Interview: Iowa City school board candidate Karen Woltman 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.

Karen Woltman — photo by Paul Brennan

Karen Woltman wants to bring her experience as a mother of three children in public school and her long-time involvement with education issues to the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD). For the past eight years, Woltman has written extensively on schools and education policy on her blog, Education in Iowa.

She 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?

“First, like many of the candidates, I have children in the district. Also, I’ve been blogging about education issues for eight years now, and I’ve been involved with education issues at the state level — I served on the statewide assessment task force for three or four years — and I’ve also been involved in attending school board meetings for years, and occasionally get up to speak about issues in the district. So, I’m already involved in education issues.”

The Iowa Department of Education Assessment Task Force reviews the performance of public school students in core academic indicators of success — test scores in math, reading and science, as well as graduation rates and rates of post-secondary education and successful employment — and makes recommendations to improve performance in those core areas.

What policy issues are motivating your run?

“I’m very interested in having the district, particularly at the board-level, focus more on curriculum instruction and school climate issues.”

Starting last year, the University of Iowa Public Policy Center, in conjunction with ICCSD, began issuing an annual report known as “the climate survey,” which presents the perceptions students have of their school experience.

“The facilities issues have really dominated the public debate in our district, and I think that we need to pay more attention to the programs that are taking place in our facilities, and working on improving them at the same time we’re working on improving the facilities themselves.”

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

“I am a lawyer by training, so I think one of the things that I do have from my legal background — and also from having served on the State Board of Health and the Assessment Task Force — is the ability to not take disagreement personally, and to really listen to what other people’s perspectives are. I think those are important skills for a board member to have when they are trying to make decisions for the district.”

Do you support or oppose the bond issue? Why?

“My position on the bond is that the voters are deciding that issue on the 12th, before the new board gets seated, and if the bond passes, I am committed to implementing our plan with fidelity. If it does not pass, I am committed to listening to members of the community to try to come about to a plan that will get community support to pass.”

What is your opinion on the use of seclusion rooms?

“The plywood boxes that are in use in some of our schools are objectively awful, and I would like to see those no longer used in our district.”

“It’s apparent from talking to people that we really need to work on a district-wide policy for how we’re going to handle children [with diagnosed behavior disorders] and really work to ensure that all of our staff members have appropriate training. That needs to include training on how to deescalate situations.”

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

“We need to take steps immediately to do better than what we’ve done. I think that the Shimek playground in particular shows that we have a lot of work to do in this area, and I think the board needs to start taking steps to make sure that our district gets into compliance.”

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.

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

“I think that talking about curriculum instruction and school climate gives us a lot of opportunities to address the achievement gap, by improving curriculum across the board, so that it works better for all of our children.”

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 am pleased that so far the district has taken steps to contract before the Chapter 20 changes took effect. [Chapter 20 of the Iowa State Code covers collective bargaining for public employees.] But we will need school board members who will insist that all permissible topics continue to be part of our negotiation process. And we need to look at whether some of our other topics that can no longer be bargained may need to be placed into board policy, in order to ensure that our teachers continue have an attractive work environment in the district.”

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

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