How Jason Arnold would improve Johnston schools

By Nikoel Hytrek
October 16, 2023

Johnston School Board Candidate Jason Arnold is a father of two students in the district and wants the schools to work for them and all the students in them.

He has plans for how to make that happen too. Arnold wants to hire a director for diversity, equity and, inclusion (DEI), conduct an audit of how the district serves minority students, fix the bussing problems, and create a fairer, better-defined system for disciplining students who misbehave.

“I want my kids to have the ability to succeed in life,” Arnold said. “And the only way you do that, the best way to do that, is through public education. I grew up in the state, and I really think the state could do a lot better with public education.”

That’s why Arnold is running for one of four seats on the Johnston School Board. He also ran in 2019, and in 2021, though he dropped out of the 2021 race because there were only three spots and he didn’t want to split the vote.

Arnold said his biggest goal is to make the district transparent—where possible—so everyone involved knows how it works.

“There’s a lot more areas where we have policies, but we don’t have the procedure outlined,” he said. “We have the what we want to do, but we don’t have the how are we going to do it.”

Partisanship

When he campaigns for school board, Arnold knocks on every door, no matter what the people behind the door think.

“I still treat it as a nonpartisan position, really, as it truly is,” he said. “When I’m door knocking and I’m talking to a conservative, one of the first questions out of their mouth is, ‘Are you one of those book banners?’” Arnold said.

And that, he said, sums up what running for school board—something that used to be officially nonpartisan—means now, especially when voters see how important the position is.

“There’s a direct impact on your day-to-day lives with what happens in your school board and what happens in your city elections,” he said.

Bussing

Processes to improve bussing and student discipline are a big need, he said.

The district began using private company STA for bussing in 2016, which also changed how drivers were compensated and meant they were no longer eligible for the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS). Now, the district has a lack of drivers and the school buses don’t serve all students for free.

Arnold said he’s interested in a solution to attract more drivers by moving the bussing back under district control, so the district can then offer better wages and benefits, while also serving students who need bussing.

He wants transparency here too about the company’s service, whether bus routes are being combined and how much trouble happens on buses.

“And I want those reported I want those to be publicly reported so that parents can get that information as well,” Arnold said.

All of that clarity, he said, would be basic steps to involve parents in the school and set it up to improve school for students as well.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Arnold said the district also needs to hire a new DEI director to make sure all students at Johnston are succeeding. The previous director, Louis Fountain, resigned in August 2022.

“We need a director who has the support of the school board, has the support of the superintendent, because I think that was what was missing last time with Louis, unfortunately,” Arnold said. “We need someone who has that experience and that knowledge to be able to take the equity audit and translate it into policy that we need to implement.”

The equity audit initiative has been stalled by the three members of the board who aren’t up for reelection—Derek Tidball, Deb Davis, and Clint Evans, who were all elected in 2021 and campaigned on ending mask mandates and stopping DEI work.

All three signed the 1776 Pledge, which was created by 1776 Action, which states its mission on its website as: “Stopping the Anti-American Indoctrination of Our Children and Grandchildren.”

For years, data for the district has shown that students of color and other minorities underperform compared to their peers. However, the three conservative board members have been responsible for slowing down the process by criticizing the focus on race.

Arnold serves on Johnston’s School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) and has seen the data and test scores for himself.

“Obviously if things aren’t working then you need to change things up,” Arnold said. “But we need to get into that cycle. We need to get that process going.”

School discipline

The current board is seeking changes to school discipline and Arnold said there also needs to be clear processes there and clear definitions.

“It’s always been kind of up to the building administration. And some of the discipline’s up to the teachers in conjunction with the building administration,” he said. “There needs to be some consistency there.”

Ultimately, he said each tier of punishment has to be specific and none of it can be subjective because subjectivity often leads to biased, unequal treatment.

 

Nikoel Hytrek
10/16/23

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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