CEDAR FALLS – Alan Heisterkamp believes Cedar Falls community schools took a crucial step towards greater inclusion when his equity committee became more active last year as a result of the national race for racial justice.
The work of this committee, of which he is a member, has been an important part of his nearly two and a half year tenure on the Board of Education. The 59-year-old is running for a new term in the November 2 elections, one of six people vying for three personal positions. He joined the board after a special election to fill a vacant position.
Heisterkamp said the committee has started meeting monthly, which “really gave us the opportunity… to just ask for a break, to step back and listen to our families and our students of color.” These students spoke about “how they felt about the way they were treated” in the district schools, including “some less than positive experiences” with their peers and “some of the staff”.
“These experiences were anecdotal but very useful,” said Heisterkamp, director of the Patricia A. Tomson Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Northern Iowa.
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Improvements can be made in terms of “being a district that is really serious and cares about all of our students,” he said. Cedar Falls schools fail to “really pay attention to the data,” including disproportionately higher disciplinary benchmarks for students of color, Heisterkamp said. Questions are being “asked at this time” by the committee as to why this is happening.
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“Tackling these disparities when they surface,” he said, is “our challenge, it’s our bar to hit. It will certainly increase … our effectiveness as a learning institution and, I think, will have a strong and positive impact on our community at large.
Regarding the recent decision to use a limited mask warrant in individual elementary schools, he said it was appropriate for the administration to “work with local authorities” to determine how to proceed. This only takes effect based on absences and the rate of spread of the virus in the county. Personally, however, he would take a more cautious approach.
“I would tend to lean more towards mandatory masks, especially for those who cannot get vaccinated at the moment,” he said. “I would lean more for a mandate for all students. … Masks have never been, in my opinion, more than a public health tool.
Heisterkamp would prioritize the remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds received by the district for any necessary improvements to ventilation systems to “keep the air moving.” While noting that one-time money cannot be used for endowment, he said that “the efforts schools have made to help our students access mental health services” is another priority for the funds, with nursing services. “We should consider having both in our long-term (school) sites for students and families.”
Heisterkamp grew up near Onawa and received a teaching degree and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Northern Iowa. He also holds a master’s degree in educational psychology and counseling from the University of South Dakota, and is working towards a doctorate. He and his wife Pat have four grown children.
During a 37-year career in education, Heisterkamp worked as a teacher and principal in Sioux City and as a violence prevention consultant before joining UNI ten years ago to run the center.
“Education is a very service and service oriented profession, and I think that’s what I appreciated and want to continue supporting and preserving to move forward,” he said. -he declares.
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