improving the district’s buildings approved by the school board in December 2013. In April 2015, the board approved an updated version of the plan, which extended the program through 2015.

“It will actually be helpful in closing the achievement gaps, because there are some schools now that have a less than optimal environment for students. This will make it easier for students to do their educational work in their buildings.”

What is your opinion on the use of seclusion rooms?

“The data definitely shows that the seclusion rooms have been inappropriately used for students in the district. Whether or not the technique itself is entirely appropriate for a school district to have is, in my personal opinion, unclear right now.”

“Even if it is decided that seclusion is an acceptable practice, until the district has all the necessary prerequisites in place — including proper training for teachers and paraprofessional educators — I’m inclined to say that maybe it should stop using seclusion altogether. Except in the case where parents are clearly saying they want that as an option for their children, and/or in some very rare cases, where teachers say they need it available in specific circumstances with very limited applications.”

How would you make sure the district complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

“We have to ensure compliance, it’s the law. And it’s necessary for students, staff and parents in the district who benefit from facilities being compliant.”

“One thing I’ve looked at personally, was the new playground surface at Shimek Elementary School. Just from simply going to the site, it was quite apparent the wood fiber surface was not adequate for students who were using wheelchairs or other mobility devices.”

A new playground at Shimek Elementary that was supposed meet all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act had to be modified because it was not fully accessible to people with limited mobility.

“I’m totally puzzled as to why we were in a situation where we had a new playground installation that students with mobility devices could not use. This is something we need to change immediately.”

What do you plan to do to address the achievement gap?

“The big thing is that the district leadership — in this case, for me, the school board — has to take clear, consistent and persistent leadership role in having the achievement gaps reduced to zero. That means that at every board meeting, we have to look at our achievement gap data, and at every board meeting we have to have a discussion about what that data is showing us about whether or not we’re closing the gaps.”

“We have to look at very detailed data analysis at how groups of individual students are doing in particular programs, in particular schools and know where students are being educated well and where we still have to improve on their educational environment.”

“I don’t know if there’s a clear majority of members now who want to do that at every meeting, but I think there will be after this election.”

Do you believe the rollback of collective bargaining rights for teachers will have an impact on the district? If so, what would you do to address it?

“I think it will not have an impact, as long as the school board doesn’t let it have an impact. School boards still have the ability to provide fair, equitable and just agreements with every staff member and employee.”

“The legislature didn’t take away the charge to be fair and just with people who work for the district and are responsible for educating our students.”

“I would be against reducing any benefit or reducing any compensation that was gained through collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is a great tool, and I’ll do everything I can to bring it back. But until then, I think it’s important we develop processes for arriving at good employee relations that can supplant collective bargaining.”

Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for readability.

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