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Iowa City school board election: Q&A with Charlie Eastham

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Charlie Eastham outside of High Grounds. Thursday, July 20, 2017. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Charlie Eastham wants to bring his longtime experience as a community activist to the Iowa City school board. He retired from Health Care Information Systems at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2007, and lives in Iowa City with his wife, Karen Fox.

“Our children, now well into adulthood, attended Longfellow, South East and City High,” Eastham said. “They each tell stories of special teachers, friends and, sometimes surprising, experiences during their school years.”

In 2015, the Iowa City Human Rights Commission presented Eastham with the Isabel Turner Award in recognition of his work to advance human rights.

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?

My current and past work on the following boards, commissions and organizations has provided a network of relationships and experiences with addressing complicated institutional and community social and racial justice challenges that I believe will aid and inform my work on the school board:

ICCSD Equity Advisory Committee

ICCSD Support for Immigrant Students and Families Taskforce

Center for Worker Justice

The Black Voices Project

Johnson County Interfaith Coalition

Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition

Iowa City Housing and Community Development Commission

Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission

Why did you choose to run for the school board, rather than some other elected office?

The experiences I have had and relationships I have formed from participating on the Equity Advisory Committee, being a member of The Black Voices Project, and serving on Board of Directors of the Center for Worker Justice have influenced my choosing to run for the school board. I was also greatly influenced in deciding to run by the presentation to the school board in May of 2016 of the student-led group Iowa City Parents and Students for Equity. Students in the group had collected brief testimonials from their peers who had witnessed specific instances of racist conduct by both educational staff and other students. They read those testimonials to the board one at a time.

Listening to story after story, it was painfully apparent that we have so much to do to become the school system we want to be. The students said, “It’s disappointing to us that we were able to collect so many stories of discrimination that occurred in our own schools.” I hope we are collectively disappointed at where our school climate lies now and that we are collectively resolved to learn our way toward a school system that teaches all students.

What do you see as the biggest long-term issues the district is facing?

Our biggest challenge to becoming a school district that provides instruction for all students is finding remedies for the longstanding disparities in educational results experienced by students of color in the ICCSD. I believe we can meet this challenge and that by the constant pursuit of equity, led by the school board, we can have an educational system that is free of racial and ethnic gaps in any educational outcome.

Using data-informed, evidence-based and inclusive processes of decision-making, we can accomplish these essential goals: eliminating disproportionality in academic achievement, discipline, special education assignment, course-taking and graduation rates; providing support for and increasing the numbers of staff of color; ensuring the curriculum is culturally inclusive and cultural competency professional development training is completed by all staff; deepening parent and community engagement; supporting district educators as they work to provide equitable instruction and inclusive school climates for all students.

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?

The board should move immediately to significantly reduce disparities in academic achievement and discipline by adopting and beginning implementation of the 2019-2022 Comprehensive Equity Plan (CEP). An inclusive CEP Development Group, convened by the board, has completed its work of updating the CEP and has forwarded its proposal for final review.

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The Development Group represented 11 stakeholder areas, and included seven elementary and secondary school students. The group has produced a substantive well-thought-out plan reflecting input and suggestions from listening sessions, public forums and a community survey. Prompt approval of the updated CEP would demonstrate to the entire district community the board’s commitment to addressing racial and ethnic disparities.


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