School Board members address range of questions

Are you excited to serve on the school board?

Nate Gruber: “I’ve been looking for an opportunity to serve the community in a public service way. I’m finishing up my Masters in Public Policy and my background is in education, so school board is one of those opportunities that actually very neatly pulls those two interests together, and allows me to serve my community at the same time.”

What are you most looking forward to about this term?

Gruber: “I’m excited to advocate for policies that help students and teachers while keeping an eye on [the schools] on behalf of the community as well. Also, learning how the board functions. You have the public meetings, but there’s a lot more work that goes on behind the scenes and I’m excited to see how that process works.”

Susie Hines: “School finance is extremely complex. Now I feel like I know, like, 1 percent. *laughs* I think [knowing finance] will be one thing that I look forward to. It won’t be as complex. It’ll still be complex, but it’ll be more easy to manage.”

Hassman:”We’re gonna build a new high school. That’s definitely the most exciting thing happening over the next four years.”

Jenny Leeper: “I’m looking forward to the fact that we passed our high school bond, so we actually get to move forward with planning and visioning for how education can now look different for our high school students.”

What are your first priorities this term?

Gruber: “Not only advocating for students at all grade levels, whether it’s high school down to elementary, pre-k. But for me, coming from an education background, I really want to advocate for policies that will assist teachers. Your learning space, as a student, is also their workplace. If they can’t be effective in their workplace, then they can’t be effective educators.”

Hines: “It isn’t something that you can really have a personal agenda on… my whole premise I’ve been dealing with is that I want to keep people involved and keep people informed.”

Hassman: “[The new high school] is obviously a big priority. We’re going to spend an estimated $100 million of our community’s money building a new project, and that’s really important, but I think some other things that are important are that we always have to evaluate that everybody is being met where they’re at on the educational curve, and they’re challenged wherever they’re at on the educational curve.”

Leeper: “My priorities are looking at the issues of mental health and inclusiveness. As prevalent of issues those are becoming, I think it’s an opportunity for us as a district to really embrace those issues.”

What is one thing you wish students knew about your work on the school board?

Gruber: “The way we finance schools in the state of Iowa is probably one of the most complicated parts of being a board member. It can take a couple of years, maybe even most of a member’s first term to really get a good grasp of how that process works.”

Hines: “Most [school board members] are parents, but even if we aren’t parents, we’ve lived through K-12, we remember being teenagers. We have your backs.”

Hassman: “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. We’re an oversight, a governance board, an accountability board for the administration and those who are actually running the schools.”

Leeper: “It would be really helpful for not only our students, but our community at large to understand our role as a school board. We have very specific authority in terms of what we can and can’t do. If people understood our roles better, I think that would be helpful as issues of concern arise or we make decisions.”

Student Questions

What is your opinion on standards-based grading? Can the school board do anything about that?

Gruber: “My initial conception of it as I’ve seen it being in classrooms at Cedar Falls High School, it seems a little convoluted. I understand what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to really tie student achievement in classes to the standards that teachers are being assessed on. With it being the first year, I think it may be too soon to tell.”

Hines: We [the school board] don’t have any [authority over grading policy] … For parents with kids that are coming up into it, it’s sort of a transition for a lot [of people]. I’m not big on grades, as a parent myself. I want a kid to know, but I’m not striving for a child that needs to have all A’s.

Jeff Hassman: “I don’t think I have the expertise to go in and say ‘you should use this grading system.’ I’m more interested in measuring results … I think there are still some things that need to be worked out. One of the basic reasons that the high school moved that way is that we would have students that would leave the high school with really high GPAs, and they’d get to college, and they’d crash and burn, so we came back to ‘Hey, we want everyone leaving to be successful’ and so something about what we were doing wasn’t working.

Leeper: [The school board] really relies on our teachers and administrators to make those kinds of decisions. We are not the experts in those fields, so I think for us to come in based on opinions would be inappropriate of us as a school board … I am in favor of standards-based grading. I think we are doing the right thing. I think it has been very well studied.

What are you planning on doing to make Cedar Falls schools more environmentally friendly places?

Gruber: “I would advocate for things that allow reducing and recycling when possible. I’d push for the new high school to be as environmentally friendly as possible, looking at various environmental certifications.”

Hines: “A lot of communications go on through CFU. We’re in a working relationship with them regarding what options are out there, and what’s feasible for a district.”

Hassman: “We’ve certainly taken this into consideration on the remodels and the high school. We have to weigh cost-benefit. For example, if you want a net-zero [emissions] building, we wouldn’t be able to pay for it with current technology. We have to try and anticipate what new technologies are gonna come that will enable us to reduce energy consumption and to become more efficient in the future.”

Leeper: “I know with our new buildings we are making sure that we are making good long-term decisions in terms of the mechanical systems we’re putting in, the materials we’re using … I know that with the new high school we have lots of people on a committee who will be consultants on environmental practices that we can employ. We do have board representation on that committee. Being environmentally efficient is very important to us. It makes sense not only for the Earth, but financially it makes sense because we save money as a district.

What is the school board planning on doing to help students with mental illnesses?

Gruber: “I would be in favor of more access to mental health services for all students at no matter what age. I believe that we could certainly look into more policies because more can always be done.”

Hines: “I know that we’ve been able to add some staffing. It seems like every year we’re trying to build in more resources for students. And, let’s face it, for the staff, too. It’s all something that we need to be focused on.

Hassman: We never have enough money. You’ll hear that for everything, but we already have some support there for mental health. We just need to figure out how we can prioritize and make sure that students who need it are going to get the attention they need.

Leeper: The legislature and the federal government are really not rewarding us with the funding to combat those issues as we need to. I think it’s an opportunity for us to step forward and be creative in some ways that we can offer support for those things. What I would like to see us do is work with our student organizations that already exist to see how we can better support those organizations. I also think we need to continue lobbying our local legislators.”

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