Caldwell-Johnson’s commitment to inclusivity, driving policy forward, and continuing the work yet to be done
Teree Caldwell-Johnson, an active member in the Des Moines community and CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood, is as an incumbent member on the Des Moines Public School Board representing district four. Caldwell-Johnson says running again gives her the opportunity to continue the work yet to be done. “This term may be my last,” Caldwell-Johnson says, “But it certainly gives me four more years to continue to support the needs of the district; to utilize my skill set, my background, and my expertise.”
A Diverse Community
In the 2016-2017 Minority Enrollment Report for Des Moines, there has been a steady increase trend of about 400 minority students enrolled per year since 2010, and now with a total of 6,802 minority students in the Des Moines Public school system as of 2016. This is out of 33,000 students enrolled in Des Moines public schools.
How the school board can enable student success with regards to this increase is something the board struggles with and is continually challenged by, according to Caldwell-Johnson. She suggests the school board is addressing it in a few different ways.
“As our district has become more and more diverse, we are challenged not only in terms of that diversity being reflected in the curriculum, in the books that we utilize, but also in the individuals who are providing the educational environment.”
She sources teachers, counselors, and faculty as a way to promote student success in how they must reflect the diversity and therefore unique learning and background experiences of students in order to enable their success. “We struggle with trying to identify and retain and hire individuals that actually reflect the population we’re serving,” Caldwell-Johnson says. She emphasizes a potential succession plan in schools to continue a cycle of new teachers to reflect this demographic change.
“For us, I think it is trying to be much more intentional around recruitment strategies,” She says, “And at the same time utilizing pathways that exist through colleges and universities whether they be majority institutions or historically black institutions to hopefully create a pipeline and a relationship to get some of those people into our district.” Caldwell-Johnson expressed concern about not being aggressive enough in their attempts at recruitment and hopes this can be something the district begins to monitor and focus their attention.
Through current monitoring reports of student achievement, Caldwell-Johnson notes the breakdown of demographics and where subheads of groups are struggling. “It really helps us to begin to figure out way that we target either investments, or programs or resources to hopefully lift those subgroups in a way that makes them equal with the other folks in the district.”
Stance on DACA
Regarding the broad diversity of students in the Des Moines Public School system, nearly 4,000 students were born outside of the United States.
With the recent decision of the Trump administration to rescind the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program, Caldwell-Johnson wants to implore students to look towards the Des Moines Public School Board and it’s firm protocols regarding student safety. Back in February the board recently approved two resolutions supporting Dreamers, those affected by DACA, and protecting student rights. These resolutions established a policy and protocol to follow for the district that reinforces Plyler v. Doe (1982).
According to the DMSB resolution, “U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe (1982) held all resident children are entitled to education in the public schools and it is unconstitutional to deny a free public education to children who are not legally admitted into the United States.”
“We have been absolutely unequivocal about our position,” Caldwell-Johnson says. Standing on this resolution as a basis, she wants students to know the policies in place and what that protocol is. Caldwell-Johnson notes that should there be a visit on any school property from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the law requires an entity to provide background information that goes to the legal council of the school board before any information on students is released.
“That was a big thing for us,” Caldwell-Johnson says, “Because it established the common template in our district for if ICE or any individual in our district trying to get specific information on a student or their family- from top to bottom no matter where you enter the system.”
Plan for Success
There are three main goals Caldwell-Johnson wants to focus the school board’s attention in the coming term: fiscal sustainability, challenging local governments and legislation to rethink the longstanding funding formula and general policy improvements. She brainstorms giving the local districts flexibility categories for funds to relive some of this financial pressure and find a larger solution.
“We are going to become more and more challenged to meet the requirements of running the largest school district in the state of Iowa,” Caldwell-Johnson says, “If the legislature only gives us very small increases that don’t allow us to keep pace with cost of doing business.”
She targets personnel costs as a major contribution to that funding and bringing in the personhood of the employees that the district relies on to do the work they need to do. “The loss in teachers means that class sizes get larger. We want to avoid that but we also need to figure out how we not only continue to prioritize as a district but also create, sort of, the appropriate budget model,” Caldwell-Johnson says.
She wants to pinpoint long range budge strategies and bring efficiencies to the workplace. While also reorganizing and reprioritizing the Des Moines School Board, Caldwell-Johnson challenges the legislature and governor to do same. “They say they want to be number one in education,” She says, “Well you can’t do that when you’re giving school districts very modest increases every year.”
Caldwell-Johnson recognizes revenue challenges in the state as well but concentrates efforts towards current pressures within districts. Caldwell-Johnson aims to complete the work she’s invested in and following through with the goals the school board has set. “I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to leave work behind, it feel like I sort of want to stay the course.” Caldwell-Johnson also hopes to give the coming school boards a solid foundation to build on based on the changes and challenges the current board will address in the coming term.