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School Board interviews third hopeful

BY MICHELLE HILLENBRAND | APRIL 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa City school superintendent candidate Brad Meeks, the Farmington, Minn., School District president for seven years, said Thursday that searching within a budget for inefficiencies can allow him to stretch the dollar.

By purchasing a different type of health-care policy for the Farmington district employees, the district saved $1.2 million, he told the audience in the last of the superintendent interviews.

“How we build our budget should reflect our priorities, and our priorities should be in the classroom,” he said. The quality of teaching and class sizes also top his list of priorities, he said.

Linda Goers, the director of human resources in the Farmington district, hailed Meeks as a visionary.

“He has the ability to look long-range and find ways to get input so everybody is kind of on the same path toward the goals in the district,” she said.

The South Dakota native emphasized the importance of educational leaders in the Iowa City community.

“What makes a difference in the classroom more than the class size is the quality of the teacher in that room,” Meeks said. By providing staff development to teachers, he said, he hopes to ensure their quality.

When asked by School Board members how he plans to close the student-achievement gaps, Meeks said he would begin preparing students for testing earlier by providing online tests throughout the year, a method he says would allow teachers to modify their approaches based on individual student needs.

One of Meeks’ strengths, said School Board President Patti Fields, is his recent experience with redistricting.

Goers said the Farmington district opened both a new high school and new elementary school last year, changed the configuration of classes, and dealt with boundary changes, a process she said went smoothly.

“Seventy percent of our students ended up in a new building, along with 70 percent of our staff,” Meeks said.

But some in Farmington criticized Meeks for accepting a salary only 10 percent less than the superintendent in his neighboring district, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, which has 4.5 times as many students as Farmington.

Iowa City School Board members emphasized the importance of communication, trust, and transparency between the superintendent and board, along with the necessity of acting as a unit.

Former School District teacher Patti Williams said she would like to see a superintendent who understands fiscal responsibility. While she said all the candidates show an understanding for the importance of communication, she said one candidate’s education background and experience might allow him to fit into the district more easily.

In a closed session on April 25, the School Board members will make their decision. But for now, Fields said, there is no clear front-runner.

“We have a lot of things to weigh,” she said. “It’s a tough decision to make.”


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