TIFFIN— Eight candidates are on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 2, in the general election competing for seats on the Clear Creek Amana Community School District’s School Board of Directors.
Joshua Bates and Shaun Kukuzke are battling for an at-large seat, Joe Burns is running unopposed for the District 2 seat, and Abdouramane Bila, appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, is defending his District 4 seat against challenger Kara Prickett.
Michelle Emmel is defending her District 3 seat, she was appointed to fill a vacancy, against challengers Jennifer Downes and Matthew Johnson. Johnson has withdrawn from the race but did so after the withdrawal deadline and is still listed on the ballot.
All candidates were emailed a list of questions, and the North Liberty Leader runs them as received. Jennifer Downes’ answers are printed below.
Biography (where you were born and raised, education, job/profession, relevant experience, family)
I was born and raised in Northwest Iowa. I have lived in Johnson County since 1996 and have been a Clear Creek Amana district resident for 19 years. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2000 with degrees in Communications/Sports, Health, and Recreation Studies. I have worked at the Iowa City Press-Citizen and Marriott International, ultimately leading to owning and operating my own business, Clear Creek Kitchen. My husband, Chris, is a 3rd generation CCA alum. We have three sons, Jack, Lincoln, and Flynn, attending CCA High School, CCA Middle School, and CCE. I have been volunteering and serving on committees in the district for almost 12 years, dedicating a lot of time and energy for the benefit of our students and educators. Some of my efforts worthy of mention are CCE PTG Fundraising Chair, CCA Booster Club, Building and Facilities Committee member, Classroom Volunteer, YSF Volunteer, Youth Basketball Coach, and CCAHS Baseball Booster.
Why are you seeking a seat on the school board?
I am running for school board because Clear Creek Amana needs fresh, focused leadership. Leadership free of divisiveness, special interest group influence, and political leanings. Our children need a strong advocate that uses critical thinking, common sense, and logic in making decisions for their education and overall safety. There has been a nationwide shift in our school boards to politicization, which is causing increased interruptions in our children’s education. Our family has deep roots in the district. My children are 4th generation CCA students. Their great grandfather and grandfather also served on the CCA School Board. I want to continue the lineage of leadership, while passing on the priorities and morals that have been instilled in our children for generations. The CCA district has many upcoming, high-stakes decisions. I feel compelled to sensibly represent my district when working on these decisions. Choosing a superintendent is vital; a leader who will be invested, consistent, strong, and an advocate for parents. students, educators. Dealing with growth and reducing class size at CCA is critical. Restoring parental freedom is very important to me. Finally, thinking out of the box when addressing the urgency of staffing shortages. Covid has presented a difficult and disruptive year in education, my goal is to refocus our attentiveness in the right direction. Ultimately, the collective goal for our school district is to produce engaged citizens who are ready for successful employment in the workforce.
What do you see as the role of the school, and by extension, the school board?
Since public education is an endeavor entered into by parents, students, community members, and educators, the school board should be a liaison between those entities. The board should draft a strong written policy that reflects the needs of the district regarding education and student safety. The schools should have a clear and concise curriculum which is communicated at length to parents. The arm of the school/school board should not extend beyond district issues.
Where does the school’s responsibility begin and end, and where does the parents/guardian’s responsibility begin/end regarding education and when conflicts arise due to parents/guardian’s beliefs (mask mandates, CRT, gender identification, sex education, activism in the classroom, etc.), which may differ from the curriculum?
Our school system should be providing a quality, fact-based, objective approach to education. Our board members, educators, and curriculum should be free from political influence. It is the school’s responsibility to create a comfortable, inclusive environment for all children, free of favoritism or bias. Our curriculum should not rob parents of the opportunity in raising their kids as they see fit. Critical Race Theory (CRT) should not be included in our curriculum as it is currently unlawful in the state of Iowa due to the passing of House File 802. Parents should address social issues at home, fostering an environment of empathy and understanding. Personal choice should be awarded to parents when it relates to religion, sexual education, gender identification, mask mandates, and vaccines. I believe strongly in personal choice for all parents in our district. School/parent transparency is key, parents and educators need to establish trust, becoming teammates during the tenure of the student. When in conflict, parents, board members, and educators need to set superior examples in their actions. The adults in our community must be willing to set the standard we expect the children to follow.
Give us your assessment of the district. What is going well, what would you like to see changed? And, as one voice on the board, would you be able to work with others with a differing viewpoint/ideology?
I think our district does a phenomenal job offering a well-rounded education. Kids have an array of options to explore during their time at CCA. Our arts and athletic programs have outstanding participation. The addition of our Agriculture and FFA programs are a point of pride in our community. CCA has enthusiastic teachers who leave a positive impact on their pupils. We have excellent teacher retention, with many of our teachers being alumni. I would like to ensure that our athletic facilities and coaching staff are keeping up with other 4A programs. It is extremely important that our Clippers stay active, and we need to have an adequate and appropriate number of staff based on our participation numbers. Our athletic facilities should be equally maintained and safe for all participants across the district. CCA has a vast geographic footprint. We need to focus on optimizing the growth and enhancements to each location. Expansion endeavors should include the input of all constituents and cities in our district. I will be steadfast in being a good listener and strong communicator while standing firm in my beliefs. My ultimate goal is to have each student/staff member receive the best educational experience possible. I want to uphold the esteemed reputation of the district that has given so much to many generations of my family.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers so they can make their best-informed decision?
Voting in local elections is a powerful way for parents/guardians to have a direct impact on the educational environment, agenda, and curriculum for the students in our community. Informed voting is more important than ever, and I encourage all CCA district voters to research each candidate for CCA school board. I would be humbled and honored to receive your vote for CCA school board. I’ll do my best to bring common sense to every decision I make as a school board member.