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Background, experience

Jack Barnes, 52, has a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Communication from Iowa State University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Northern Iowa. He is married to Deb, an educator for over 20 years. They have two children in the Benton Community School system, one at Norway and one at Van Horne.

During his professional career he has worked for companies of various sizes ranging from small business to international corporations, taught at three local colleges. For the past five years he has been employed by Rockwell Collins as a Senior Engineering Project Specialist. He served on the Norway City Council for six years, including two years as mayor pro-tem. His family belongs to First Congregational United Church of Christ in Cedar Rapids where he has been active in music, Christian Education, and several governing committees including serving as a member of a Pastoral Search Committee.

Role of school board, future of Benton

“My thoughts on the current status of the district, and its direction, can be divided into three areas - the educational, the physical/financial aspect, and the extracurricular – all of which show a solid foundation with indications of continual improvement.

“Educationally, Benton Community has been continually moving to be consistent with the statewide Iowa core curriculum. Benton Community offers two methods for students to gain college credit while in high school through Project Lead the Way and Kirkwood Community College programs. At the elementary level, the 2008-2009 sixth-grade class had several entries selected for regional “Invent Iowa” competition with two entries going on to state level participation. From an achievement perspective, when all available measurements are examined and assessed, Benton Community students continue to perform at or above national and statewide averages.  It is essential that complete data is used by a board so that appropriate resources can be provided and accurate assessment of progress be measured. Complete data allows the board to identify areas where changes need to be implemented, and how to measurably track the impact of those changes in the future. As a board member, I plan to use all scores and metrics available in order to implement positive changes where needed, and use the progress toward those changes as objective ways to evaluate the health of the district as a whole.

“At present, the physical facilities of the district continue to address the needs of the district with the new addition and renovations at Atkins Elementary providing needed space in the fastest growing area of the district. Re-use of the air conditioning units from Atkins will soon provide a way to have all buildings able to hold class in the warmest seasons, reserving early dismissals and cancellations for winter months. However, it is disheartening to note that during this fiscal year funding only allowed the purchase of one replacement school bus instead of the normal two as traditionally budgeted. A district can absorb a delayed replacement one year, but as Benton Community covers 330 square miles deferred bus purchases cannot be allowed to become a trend. Financially, the district is in a reasonable position – solvent, but near critical funding points due to unanticipated excesses in some budget areas, legislative budgets that are reducing allowable growth, and near flat enrollment numbers. I plan to push for wise utilization of district financial resources to prevent falling behind in normal maintenance. Once delayed, it is very difficult and expensive for a district to play “catch-up”. I will closely examine new budgetary requests for data-supported rationale, expected goals, how well they fit into the district’s mission and methods to measure effectiveness.

“Extracurricular activities build the sense of community throughout the district, with student participation showing continued growth and success. In the past year, several of the sporting teams and the speech team have participated at regional and state competition levels. Musicians have auditioned for All-State honors. Numbers are increasing in the marching band, which recently began participating in marching band competitions around Eastern Iowa for the first time in many years. The show choirs are receiving outstanding recognition at area festivals, and the drama department continues to present quality productions showcasing the theatrical and musical talents of the high school student body. Students and patrons are excited about their district’s activities!

“The district does have some severe challenges facing it, particularly in two areas. First, and foremost, processes throughout areas of the district have been allowed to get lax, including in the board and administration. This has caused areas of conflict to erupt and a tremendous dysfunctional relationship to develop between the directors, patrons, and administration to the detriment of all who pay taxes or attend school in Benton Community. The district is currently wasting immense physical and emotional energy, and financial resources, on in-fighting. Diverting energy from the classroom and money from the district’s budget only makes the district’s task of achieving its goals more difficult. A district isn’t going to agree on everything, but we must learn how to work through those differences in a respectful and professional manner to progress as a district. Without a solid working group, we stifle innovative thoughts on how to run a district better. Without a solid working group, the district can not hope to face the financial challenges due to reduced revenue allocations. Without a solid working group, we can not hope to attract and retain quality teachers, administrators, and activity sponsors to build upon the present achievements of Benton Community students and move forward. Without a solid working group, we can not hope to grow the community that is Benton.

“Second, the state legislature has reduced the allowable growth for all districts in the state by half in the fiscal year 2011. To the patrons, it means the board and administration must work as a united team to achieve more for less. To the students, this means relying on adults to examine alternatives both inside and outside of the district to protect their educational opportunities. Collectively, school boards across Iowa need to focus on the legislature to push for decisions that look forward, that cause graduates to stay in Iowa and that grow the population, job and tax bases. Benton should be an active participant in these discussions.

“As a member of the Benton Community School Board, my first goal is to establish a relationship between directors, administration and patrons that works as a team for the benefit of students. At a very minimum, I believe that the adults in charge of the district need to adhere to the attributes found on the district’s “Wheel of Success”.  Once a solid relationship has been restored, I will work with the school administration to ensure that progress toward district goals and core curriculum is achieved, and that changes required for continual improvement are developed and successfully implemented. I will use all data available, including impacts of legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind), to objectively evaluate the performance of the Benton school system as a whole and identify areas of improvement.

“A school board member has several roles, but primarily to ensure the administration is achieving district and state goals while operating within the constraints of legal and ethical boundaries. This includes ensuring that practices within the district follow current laws and guidelines of the Department of Educations, and adhere with current court rulings. A board member must act in a manner that is consistent with the guidelines established by the Iowa Association of School Boards and the Code of Iowa. A board member helps protect the district from litigation by holding fast to highest standards of conduct, setting a good example of behavior, following process, listening to each other and to patrons. To do any differently weakens the credibility of the district as a good place to live and work, while exposing the district to possible legal action. Good reputations in any district are easily lost, and very difficult to regain. A board member also acts in a fiscally responsible manner to ensure monetary resources in the district are being used in the most efficient manner available across the entire budget.

“In summary, throughout my professional career I have gained a reputation as a consensus builder, a person that recognizes, appreciates, and respects differences. I have successfully facilitated teams exceeding 100 people, forming them into cohesive units focused on goals for the company, not on smaller agendas. I fully realize that there are multiple perspectives in any group dynamic and I excel at removing emotion and turf protection from a situation so all can work on the end product. By emphasizing RESPECT and PROCESS, I have repeated success in getting people to see issues from other perspectives, working on achieving goals that benefit the organization as a whole rather than being one-sided. These are skills that are critically needed at this juncture of the Benton Community School District. We can not expect our children to learn how to successfully interact with others if the adults do not exhibit it themselves. After all, Respect and Fairness are two of the Character Counts pillars displayed in our buildings. The governing body of the district should be the shining star illustrating what the district believes.”

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UPDATED August 25, 2009 4:58 PM

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