JCSD School Board Election 2023

JCSD School Board Election 2023

This year’s school board election is more political and controversial than ever—and thus is more important than ever.

As America becomes increasingly divided politically on a national level, a similar political division has appeared locally. School board elections should not be political, but this year there is a clear political overtone to Johnston’s school board election, with four liberal candidates and four conservative candidates running for the four empty seats on the board.

These candidates are as follows: Jason Arnold, Jennifer Chamberland, Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher, Josh Nelson, Charles Steele, Lori Stiles, Michelle Veach and Lya Williams. The Johnston Education Association (JEA), a teachers union, spoke to each of the candidates and designated Arnold, Chamberland, Mangra-Dutcher and Williams as their recommendations, this means that JEA believes that those four candidates will benefit the teachers the most. This election will prove to be pivotal in the future of JCSD, so it is important to understand what each candidate is running for. The following information was acquired through each candidate’s campaign site, the school board candidate forum and the letters the candidates sent to JEA.

Jason Arnold is one of the liberal candidates. He has two children who attend Summit Middle School and Johnston Middle School. Arnold is big on giving back to the community and has participated in Timber Ridge’s PTO for eight years as well as Johnston’s SIAC (School Improvement Advisory Committee) in the past year. Arnold states that he follows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which states that children cannot learn unless they are healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. Arnold will improve student help by advocating for proper safety measures in schools, becoming closer with mental health providers and pursuing additional funding for school psychologists and educating staff on mental health.

Arnold will attempt to ensure equity by discussing equity, inclusion and belonging during curriculum review, using research to improve equity and anti-racism, removing School Resource Officers, educating staff on equity, providing opportunities to improve the educational experience and hiring a new DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) director. Arnold will encourage the school to interact with local groups to provide learning opportunities for students, connect with local and state officials to advocate for the needs of the district, and ensure all staff have a living wage along with flexibility. Overall, Arnold believes that the school district should yearn for betterment and adapt to the times as the world changes.

Jennifer Chamberland is an incumbent liberal candidate, initially elected in 2019. Chamberland currently works in federal law enforcement and has children of varying grades in the district. Chamberland, while running in accompaniment with the liberal candidates, presents as a more neutral candidate, focused mostly on the financial aspects of the school board, as she has a background in accounting and finance. Chamberland also runs on the platform that she would be unbiased compared to her colleagues. Chamberland wishes to also conduct an equity audit on the district, in an attempt to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools.

Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher is another incumbent liberal candidate elected in 2019. Mangra-Dutcher currently runs her own business and training consulting firm, and in the past has worked as the Director of Mission Services at Goodwill of Central Iowa, an Operations Director at Central Iowa Works and was a GED instructor and the Adult Literacy program at DMACC. Mangra-Dutcher has three daughters who all graduated from Johnston. Mangra-Dutcher is a big advocate for mental health, starting the Central Iowa chapter of Stand for the Silent, a suicide prevention and anti-bullying organization, as well as becoming a co-leader of the Polk County Suicide Prevention Coalition. Mangra-Dutcher prioritizes student mental health and plans to improve staff training on mental health. Diversity, equity and inclusion are large parts of Mangra-Dutcher’s campaign as well; she wishes to ensure that all kids feel like they belong in Johnston and wishes to hire a DEI director to work for that cause.

Josh Nelson is a conservative candidate with children at Timber Ridge, JMS and JHS. Nelson wishes to have a focus on academics and “free” schools of politics. While Nelson doesn’t state it explicitly, he does support equitable treatment of students, saying that he wants to give each student what they need to succeed, which is equity. Nelson wishes to improve the district’s special education program by increasing support and training for special education teachers. Nelson wants the school board to be more representative of the parents and believes the board should not entirely consist of those with degrees and experience. While it is important to have a diverse group on the school boards, it is arguably more important that school board members are educated, in any form that would benefit the board, and have experience with board positions. Educated and experienced members are a better fit for the board because they are more capable of making decisions that will benefit the district as a whole rather than just the parents. Overall, Nelson firmly believes that listening and communication are vital attributes he would bring to the board.

Charles Steele is a conservative candidate who has children in elementary school. In the past, Steele has worked on a DEI committee for the company he works at as well as served in Johnston’s SIAC for social, emotional, behavioral and mental health. Steele wants the board to focus on the basic academics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Steele is a supporter of parental involvement in the classroom and wishes to create more transparency between the school and parents as well as create a culture where parents are welcome in the classroom. Steele believes that Johnston needs to improve our special education program, primarily by increasing resources and training. Steele emphasizes that school materials should promote the positive aspects of our country citing that “America is the greatest and most free country to ever exist.” Steele does acknowledge that it is important to teach the negative aspects of our country but wishes to primarily focus on the positives. Focusing on the good parts of America rids students of free thinking and establishes in their minds that the government can do no wrong and thus they should not question its decisions. In brief, Steele wishes to use propagandized school materials to indoctrinate children into the belief that the American Government is incapable of wrongdoing, ultimately decreasing the number of students who become involved in politics and activism.

Lori Stiles is a conservative candidate with children who graduated from Johnston. Stiles is primarily concerned with the shortage of teachers and believes the way to solve the shortage is by “restoring a teacher’s role to that of providing an academic education—without social propaganda or political overtones.” Conservatives love to monger fear about teachers spreading liberal beliefs in public schools when this is just false. Public schools may teach students topics such as evolution, gender identity or sexual orientation, which do not align with conservative beliefs but, these are facts. Schools are teaching students true information that is crucial to a person’s understanding of the world and conservatives are labeling this as “liberal propaganda.” Stiles also supports S.F. 496 and believes parents should determine what is appropriate for their children and are responsible for the development of their child’s moral and ethical worldview, S.F. 496 will be detrimental to students as I emphasized in my article “S.F. 496: Parents’ Rights Over Students’ Well-Being and Education.” Stiles wishes to align school experiences with the challenges of life after school by bringing back tryouts for sports. Stiles believes the solution to Johnston’s DEI issues is by ensuring equality rather than equity to all races, ethnicities, genders and as she put it, “supposed sexual orientations,” implying that she does not believe those of a sexual orientation other than heterosexual exist. While Stiles speaks extensively about wanting to help teachers, it is important to recognize that JEA does not support her as a candidate.

Michelle Veach is another conservative candidate and has children at SMS and JMS. Veach wishes to focus on traditional academics, such as reading, writing and spelling. Veach is an adamant supporter of parental rights and S.F. 496, Veach was a frequent speaker at school board meetings during the 21-22 school year advocating for the removal of explicit books from schools. During one of these meetings about book bans, Veach spoke about the explicit nature of certain books used at the high school and in an attempt to add shock value, used the N-word, F-slur and other swear words in front of the school board. Johnston’s school board should not have a member who uses slurs in a public setting as nonchalantly as she has. Overall, Veach wants to improve Johnston’s academics above all else.

Lya Williams is a liberal candidate with a son who attends Johnston. Williams is currently a stay-at-home mother but in the past worked as an engineer and thus is a strong supporter of STEM in schools. Williams wishes to serve students first, ensuring that students are safe and supported along with preparing them for graduation and life after high school. Williams wishes to particularly support underrepresented students who may be harmed by state and district policies. Williams also wants to help teachers by supporting their health and wellness and ensuring that they feel safe and supported. Williams hopes to rid the board of far-right advocates who are making the district less appealing to parents and students.

This year’s school board election is extremely important for the future of the district. If several conservative candidates are elected, conservatives on the board will have an easy majority. This would enact a conservative reign on the school board likely leading to increased discrimination, increased censorship and ultimately the decline of the district. It is imperative that every eligible person votes in this election. Local elections are far more important to vote in because one’s vote holds more power and sway locally, and local elections impact people more directly than national elections do. Vote local; make an impact.

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  • Kaycee SchippersNov 5, 2023 at 10:18 am

    Thank you, Sam, for printing a well-written, clear and concise and truthful article. Well done! We love our public schools!!