On Monday, Democratic candidate Fred Hubbell met with 10 area educators in Des Moines as part of his “Priorities for Iowa” statewide tour from Sioux City to Davenport. The educators consisted of K-12 teachers, a school board member and a school counselor. He and running mate Rita Hart are holding roundtable discussions for three days this week across the state. The topics mirror the priorities he set for “Putting People First” and “Getting Iowa Growing.” The individual meetings focus on education, women’s reproductive health, mental health, economic development and elder care.
Hubbell’s education meeting in Des Moines was more about listening than speaking. Hubbell explained that his motivation for conducting these roundtables resulted from his experience in running successful businesses.
He pointed to his experience at Younkers department stores as his lesson in listening. When he took over the management of Younkers, he had a number of changes he believed would improve and grow the chain, which he thought he could implement across every store. What he discovered as he began meeting and listening to his new employees, was that every market was different. The individual store employees knew their customers best. His employees understood that styles, pricing and trends differed from urban to rural stores and from college towns to suburban malls. His employees knew their costumers’ needs.
Hubbell’s analogy to these educators is that they understand the needs and requirements of their individual students, schools and districts. They understand their students’ needs. It was obvious Hubbell was there to listen and learn.
Hubbell got an earful from the educators in attendance. They explained in detail how funding cuts to education, unfunded mandates and administrative requirements are damaging their ability to teach. It was obvious that they are passionate advocates for their students.
He asked them what they see as the most important issues that need to improve education. Jolene Teske, a former school board member and Des Moines teacher, said “funding is paramount.”
The group agreed on several key needs of every school. They identified reasonable class size as an overriding factor in success. They talked about the critical importance of establishing a relationship with every student. Larger class sizes prevent them from effectively reaching each student.
These educators emphasized the essential importance of schools in a changing world. One could sum up their concerns by saying schools are expected to do more with less. They emphasized the growing role teachers and schools must play in their communities. They also discussed the growing number of students coming to school “traumatized” by homes that are simply in “survival mode” due to poverty and dysfunctional family situations.
One of their concerns is disruptive students. The lack of funding has prevented a sufficient number of counselors to be available to deal with behavior issues.
They also noted that behavior issues are appearing earlier in lower grades. Des Moines elementary teacher Courtney Starbuck explained, “They’ve experienced a lot of trauma and that shows in explosive behavior.”
Hubbell summarized his meeting by saying he didn’t see any “silver bullets” in the discussion but recommitted to making education funding his number one priority if elected as governor.
“We’ve got real challenges with the quality of our education system and they’re right that a lot of the issues in our society these days show up in our schools,” Hubbell said. “Life is complicated and that’s why we need a governor who is committed to listening and learning from people all across our state to figure out how do we improve our education and how do we improve the impact of education in our society.”
by Rick Smith