All seven of the Ames School Board candidates answered questions from constituents about prominent issues facing the district, such as diversity and the qualifications of a new superintendent, during a public forum Tuesday.
Iowa State University Student Government Civic Engagement Committee hosted the event to allow students and Ames community members to submit questions. Each candidate had a two-minute opening statement, and for each question asked, they had a minute and a half to respond.
The candidates running for the three open seats on the Ames School Board include:
Brett Becker- an ordained minister
William Scott Dryer- school administrator
Rolf Duvick- business owner
Tom Purl- business owner
Amy Erica Smith- Associate professor of political science at Iowa State
Kira Werstein-associate teaching professor of kinesiology at Iowa State
Kelly Winfrey- assistant professor in journalism and mass communication
The Ames School Board election occurs as the district is in the process of hiring a new superintendent and high school principal. Candidates were asked what qualifications they would look for when hiring a new superintendent. All candidates agreed it would be the most important decision of their job if elected.
Becker said it is important to find a superintendent with a personal touch so they remain in the Ames school district for more than a few years. Becker also said he would look for a superintendent who can effectively work with the board to enable success.
Werstein said she would look for a candidate who would bring the district together and focus less on what divides the community. Purl said a superintendent needs accountability, responsibility, discipline and respect, all traits the district has lacked.
"We need to hire a person who embodies these and will require or hire other administrators and principals with those same traits," Purl said. "We cannot continue on this current path of violence and the fear of the middle schools and high schools."
Dryer said the superintendent candidate needs to have fiscal experience.
"I'm not a believer that the ship is sinking at all in our district, but I am a believer that some things need to change," Dryer said. "And I think that starts with culture and climate."
Smith said she would look for a candidate who can demonstrate a track record of dealing with issues of equity and disparities.
"In addition to experience and collaborative leadership, I'm going to be looking for academic experience, that is the ability to rely on peer-reviewed, pedagogical research and other kinds of research," Smith said. "We need a superintendent who recognizes the really amazing resources that we have here in Ames."
Duvick said experience is essential, and the superintendent will need to be able to clearly communicate their purpose and vision for the next several years.
Winfrey said she thinks the district's current priorities and goals are solid, and the district needs a superintendent who will understand existing inequalities and address them.
Candidates were asked about their thoughts on the district's COVID-19 protocols over the past year. Duvick, Purl and Werstein all shared opposition towards mandating students to wear masks.
Duvick said for mandates to be implemented, the public should know exactly why because it is a serious decision, and he believes it could lead to disenfranchisement.
"There's a growing body of research that is showing that mass disrupts holistic processing of face perception in school-aged children," Werstein said. "There's not a lot of research to date on this because our kids have only been wearing a mask for about a year and a half now. So, we will eventually find out the long-term effects of masking on kids because they're in those experiments right now.
Dryer, Becker, Smith and Winfrey all aired in support of mask mandates in schools under the Center of Disease Control and Prevention's guidance.
"No one is being disenfranchised by wearing a mask, any more than they're being disenfranchised by any other rule or dress code that is put in place for the good of the whole, to make it possible for students to learn," Winfrey said. "I think this is a pretty common sense thing to think about. We want our kids in school, we want them learning and we want them safe. The best way to do that is based on evidence."
Candidates were also asked about what strategies should be implemented for LGBTQ+ students who are subjected to bullying.
Dryer proposed creating consistent and clear consequences like suspensions in response to bullying while creating a safe place where students can report these incidents.
Winfrey agreed with Dryer but added that it is important to deal with bullying before it begins by creating inclusive curriculum and having educational content that affirms all gender identities. Becker suggested an app that allows students to report incidents of bullying anonymously to school staff.
"We know from evidence that most bullying that doesn't result in injury is not even reported," Becker said. "So the bullying we're seeing is not all of it, there's more going on. So it's an incredible problem that we have to deal with, and all these ways will help us to get a leg up on it."
Werstein said all students deserve a safe environment to learn in, and the number of fights and bullying taking place in the district is unacceptable.
"Right now, we have a climate in our schools that's hyper-focused on the things that are different about us," Werstein said. "And my thoughts are that we need to put an atmosphere where we come together around our shared goals, respect for common humanity and in school spirit."
Werstein added the divisive atmosphere contributes to staff shortages. Purl said kids who continue to get bullied are open enrolling out of the district and will continue if policies don't change.
All candidates were asked to define equity and equality. Smith defined equality as the notion that each child gets approximately the same thing, whereas equity means each child receives what they need to learn and thrive. Winfrey, Becker and Dryer all concurred with Smith's definition of the two terms.
In reference to the question, Duvick's said every child in the public school system should have the opportunity to learn, but there also should be a focus on the loss of staff in the district.
"We seem to be spending an exorbitant amount of money in our budget for equity staff," Duvick said. "And at the same time losing teachers, losing ESL (English as a second language) teachers losing, patient Assistance, even support staff."
The Ames School Board elections will take place Nov. 2. Early absentee voting is available at the following locations:
Oct. 22: Cardinal Room, Memorial Union and Iowa State University Campus 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Oct. 30: Ames Public Library 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Nov. 1: Story County Auditor's office during business hours