ICCSD board candidates face off in library forum

Iowa City School Board candidates (from left to right) Janice Weiner, Paul Roesler and JP Clausen answer questions at a forum Monday, July 11. -- photo by Frank Weirich
Iowa City School Board candidates (from left to right) Janice Weiner, Paul Roesler and JP Clausen answer questions at a forum on Monday, July 11. — photo by Frank Weirich

From 7 to 9 p.m., school board candidates Janice Wiener, Paul Roesler and JP Claussen met at the Iowa City Public Library for a forum held by Mission Iowa City, and hosted by Daniel Boscaljon. The forum allowed each candidate to answer prepared questions, as well as questions from the audience in attendance. The questions fit into one of three themes, those being values of the candidates, issues facing the ICCSD and how each candidate’s individual history would help them serve on the board.

On equality and fairness:

The candidates had similar views on equality, but used different ways to express those views.

Wiener explained that she believes tools must be given to those who face difficulty and that true equality is getting people on a level playing field.

Roesler mentioned inclusivity in the classroom (one of his bigger points during the forum was the issue of diversity). He also pondered the fairness of a school providing afterschool learning if another cannot.

Claussen approached the question with a historical approach. In his experience, he says there are unconscious biases that must be changed.

Integrity: The will of the people, or the decision of the board?

The candidates were asked what integrity meant to them. Would it mean listening and acting as a force of the community, or would they trust their own judgment over the voices of the many?

Saying that there’s no way to please everyone, Roesler said he’d utilize his skills as a listener, but his concern was moving the district forward and not looking back. In his mind community is important, but when he makes a decision, he believes it was the right decision.

JP Claussen admits he’s had to rethink decisions because of new information. Recognizing the difficulty of certain issues, such as prayer in schools, Claussen says new perspectives will influence his thought process. His words at the forum make clear that he believes you elect someone to make a decision and voicing sides helps bring people to the table.

With information, and community engagement through forums and school board meetings, Janice Wiener believes you’ll achieve a discussion, and through the discussion, it would be possible to accommodate many different people’s views. Wiener says she believes in the “aha” moment, where if able to do A, then it would be possible to accommodate B and C. She believes in maintaining integrity by including as much of the community as possible. In the end however, she says she would support her role as a decision maker on a board, were it to come down to it. In that instance, the information is key to the direction of the decision.

A changing community, and a vision for the district 25 years later:

Asked how they would deal with a rapidly changing community, and all the challenges that apply, the candidates did seem to agree on a number of points, with minor differences between them. A common theme supported was the focus on needing affordable housing in Iowa City, as well as diversity in the school system. The difference between the candidates became more pronounced when asked about their vision of the district 25 years later.

Claussen’s focus seems to be on bringing the teacher’s voice and opinion back into the conversation. He believes teachers need autonomy to teach what kids need to succeed and that schools must provide resources for those teachers — this is a similar belief to the other candidates, but differs slightly depending on which candidate. Claussen also stated that there needed to be more attention focused on vocational training and a connection with the university and towns — making it easier on the schools and students to learn what skills are needed for the 21st century.

Weiner addressed the changing community, saying we need to embrace that change and see the opportunity presented to us. Arguing for broader educational and vocational opportunities, one of her considerations was high schools possibly taking on specialties. She believes there’s value in schools being stronger in different ways and that there should be opportunities for parents — such as language programs to help them with their children. Weiner also said we won’t end up with truly diverse schools unless we have mixed housing and that some issues are bigger than the school board.

Diversity was Roesler’s focus in this area. Addressing the opening of a school in North Liberty where he claims it’s 82 percent Caucasian, Roesler believes it would be possible to revert the school boundaries back to the way they were. He believes that we need balance racially, socially and economically to achieve diversity in schools. Arguing that the school board cannot repeat the mistakes of the past, Roesler also said teachers deserve the freedom to teach — acknowledging that not every student learns the same.

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