Time for ICCSD to get to work

The Iowa City Community School District should be feeling revitalized this week and, I hope, ready to tackle some persistent challenges.

A former board member, Orville Townsend Sr., was selected from a field of nine highly interested and qualified candidates to serve a 15-month appointment to the school board.

For the record, President Herbert Hoover, who supposedly applied but is not included among the nine finalists, would have received my nod except for his lack of residency in the district. Also, I doubt he’d be available for meetings.

Townsend’s appointment was unanimous, a well-deserved vote of confidence for the Iowa City resident with a unique life experience that can and should serve the board well.

For instance, Townsend served on the ICCSD Equity Committee and will hold firsthand insights from a wide assortment of constituent groups. He also has worked with special-needs residents as part of the Arc of Johnson County and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. He served with the latter for 42 years, and chaired the diversity committee for 20 of those years.

He is part of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Corrections board of directors and was chairman of the Cultural Competency Committee in 2010. He is a part of the Iowa City Civil Rights Commission, the Coalition for Racial Justice and the Black Voices Project.

Those are simply the highlights of his paper qualifications — his full application is insightful reading. If there is a drawback to the selection of Townsend, it is the fact that he’s already announced he will not seek election to the appointed seat in September 2015. For reasons unfathomable to me, board members saw this as a plus.

While the will of the public will be done at the ballot box, from a district perspective, continuity is important. This is especially so as the district continues to decide the fate of a diversity policy rife for debate.

For instance, does the goal of achieving a diverse mix of students on each school campus trump the ability of all students on all campuses maintaining or achieving equal access to extracurricular activities? If busing students from one neighborhood to a school in a different neighborhood prevents some of those students from accessing additional school- or community-based resources in their home neighborhoods, will the students benefit?

While there aren’t easy answers to such questions, my gut instinct is not to practice diversity for the sole purpose of being able to point at student numbers and disbursements on a chart. There must be a more wholistic approach, and a true community understanding of the goals, the reasons behind them and future measurements of accountability.

What does the delicate balance of forced diversity and necessitated equality look like for students? For parents? For staff? For the neighborhoods depending on them all?

With his background, Townsend should be able to provide a unique voice that can cut through the clutter of years past.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 26, 2014. Photo credit: Brian Ray/The Gazette