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An Iowa City parent and educator is running for school board

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | SEPTEMBER 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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After noticing a number of misperceptions as President of a local elementary Parent Teacher Organization, for Jason Lewis, a run for a seat on the state’s fifth largest school district’s board centers on the idea of equity.

Or rather, he said, a lack thereof.

Lewis, 41, the Director of the Writing and Humanities program at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, brought his family to the Iowa City area in 2005.

He recalls getting ready to enroll his daughter for school, before receiving a letter from Mark Twain Elementary.

The letter stated that the school was in need of resource assistance and gave the family, whose new home was within feet of the building, the option to send her to a different elementary, not within the neighborhood.

Lewis said he and his wife did not feel comfortable making the decision to enroll elsewhere without having seen the ways of the East Side Iowa City School thus opted out to enroll her.

“It turns out that Mark Twain is a fantastic school,” Lewis said. “We got involved in the [Parent Teacher Organization], and I became president a couple of years ago. That was my introduction to district wide politics.”

Equity within the district, Lewis’ primary issue, is something he said should improve and that he has the ideas on how the district should tackle that challenge.

“Every kid comes to school with his or her own set of challenges,” he said. “The goal of the school district should really be to find a way to meet those challenges and provide the kind of educational opportunities that each kids needs.”

He said his position at the UI has brought into focus the importance of the humanities and liberal arts as the tools necessary for students to learn.

Working with local medical students has shown him that through the schooling they have gotten up to this point, the use of the humanities as a tool for learning is almost non-existent.

“I kind of feel like that’s my calling in life on a certain level — to be able to be a champion for Humanities and Liberal Arts, and to be a champion for education as a way that can change people’s lives,” Lewis said.

Current school board member, Sarah Swisher, who endorsed Lewis in August, feels that his experience with those particular students stands as one of his strengths.

“He is a writer and he teaches other people how to write,” she said. “He has that experience being a good communicator to bring to the board.”

While an advocate for neighborhood schools, or as he prefers to refer to them as “community schools”, Lewis said he also recognizes that the enrollment rate is growing and sees this as a great opportunity for the district.

“I think we have an opportunity to lead and to be more flexible and offer more choice,” he said. “Right now is the moment that we can really start to do that.”

Jason Hagedorn, whose wife has worked on the District Parent Organization alongside Lewis, said these values are what make him a good candidate.

“We need someone on [the board] who has the right value set,” Hagedorn said. “I think he can put it all into context of what [these issues] mean to kids, and he is very focused on how we can do best by our kids.”

Regardless of the election outcome, Lewis said he will continue to be involved within the district.

“We have some of the best teachers I’ve ever been in contact with,” he said. “The administrators at the school level are fantastic. I think that’s a great foundation to build on.”


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