Interview: Iowa City school board candidate Janet Godwin 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.

Janet Godwin — photo by Zak Neumann

Janet Godwin wants to bring her leadership experience, both as a board member of various local community organizations and as chief operating officer of ACT, to the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD). Godwin is running for one of the three school board seats with a four year term.

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

“There are a couple of things. One, I’m a mom and I’ve had my kids in the public school system from the beginning. I’ve had just a fantastic experience with school staff.”

Godwin’s daughter graduated from City High, and her son started sixth grade this year.

“There’s also the perspective I’ve gained from my work at ACT.”

Godwin has worked for the academic testing company since 1990.

“I’ve been watching our research for the past 27 years, and it indicates that we’re just not moving the needle on the achievement gap. We might see moderate gains, but we’re not doing enough.”

“I want to be part of a process on a governance board to see that if, at least locally, we can do some things to make a difference.”

“The notion of service is one that’s really important to me. ACT is a not-for-profit, we talk and believe in service as part of our mission. It’s a tangible feeling. But also as a kid growing up, my dad was in the Air Force. The idea of dedicating your professional life to serving something greater than yourself, because you believe in the mission, was really rooted in me as kid watching my dad and his service.”

“Public schools have really become the place where I want to apply these notions of service and leadership.”

What policy issues are motivating your run?

“I’m very concerned about public education at the national and state level. I think we’re systematically deprioritizing public education by not giving it the resources it needs.”

“At the local level here in Iowa City, we’ve really seen our population and our demographics change dramatically. Underrepresented students, students whose first language isn’t English, are coming into our district and they have particular needs. We need to make sure we’re training our teachers, equipping our facilities, working on our culture, and doing all these things in a way that’s geared towards helping these students become academically proficient and successful.”

“We need to that not just for those students. We need to do it for all our students.”

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

“One of the things that I bring is a great deal of experience in leadership, leading large groups of people to accomplish big goals. I’ve been doing that at ACT for many, many years, and I think I’ve been successful.”

“Leadership, to me, means a lot of things. It means understanding your stakeholders, listening in order to engage thoughtfully and not making short reactive decisions. You get your data and make sure you understand the full context. It means creating a vision of what success looks like, to make it tangible for people. So they can feel it and see what’s in it for them and how they can help us get there.”

“I believe the amount of experience I have with leadership is something unique in my candidacy. I’ve sat on a number of boards. I served as president of the Iowa City Community School District Foundation for two years. I’m currently vice president of the Community Foundation of Johnson County’s board of directors. So, I know how boards function.”

“I also serve on our board at ACT, and have worked with very closely with it for the last six years. So, I’ve also personally felt what it’s like to sometimes have a board micromanaging. I think through these experiences, I’ve got a pretty good feel for that really interesting line you need to walk in terms of board governance that holds management responsible, but doesn’t try to reach in and micromanage.”

Do you support or oppose the bond issue? Why?

“I strongly support the bond.”

“I’ve personally visited almost every school this summer as part of my campaign, and talked to the principals. I’ve seen the different needs of our different facilities, whether it’s a newer school that might need to expand because of capacity questions or an older school — like Longfellow, or Mann or Lincoln — that needs serious upgrades.”

“Our community is growing, we’ve got to continue to build out capacity.”

“For me, doing it in one bond makes sense, because of all the different needs across all schools in the district. If we try to break it into smaller bonds, I think it would be very hard for the community to prioritize the needs. I also think it would be very hard to get a 60 percent vote for a smaller bond, because in a smaller bond we’d be leaving out some facilities that have needs.”

What is your opinion on the use of seclusion rooms?

“I’ve talked about this topic with many, many principals and teachers, and with parents who have shared their personal experiences with me. Some students do have behavioral disorders and have an IEP [Individualized Education Program] that does require some kind of intervention like moving into a seclusion room or being moved out of the general population area.”

An IEP is a written plan for public school students with special needs, that teachers and school staff are supposed to follow.

“Having said that, it is mandatory that the family and the IEP team meet and go through what are the interventions that will be applicable and appropriate for that individual student, and recognize that a seclusion room is the last resort.”

“We should never use seclusion rooms for students who don’t have an IEP. We should never use them for just a time out or for punishment.”

“Our immediate goal should be making sure teachers, principals and parents are all trained and are following the protocols.”

“A little bit longer-term goal, would be to start working on the interventions that occur before the seclusion room and trying to make them more successful, so we can move away from using them.”

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

“In terms of accessibility, I think we’ve got a lot of work to do, especially in some of the older buildings. We need to renovate those buildings to make sure, for example, that doorways and hallways are appropriately-sized for students and teachers and staff in wheelchairs. We need to introduce elevators in buildings that do not have them, in order to make sure activities on a second floor are available to everybody.”

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

“There’s not just one single answer. There are many tools and we should be thoughtful about how we apply the different tools.”

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.

“One of the best things our current school board has done is to acquire disaggregated data from an academic achievement standpoint, so we can see Latino populations, African-American populations, etc., and see how each is performing. That’s good data to begin operating from.”

“There are some other things the board and the [ICCSD] administration have done that have been successful. The new resources allocation model has results that have been positive. Continuing the course with smaller class sizes, and more focused resources for students in schools that have high poverty levels.”

In the 2015-2016 school year, ICCSD began using a Weighted Resource Allocation Model. This approach increases funding at schools with higher numbers of students with low score on standardized achievement tests, allowing those school to decrease class size. Data collected thus far indicates improved performance by students in those schools.

“I think we also need to explore new ways to better balance the population of students at schools. We have some schools in our districts where over 75 percent of the students [qualify for free or reduced price lunches], and then we have some schools where only 10 percent of students do. There’s a lot of research that shows balanced schools are good for all students.”

“We need to find ways to balance our schools, but do it in a fair way. I think it’s worth exploring the idea of paired schools.”

Paired schools combine the student bodies of two different schools into one. For example, students who would have gone to two different elementary schools would all attend the first school from kindergarten through third grade, before attending the other school in grades 4 through 6.

“We also need to try to hire and retain teachers of color, so that all of our students can see themselves in a teacher and have a role model in the classroom.”

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’s going to have, and has had, a chilling effect on teachers. Seeing those rights taken away, combined with the cuts to the state’s education budget has left our teachers feeling anxious and concerned about whether they’ll receive the support they need.”

“I think our district — our administration and our board — did a fantastic job of getting a two-year contract in place before the deadline. So, there’s a little bit of security for the next two years, but I can tell you from talking to teachers they’re already worried about what’s going to happen next.”

“I think the school board can do a lot of good by beginning to come together with the district and ICEA, the teacher’s union, to begin defining what a process will look like to create employment policies and employment practices in terms of benefits. Or any other major employment decisions.”

“It needs to be a very collaborate process.”

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

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