CEDAR FALLS — Voters who go to the polls Tuesday in Cedar Falls Community Schools will be choosing between a wealth of educational and community experience.
Four candidates who have never served on the Board of Education are running to fill three four-year seats. They include Eric Giddens, Jim Moody, Jeff Orvis and Sasha Wohlpart. Seats on the board are elected at-large, meaning all district voters can cast ballots for each of the positions.
In addition, current board member Joyce Coil is running unopposed to fill the final two years of a seat being vacated by Jim Kenyon.
CEDAR FALLS — Issues such as collective bargaining rights, educational savings accounts and …
Two of the candidates running for four-year positions formerly worked in the classroom. Wohlpart, 45, worked as a high school teacher and university instructor in Florida and is now a homemaker. Giddens, 43, was a teacher at Peet Junior High School and in Honduras and is now a program manager in energy and environmental programming at the University of Northern Iowa.
Orvis, 57, is a math and computer science teacher and instructional coach at Waverly-Shell Rock High School. Moody, 42, a partner and private consultant with Safety Solutions, has served on the school district’s facilities committees and volunteered with a number of other commissions, committees and boards in the community.
Moody believes those experiences have prepared him “to effectively serve on a board. It has taught me that having an open mind and collaboration are the key to a successful board member.”
The others pointed to their classroom and education experience as preparing them for the position. That includes developing curriculum and programs for Wohlpart, participating in Cedar Falls’ professional learning communities process for Giddens, and helping teachers through instructional support and contract negotiations team duties for Orvis.
Orvis’ experiences have taught him about collaboration, school finance and educational law “and have shown me that school boards and unions can and should work together to provide the best education for our students.”
Wohlpart noted the importance of high-quality education and said she “would work collaboratively with others, including community members, to engage the challenging issues we have confronting us.”
Giddens said “teachers need to enter the school every day feeling fully supported” by the administration, school board and community. “The number one thing that a school board can do to support academic achievement is to support our teachers.” In addition, he said the district should “allocate resources in ways that support all students in achieving growth goals” even if every student doesn’t receive an equal amount of resources.
Moody said an “open dialogue” is necessary in understanding students’ successes and struggles. “Curriculum needs to be developed and implemented in a manner that benefits all students,” he said, suggesting a technical career program should be developed and the Center for Advanced Professional Studies further expanded. “Many students would benefit from more exposure to real-life skills,” said Moody.
Orvis highlighted programs that meet the needs of children who are hungry or neglected and noted trusted school staff students see on a regular basis can be key to their success in those situations. “Cuts to these positions undermine that trust relationship,” he said. “We need to be prudent when thinking about staffing, even in the face of lessening support from the state.”
Wohlpart said the district must ensure all students are being appropriately challenged. To accomplish that, she said, the district needs to have a school culture “that is supportive and simultaneously sets high expectations,” “safe and constructive” learning environments, and instructional teams “that have the necessary time and resources to develop effective strategies” for all students.
Both Giddens and Wohlpart noted school facilities are currently an issue that needs to be addressed, particularly construction of a new high school.
“We must find a way to listen to multiple perspectives, to gather feedback and input and then make decisions that will be most helpful for the district,” said Wohlpart.
“My concern,” said Giddens, “is that we do not currently have enough community support to pass a bond referendum that will be needed to complete the project.” He hopes to engage in “community consensus building work” to develop that support.
Orvis voiced concern over changes to public employee bargaining laws, which he said “have left staff with little recourse beyond the school board. I want to be sure that a voice is at the table who understands what being in the classroom entails. Having staff that feels valued and empowered to make positive change is the best way to keep improving our schools.”
Moody would like “to help find funding solutions that benefit the schools but do not negatively burden the residents.” With that and all other issues, he said, “I do not have the solutions by myself,” and he doesn’t seek to push any individual agenda. “For a board to be effective, the members must serve as a group,” he said.