“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” – Margaret Thatcher
Tuesday night the regular meeting of the DMPS School Board was called to order and presided over by Board Chair Teree Caldwell-Johnson. Fanned out around her at the semicircular desk in the Multipurpose Room at Central Campus were Superintendent Tom Ahart and her six “fellow” board members – five of whom are women.
That fact in and of itself was maybe more noteworthy than any particular item of business the board considered that night. It was a routine meeting with an agenda consisting of an assortment of the usual nuts and bolts that keep the state’s largest school district fastened together and open for business; approval of capital improvement projects, personnel recommendations, authorization of bill payments, formal recognition of outstanding achievements by district students and staff, those sorts of things.
The meeting wrapped up in about half an hour. After adjournment, the board that is 87% female reconvened for a work session to plot its course for the rest of the year ahead. Occasionally brief public meetings notwithstanding, school board service is demanding, unpaid and generally thankless.
The willingness of female candidates to run for School Board – and then win – is one more way DMPS is ahead of the national curve. In 2015 a report by the National Association of School Boards included the statistic that 44% of school board members across the country were women. So DMPS is running at about twice the national average on that score.
“I don’t want to speculate on reasons why more women don’t run for office, but I am hopeful that the tide is turning and that one day we will elect our first woman president,” said board member Heather Anderson. “Women are doing amazing things throughout the state of Iowa.”
“When women run for office, they win at the same frequency as men,” noted board member Natasha Newcomb. “The challenge is getting women to run.”
Des Moines is a place where that challenge is being met. Good, and lucky, for us as we strive toward the district’s goal of becoming the model for urban education.
In addition to Caldwell-Johnson, Newcomb and Anderson, school board members include Cindy Elsbernd, Dionna Langford, Kyrstin Delagardelle Shelley, and Rob Barron.