HJ - School Board Forum 2019

The seven candidates for the three seats for the Clarinda School Board answer questions during a forum sponsored by the Clarinda Herald-Journal Thursday, Oct. 24 at Clarinda Middle School. From left are Ron Beaver, Trish Bergren, Paula Gray, Patrick Hickey, Cade Iversen and incumbents Greg Jones and Darin Sunderman. Voters go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5. (photo by Dan Eshelman)

The seven candidates for the three Clarinda School Board seats commented on the district’s use of iPads in classrooms to building needs during a forum held Thursday, Oct. 24, at Clarinda Middle School.

The Clarinda Herald-Journal sponsored the forum that included Ron Beaver, Trish Bergren, Paula Gray, Patrick Hickey, Cade Iversen and incumbents Greg Jones and Darin Sunderman. Dr. Brian Hesse, a political science instructor from Northwest Missouri State University, was the moderator.

Voters go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Beaver is a retired agriculture education teacher at Clarinda High School. Bergren is a 1988 Clarinda High graduate and curator of the Nodaway Valley Historical Museum and the Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum. Gray works at Clarinda City Hall and has had two children graduate from Clarinda High and her younger children attend Clarinda Lutheran School.

Hickey moved to Clarinda 10 years ago and is in graphic design at Lisle Corp. He has three children.

Iversen has lived in Clarinda for five years and has four children in the school system. He is employed at Clarinda Academy.

Jones is finishing his first term on the board and works at Clarinda Regional Health Center. Three of his four children are still in Clarinda schools. Sunderman farms, is a Page County employee and finishing his second term on the board. His three children have graduated from Clarinda.

Candidates answered seven questions. Following is the question and highlights of the answer from each candidate.

What are some ways you see the school district partnering with the community and/or families for the betterment of students?

Jones: “We’ve tried to do that. We have a relationship with the hospital. The junior Cardinal backpack program makes the difference in the lives of kids who don’t have a voice for themselves. Any collaboration in the community is welcomed and needs to be thought through. We have opportunities to grow.”

Sunderman: “We are doing a lot more partnering. Future Ready Iowa is coming. It’s not all in place, but that is going to lead to more opportunities. The hospital, more with the city will have benefits if we all work together. We’re all in the same city. We all need to be pulling in the same direction.”

Beaver: “The school will be better appreciated when they are a reflection of the community. When the school’s culture is good, students will be achieving at a higher level than when the schools are dysfunctional. Quite a few curricular areas that have a pretty good culture at the present.” He referred to Family Consumer Science and ag education program, both at the high school.

Bergren: “The hospital has been amazing,” she said as it has assisted with football helmets and sports related injuries. “Maybe build a bigger, better communication highway for all of our businesses in the area.”

Gray: “Mr. Johnson does a fabulous job with FFA. FCLA has a can drive, curbside recycling, citywide clean up. The football team volunteered to help a resident move. The high school is at city council meetings.” A high school student council representative has attended city council meetings and reports back to the high school.”

Hickey: “The strength of a community lies with its citizens. Take advantage of experts, get kids to see what is outside of school and start with middle school. Have kids start to focus and change their minds as many times as they need. Listen to local businesses. Give students reason to stay so they don’t have to go elsewhere to find a job.”

Iversen: “Partnership opportunities are just that, opportunities. We have a chance to gather information on what people need. What do businesses need? What are the things they require in the next five, 10 years? Then we prepare the kids. Expose the kids to as many things as we can so they have all the information. Any growth on mental health will benefit.”

This is the third year of the roll out of 1 to 1 iPads in the Clarinda schools. Students in all buildings--middle school, high school, and now elementary--use this technology.  What do you see has been the best way to ensure that this technology is integrated into instruction in a way which yields academic gains?

Hickey: “Ipads and technology overall are just another tool. You will only get out what you put into it. I’m a gadget guy. I love my iPad. I see possibilities here. Use these to the fullest potential or not use them if traditional methods are more effective. Ipads are capable of so much more.”

Iversen: He said his kids have different learning processes and likes to hear how his connect using the iPad. “It is such a different way than I’m used to. It allows kids to get things they need. It creates unique opportunities, project-based learning, incorporate different things.”

Jones: He said the district was behind with technology when Clarinda started using them in the fall of 2017. “It’s not to replace a teacher or a book, but be a supplemental device. It may reach a kid who does not get it on a book. If we ignore the fact we don’t need the devices, they are going to be behind. The day of sitting at a desk with a book are long gone.”

Sunderman: “It was a long process and it’s not been perfect. You learn as you go. I wasn’t an iPad fan when it began. It’s a board and sometimes you have to get on board and the wishes of the majority. Since then, it’s been terrific. I’ve seen iPads and it gives parents access to Schoology (online program that tracks a student’s grades).”

Beaver: “Nowadays you just Google and find it. It’s so much easier and in turn, helps students. Teacher will figure out what works for students.”

Bergren: “I’m a techy person. We enjoy instant connections. At the museum, a woman donated an entire set of encyclopedias. Those days are gone.” Bergren’s son attending Hastings College in Nebraska received an iPad when enrolled. “There is no way around it. With the use of the right resources, it’s wonderful. It’s a tool.”

Gray: “I have heard parents have had a difficult time with iPads. My smaller children don’t have one. What they use in high school is able to use in college or the work place. There should be a balance with book and paper.”

Clarinda High is offering South Page High School classes it had trouble scheduling this year. How do you see the future relationship between Clarinda and South Page school districts?

Bergren: “You hate to see smaller school districts around us dissolve. It’s saddening, but we need to be prepared to help children integrate. It seems to be integrating well (with Clarinda and South Page). It needs to be a painless process.” She said using South Page teachers could help lower class size as she said some have up to 40.

Gray: “It’s important for South Page so they have an opportunity if there is a school able to provide. It was important with Villisca and Corning. That was a big deal when they went together. It can work.”

Hickey: “Districts are going to have to work together when necessary to provide students what they need. I see these two working more, sharing more classes and benefit both schools.”

Iversen: “The relationship will be dependent upon the opportunities for kids. We have to offer opportunities for kids who don’t have other places. As it relates to South Page students, it will continue to be a beneficial thing. I came from a small district. I know what it’s like.”

Jones: “We’ve done a really good job of integrating with South Page. Kids have been accepting. I empathize with the situation they are in. I don’t envy them. I think they (South Page) want to control their situation. They don’t want to become what we saw with Farragut a few years ago.

Sunderman: It’s been positive. (South Page Superintendent Tim) Hood has been excellent to work with. It’s not ‘your’ kids or ‘our’ kids. That’s what we want. We have to service our resident kids without declines in service.”

Beaver: He said he does not know the details of whole-grade sharing, where two districts formally share staff and programs but keep their own identity. “Clarinda would benefit and South Page would benefit with more choices of classes and extra-curricular. We might need to add faculty. The middle school is very crowded.”

Grading scales, the calculation of Grade Point Averages, and the use of class rank have been topics of discussion at secondary schools across the country.  The approach a district uses in regard to these related issues may have implications for post-secondary admission and scholarships.  What do you feel should be Clarinda’s approach to establishing a grading scale, calculating grade point averages, and the use of class ranks?

Gray: “A student’s class schedule should be considered with their class rank. Grading systems should stay consistent with college. GPA should also be calculated on difficulty of courses.” She knows of students who have a higher class rank than others because they took easier classes.

Hickey: “It needs to be standard and quantifiable.” He said some schools have eliminated class rank. Percentile rank is a better picture of where student falls. If a student’s ultimate goal is college, keep them working on keeping grades high, not take easy classes to pad GPA.”

Iversen: “Clarinda is now in line with a majority of public schools in US according to a study by Department of Education. Make sure we are all playing the same game. We could look into weighted GPAs for certain classes, advanced or college prep. See what implications that has for our students.”

Jones: Clarinda switched from a tri-master to semester system and 100 point, letter scale before the 2018-2019 school year. That was recommended by administrative team at that time. “We didn’t reinvent the wheel. We adopted standard practice.” The semester system shortened the periods, but was intended to provide more classes. “We are going to act on advice from the administration team and present the facts that go along with that.”

Sunderman: “We adjusted that. There was a lot talk on maybe penalizing some of our students with grading scale. We were holding them to higher standard than our neighbors or region.” Sunderman said there were concerns about making it easier but keep up the rigor and make it challenging and not just lowering standards. “We have not lowered our standards.”

Beaver: “The degree of challenge that a course offers is up to the teacher. I wonder why school board is meddling in grading scale. I’m not sure why this is being done. I believe teachers should have some discretion in their grading scale.”

Bergren: Her daughter, a senior, has applied for colleges. A response from a college requested SAT 2 scores which is a multiple-choice test on individual subjects. “Colleges and universities want to know what you are about, your passions, talent.” She said the grading scale is a challenge. “I don’t think we can change it to make it totally equal. It’s different learning basis for kids and what they dive into.”

The state of Iowa has launched a “Future Ready Iowa” initiative. This is in response to the reality that there simply aren’t enough skilled Iowans to fill key jobs in select sectors of the state’s economy – from manufacturing, to healthcare, to education. In fact, currently around 58% of Iowans in the workforce have education and training beyond high school, but 68% will need to have such education and training by 2025. What can Clarinda Schools do to help prepare students for the jobs of the future?

Sunderman: “It is going to be huge.” Clarinda school administration attended a meeting about the issue in September at Lisle Corp. in Clarinda. “The staff was bouncing off the walls. It will help kids to get the skills they need.”

Beaver: “We need to have courses relevant to the community, state and nation. We’ve done a fairly good job at that.” He referred to his career with students learning carpentry skills and how those students are part of the Clarinda. “You have to give them more than an education. You have to give them an inspiration.”

Bergren: “Seventh and eighth-grade shouldn’t know what they absolutely want to do for the rest of their lives, but know what they kind of like. That’s what you have to feed.” She referred to Google replacing employees with associate’s degrees, critical thinking and creativity skills. “So many jobs end up overseas, trade jobs are in harm’s way. You have to have that creative mind set to help you delegate and collaborate. We need to prepare more well round students for the future.

Gray: She supports working with Iowa Western Community College and reaching out to local businesses with job shadow and internships. “High school students need to be provided with choices that fit their future needs.”

Hickey: “We need to keep showing these jobs are out there, those career paths are out there and get them on those paths.” He referred to Iowa Western’s manufacturing course that can be finished in two years taking classes at night. “They have the opportunity it go out in the work force and make a living that way.”

Iversen: “Show kids opportunities and knowledge about those things are going to be key. Those opportunities are out there.” He explained how a person with a bachelor degree and the debt they had to get the degree and their starting pay in the workforce. “Coming out of that without the debt or expense of a four-year degree, able to start in a highly skilled and needed position is staggering to me.”

Jones: He received his degree from a radiology school in Wichita, Kansas. “This is something near and dear to my heart. I think there has been a lot of talk about that in the community. There are things we need to do prepare for that. If you go to Future Iowa website, there is a lot of groundwork for us to follow as a district. Our building trades really need the benefit and help from vocational training.”

Consider building improvements and projects throughout the district. Where do you see needs in terms of facilities and how should be they prioritized?

Beaver: “It should be thoroughly researched. This process should be well organized and representative of the community and the school so it will be well received by the community.” He said the FCS lab is “not home ec anymore.” His daughter who teaches FCS and has a classroom that looks like a restaurant.

Bergren: “(We need) safety and accessibility for all students and I know we have that.” She said classes should not be taught in the commons. She said she is not fully adequate about the issue because she hasn’t toured the buildings. “If we need it, then we do it for the advancement of our students.” She said Clarinda has discussed moving eighth grade to the high school. “It does need quite a bit of research.”

Gray: “We have good, school facilities.” She has been informed some of the roof at the high school and middle school needs fixed. “Priorities need to be set on what benefits teachers and students, not select kids.”

Hickey: “It is always going to be an issue. We need a plan for improvements and stick whenever it is possible. I think we do that already.” He called the congested student drop off and pick up at the middle school and elementary student an “understatement.” He said, “If we can work with the city to develop safe routes to school, or to the designated bus stops I think that would eliminate a lot of that congestion.”

Iversen: He read the 216 page assessment from the firm contracted to assess district needs. “They described it as health, safety needs to be made the first priority.” Making the district ADA compliant is his priority. “If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it.”

Jones: He met with middle school students and community members about safety routes to school. “We are ready to hit the ground running. Some things I’ve heard about we are not very friendly to our grandparents, visitors to the ball games to the football field. Not good handicap accessibility. I think parking for the high school at the auditorium is another concern.” He said some games were not played at Clarinda because of the field.”

Sunderman: “We are in the initial stages of community involvement. There is a lot of more of that to come before we do get ready to do anything and asking for what we really need. I know it takes time, but sometimes that’s the way it is. We are blessed as a district to have such a strong financial balance sheet. This is not something that happened in my eight years on the board.” He credited past boards and administrations. “We have some dollars to do something without asking for more money. But if we decide to do larger things, we may need to. Somebody up here is going to help decide.”

Clarinda is searching for a superintendent.  What attributes do you feel an ideal candidate should possess?

Iversen: “That person is a leader, strong leadership capabilities, rally around people around the idea of doing what is right for kids. Can help coach, motivate to get our staff to put our best foot forward and best product capable of going out in the world and being players. Hat person has to be involved in the community and be a community player.”

Jones: He said he has been impressed with interim Chris Bergman. “She said ‘I have a hammer in my toolbox but it’s not the first thing I get out.’ That’s important.” He said board was wise to choose superintendent after election. “We could have selfishly done something before that.”

Sunderman: “We did the right thing in the move we made. We were faced with short time table. I may not be here after Nov. 5. “Needs to be able to listen, relatable. Look at the wide array of people they have to work with. If they can’t relate with students, staff, parents, it doesn’t matter how educated you are.”

Beaver: “Board needs to be real thorough. You may have to go recruit the person if you don’t get the person to apply to fit the bill. Person needs temperament to work with people. I see so many things that happen, somebody is not thinking about education here. Need to have a good employment record.”

Bergren: “Willing to work with community, students, listen to everyone’s input. Take all information and make the best judgements you can. They need board support, that’s our job. We need someone proven academic program they have done worked, is able to be measured and did it. We are lucky to have Chris Bergman here. I would love to see her stay. They need to understand what we are needing.”

Gray: “We need a person who shows good character of leadership, has the ability to hire quality teachers, administration, paras and athletic coaches to provide success for the students. Build on what Clarinda schools already has to offer. Must have strong financial understanding of the district.

Hickey: A superintendent is a leader, it’s the captain of the ship. They have to have the best interests of all the students. They got to be advocate, the cheerleader, marketing department, everything all rolled into one. We have a very good interim. It’s hard not to say we need to just keep her. That will be up to the future board.”

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