Q&A: School board candidates tackle sustainability issues and STEM education

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Brianna Wills meeting and greeting at the Iowa City Farmers Market -- photo by Adam Burke
Brianna Wills meets and greets voters at the Iowa City Farmers Market — photo by Adam Burke

This week, Field to Family, Backyard Abundance and Ecopolis co-hosted a school board candidate forum on sustainability issues and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the Iowa City public school system. They’ve shared their questionnaire and all the candidate responses exclusively with Little Village. You can watch their forum, held Sept. 1 in the Coralville Public Library, on Coral Vision 5.

Note: Use the arrows below (or click and drag) to navigate between questions.

Question One

Due to recent legal changes, tax incentives and new financing agreements, school districts in Iowa and across the country are exploring initiatives to install solar energy and other renewable energy options as a way of saving costs from rising electricity bills and reducing external environmental costs. Explain how you envision the school board’s role in pursuing clean energy options and sustainable facilities management practices.

Tom Yates: As I attended the Operations Committee meeting on August 25, and heard the report on solar energy, the main job of the board will be to make sure that the research and interest on solar energy and renewables is maintained. The admin is paying loose lip service to it at the moment, and will let it die if the community doesn’t keep the board focused on it. I should hope the interest will be maintained by SOME of the new board members. Eventually, someone is going to have to propose a project; the more community support there is, the more likely a project will move forward…This looks like a forward-thinking “no-brainer” to me. The district needs to ACT like it has some interest in the future.

Phil Hemingway: I’ve already addressed this question in my earlier responses, but I will add that I know it takes time for solar, wind and geothermal investments to begin paying for themselves. However, we need to look forward and look for long range solutions, not quick fixes. Presently the district has a solar initiative committee and their recommendations were presented at recent operations meetings. This makes me hopeful that we can finally move from the discussion phase to the action phase and that the installation of solar arrays and the implementation of other energy saving initiatives will soon begin. Of course we should never overlook the simple conservation steps like turning off lights when not needed, using energy when needed and constructing facilities that utilize natural ventilation and light and that utilize geothermal technologies for heating and cooling.

Paul Roesler: As was mentioned in the materials provided as well as what I have heard at different operational committee meetings I have attended is that we as a district are finally getting serious about exploring how we can take advantage of renewable energy in our schools. We should be looking at energy alternatives especially as we continue to fight tighter and tighter budgets. I am excited to continue what we have already started. I would like to get a complete analysis done on all of our schools in the district and see where we can benefit from clean energy options. I know that some of this analysis has already been done while planning the 10 Year Facility Master Plan. One of the reasons that Twain was among the first schools on the plan is that it was the least energy efficient. With the clock ticking on the tax breaks for solar it would be an absolute shame if we did not look at solar 100% so that we would be sure to qualify for those breaks.

Jason Lewis: Yes, we should be exploring these options full bore. With the challenges we face financially it only makes sense that we look for further efficiencies, but beyond that, we need to recognize that energy efficiency and forward-thinking practices will come to our district and others in one of two ways, because we were proactive and made changes when opportunities availed themselves or because we did nothing until we had no choice but to act. The the latter scenario our choices will be limited and outcomes reduced.

The board should drafted policies that direct the superintendent to undertake phased implementation of clean energy options. There should be a plan that assesses our existing facilities for clean energy implementation and a plan for installation over a reasonable timeframe. We should also have a policy directing the district to have a set percentage of every new construction project’s energy come from clean sources. Again, this is not negotiable, but superintendent directions that mirror the values of our community.

LaTasha DeLoach: There are costs involved in this transition. We also need to look long-term at the cost savings and the overall investment in our schools and the benefits to the environment. We’re also setting an example for our children about taking care of our environment now and in future generations.

Looking long-term means having an inclusive facilities plan that supports renewable energy options. We have done some work with geothermal heating and cooling, but there are many more opportunities to incorporate environmental practices into our systemic approach to facilities management.

Chris Liebig: Yes, I like the idea of exploring the use of solar and clean energy sources. There is certainly space for solar on many of our school grounds, and the nice thing about solar is that it has positive externalities — i.e., benefits for the environment beyond just the benefits to the immediate user.

I don’t want to mislead you: if these ideas require higher expenditures from the general fund in even the short-term, that would be a major obstacle, since our general funds are stretched so thin right now, and everything we spend it on is competing with reducing class sizes. But I do wonder whether the district is fully aware of the subsidies that might be available for projects like these and the economies that may be possible, and it may be that there would be funding sources other than the general fund. Frankly, the board’s attention is divided many topics, and it would benefit greatly from getting some community expertise to move ideas like this forward.

Megan Schwalm: Our district should absolutely be pursing clean energy, and in particular, we should be exploring solar initiative immediately. As we know, the renewable energy tax credits expire at the end of next year unless there is further congressional and state action, so time is of the essence. Because Renewable Energy tax credits are not available to governmental bodies, we should pursue power purchase agreements with local solar companies, like Johnson County is doing in their projects. The use of power purchase agreements allows us to utilize solar with no upfront costs to the district, while the overall project benefits from the tax credits available to the solar company. There is simply no reason that the school district isn’t including solar in every new project because power purchase agreements make it available at no upfront cost to the ICCSD. I’m supportive of building the most sustainable buildings we can possibly build and using renewable energy—PERIOD.

Brian Richman: Converting our schools to solar energy is an option I absolutely think we need to research but one to which I am not yet prepared to commit the District for a couple of reasons.

First, as noted in the Ecopolis Iowa City letter, the notion that we need to convert to solar now is predicated in part on the assumption that “energy costs are expected to skyrocket in the next decades due to increasing regulations.” That may or may not be accurate.

It’s true that enhanced regulation could drive up electricity costs. But there are also variables that could push down electricity costs—lower costs for natural gas or other fuels, increased efficiency in the renewables industry, a recession, just to name a few.

Locking in today’s rates could be prescient or it could be disastrous for the district in terms of long-term costs. (That’s very clear from the sample school district power purchase agreement that you distributed to the candidates.) The energy industry is in a very dynamic point in its history, and rushing into a decision simply to take advantage of tax credits is fraught with risk and, in my opinion, not the wisest course of action.

That said, I absolutely support taking the time to properly assess our options to convert the district to a more sustainable energy source.

Brianna Wills: I 100% support investigating solar power for our district. I see absolutely no reason why our district isn’t pursuing RFPs (Request for Proposal) from local solar providers. Until we see a “true cost” estimate and determine what locations solar might be appropriate, we can’t truly evaluate the implementation. Solar could be a great solution to our rapidly growing utility bill (as we add more A/C to schools and build new facilities), and could be funded using several different models including third party purchasing agreements (PPA), or lease to own. Other districts are moving towards these types of environmentally sound practices and we should be investigating and learning from their experiences. Additionally, we should continue to systematically evaluate our buildings for long-term energy saving such as geo-thermal installation, insolation, and windows

Lori Roetlin: The school board should consider clean energy options and sustainable facilities management practices in all aspects of facility decision-making, both on the operations side and with facilities planning. With the Facilities Master Plan underway, there should be a task force/committee identified immediately to determine how clean energy options can be built into the planned renovations, as well as new buildings. The school board will need to set a short timeline given deadlines for the tax incentives and financing options and ask the task force/committee to make recommendations with an eye to these deadlines. This is an absolute perfect time for this initiative to move ahead given all the projects currently in process and planned.

Lucas Van Orden: The board should convey their visionary commitment to integrating such technology into facility planning. A cost-benefit study should be a part of any building project plan. Implementation should be managed by the administration and facility engineering professionals.

Todd Fanning: It is the Board’s responsibility to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. We owe it to them to at least explore all possible ways to save money and run the district more efficiently. To that end, if elected, we should have studies completed to see what the savings impact and cost would be to determine if it’s feasible. That’s from a financial perspective… from an environmental standpoint it is important that this District be a leader in looking for clean energy alternatives.

Shawn Eyestone: The board’s role is to investigate any opportunity that would be a cost benefit in the long run. While investigating these cost benefits, the board does need to look at up-front costs. Looking through the materials regarding solar power, it appears that we can get an analysis for our district at no cost and no obligation. That seems like a no-brainer to me. Also l wasn’t sure how the tax breaks for solar power would work for a non-profit entity like the school district. The information on Power Purchase Agreements was very enlightening.

Question Two

Schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin have incorporated state-of-the-art solar energy installations into their courses on science, engineering, computers and technology, among other classes, as a way of preparing students to compete in a growing clean energy economy. Explain how you see the school board’s role in ensuring access and opportunities for ICCSD students in the rapidly expanding clean energy fields (including wind energy and geothermal).

Tom Yates: Of course, there are plenty of curricular possibilities here, and not just in science. This is another chance for Kirkwood, the AEA, the district, local experts and area interests to combine their resources to do the very things you mention in the question intro.

I really don’t like the phrase “preparing to compete in a growing clean energy economy”. Clean energy isn’t about competition, it’s about cooperation in a world where, if we don’t get this right, everybody ends up dead.

Phil Hemingway: For years I have been an advocate for Industrial Arts and Home Construction programs. Both were eliminated due to a purported budget shortfall of $60,000 and there have not been discussions on bringing them back. As a district we must recognize that not every student is post-secondary bound and that all students have post-secondary options which may not include attendance at a four year college. If we did establish viable wind, geothermal and solar energy programs our students could help members of our community retrofit their homes so they could also use these new energy sources. The Kirkwood Regional Center would have the ability to help provide courses in these areas, and I believe that is one of the things they are striving to do. There are other career paths besides traditional liberal arts programs and I would like to help more students become aware of those opportunities and will encourage them to take advantage of the programming that is available to them.

Paul Roesler: We currently have geothermal in some of our schools and are looking to add solar. I think having these things onsite would make it easier for teachers to structure curriculum around them. Kids, at least I did, learn best when there are hands on examples. When you can show the benefits of geothermal because it is in action in your school the more kids will be able to relate to it. Another thing that I have been advocating is that as a growing district that prides itself in education we should be looking at ways to expand our offerings not subtracting them as we have been doing when faced with budget cuts. Advocating for higher state supplemental aid, and hopefully receiving it, will definitely help us expand offerings and opportunities such as this.

Jason Lewis: Identify, plan, and offer courses similar to those mentioned in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Partner with Kirkwood and the new regional center to bring these courses to bear. This should be part of our renewed commitment to vocational training. Students should have the chance to learn these skills. I have friends who work in the sales and installation of solar and the industry has already seen huge growth.

If we’re truly a district committed to the best education for all our students, we need to bring these kinds of programming to our schools.

LaTasha DeLoach: As a board, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are always looking toward the future, including where technology is going and what jobs are being created for our children. It is our responsibility to make sure that our students can compete in the global market, and that they can transition successfully into all post-secondary opportunities. We shape these opportunities with every policy and standard that we set, and we have to engage local and state experts in our decision-making process and our development of resources.

Chris Liebig: I can see the potential value in using solar or renewable energy facilities in conjunction with science, engineering, or technical courses, but it strikes me as an ancillary benefit more than as a primary reason to pursue those facilities.

I’m pretty skeptical about the ability of the school board (or the state, or the federal government) to predict the particular areas of knowledge that the “real world” will require in the longer term, or to competently funnel students toward one industry or another. Our goal should be to help kids develop the fundamental skills and attributes that will enable them to function in whatever world they find themselves in—including not only literacy and numeracy, but a penchant for intellectual curiosity, thinking critically about received ideas, asking smart questions, and taking the initiative to learn new skills and subject matter on their own. All of those qualities are important to functioning in whatever career a student pursues, either with or without a college degree, and are integral to participation in democratic self-governance as well. I think the argument for STEM education is better cast in those terms.

Megan Schwalm: Just like landscape and ecodiversity on the grounds, renewable energy sources can also be a teaching tool. We should be using all teaching tools available to us, including tools to prepare our students to compete in a growing clean energy economy. In today’s economy, we should be preparing each and every child for college and career. A robust technical and career education program is a major component of that trajectory for all kids. I believe that career education programs should include trainings related to clean energy, like wind and geothermal. Our students can learn skills related to how to build and maintain clean energy equipment, how to reduce greenhouse gas, how to save energy, what draws energy, etc. Teaching these skills will open doors to our students and prepare them to complete in the growing clean energy economy, in addition to the eco-benefits to our district.

Brian Richman: I believe the school board’s role is not to dictate what our students should be learning in their science classrooms. It is, rather, to understand what resources our teachers need in order to best educate our kids in science, math, engineering and related areas and to ensure that those resources are available.

As a school board member, one of my priorities is to get teachers more involved in decision-making processes that affect their classrooms, their curricula, and their ability to teach our children. I will work diligently to ensure that the board does this, and I would certainly expect that the process will yield improvements in the educational experience that the district provides in science, technology and other academic areas.

Brianna Wills: Wind is particularly a growing career field in Iowa. Our job is to prepare our students to enter the work force either through additional schooling (college) or career-ready initiatives like vocational training. I would like to see our district work directly with Kirkwood Regional Center to make sure we are offering these types of classes through our Regional Center and that students and parents are fully aware of the course offerings/certificate opportunities presented. Kirkwood Regional Center is a great way to offer more technically sophisticated programming all the while spreading the cost of these expensive classes across several districts. I believe this program has substantial room for growth and could become the cornerstone of our vocational training programs.

Lori Roetlin: As we identify a plan to bring solar energy installations into our facilities master plan, why not involve our students in whatever ways possible? Let’s send our teachers to continuing education trainings, and/or to visits at some of the schools you reference above, to learn how other teachers are utilizing learning opportunities and incorporating them into their lesson plans. Board members can advocate for a collective bargaining agreement that includes professional educational opportunities such as above, and compensation for time spent in trainings during school breaks (such as summer). Also the board needs to listen to our teachers as to what funding they need to incorporate this subject matter into their curriculum.

Lucas Van Orden: Tis a lovely idea… As for “ensuring access” that will likely best be found through the engineering survey classes currently offered at the highschool level. If budget cuts continue to be a reality, it is questionable to foresee how an expansion into these areas as stand-along classes, or offered at the middle school level is likely to occur. Entering into an extension education arrangement with Kirkwood Community College (who is already offering such class studies) might be an alternative in the early stages.

Todd Fanning: I believe this comes back to curriculum and the Board needs to engage teachers and administration for ways to bring this to the classroom. Again, we have to be innovative in our thinking as a Board and allow opportunity to flow through the District to our students giving them more choices. We can’t afford to do everything, but we can have options.

Shawn Eyestone: I am a bit of a science nerd first and a bit of a tree hugger second. So, this is something that really excites me. If we are successful at adding solar power to our already growing area of geothermal in our district, than access to those pieces for students becomes readily available. I’m sure that we would have plenty of teachers in our district willing to use these tools as learning opportunities for their students. We need to get things into place and work on a more uniform curriculum so
that even teachers who currently don’t have experience in this area can still benefit from the opportunity.

Question Three

The logo for the Iowa City Community School District is an apple. The grounds of the former Roosevelt Elementary school grounds have a half a dozen mature apple trees bearing apples right now. The grounds advisory committee spent several months trying to impact grounds policy to allow for judicial planting of fruit trees without success. The main reason sited was that an apples could be used as a projectile by students, as well as concern for pollinating insects. There are no known records of students being hurt by fruit projectiles that we could find in the district, or nationally, despite historic planting of them within our district. There is an accelerating trend of planting of fruit trees on school grounds. Do you support the planting of fruit trees on school grounds? Why or why not?

Tom Yates: Yes, why not? Fruit trees, like gardens, offer a whole realm of A-Z possibilities for kids to learn and learn by DOING. I can imagine a kid who is involved in the early life of fruit trees, becomes invested in them, visits them his entire school career, and maybe–just maybe–is able to bring his kids to see a real legacy of learning–and life. THAT is educational success.

Phil Hemingway: First and foremost, I was one of the voices urging the district not to sell Roosevelt for pennies on the dollar because of the benefits it had to offer the district. Not only the buildings, but the grounds and the ravine as they are indispensable educational environments where real world learning can and should take place. The district has no problem allowing gravel on its properties which can be used as projectiles and we do not remove all of the snow on district property because it can be made into snowballs. The projectile argument doesn’t hold water and any fruit produced on school grounds can be used for school lunches or it can be donated to area food banks. As far as insect issues, that is an irrevocable force of nature and their populations are essential in a well-balanced ecosystem. The natural instinct of children is to get down on the grass, sometimes on their hands and knees so they can to explore and wonder at nature. Picking apples or other fruits from trees helps students understand that foods do not grow on grocery store shelves and that they need to preserve the environment so they can enjoy the fruits of the harvest. I support more fruit trees on campus and would love to see children planting, pruning and harvesting fruit from the trees.

Paul Roesler: Yes. If we are going to use the reason that we don’t have apple trees is that the apples can be used as projectiles, we should not allow playground balls at recess or pencils in the classroom. I have, admittedly, seen kids after school throw apples at each other at Lemme. I know that it happens but I don’t think that it should be the reason for not planting them. There are multiple schools that make trips to Wilson’s Apple Orchard either as a field trip or for a family event outside of school hours. Schools and families recognize the good and the benefits from fruit trees. Because some fruit trees will attract bees due to pollination I also don’t think that is a reason to not have the trees on school grounds. Instead of isolating children from nature we should welcome the opportunity to educate them on it. Identify trees and flowers that may attract bees and be sure that kids are aware where they are. Educating the kids is important but equally important is educating the parents. Making sure the parents understand what is on the school grounds may help to ensure they are talking to their kids about safety.

Jason Lewis: The reasons sited by the district are absolutely ridiculous. Embarrassingly so.

This sort of risk averse, limited liability thinking is strangling the life out of our district and sending all the wrong messages about what matters in education. Experimentation, exploration, growth. Life is messy, but it’ll teach you something. Stop teaching our children the culture of inaction, risk aversion and fear.

Get over it and stop trying to cover your…behinds.

Stop being obstructionist and contrary, ICCSD.

Plant fruit tress. Pick the fruit. Teach the kids how it works. I’ll bring the shovels.

LaTasha DeLoach: If our grounds support the planting of new trees, then we should take this opportunity seriously. One solution might be to develop a plan for these schools in collaboration with the DNR, the facilities managers, and the students and staff at that particular school. It would be a great way to connect the kids to the school over time.

Chris Liebig: Projectiles, seriously? No, I’m not worried that students will hurt each other with fruit trees.

I’m not aware of the grounds advisory committee report you mention, and I don’t know how much money is available for planting trees on school property, but if the only thing stopping it from happening is concerns about safety and the fact that there might be insects outdoors, then yes, let’s plant some apple trees.

Megan Schwalm: Yes, but I wouldn’t stop there. We should be using more grounds for food production. Clearly, we will need to be careful about where we plant things, but we have a lot of grounds and it would be advantageous to produce our own food, both in terms of health and cost savings.

Brian Richman: I support planting diverse species of trees on appropriate areas of school grounds. If apples or other fruit could be used by the schools or by families who attend the schools, then I would support planting fruit trees.

Brianna Wills: I support fruit trees. They are an essential part of the healthy food movement and the back to basics (pick a better snack type program). What messages are we sending our kids when we tell them apples trees are too dangerous? It almost seems like an article in the Onion!

Lori Roetlin: Yes, I support planting a wide variety of trees on school grounds, including fruit trees. I have apple trees in my backyard and my children have benefited in multiple ways. Fruit trees can be used to teach children many science and lifestyle lessons, including the pride that comes from producing one’s own food and the improved taste and nutrition of fresh produce.

Lucas Van Orden: I have no objection to fruit trees, and would far and away prefer students play with apples than an apple i-pad during recess. If someone can show me measurable proof of a safety concern, I would be happy to give it a read. In the meantime… Plant away…

Todd Fanning: I would need to know more about this issue before commenting further.

Shawn Eyestone: Pencils can be used as projectiles. Books, backpacks, or even an apple brought from home in a lunch box can be a projectile. That is not a good enough reason to not have fruit trees. Fruit trees are an excellent tree for showing the life cycle of the plant from flower to fruit to seed. As far as pollinating insects go, I’m pretty sure they will be much more interested in the fruit tree than the students.

Question Four

Backyard Abundance is partnering with Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department through an Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) grant to design and implement affordable outdoor garden classrooms with supporting curriculum. As part of this grant a modern outdoor classroom featuring edible plants will be implemented at the Robert Lee Recreation Center. In 2016, two pilot sites in the neighboring community will be chosen to partner in implementation of a similar outdoor classroom and supporting curriculum on their sites (to be installed in 2017). Will you support a pilot outdoor classroom on ICCSD school grounds and how would you foster administrative and grounds support for such a project?

Tom Yates: Absolutely. This is another area where admin should agree to it, and then BACK OFF. I suggest that the district get rid of some dead weight at the Physical Plant and hire a horticulturist or two ( who actually know what they’re doing). The district is always happier when there is an invested funding source (like the Foundation) of outside money to keep things going, too. This would ensure project longevity as well.

Phil Hemingway: Yes I support a pilot classroom for the district on school grounds. We HAVE to incorporate our outdoor environment into our curriculum. Students need to take their hands off their phones, keyboards and touchscreens and when possible, bury them in the dirt. I assisted my daughter’s Sustainable Systems course at the UI making greenhouses from recycled windows with a partnership between Project Restore, a part of Habitat for Humanity, and her classmates. This project can be viewed at the entrance of their eastside campus today. The program will be continued by Tate students this year and it can easily be expanded throughout the district. If elected to the board, I will encourage other board members to direct the superintendent to support these projects.

Paul Roesler: I will definitely be interested in seeing the progress and results of the outdoor classrooms that are being implemented at the IC Rec Center. As a current member of the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Commission I have some knowledge on this topic. One thing that I am a bit leery of are things that are funded by one time grants. When the grant runs out will be able to continue to fund and support the project? If so and you have schools with teachers that are bought into the project then I would absolutely be in favor of it in the schools. I know that some schools have very active parents that help with school gardens. I would want to make sure that the support of the gardens reaches outside of just those parents so that when their kids move onto the next level there is someone that will step into their roles.

Jason Lewis: Yes. I support it without reservation. Do it at Mark Twain. Pick another diverse school, too.

I’ve already discussed at length the potential use of the Twain grounds as dual-use park space with both the City of Iowa City and the school district. Both entities were supportive. Now let’s get it done.

LaTasha DeLoach: I believe that pilots are important when trying to be innovative and forward planning. Whatever we do it needs to have evaluation built in, and it should be cost effective and environmentally friendly. Grant funding is a great way to launch a new program, but we need to make certain that we will have the resources to sustain and strengthen new initiatives long-term.

Chris Liebig: If there’s grant money available for this, I can’t imagine what the objection could be. Again, if it will require money from the general fund, then that’s a big obstacle at the moment.

I’ve been concerned about how over-stuffed our elementary school day is. (See this post) You might be told that there are simply not enough minutes in the day for the kids to be involved in an outdoor classroom. I think that reflects an unrealistic conception of how kids learn (i.e., students times instructional minutes equals learning), but the pressures the teachers feel are real, so the district would need to (and should) adjust that thinking if it’s going to add more educational activities to the school day.

I’ve been arguing for years that kids — and especially younger kids — need more down time, more physical activity, and more time for recess and lunch than we give them. Since this idea would get them outside and moving around and learning at the same time, it’s worth pursuing.

Megan Schwalm: Yes, I would emphatically support such a project. One of the ways that the board can foster support is by being transparent and communicating with the community. There are examples across the nation of successful outdoor classrooms. As a board, we need to share those examples with our stakeholders so they can see the benefits of such projects. In addition there is a large body of research to support projects such as these. The board should familiarize themselves with the research so they are able to answers questions and discuss the positive outcomes of similar programs. I also see this as an awareness raising issue–we don’t need to have perfectly groomed yards that look like golf courses. Because the norm is having perfectly groomed grounds, our board can work with community groups to help shift the societal expectations and rhetoric around the eco-diversity of our grounds.

Brian Richman: Yes, I would support a pilot outdoor classroom funded by the IDALS grant at an ICCSD school. The selection of such a site would need to be supported by the principal, teachers and parents at the school.

I think there are several important ways for the board to support this effort. First, it needs to minimize administrative impediments. There has been a move in recent years to centralize decision-making authority in the district, which makes community-fostered projects like the outdoor classroom more difficult. The board needs to work with the administration to avoid creating policies and processes which impair school-based efforts to develop programs that support the curriculum in meaningful and appropriate ways.

If this is going to move forward, resources will be required to help support teachers in integrating the outdoor classroom into the learning experience. If there are low-cost resources available, they could potentially be worked into the district’s budget. If the resources are high-cost and, at the pilot stage, serve only one school, then we would need to identify more external support.

Brianna Wills: Absolutely support. I would like to see this type of program rolled out to all schools immediately. I think many parents would also be in support of these types of initiatives, and by tapping the parent volunteer resource we could move these projects along at a faster rate.

Lori Roetlin: I absolutely would support implementation of outdoor classrooms on ICCSD grounds! I would advocate that all stake-holders be included in the design and implementation of outdoor classrooms so that there is buy-in from all parties. I would like to see a team that include teachers, principals, grounds staff, district administration, parents, community members, and students, come together to design and work towards the common goal of implementing the outdoor classroom concept.

Lucas Van Orden: Absolutely yes. How to foster it? This is found through a cordial, and cooperative planning meetings between the public, board members, and the administration.

Todd Fanning: Yes, I would be in support of this. It appears there is a lot of support for this program already. As a Board, we will need to work with the teachers to include this in their curriculum and then evaluate the success of the project.

Shawn Eyestone: A few years ago, I helped Abundant Playscapes work with friends of mine to build an outdoor play area/classroom area on their property. We build a stage for music, a tree house and many other pieces. I was only able to work on it for a couple of days, but it was a great experience for me and the kids. I would love to see this be a bigger portion of ICCSD curriculum. Fostering supports starts with someone being a champion for it on the Board and showing excitement for the opportunity. I’m sure this has been done from the outside by parents and other community members, but someone on the inside could really make a difference.

Question Five

Farm to School has hosted five trainings over the past few years for teachers, students and parent volunteers on ways to incorporate school gardens into classroom curriculum. New Pi Soilmates and Backyard Abundance staff have also been involved in providing meaningful programming to reinforce curriulum covered in the classroom. To ensure all students have access to these types of classroom & curriculum resources, would you be supportive of a long-term plan for implementing and training teachers in supportive STEM curriculum at multiple outdoor classroom sites across the district? What is the formula for success of such a venture?

Tom Yates: This sounds great. One way to do this would be to start by making this a board–approved co-curricular activity, much like many of our music groups for kids that meet outside the school day. The staff is paid by extra-service contract (which requires first, approval, and then addition to the contractual extra-service activity list). As there is a Music Auxiliary that helps to defray costs for activities, so could there be a “Garden Auxiliary”. Starting as “clubs” could very well lead the way to a real co-or-intra-curricular addition across the district. Pick pilot sites; get them going, then expand.

Phil Hemingway: I would be supportive and advocate for the programming as presented above. If it is fully implemented we must make sure that all students are able to access it, including those with physical disabilities or those with other barriers to learning. An environmentally mindful curriculum should be adopted only after input is solicited from community members, parents, students and other experts in the field and each voice should be equally respected and valued.

Paul Roesler: Yes, I would be very supportive of STEAM (yes I think the Arts should be included in this) curriculum. As a parent of an elementary school student I have firsthand experience with some of the things that the teachers have done on this front. My kids were very excited to talk about the vegetables they were growing in the garden. To hear them talk about their experience from the start to when they were able to actually enjoy eating the produce is something that I will not forget. Anytime that you can make a memory like that and reach kids in that way you have succeeded in teaching. To get this program to spread and be successful you really have to have teacher buy in. That part will be the hardest. If a teacher is not bought into the idea and is forced to do something that they don’t want to be doing it will not be a successful venture. When teachers who have bought in are successful in what they are doing and other teachers see that they might be more likely to pursue that as well. Unfortunately as much as we tell someone they should do it unless we can get them to believe in it, it won’t succeed.

Jason Lewis: Yes I would. Long term, supported, sustained training that brings our children into their environment in a meaningful way that teaches them to grow and be connected to their surroundings.

I believe that, when possible, students should be supplementing the food they eat at school with food they’ve grown. This should become a part of our food service model. If we are able to internalize and systematize these programs, bringing synergy to our schools and their relationship to the environment then they will be sustained. But we have to commit. We need a board that will demand we move in this direction.

LaTasha DeLoach: Yes. I believe the formula is: Train a select number of teachers and pilot this curriculum. Evaluate it, and then make an informed decision about moving forward. We are fortunate in Johnson County to have a wealth of educational resources and engaged local advocates. With their continued support, we can create and sustain these new and innovative ideas for educating our students.

Chris Liebig: Again, if there are funding sources other than the general fund for this, it sounds worth looking into. I’d repeat some of the thoughts from my previous answer.

Megan Schwalm: Yes, I support a long-term plan for implementing and training teachers in supportive STEM curriculum at multiple outdoor classroom sites across the district. The formula for success is developing a strong volunteer program. We see small- scale examples of this already in our district, such as with the garden at Shimek Elementary. We can look to that program, and other volunteer programs in our community, to see what has been effective. We will need to utilize parent volunteers and volunteers from across the community to ensure that schools who have less parental engagement are still supported in this endeavor

Brian Richman: If our teachers feel that programs such as the Farm to School garden projects and the Backyard Abundance outdoor classroom project are effective teaching tools, then I would certainly support developing a long-term plan to explore how to implement such hands-on programs on a larger scale.

To do so successfully, we will need, as I said above, the support of faculty, the involvement of parents, and continued support from the community and local businesses. The board and the community will also need to determine where the outdoor classroom curriculum should be positioned in terms of funding priority. I would envision that being part of the larger strategic planning effort around programming decisions that I have advocated for at the board level.

Brianna Wills: Community and parent involvement is critical to the success of such programs at schools. Not only do teachers play a role, but so do Principals and other building level administrators. I would support Professional Development planned for teachers. I would love to see this type of programming available over the summer as potential summer camp type programming. Using our existing resources such as the District Wide Parents’ Organization and PTA/O is also critical. Open sourcing curriculum and technology such as our Smart Boards may be a great place to find additional curriculum support.

Lori Roetlin: Yes, I would definitely support that all students have access to STEM curriculum that incorporates school gardens. As I indicated in the prior question, again, I believe that the formula for success for this venture would be to include all stake-holders in the process: teachers, principals, grounds staff, district administration, parents, community members, and students. If it isn’t possible to have outdoor classrooms at all school buildings, it would be highly important that the outdoor classrooms be placed through-out the district such that each school would have access to this resource within fairly close proximity to their own school building. One option that could be explored would be to pair higher and lower SES schools together in this venture so that there are adequate parent volunteers available to help maintain all the outdoor classrooms without the responsibility having to fall to the building staff.

Lucas Van Orden: Yes… as for the formula ? Patience, education, and meeting people half way.

Todd Fanning: I would need to know more about this issue before commenting further.

Shawn Eyestone: I would be very supportive. To be successful, the curriculum needs to be worked out by more experienced individuals and then training needs to be performed for our teachers. Not all teachers have experience in this area, but most are willing to learn. When we started the Garner school garden, one teacher was very willing to help get it rolling, but didn’t know proper planting techniques or garden design. With some guidance there, the garden has grown more successful. There is a nice fence around the garden to help separate the space from the rest of the grounds.

Question Six

Over the past spring and summer a major change in ICCSD grounds practices has threatened the immediate and long term health of our district children. Widespread spraying of pesticides (some declared carcinogenic by the World Health Organization) has been documented by parents, and then acknowledged by staff. This spraying occurred on and around school playgrounds, bike racks, school gardens, and other educational and high traffic areas. Such practice is in direct contrast to evidence-based and best-practices for integrated pest management; has been banned in many countries as well as communities across the USA; and is in clear violation of the posted ICCSD IPM Policies. Do you support a Board Directed interim yet immediate ban on herbicide/pesticide spraying in these high traffic areas until more appropriate procedures and policy is put in place? Assuming development of these guidelines would be through a collaborative task force of grounds staff and knowledgeable community members, how would you assure that the new policy and guidelines reflected the best decision for the health of our teachers, staff and students, as well as a balance of other priorities?

Tom Yates: The district has had a policy for over twenty years that states the only place that “rigorous” spraying should occur is on athletic field grass (and at the time, that may have meant two football fields–only). I don’t know why it hasn’t been followed, or if it’s a Board or an Admin policy. I see no reason why regular “lawn” maintenance would not take care of 99% of district needs– plant grass; mow it; leave it alone.

Phil Hemingway: This is a multi-faceted question and I have been pressing the board for years to help craft a policy that will result in them being answered. In your question you mention that the misuse of chemicals, “has been documented by parents”. In fact, I am one of those parents who brought this issue before the board many times starting at the board meeting on April 28, 2015. I took the opportunity to present photos and anecdotal accounts to the board that documented the misuse of chemicals on school grounds. I did this because I felt a responsibility to the stakeholders in the ICCSD and to for the health of their children and feared that if I did not bring light to this issue, it would have flown under the radar. The spraying of herbicide goes against current district policies which date back to 1993. Do I support an immediate ban? YES, of course and I have urged the board to abide by their own policy which forbids the spraying practices currently employed. I would therefore support the formation of a committee made up of community members to oversee grounds policies and who would make sure that community wishes are reflected in that policy. When the district decided to reestablish their grounds maintenance program, I brought recognized leaders in lawn maintenance to the district so they could provide their knowledge and insights and thereby assist the district in doing things in an environmentally sensitive and fiscally prudent manner. The district refused this free assistance and the problems that have ensued can be attributed to this “go it alone” mentality. As a Board member I will demand community participation in the decision making process regarding the maintenance of our public grounds.

Paul Roesler: One of the roles of the school board is to ensure that the policies that we put in place allow for a safe learning environment for all students. With that being said it is important that the board continue to look into this otherwise we are not following our own goals. I have been at many of the school board meetings where concerned community members have spoken on this topic. I would like to see the administration, grounds crew and community be able to discuss what is being done to our grounds, what the goals are and what may need to be changed to ensure that we are not doing things that will harm our students and staff. I would very much like those meetings to be productive and not turn into he said she said arguments. Being able to work together on this, and other subjects is important for our district.

Jason Lewis: I do support the immediate ban of the use of these chemicals. I’m not sure it should be temporary. I honestly don’t understand why herbicides or pesticides should ever be used in these high traffic areas.

I would like to see more reasonable and responsible practices adopted, vetted by knowledgable members of the community and district staff, and implemented with board support and oversight.

A pattern has developed when issues like this come up. Two years ago it was fencing and security. There has been continued lip service paid to issues that challenge the status quo. Usually the public is encouraged to talk itself out and then the administration does something like what it intended to do in the first place. I have seen the district administration continually resist feedback and calls for change. There’s a sense that they know best and don’t welcome input. Whether this is perception or reality, the pattern has become recognizable.

The next school board needs to change that perception. The word “accountability” gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, when we’re talking about our children and their health, “accountability” is not a strong enough word.

We can’t sit idly by and be placated. We have to demand change.

LaTasha DeLoach: Of course herbicides and pesticides are bad for children and our school grounds! I appreciate the parents who brought their concern to the board’s attention. Moving forward, what can we do to reevaluate this situation? The board must make the community’s expectations clear–that administrators and staff who are supervising grounds maintenance crews set straight-forward, environmentally-responsible expectations–and make sure they are being followed through on.

Chris Liebig: Yes, I would support such a ban.

Yes, the policy should be developed by consulting knowledgeable community members, which I’m sure there is no shortage of in a major university town. For example, I know that Geoffrey Lauer, of your group, is an expert on brain injury; when he says we should be worried about how our district is using pesticides, I think we need to pay attention. I’m also willing to educate myself on the issues involved.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been a homeowner for fourteen years, and I’ve never used chemical treatments on my lawn. A pretty lawn isn’t worth it if there’s any risk at all to the health of my kids.

Megan Schwalm: Yes, I support an interim and immediate ban on herbicide/pesticide spraying in high traffic areas until a new policy is written. As the parent of a child who often eats non-food items, such as grass, and as someone who works extensively with the special needs community where eating non-food items is frequently an issue, the spraying of pesticides in high traffic areas—and in particular, near playgrounds—is of grave concern for me. It is important to note that different school grounds have different eco-diversity (prairie restoration, woodlands, etc.) and they require different treatment and maintenance plans, so we cannot develop a “one-size-fits-all” policy. I do not believe that we can completely ban the use of pesticides/herbicides in the long-term because, as we know, invasive species in prairies and woodlands can be detrimental and may require a variety of physical, mechanical, and even, but rarely, chemical interventions. Ultimately, our district should be looking to plant more native vegetation that doesn’t need to be mowed, watered, or treated. Not only would that be a cost savings for the district but would also help with storm water management and runoff.

I would like to see our district move swiftly to ban the spraying of pesticide while a policy is developed. While we desperately need a (new) policy on the use of herbicide/pesticide policy, we need to take that a step further and develop a comprehensive sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction plan. In order to create policies that reflect the best decisions for the health of our teachers, staff, and students, we need to assure that all of the stakeholders have a voice at the table. It is imperative that the community have input as the district develops a herbicide/pesticide policy and/or a comprehensive sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction plan. Furthermore, I would like to see the district engage eco-experts like Backyard Abundance, Ecopolis, Farm-to-Table, and Burr Oak Land Trust in order to determine what best practices are with regards to spraying, sustainable grounds development, greenhouse gas reduction, etc. We need to keep the health of our teachers, staff and children as our top priority.

Brian Richman: Yes, I would support an interim ban of such chemicals on playgrounds, gardens and other areas frequently used by our children.

As for the process by which the district develops long-term policies with respect to grounds maintenance, I think the top priority is transparency. I’ve said on many occasions over the past two months that there is nothing the district does that would not benefit from a bit–or in most cases, a lot–more sunshine. Nowhere is that more true than in issues dealing with the health of our kids.

Brianna Wills: Yes, I fully support a comprehensive review of our policies regarding spraying of any chemicals outside for weed control/fertilization AND inside spraying of schools for pest management. I believe that this community should determine its level of comfort with the use of chemicals which may vary substantially from norms in other communities. I would like to see more community action and awareness in investigating what is going into the actual school buildings. I think this part has largely been ignored and is potentially more problematic to students who sit, eat, touch and walk in these classrooms.

Lori Roetlin: Yes, I do support a temporary ban on spraying in high traffic areas until more appropriate procedures and policy are put in place. We have incredibly knowledgeable people in our community and I fully support your suggestion of a collaborative task force of community members working with grounds staff to define policy that protects the health of all persons in our school community. In addition to grounds staff and knowledgeable community members, I would also request that district administration be included so that the policy is workable from a budgetary standpoint. Lastly, I would want to see that the task force included teachers and principals to make sure that the policy is realistic from the perspective of the people who are directly supervising our children on school grounds. I would look for the task force to come to the board with recommendations based on mutual compromise and evidence-based best practices.

Lucas Van Orden: I have visited with Dr. Dude a few weeks ago and proposed an interim solution. On the occasion that a health safety concern is raised by a member of the community, the issue would be brought to the specific school principal for first consideration. Upon receipt, the principal would be in a position to implement a “temporary halt” to afford time to investigate the practice, and determine a best case by case resolution. Dr. Dude expressed an interest and openness to this policy suggestion, and I find it an excellent first move to resolving problems as they are identified.

Todd Fanning: I do support an immediate ban until more investigation into the matter is completed. It will take a collaborative effort between parents, teachers, administration and the Board to make revisions to the existing policy in order to provide safety to our students while doing necessary maintenance to our grounds.

Shawn Eyestone: Pesticides and herbicides should not be used in high traffic areas particularly while school is in session. I think each school, with input from staff and parents, should be able to identify the areas at their specific location that would be off limits for spraying. With such a large amount of grounds in the district, there may be times and places for such chemicals, but it can’t be a broad based approach that has all schools and areas equal. I think creating the off limits areas for each school and keeping the grounds crew aware of those spaces is the place to start.

Question Seven

Considering current grounds and facility use in our district and the educational materials provided to you before this forum, how can you envision using our grounds and facilities differently to support more sustainable practices and to maximize their educational benefit in respect to STEM education? For example, can the use of native habitat plantings, outdoor classrooms and prairie restorations enhance our kids’ education while reducing the overall environmental impact and financial costs associated with traditional resource intensive turf grass management?

Tom Yates: To answer the last question, absolutely yes. All of those things cover Art through Zoology… I don’t see why we can’t have gardens at every school, and of a variety of types. Furthermore, make this a year-round activity for the schools–kids, parents, staff–a community effort.

Phil Hemingway: First off, I am more interested in STEAM curriculum which also includes the visual and performing arts in addition to industrial arts. Those are key components in a well-rounded curriculum. My vision of grounds maintenance is markedly different than our present policy, one that is very costly and involves planting sod, spreading fertilizer, spraying herbicide and mowing. For years I have advocated the establishment of native prairies and alternatives to our above mentioned policies for grounds maintenance. Once established, prairies require no maintenance, they are beautiful to look at, they encourage beneficial insects including butterflies and other pollinators and they survive in times of drought. The UI has established prairie areas to enhance the beauty and preservation of their public areas on their western campus. If West High School was surrounded by prairie we could save thousands of dollars a year in maintenance costs, and if we’d done that when the school was built, we could have potentially saved millions in maintenance costs. That land could be an educational tool not only for West High, but for all the students in the district and our community. It would also help us reduce our districts carbon footprint.

Paul Roesler: As a Lemme parent I am proud of the prairie that we have at our school. Two years ago the Prairie group had plans drawn up for ways that they envisioned improving the area to offer a better outdoors classroom and add in gardens and many other things that would have really transformed the area into something special. The plans were never followed through on. I am not sure the exact specifics of why the plan was not carried out but I do believe they received some push back from the district. This is unfortunate if it is indeed the case. Having parents that are willing to improve the lands at our schools to help get kids outside to learn is great. I understand the business side from the schools and the cost associated with upkeep and maintenance associated with these projects. When groups are shut down by the district there is a disconnect. This is something that I would like to see improve in our district. How can we bring these groups together with the administration and work together better. In most cases it seems like decisions are either all or nothing but there is no real talk about compromises and what can work.

Jason Lewis: Our school grounds should absolutely be an extension of the classroom. The prairie cycle is part of Iowa’s history and heritage and a valuable learning tool for our students on so many levels. Learning about the cycle of life native to our home should be a part of the curriculum.

As for sustainability, our school grounds should be laboratories for students to learn and discover. I would love to see every student learning the cycles of life in real time, from the youngest students to the oldest. I would like to see us grow food on our grounds that can then be served in our cafeterias or offered to our local food rescue organizations.

Many of our students come from an urban background. I know that students at Mark Twain were first introduced to the idea that food came from the ground through school gardening projects. We shouldn’t take this knowledge for granted.

To promote these natural environments, we need to stop treating our grounds like golf courses and over-managing them. We need to allow the natural cycles to inform our care and guide our students in the practices of responsible stewardship of nature. I’d like to see more opportunities for communion with nature. More opportunities for meditation and communion with nature, not treating our grounds as nuisances that need to be repeatedly beaten back.

LaTasha DeLoach: I fully support integrating our grounds and outdoor facilities into the curricular opportunities for our students. As a candidate who cares about development of the whole child and meeting the needs of diverse types of learners, as well as environmental stewardship, I will do whatever I can to provide leadership and policies that support these types of efforts.

Chris Liebig: Yes, the kind of projects you’re describing, and the kind promoted by the Farm to School chapter, are good ideas. At Hoover, for example, they have converted what was formerly un-used grass into a community garden which the kids are involved in. (At our ice cream social, they even served chips with salsa made from the garden.)

I know several people who have left traditional lawns behind in favor of less resource-intensive plantings — in fact, my fellow board candidate Tom Yates is one of them — and I’d be very interested to hear about ways of pursuing that kind of thing on our district’s school grounds. Some of our schools have enormous parcels of empty, un-used, expensive-to-mow-and-treat grass; West High, for example, has about an eighteen-acre front lawn. If some prairie restoration, for example, could lower the cost of maintaining that land, open up opportunities for kids to learn about science in the field instead of just the classroom, and probably even look nicer, we should be exploring the idea.

Megan Schwalm: Yes. Our district should absolutely use our grounds to support and supplement classroom learning. Our district should be using native habitat plantings, outdoor classrooms and prairie restorations to enhance our kids’ education. There is a plethora of research about the benefits of using nature to support classroom learning, particularly in the areas of science and language arts. It is advantageous to use outdoor learning experiences to understand and establish new knowledge and concepts. Furthermore, much has been written about children’s disconnection from the natural world. Research suggests we need to find ways to let children roam beyond the pavement, to gain access to vegetation and earth that allow them to tunnel, climb, or even fall. We can look to the “Last Child in the Woods” research to see the importance of getting kids outside into natural areas.

As a parent, I see the powerful ways that being in nature impacts my children. Not only do I utilize outdoor learning opportunities to supplement concepts being taught in my child’s classroom, but also I see the incredible impact that being outside in a natural environment has on my child’s behaviors and ability to focus during other times of the day. My child has complicated special needs that manifest as challenging behaviors. Getting out in nature, hiking in the woods, digging in the dirt, looking for bugs, growing vegetables, etc. serve as some of the most effective interventions I can use when he is struggling. I feel strongly that these strategies can help all children, not just children with special needs, be more successful in and outside of the classroom.

In addition to the positive educational, behavioral, and emotional impact of using district grounds to support classroom learning, there is a negative environmental impact and financial cost associated with traditional resource intensive turf grass management. Our district absolutely needs to work to expand our use of native plants, prairie restoration areas, woodlands, etc.

Brian Richman: As I note in my response to one of the Backyard Abundance questions below, I believe the outdoor classroom is a concept that could definitely add value to our children’s educational experience, and I support the proposed pilot project.

As for ideas such as native habitat plantings or prairie restorations, I will need to do more research. If such approaches can enhance our kids’ education, mitigate negative environmental impacts and reduce costs, then those are all positives. At the same time, some of our schools have limited grounds space, so we also need to consider needs for appropriate play space and other school activities.

Brianna Wills: I fully support enhancing our curriculum with lessons for children regarding composting, recycling, gardening, lifecycle studies of animals/insects, solar/wind/electricity usage and effects on our environment. I would like to see these lessons in outdoor classrooms at each school. Some schools already have these types of spaces, and partnering with PTA/O and/or the District Wide Parents Organization (DPO) would be a great way to engage and train parent volunteers to bring these spaces to each school. Native prairies at certain schools also make sense from a resource management angle. They don’t require mowing or chemical management.

Lori Roetlin: All of the above are great examples of enhancing our STEM education. I fully support all of these ideas. My kids’ elementary school, Coralville Central, is blessed to have a butterfly garden with native Iowa plants, a school garden (which is currently not in use due to the renovations occurring), an abundance of native Iowa trees that have been added regularly to the school ground over the years, and tremendous parent volunteer involvement in caring for our school grounds. We also have a vivarium in our lobby that has turtles and native Iowa fish. The care for the vivarium has been provided by dedicated parents and students over many years. With our tradition of having a family garden day twice a year, our students have the privilege of having a hands on opportunity to care for our environment and school grounds by contributing to the maintenance of our extensive and beautiful landscaping. Our district needs to allow for more customization in our science curriculum so that schools like Coralville Central could utilize their on-grounds resources to a greater degree in classroom lessons. A priority needs to be placed on adding things such as native habitat plantings, outdoor classrooms, and prairie restorations to ALL school grounds in our district so that all students have these learning opportunities.

Lucas Van Orden: Individual groups should be encouraged to work with the school principal, and district officials to identify project space, establish responsibility for ongoing maintenance. For long-term visionary planning (such as establishing an outdoor classroom space as part of a building addition being planned, the district should afford qualified organizations to be involved in early planning of a building, so as to integrate the project into the plan early enough in the planning phase.

Todd Fanning: When I saw the slide show played at the forum, I was fascinated with the idea but even more so by the looks on all of the children’s faces. They were truly engaged in the outdoor classrooms. To that end, as a Board, we have to continually look for new learning opportunities to teach our kids. Again, we need to work together with input from teachers and principals to find ways to expand our methods of teaching.

Shawn Eyestone: Having the opportunity to go with my son to School of the wild was a great experience. I happened to go the day my son had the Prairie day. It was a fun experience to see the kids walk through the mature prairie grasses and see what it must have been like centuries ago. I don’t think this should be limited to only 5th or 6th graders for one week. I am also very proud of our school’s outdoor garden. Both of these things are great learning environments as well as reducing the amount of grounds keeping necessary for those areas.

Question Eight

Clear Creek Amana school district is holding an open house this coming Saturday for the newly constructed STEM center that was designed and built by students with limited costs to the district. The next phase will be to design and implement the supportive grounds for the center. The current plans include a green house, rain barrels and drainage swales, native wildflower berms, small and large garden beds, and green roof learning lab. Is it a priority for you to provide such an innovative resource for ICCSD and, if so, how would you help foster development of such a center?

Tom Yates: This, too, would be great. What is CCA doing to make this work? Can we follow their lead? Get their help? Use their expertise? Some of what I suggested previously might be a way to get this going. The plan for the Center included in the docs you sent looks very doable to me. Start with one at each high school; can this be a course at the Regional Center? Then the high school kids can help build others at other schools. How about a whole bunch of graduates who know how to build STEM centers, who can then expand that experience into learning how to build other kinds of “green” buildings! THAT’s exciting to me.

Phil Hemingway: Again, STEAM programming should be our priority. What CCA has done is phenomenal and one of the greatest attributes to this program was that it involved the students in every aspect from its initial design to its build. This is something I have been advocating in our district for six years. With our new construction taking place throughout the district, we should require a certain percentage of student apprenticeship or student labor for all our construction projects. Is it a priority to provide such an innovative resource for ICCSD?

An emphatic YES! Again, I have advocated for programs similar to these for years. As mentioned in the answer above, involvement by all stakeholders is crucial and is necessary for their success. We must also have the full support of board members and if they see it as a priority, they will follow through. I am not a person who makes one set of promises during the campaign stage only to abandon those promises once in office. If elected, I will not compromise my values, although I will work with other board members to reach a consensus that we can all live with.

Paul Roesler: I think that a STEAM magnet school should be one idea that moves forward as we continue to discuss the possible implementation of magnet schools in the district. You will see over the next few months the school board decide if Magnet Schools should be something that they want to further discuss. With the STEM center in the CCA District and the STEM magnet school in Cedar Rapids we will have local examples that we can lean on to see if the results are something that is worth pursuing here in our district. Outside of a magnet school we would have to look at how ideas like this could be tied into science curriculum.

Jason Lewis: It is a priority. Again, I feel like I continue to repeat myself, but teaching our students to be more harmonious with their environment, using what’s available to us to cut costs and to educate our students makes sense from a financial point of view as well as an educational point of view.

These aren’t huge changes, but they will require a huge transition from our current mindset to one of economy and harmony. Building a center like the one describe would be a great first step as a “proof of concept” as well as an incredible community project.

That other districts around us are doing this and we continue to resist and obstruct is incredibly frustrating to me.

LaTasha DeLoach: It’s difficult to say that this is a main priority. Is it important, and should it be implemented if possible? Yes. And, we have many significant issues affecting our kids, and we have to carefully watch our available funding. I would love to see a partnership with cities and organizations in the district that would complement our existing resources and make this type of innovation a community-wide effort.

Chris Liebig: This sounds great, but again, funding is the potential obstacle. Right now, the general fund is simply stretched too thin, and everything is competing with reducing class sizes. A project like this is much more likely to happen if there are other funding sources (such as grants) available.

Megan Schwalm: Yes, it is absolutely a priority for me. Not every child in our district is college-bound. We need to prepare all of our students for life after high school, whether that is college or career. The building, mechanical, and eco trades are excellent career options and it would be incredibly advantageous for our youth to provide them with opportunities to learn these skills. Our district needs to provide more opportunities for students to gain skills in physical trades such building trades, ground keeping, and eco trades.

Brian Richman: The Clear Creek Amana project has been a fantastic effort, not just in creating a STEM center but also in providing hands-on construction experience to students interested in careers in the building trades. This is the type of innovative approach to learning that we need to foster in the district.

As for creating a similar STEM center here, if our science faculty believe it would be a valuable resource and if the community is willing to support it, I would absolutely consider it.

There are many non-traditional classroom projects being proposed in this questionnaire, and I believe it’s important that we approach them as part of a comprehensive planning process through which we can evaluate potential enhancements to the science curriculum in our schools and pick the best of them based on available resources.

Brianna Wills: Let’s talk to CCA and see how they did it. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel. I would support such a venture and can see significant advantages to our students to be involved in a project of this magnitude. This type of project also supports vocational training options for students and extensive exposure of environmental responsible solutions for citizens of the future.

Lori Roetlin: Absolutely! Clear Creek Amana’s STEM center is tremendous program and the ICCSD should absolutely pursue such an endeavor as well! Instead of feeling threatened by a neighboring district offering this opportunity, we need to explore what funding sources they utilized and the process they used to develop their STEM center. This could start by identifying a group of interested persons (including teachers, principals, parents, students, community members, and board members). This group could then visit the CCA center and meet with their committee that is working on setting up their program. The information gleaned could be used to develop a similar program in the ICCSD with changes made that meet the unique needs of our student population.

Lucas Van Orden: Yes, and do so by bringing the CCA folks into the ICCSD to share their experience, and offer assistance in crafting an ICCSD pilot plan.

Todd Fanning: I think it is important for the District to explore all options. We should research further the costs and benefits from others before deciding to pursue.

Shawn Eyestone: I would love to see this happen. Of all of these various ideas for increasing the awareness and programming of this nature, this one is the most contingent on funding. I would look into grants, partnerships and other resources of money other than the ICCSD general fund to make something like this happen.

Question Nine

The ICCSD Farm to School chapter is a success story for our school district. The Iowa Farm to School program is coordinated by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Education and has worked closely with the Food Service Director and Purchasing & Procurement. Just this past week apples from Wilson’s Orchard and cherry tomatoes from Friendly Farms were served to all of our students. Since 2011, ICCSD has purchased 17,500 pounds of locally grown food, with a goal to increase by 5 percent each year. As a school board member will you support the continued growth of this program that connects area farmers to our schools?

Tom Yates: Yes. How can we go wrong with this? Getting healthy, local, fresh food into schools is another no-brainer, not to mention other opportunities for getting kids to Wilson’s and Friendly Farms to actually learn about REAL food.

Phil Hemingway: As a fourth generation Johnson County farmer, I recognize and encourage “Buy local” not only with food but with other expenditures within the district. We have many local vendors producing great natural products and I ask that all community members support local producers and suppliers. During my campaign I have had a table outside the Iowa City Farmers’ Market, a place where my family gets the opportunity to purchase from local vendors. The Farmers Market settings in all ICCSD communities are not merely places where a person can buy local, they are also places where families can interact with one another, where local politicians can meet with constituents, where local musicians can entertain their neighbors and where people can see firsthand the great things our communities have to offer.

Paul Roesler: Yes. It is important for us, when we can, to buy things locally and support the community that we serve. As long as we are being responsible with our purchasing and not creating more waste we should definitely continue to buy food locally when we can. Communicating the positives and the fact that this program is happening in the district is important. If people don’t realize that it is currently happening and that it is successful they never know it exists.

Jason Lewis: Yes, I would.

A little history about me and my family. My wife used to be the director of food rescue and food pantry support for the United Way. She has a masters in nutrition. She started and oversaw the first community supported agriculture project in Brooklyn, NY in the late 90s. That project is still going today.

I grew up in West Virginia and my family kept livestock and did a lot of hunting and grew a lot of their own food. I spent a lot of time as a child watching my grandmother can enough food to feed an army every year.

In only a generation we’ve moved so far away from the old ways. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I heard this saying a lot growing up. We weren’t rich, but we always had food.

That’s a lesson that would benefit our students. Our schools are not teaching our students to fish. They’re giving them fish and teaching them how to pass tests. We have to take control of this narrative. We have to change how we teach our children. It can start with programs like Farm to School and grow from there.

We have to elect a board that will make that a priority.

LaTasha DeLoach: Yes. There are multiple benefits to this program, including cost savings, educational opportunities, and setting a good example for nutrition, health, and the environment. I appreciate the collaboration and the people who have worked hard to champion this effort.

Chris Liebig: I love the idea of locally grown produce being served in our schools. Subject to the concern above about funding sources, I’d like to see this continue.

Megan Schwalm: Absolutely. Not only do I support connection to local farming, I also think the school district should embrace growing foods on our own lands, through partnerships with farmers, community organizations, etc.

Brian Richman: I support the Farm to School program. As I note in my response to the question below, I think bringing more fresh food to our kids is a great goal.

Whether five percent per year growth is the right target–or too low or high–depends on many factors such as logistics and reliability of supply.

Brianna Wills: Absolutely. I would like to see additional programming like Pick a Better Snack expanded. Programs such as these have a real impact on children’s mindset and future choices. With a national epidemic of childhood obesity, programs at school which expose children to new, healthier snack options, portion control, and exercise will become more critical.

Lori Roetlin: I absolutely support the Farm to School program! This is good for our students in so many ways: reduces our carbon footprint, supports our local farmers and economy, provides the freshest and therefore most nutritious and tastiest produce to our kids, and more! This program is a terrific example of the kind of community and school collaboration I would like to see more of in our district!

Lucas Van Orden: Absolutely. However… It must be understood that any commitment to supply goods would be held to pre-arranged supply guidelines. The Farm to School program will need to have contingencies to fulfill the contract commitment.

Todd Fanning: Yes, we should always support local farmers as much as possible.

Shawn Eyestone: Yes, yes and yes. I currently enjoy getting fresh veggies and fruits from a couple of local CSAs. I helped to start a community garden at work that we donate produce to the Johnson County crisis center. Having fresh locally grown food is not only good for the consumer, but good for the local economy. It is a win all the way around.

Question Ten

The Iowa City Community School District currently has 26 buildings with 5 production kitchens to serve lunch to an average 7,300 students a day and 1,600 breakfasts. Those school buildings without production kitchens have the capacity to keep breakfasts warm overnight and lunches warm for a few hours before they are served. The ability to serve more local and more fresh foods for lunch and other meals would be enhanced if the district had more production kitchens. If elected to the school board, how would you approach the opportunities offered by Farm to School in the Facilities Master Plan, specifically in relation to production kitchens and capacities?

Tom Yates: Good question! Putting real kitchens in more places to serve real food…I’m willing to take a look at the FMP for this kind of change. As of this writing, I’m one of the few candidates who IS willing to change the FMP, anyway. It might be best to target elementary schools with either the best possibilities for expansion, and/or those with student bodies which could be entirely fed through self-contained kitchens.

Phil Hemingway: This is a great question, maybe one of the best questions presented to a candidate in this election cycle. It illustrates the need to revisit the Facilities Master Plan now and in the future. The examples you give in this question prove the need for a flexible approach to the FMP. Should money be available for additional kitchens to provide a fresher more nourishing meal for our students? Of course. Are there other alternatives that should be looked at? Of course. Decisions about how our tax dollars are spent and on what our districts priorities should be must only occur after input from all stakeholders is collected and then it should be shared out in a transparent, open and respectful manner.

Jason Lewis: I’ll be honest, I don’t know what’s already folded into the facilities plan in terms of production kitchen construction. I would like to see this capacity expanded. I would like to see our district put a focus on sustainability and this would be a great way to do it. If your group has suggestions I would very much like to hear them. If there are options I want to explore them.

LaTasha DeLoach: The FMP gives an overview of what we will be investing in to upgrade our schools. As we move forward, we can continue conversations about the details at each site. Right now, we have to focus first on sufficient space to educate our children. As we get further along in our work to meet our capacity and accessibility needs, we will be able to put more consideration into this option and its ongoing costs and benefits. It is important to me that every child have access to healthy and nutritious meals during the school day.

Chris Liebig: I like the idea of providing more fresh, locally sourced food for student lunches. It’s interesting to learn that kitchen capacity is holding that back. Again, we’d have to put some dollar figures on it to fully evaluate it, but it sounds worth looking into.

Megan Schwalm: I am very supportive of the work of the Farm to School program and I support the addition of more production kitchens in our district. Adding additional kitchens with capacity to cook and prepare meals will improve the ability of food service staff to prepare fresh meals because they wouldn’t have to figure in long transportation times to schools without kitchens. Currently, if a local farmer wants to sell lettuce to the school, it has to be cleaned and processed ahead of time because of the lack of kitchens, which isn’t feasible to most farmers. That is slowing the integration of local foods into school district. It is imperative that we incorporate more local, whole foods into our schools so that kids are able to make healthier food choices, we raise awareness among our students about where their food comes from, and we support a local food economy.

Brian Richman: In general, I certainly support improving the nutritional quality and the appeal of the food we provide to our kids in our schools. It’s a health issue, and I believe that using more fresh foods would be a step in the right direction.

The Facilities Master Plan should be, at the very core, an expression of the community’s priorities. As a district, we have many needs and desires–new schools and classrooms, air conditioning, major renovations for older schools, and much more.

I believe it’s important for board members to develop a deep knowledge of and appreciation for the community’s priorities–to understand what we want for our children and what we are willing and able to pay for. As a board member, I expect that I will be spending a great deal of time in the years ahead doing just that. If the increased production kitchen capacity is a priority for the community, then I would support it as the board updates the FMP and extends its horizons.

Brianna Wills: Production kitchen opportunities may be expanded through our new buildings across the district. It is certainly worth conversations with our Farm to School participants to discuss better ways to deliver healthy, fresher foods to our children.

Lori Roetlin: Given that our Facilities Master Plan includes building renovations and new school buildings, this is the perfect time to explore the option of placing more production kitchens in our school buildings. As the plans are being finalized for each project, it would be valuable to explore whether or not adding a production kitchen to the given project would be a viable option. State supplemental aid fluctuates over the years so even if our operations budget doesn’t currently allow for staffing new production kitchens, it is still valuable to explore incorporating more production kitchens into new and renovation building plans as there will hopefully be more operations funding available to the district in the future as the funding pendulum swings the other direction.

Lucas Van Orden: The same way I will approach everything else. I’ll sit with the informed individuals, promote an open exchange of ideas, and empower the appropriate individuals to implement the stated goals.

Todd Fanning: While I support the Facilities Master Plan, there will be areas that need to be researched and, if the data supports it, adjustments made. Costs will be the big issue but if the Farm to School programs offer low-cost alternatives then we should review.

Shawn Eyestone: Many of our current schools would be hard pressed to add the additions of production kitchens as well as limits on staffing those. New schools, however, can look at this during the design process. I would really need to know more on the potential impact to the cost of building and maintaining these kitchens, but I would like to see this program have the chance to expand.

Question Eleven

The earth is warming up, and there is now overwhelming scientific consensus that it is happening, and human-induced. Many are agreed that climate change may be one of the greatest threats facing the planet. Recent years show increasing temperatures in various regions, and/or increasing extremities in weather patterns. Do you believe that climate change is real?

All: Each candidate agreed that climate change is real.

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4 thoughts on “Q&A: School board candidates tackle sustainability issues and STEM education

  1. Green Roofs or Solar Roofs ?Do you want to contribute to our earth but don’t know how? Global wairnmg and the urban heat island effect are making inroads into our homes. This is a serious issue, and we must also have a positive attitude toward mediating this situation.Suppose that you are not a boss of an enterprise; therefore, you are powerless to decide how to reduce air pollution nor recycle resources. Don’t be discouraged! You can still influence others and help preserve the earth by supporting the idea of green design. Green design is an internationalidea that has been discussed for many years, and was promoted in the 1992 Leaders Summit Meeting in Brazil. It is called ecological building in Japan and sustainable building in Europe. Home green design is an affordable way to save energy. Two methods of saving energy are the green roof and a roof covered by solar panels. Though each of these two methods have their own advantages and drawbacks regarding expense, working conditions, and function, green roofs are a more effective way to save energy.Expense is a very important thing taken into consideration when deciding between green roofs and solar panels. For a 100 sq foot roof, you need about $25,000 to install solar panels on your rooftop. The system works at least 25 years. However, maintenance of the solar panels will cost $1,000 per year, putting its worthiness into question. Its worthiness depends on your personal electricity usage. You would save a small amount of money if you are living with a big family, but a fact that should be taken into consideration is that the value of money between now and the future fluctuates. Otherwise, you still need to pay the upkeep of the system every year and the charge of basic power to keep it working. Green roofs are priced $1,500 for the same area without the need for maintenance. Then, all you need is a waterproof rooftop, a layer of soil, and a bag of seeds. The idea of Green Roof is much cheaper obviously and has lower maintenance costs than solar panels.An additional factor to consider are the working conditions of each method. Before you choose one of them, you need to consider the weather in your area. Solar panels, as the name hints, is a system that needs sunlight to function. Green roofs need adequate rain to support growth as well as sunlight. Comparing the two systems’ working requirements, solar panels need less than green roofs. Though solar panels still work on cloudy days, they will not maintain the same efficiency as they would on sunny days, though the amount of energy provided may be enough depending on your needs. Unfortunately, solar panels are not ideal for windy areas because they might be damaged by flying debris. Though the solar panels and green roofs are nearly equal in regards to working conditions, green roofs are slightly advantageous in that they are working 24 hours a day.Lastly, solar panels and green roofs have slightly differing functions. In theory, solar panels basically reduce your energy consumption. What would be powered with solar electricity are the things such as the refrigerator, the computers, the TVs and the airconditioning, etc. Sounds great, but solar panels efficiency averages only 20% to 40%. Solar panels absorb sunlight and convert its energy to a type of power we can use for electronics. The system loses much energy during theconversion process, and will not be able to power appliances unless sufficient amounts of sunlight is absorbed. On the other hand, green roofs filter rain and air pollutants in addition to keeping the house warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Sometimes it caneven provide a habitat for birds and some small animals.Choosing between solar panels and green roofs is a fascinating question. Though each system has its own benefits, green roofs are more advantageous to the average person. Solar panels are presently an underdeveloped technology especially concerning energy conversion and are more costly than green roofs. Protecting the environment is an important thing and we must work to solve the problems threatening it.I was going to add a few notes here and there, but the answer was too long. Try to make an original title, and not say I am going to because it’s obvious. Also, if I changed the meanings of some parts (some parts were ambiguous), feel free to ignore the change.Hope I helped.

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