Editor’s note: There is one contested race for Cedar Rapids school board, that in District 3. The Gazette Editorial Board invited the candidates, an incumbent and one challenger, in that district to submit a guest column outlining their background, reasons for wanting to serve on the board, and ideas/priorities for the district. School elections in Iowa are Tuesday.
As a current member of the school board, it has been my privilege and honor to help shape a vision of success for all students to become lifelong learners by cultivating a culture in which this vision can be achieved.
I have lived in Cedar Rapids for 43 years and am a small-business owner and entrepreneur. Growing up near Oskaloosa, I attended one of the last country schools in the state, Brush Street No. 12, graduated from Iowa State University, and then earned an M.B.A. degree and taught at the University of Iowa.
My wife retired after teaching 33 years in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. We raised 4 children in the Cedar Rapids Community School District and have volunteered thousands of hours in schools and in the community over the years. My daughter-in-law currently teaches middle school math in the district and our granddaughter just started kindergarten here.
Education for our students should be non-partisan. We must work together to strengthen our schools by engaging in solution-oriented dialogue for our challenges. We must do more with less and be creative in using our financial resources. I will continue to be an effective school board member by collaborating and working as a team with other board members, school staff, students and the community. Building these partnerships will help schools better respond to students’ changing needs and help students achieve success.
Respecting, listening to and acting upon the knowledge, expertise and experience of our highly qualified educational staff help us continue to achieve positive and sustainable improvement in our schools. Educators inspire their students, and create pathways for students to unlock their potential. As a community, we should commit ourselves to providing a wide range of educational opportunities and extracurricular activities for students. By identifying the needs of our students, we can foster and nourish the best possible teaching and learning environment, so that students feel safe and academically challenged. Our students are Cedar Rapids’ future, and it is our responsibility to prepare our students for life, the workforce, and participation in America’s democracy.
I strongly believe in a transparent and free flow of information among our school district’s leaders and the community. More information is available than ever before, which allows the community to engage in active dialogue. For example, through the school district’s website, the community has access to a wide array of the same non-confidential materials that the board members receive.
Community outreach opportunities have also increased with events such as “Chalk Talk,” where fellow board members and I sit down and discuss issues with community members. The community is our sounding board and I value the community’s feedback, such as the results from the annual school survey.
My address and telephone number are published for the community to contact me with questions or concerns. You can contact me at Keithwestercamp//kwestercamp.wix.com/votewestercamp
In addition, I am uniquely situated with my own active participation and volunteer service in many community activities and events. For example, over the last 10 years, I have personally provided backpacks filled with school supplies for elementary school students and about 4,000 free books for preschool classes in the Cedar Rapids area.
My experiences as a parent, grandparent, husband to a teacher, father-in-law to a teacher, independent small-business man, and as a school board member have forged me into a uniquely qualified independent and credible voice for education in Cedar Rapids. Vote for Keith Westercamp for School Board.
Surprise, laughter, anger and encouragement were just some of the feedback I received as I encouraged the community sign my petition to run for school board. I knew there was some criticism of the school board, but I was surprised just how angry some of the community members became just by mentioning the school board.
Many people who run for school board say they are doing it for the children, to improve education, and to improve facilities, which is what a school board is supposed to do and what many volunteers do daily throughout our school system.
I am tired of the lack of communication between the school board, the school district’s administration, the community and the teachers. I am tired of the way the school board conducts business and their unwillingness to change their approach.
Right now, the community cannot afford the current school board to continue down the path it is leading us. A change in people and procedures must take place in order for change to happen.
For nine years, I have been going to school board meetings emphasizing the need of improvement in communications. There have been some improvements, some of them I have suggested. However, the improvements are very slow going. The school board and the school district’s administration must improve communications with the community and the teachers so we can move forward together.
As for my background, I have more than 20 years of experience working on teams in all areas of developing software. I am an analytical person with a B.S. in math and computer science from the University of Illinois-Chicago. In Illinois, where I previously lived, I was on the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. I am a devil’s advocate who thinks outside the box.
When I have a belief that something needs to change, I become extremely determined to get the proper resolution. An example of this: With the help of with Kris Gulick and Christopher Strecker, I was able to get the City to approve the sidewalk infill project by Viola Gibson Elementary School. This was an important project for children’s safety and critical when Carpenter Street opened up and many students lost their busing. After more than four years, these sidewalks were installed for the safety of students. In case you were wondering, my daughter took a bus.
Why are the school board’s votes almost consistently unanimous and with little to no discussion on items brought before the school board? The board needs a devil’s advocate to generate conversation; a person who will vote based on what they believe is the correct decision versus another person to go along with everyone else. The school board is not there to vote as a unified block; it is there to work as a unified block based on the result of the vote.
And when the school board makes a mistake, like it did with overspending on building the Education Leadership and Support Center, they need to admit it and not blame the public for not showing up at the meetings, as Keith Westercamp did on the Bob Bruce radio show.
At this point, what the school board and the community need most is an individual who wants to improve communications and repair the relationship and trust with its community; an individual who will work for change. The school board needs an individual who will share the data decisions are based on.
Lawrence Wenclawski is what the school board needs at this time.
For additional information, go to www.lawrencew.org.