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Eight candidates for ICCSD board seats

Introducing Michael Tilley, Shawn Eyestone and Lisa Williams

IOWA CITY– Eight candidates are on the ballot for four seats on the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) School Board. Incumbents Shawn Eyestone and Paul Roesler will attempt to keep their seats while Charlie Eastham, Matthew Getz, Michael Tilley, Julie Van Dyke, Stephanie Van Housen and Lisa C. Williams will also challenge for a spot.
Voters in the ICCSD will also decide on the fate of the former Hoover Elementary School via “Public Measure LY,” which if passed (50 percent approval required) would authorize the school district to demolish the building, located at 2200 E. Court St. in Iowa City.
All candidates were sent a series of questions, and their responses are printed below.
Michael Tilley is a first-generation college graduate who grew up in a small, rural working-class town in Texas. He earned an M.A. in philosophy from Texas A&M University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Kentucky. “I completed my dissertation while on a Fulbright Grant in Copenhagen,” he wrote. Tilley has been married 17 years to his wife Rebekah, and the couple has four children with an eighth-grader at Southeast Junior High, and three (kindergarten, second grade and sixth grade) attending Lucas Elementary. The Tilleys moved to Iowa City in 2012 and he is a science writer and editor for the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
Shawn Eyestone is a current member of the ICCSD Board and is an analytical lab manager at Integrated DNA Technologies in Coralville. He has been a resident of North Liberty for 20 years with his wife Mari and two sons, Ryne and Dylan, who both attend Liberty High School. “I’m originally from Des Moines where I graduated from Roosevelt High School. After that, I received a bachelor’s degree from Luther College in the field of biology.”
Lisa Williams is an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa and a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. She was born in Des Moines, but moved to Iowa City where she attended Mann Elementary and Southeast Junior High. In 2001, she graduated from Smith College with a double major in astronomy and government. While at Smith she enlisted in the Army Reserve. “I returned to Iowa City to attend law school at the University of Iowa and graduated in 2004,” she said. Williams moved to Seattle to practice law after her graduation. In 2007 her Reserve unit was mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and she spent a year on active duty at Fort Hood (Texas). “In 2010 I left private practice to work for the Department of Justice, eventually becoming an Assistant U.S. Attorney. In this role, I prosecute violations of federal law, primarily focusing on violent crime and firearm violations.”

Why are you running for election to the school board? If an incumbent, why are you seeking reelection?
Tilley — “I am passionate about public education, partly because I know its power to improve lives. I want to make sure that all students in our district have the same excellent opportunities regardless of their financial status, zip code, race or disability. I believe that I have the background, experience, and skills to help us achieve that goal.”
Eyestone — “The first year was very difficult as I learned how to navigate the system. The second year, I feel like the board had started to make some strides. I want to continue the work we have started on creating the long-term vision of the district and what building blocks we need to put together to achieve that vision. Over the last several board election cycles, there has been a high amount of turnover. This makes it difficult for any board to really move the needle for sustainable positive change. For my part, I would like to add some continuity to the board by serving more than one term. A majority of the board who has already put in time together will be more able to drive success than a board who has to start over learning the ropes.”
Williams — “I am running for school board because I believe public education plays an essential role in building a strong foundation for our community. The recent additions of Liberty High School and Grant Elementary School offer terrific examples of the power schools have in forging stronger communities.
Every student in our district deserves a first-class education that provides them with the knowledge and skills they need to compete in an increasingly global, collaborative, and tech-centered workforce. Every teacher and staff member in our district also deserves to work in an environment where their professionalism is valued and the great service they render to our community is commended.
As the only democratically accountable voice in the education decision-making process, school board members must be opened minded, willing to evaluate different points of view, and make informed decisions that are responsive to the needs of the community at large. I believe I possess the requisite experience, knowledge, temperament, judgment, and skills to carry out this important role for our community. “

What skills, experience, and background do you bring to the board table?
Tilley — “I am knowledgeable about school board policies and practices and can speak to all issues facing our district. My broad range of advocacy shows that I will never be a candidate who is only knowledgeable about one issue (safety issues, finances, school closings, or redistricting), but one who can speak to all issues facing our district with solid analysis, evidence-based reasoning, and moral clarity.
I’ve also written for local media on topics including how the school board should function, justice considerations in education (particularly regarding bussing and class sizes) and budget cuts. I also actively campaigned in favor of the 2017 general obligation bond. In short, I will be a quick study who adjusts well to the demands of being a board member.”
Eyestone — “My current board experience has definitely opened my eyes to a wider array of challenges the district faces on a daily basis. It’s easy to get caught up in some of the hot button topics, but there are decisions to be made at every meeting. I come prepared to address all of the meeting topics not just the high profile ones. My professional life an analytical quality control has given me the experience to parse through large data sets. As we disaggregate all of the data that is presented to the board, this is a useful skill to help determine patterns and outliers. Prior to my time on the board, I spent several years involved with my children’s schools as well as an officer with the District Wide Parents’ Organization. This gave me a more holistic view or our district and the challenges facing the different schools and communities.”
Williams — “As a veteran and federal prosecutor, I have been tasked throughout my career with making decisions in a transparent fashion based upon the best interests of the community. I was trained in these roles to analyze problems, issue spot solutions, ask questions, and collect information before making an informed decision. Based upon these prior experiences, I believe I would bring valuable policymaking and oversight skills to the board.
The board also needs consensus builders to function efficiently. Board members must not come to the table with personal vendettas, agendas, or geographic biases, but instead must be able to impartially analyze issues from multiple perspectives. As a mom of a student in a North Liberty elementary school, the wife of City High School teacher, and the coach of an extracurricular activity, I believe I have the perspective to analyze issues through the lens of a variety of different stakeholders in the education process and to build consensus around decisions that benefit all students and staff.”

What do you see as the greatest challenge, or challenges, facing the ICCSD?
Tilley — “The greatest challenge we face in the district is ensuring that we meet the needs of all our students, particularly those with the highest needs. We have many policies – from the Weighted Resource Allocation Model that determines class-sizes based on student needs to innovative curricular approaches like the project-based learning at Southeast Junior High – that seek to accomplish that goal, but we simply do not have adequate data to know if these policies and curricula are effective.”
Eyestone — “As of earlier this week (Tuesday, Oct. 1), our biggest challenge has become selection of a new superintendent. However, instead of a challenge, I would like to look at it as an opportunity. As we do the work to create our long-term vision for the district, we can use that to frame the superintendent search. We should look for someone who is excited to help shape that vision and bring energy to process. Realizing positive results is the way to continue to improve relationships within the community. With those relationships, we will be in a much better place to create and meet the vision of the district.”
Williams — “The greatest challenge we face as a district is how we overcome the systematic barriers to success resulting from poverty, inequality, and institutional racism. The reading, math, and disciplinary referral data is clear that we need to do a better job addressing and closing the achievement gap for students in poverty, English language learners, and students of color in our district.
Inadequate funding from the state over the last ten years has also substantially limited the district’s ability to keep class sizes at a reasonable level and to maintain core educational and extracurricular programming, including in art, music, and foreign language instruction.
Finally, the rates of school aged children who report feeling anxious or depressed is rising. Recent studies have drawn connections between anxiety and the increased use of social media, exposure to media featuring violence in traditionally safe spaces, and the growing pressure to succeed. Schools are feeling the effects of this trend in the form of rising rates of chronic absenteeism (missing ten percent or more of the academic year). Chronic absenteeism has a huge impact not only on the student whose learning is inhibited, but also on teachers who work tirelessly to get these children caught up.”

What would be your proposed solution, and as one voice on the board, how would you garner support?
Tilley — “We need to substantially improve our gathering and use of data, and we need to have personnel who are able to properly collect, manage, and analyze data so that our policies can be properly evaluated. Data is crucial for identifying the best means of reaching and educating all our students. I have discussed this proposal at length with current board members and members of the administration– both recently as a candidate for the board, and over the past few years as a DPO (District-wide Parents Organization) representative– and believe the board and administration are aware of the need and would be receptive to my proposal.”
Eyestone — “For both the superintendent search and the vision for our district, the key is to have multiple voices at the table. To garner support for my ideas, I have to listen to other viewpoints and recognize the validity of them as well. As long as we can tie any decision the board makes back to our educational goals for students, it is an easier conversation to have. Making decisions to fit one specific mindset or one person’s pet project is not going to help with long-term positive improvements.”
Williams — “As a board member, my approach would be to use data-driven strategies to build consensus around the best policies and practices for the district. With respect to the achievement gap, studies show that developing more socioeconomically and demographically diverse schools, hiring and retaining more quality teachers of color, and placing an emphasis on early childhood education programs, all help address disparities in educational achievement. These policies also provide a more inclusive learning environment for all students and better prepare students for an increasingly diverse workforce.
On the issue of school funding, the board needs zealous advocates to make the case to state lawmakers about the need for increased school funding. As an attorney, I believe I possess skills to fill this need.
On the issue of increased student anxiety, the board needs to review our policies in this area working with health care professionals and other relevant stakeholders. We need to ensure schools have the mental health counseling resources they need to meet the students’ social and emotional needs. We also need to work with the administrative teams at the schools to ensure they have effective policies in place to address chronic absenteeism.”

What is your assessment of the district overall, and how do you think you can benefit it by being on the board?
Tilley — “We have an excellent school district, and I am proud to be part of a district that supports its schools, as we did in the last bond referendum. I’m proud that we have academic strategies and peer-collaboration centered around teaching all our students more effectively, particularly our most at-risk students. All of those characteristics are marks of a school district that is primed to flourish and able to help all of our students be the best life-long learners that they can be. Perhaps most importantly, I am proud that the community, teachers, and staff all have an interest in being better than we are.
I believe I have the skills and background to help the district grow and flourish as a school district. I have a history of seeking, listening, and presenting other viewpoints, even when I disagree with them. I am fair-minded and able to analyze data and information, and I will deliberate fairly, openly, and publicly. I am a dedicated problem-solver. For instance, I was the first person to propose housing Mann and Lincoln simultaneously in the new Hoover building during their renovations so that Grant Elementary could open in 2019 along with the new Hoover building. Without this suggestion, Lincoln’s renovations would have been delayed a year and the North Liberty elementary schools would still be extremely overcrowded this year while they waited for Grant to open in 2020.”
Eyestone — “In my two years on the board, we have made great strides in repairing the working relationship between the board and the administration. In the past, that relationship had been so strained, the administrative team were reluctant to share their opinions. This current board has repeatedly asked them for their professional opinions on topics in order to help shape our decision making process. I believe this has led to a more open dialogue and a more collaborative approach. I would like to continue to drive that culture of collaboration.”
Williams — “The opportunity to raise my own kids in a first-class public school system was one of the major factors that drew my husband and me back to Iowa City from Seattle. Our families’ story is not unique. Our community should be proud of the fact that we are a destination district for many teachers, administrators, and families. Our community prioritizes education as evidenced by the supermajority who approved one of the largest school bond measures in Iowa history. Most importantly, we have built an outstanding teaching staff with unmatched experience and expertise.
While we should be commended on our successes, we must remain clear-eyed about the real challenges we must address to maintain this reputation. If we want to build a community with ladders of success open to all students, we must do more to reduce the achievement gap. If we want to foster an ideal environment for teaching and learning, we must find ways to limit growing class sizes. Finally, if we want ensure our students graduate with the skills necessary in the 21st century workforce, we need to create more dynamic curriculum and spaces where our students can collaborate and use technology in the creative process.”

Note: responses were not received in time for this issue from Roesler, Eastham, Getz, Van Dyke, or Van Housen. However, if received, they will be printed in an upcoming edition of the North Liberty Leader.