By Joe Strathman
With recent revelations about the lack of expert opinion and public input in the development of the diversity policy being considered by the school board in the Iowa City Community School District, it is time to discard the current proposal and start anew.
The school board needs to clearly articulate the problem within the district for which a solution is desired. Is socioeconomic disparity causing lower student academic performance at certain schools? Are older buildings inhibiting students’ education? Is the district offering the best curriculum and programs to allow all students to succeed?
There are likely dozens of questions like this that should be asked and examined by the board so the appropriate problems can be identified and addressed.
With a clearly defined problem in hand, let’s find the right mix of people to develop a solution. For a diversity policy, experts in academic diversity and equity should be consulted, school administrators and educators should be at the table, and the district’s residents should be fairly represented, especially anyone who may be affected by the execution of the policy. It is also important for municipalities to be engaged to ensure the district has current information about city planning.
Developing a policy based on research, data, and these stakeholders’ viewpoints and expertise will yield a policy that is transparent in its creation and more effective in its implementation. The proposed diversity policy lacks transparency in its creation and was not developed with input from subject matter experts.
The proposed policy has caused many residents to take sides in this civil war while other residents are simply fed up fighting on every issue that comes up in the district. Whether it is the reallocation of funds set aside for a new north corridor high school, the revenue purpose statement, or the proposed diversity policy — each issue creates further division in a district where each side needs the other in order for anyone to get what they want.
The board has an opportunity to mediate a cease-fire and bring the district together for an open and constructive discussion about diversity and the needs of the entire district. With some schools trailing government test score standards, significant overcrowding in several schools, a series of updates and retrofits needed at many aging facilities, and an ongoing population surge in North Liberty, many district residents are ready to talk about solving the problems throughout the entire district.
With six of the seven school board members from Iowa City, the perception by some north corridor residents is that Iowa City residents are the only ones with a voice in the district. Likewise, some Iowa City residents feel left behind as they have seen a disproportionate amount of district funds spent on new facilities in the north corridor where the population has surged the last 15 years. The reality is that there are a variety of needs throughout the entire district and anytime one problem is addressed for one set of residents, another set of residents seems to feel left out.
To stop the divisiveness and begin addressing all the needs of the district, the school board must put the brakes on the existing diversity policy and its building construction limitations.
Instead, let’s take a second shot. We can all be in this effort together and begin addressing the underlying problems together. We cannot openly and effectively solve any problems without each other because we need to and should rely upon our diversity to make us strong and our solutions exceptional.
Joe Strathman is a North Liberty resident and parent of a Garner Elementary student. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org