Dykstra believes Des Moines is at ‘crossroads,’ wants to turn it in a good direction
Despite the fact that Louisa Dykstra has yet to fulfill her seventh grade dream of being a math teacher, her heart lies in education, which is why she is running for the Des Moines Public School at large seat on the Des Moines School Board.
Dykstra, who is originally from South Dakota, believes she has an advantage because she doesn’t have a preference for any of the interest groups involved with the school board. She is willing to listen to anyone’s voice.
Dykstra’s main goal, if she is elected to the school board, is to “get the community more connected to the school system again.”
“The whole community needs to feel ownership of our public schools,” Dykstra said.
Dykstra has been involved with education from a few different angles – she is a classroom volunteer, has been a substitute teacher and has worked with the Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) legislative team. She is also a parent, which has allowed Dykstra to view DMPS from another angle.
Dykstra has two children in sixth and eighth grade and a stepson who is getting married in November.
“I think having all of those viewpoints is important,” Dykstra said.
Her work with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, which is a group of all the chambers of commerce in the area, also helped her make her decision to campaign. Dykstra often represented the schools when there was no one else there, according to her.
“I was already doing a lot of what I would do as a board member,” Dykstra said.
Her decision to run for a seat on the school board built up over the legislative session.
“We really need someone who can jump into that seat and hit the ground running,” Dykstra said. “And I feel like I can be that person.”
Dykstra received her bachelor’s in music from Drake University and received her master’s degree in secondary math education. Afterward, she was offered a job in corporate training.
That corporate training, from Marsh, Wells Fargo and Principal, allows Dykstra to view things from a business stance, according to her.
“I have a really deep understanding of how schools are financed in Iowa,” Dykstra said.
Dykstra said she believes that Des Moines businesses and public schools should be working together.
Dykstra, who spent 19 years on the Des Moines Symphony, wants to ensure that, if there needs to be budget cuts in schools, the arts are not the first to go.
“There isn’t really anyone else on the board who is really a strong advocate for the arts, so I feel that we really need this role,” Dykstra said.
If Dykstra wins a spot on the school board, she wants to make sure DMPS retains teachers and is able to attract new teachers.
The Blue Contract, something the district has developed, is one way to do that. It gives new teachers a higher starting pay than normal because they agree to extra professional development. This development focuses on teaching low socioeconomic, high diversity students who experience different challenges.
“It gets us teachers who are committed to teaching in the kind of setting Des Moines is in and want to be really good at it,” Dykstra said. “It’s a really rewarding job, but it’s a tough job. “
Dykstra also believes the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is “not only a bad human decision, it’s a bad economic decision.”
She completely agrees with the statement made by Des Moines School Board Chair Teree Caldwell-Johnson and Superintendent Tom Ahart, where they oppose the rescission of DACA.
“As we said earlier this year, Des Moines Public Schools welcomes immigrants and refugees as our students and families, as our friends and neighbors,” it says in the statement.
Advocating for Children Living in Poverty
One of the ways Dykstra hopes to help give children living in poverty a boost is to allocate more funds from the state for dropout prevention to children who are from a home of poverty.
“They give it almost equally to every district based on how many kids they have,” Dykstra said. “So it’s not weighted based on the needs of the district, where kids who come from a home of poverty are four times more likely to drop out of school.”
No one has ever gone to bat to get this piece of legislation changed, according to Dykstra.
“Then we’re able to give those kids who are really struggling – maybe they’re working fulltime, maybe they’re taking care of younger siblings – they definitely don’t have an adult at home who is making sure that they get their homework done, and making sure they eat,” Dykstra said. “They’re taking care of themselves and sometimes extra people, so we can give them extra attention to make sure they get what they need.”
It’s how the cycle of poverty will be broken, Dykstra believes.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much our poverty level has grown,” Dykstra said.
According DMPS’ website, 74.1 percent of children in school qualify for free or reduced lunch. In 2000, only 45 percent of children qualified for free or reduced lunch. She believes that Des Moines is at a crossroads right now.
“I want to jump in and make sure it goes in a good direction,” Dykstra said.
Campaigning has not been easy, Dykstra said.
“What keeps me going is that I feel like I have something important to contribute to the conversation,” Dykstra said.
The community is not connected, according to Dykstra, which is ultimately hurting Des Moines’ schools.
“So what keeps me plugging away and coming up with new ideas and talking to more people is this idea that because I can see this from several angles, I can make some important connections and really strengthen the whole future of the community. Because if our schools go downhill, then our community goes downhill,” Dykstra said.
For more information on Dykstra’s campaign, visit her website at louisaforschools.com.