Iowa City school board election: Q&A with Michael Tilley

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In the Nov. 5 election, voters in the Iowa City Community School District will choose four of the seven members of the school board. Two current members, Shawn Eyestone and Paul Roesler, are running for reelection. Phil Hemingway and Lori Roetlin decided against seeking another term.

Little Village emailed questionnaires to the seven school board candidates. All the candidates were asked the same set of questions.

Michael Tilley, candidate for the Iowa City school board. — courtesy of the candidate

Michael Tilley, a first-time candidate for the Iowa City school board, is a science writer and editor for the University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Tilley and his wife Rebekah moved to Iowa City in 2012, and all four of their children are currently enrolled in Iowa City schools, one at Southeast Junior High and the other three at Lucas Elementary.

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’ve been active with my children’s schools and in discussions of pressing issues in the district for the past seven years. I am currently the Lucas Elementary representative to the District-wide Parent Organization and for two years served as secretary of the Lucas PTO. I also served as the Lucas representative on the transition committee for the new Hoover building, on the Iowa City Community School District calendar committee and on the hiring committee for the Lucas Elementary principal.

I’ve also written for local media on school-related topics including how the school board should function, justice considerations in education (particularly regarding bussing and class sizes) and budget cuts (in Little Village). I also actively campaigned in favor of the 2017 general obligation bond.

I became interested in becoming active in public service because I strongly believe in the power of public deliberation and want to be a part of that locally.

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

I am passionate about public education, partly because as a first-generation college graduate, I know its power to improve lives. I want to make sure that all students in our district have the same excellent opportunities regardless of their financial status, zip code, race or disability.

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

The greatest challenge we face in the district is making our educational system more inclusive and just. Simply removing barriers to educational success cannot sufficiently overcome the effects of generational exclusion. We need to transform our educational culture and system so that it meets the needs of all of our students, particularly our black, brown, low-income and differently abled students, in an inclusive, just and supportive environment. This should be the North Star that orients all that our district does.

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?

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We need to improve recruitment and retention of teachers and administrators of color. Our district currently has a poor reputation regarding the diversity of its teachers and staff for a host of reasons.

Some concrete steps to address this problem include: (1) We need to ensure that our black and brown teachers and administrations in a building are not the only [people] of color on staff. That is a recipe for failure, and the many individuals in our district have reported feeling isolated in those circumstances. Cluster hires are one way to address this issue. (2) We also need to have clear training and support programs to ensure success for our teachers and staff of color. This, of course, includes providing support to the individual teacher, but it also means that we have to ensure that the rest of the building teachers and staff, and the parental groups (PTO/As) have had some training on how to support staff members, including implicit bias training and training on how to have appropriate conversations about race.

What in your personal skill set, or previous experience, would make you an effective member of the school board?

As a philosopher and a detail-oriented, data-driven, high-information processor, I will never be a candidate who is only knowledgeable about one issue (safety issues, finances, school closings or redistricting), but one who can speak to all issues facing our district with solid analysis, evidence-based reasoning and moral clarity. I have a history of seeking, listening and presenting other viewpoints, while deliberating fairly, openly and publicly about them. Given my temperament, reputation and knowledge of the district as a whole, I will quickly adapt to the demands of being a board member.

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