Meet the six candidates vying for four seats on the Iowa City Community School District board

Mental health, social-emotional learning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion are the topics important to the six Iowa City Community School District Board of Education candidates.


Michael Guhin

The Iowa City Community School District sign is seen on Apr. 29, 2019.

Emily Delgado, News Reporter

For the first time, six candidates are running for four open seats on the Iowa City Community School District school board.

Two incumbents, J.P. Claussen and current school board Vice President Ruthina Malone, are running alongside first-timers Krista Burrus, Jayne Finch, Maka Pilcher-Hayek, and Sheila Pinter.

Voters will choose who will represent them on the seven-member board on Nov. 2.

J.P. Claussen

Claussen is running for his second term to continue the work that he has been doing in the district, he said, especially in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Iowa City is a great district, Claussen said, but he wants it to be a great district for every student regardless of their background.


“That’s a big goal of mine, is to make sure that we’re really moving in that direction,” Claussen said.

A long-term goal of Claussen’s is to guarantee that, in the district, there is commitment to preparing students for life after a K-12 education, he said.

“[I want to] focus on social and emotional learning, making sure that kids aren’t just college-ready, but really life ready,” Claussen said. “My long-term goal for the district is to see us move in a direction that’s a lot more relevant to the world that kids are going to graduate into.”

Before serving on the board, Claussen was a teacher in the district and was involved in the Iowa City Teachers Union for four years. By already being involved in the education field, Claussen said he knew more than most people coming into the board.

Claussen added that education was a calling for him.

“To me, there’s nothing better than when you’re working with a student, and you see that moment when sort of a light goes off, and you see that they get something that they didn’t get before,” Claussen said.

He said he wants to make school a safe place for students to explore their talents.

“I want kids to feel that they can pursue their passions and their dreams, and that they’re creative in how they approach them,” Claussen said.

Ruthina Malone

Current board Vice President Ruthina Malone is running for her second term. Malone hopes to improve special education and diversity in the district.

“I felt as though even though, we were able to do some of that work, there is still so much of the work that I would like to see the district get a better position on before I step down,” Malone said.


She said she believes that a second term will be enough for her to accomplish her goals in the district, like further expanding the developing diversity initiative in the district under current Superintendent Matt Degner.

“It’s just so much work that I just know we haven’t even sort of scratched the surface on,” Malone said.

Malone is a University of Iowa alum and administrator for the Department of Sociology and Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. As a mother of a child who was a student in the Iowa City district, she said she made sure to run for the board as her daughter was graduating out of the district.

She said she wanted to avoid being blamed for making decisions that would benefit her daughter.

“I didn’t want people to think that every single one of my decisions was based on what’s best for my child,” Malone said. “So, really, my decisions are based on what’s best for the child living in North Liberty, or the child that lives up the street from me, who may require free-reduced lunch.”

Malone added that what motivates her work is the ability to help every student in the district.

“I want to make sure that they have the best foundation for whatever they want to do when they leave school, [such as] going into the workforce,” she said.

Krista Burrus


With experience in education research, first-time candidate Krista Burrus said she wants to use her background in data to help Iowa City students have a “successful and rewarding life.”

“I’ve looked at the data, and I know how important high-quality K-12 education is for future success and opening doors for all our students,” Burrus said.

Burrus works at ACT, where she looks at students’ mastery of courses and what factors are important for success, she said.

She wants to close achievement gaps and support diversity among teachers and staff, she added.

“I think the district’s doing a great job,” Burrus said. “The diversity, equity, and inclusion plan that they put forward is really great, and I just want to build on that opportunity.”

The unique K-12 expertise that Burrus brings from working at ACT to the district will support the Iowa City community, she said.

“I think just my knowledge and expertise in understanding what’s important for success will really help the district make good decisions to help students,” Burrus said.

Jayne Finch

First-time district school board candidate Jayne Finch said running for the position was the next step in her career.


Finch has served on the district’s equity committee for four years and worked in the health care field. Currently, she works as a physician’s assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“I’m running because it’s kind of a natural next step in my work, advocating for changes in the disciplinary system and improving the climate and culture in the school district, [and] advocating for social-emotional learning and mental health support,” Finch said.

Finch said she is running because of an incident she experienced involving the district’s way of discipline, which made her realize it needed change.

Making sure that students have a voice in their education is a principle that Finch strongly believes in, she said.

While Finch served on the equity committee, her co-chair was a student.

“I want to elevate their voice,” Finch said. “I want to improve the climate and cultures so that it is welcoming for all.”

Maka Pilcher-Hayek

Lawyer and first-time candidate Maka Pilcher-Hayek said she is running for a position on the school board because she believes public education is important.


“It shouldn’t matter to a member of this community whether they send their children to private school, or whether they don’t have any children in the public school system,” Pilcher-Hayek said. “They should all consider public education a top priority.”

Pilcher-Hayek graduated from the UI College of Law and is originally from Cedar Rapids.

Teaching in the South, specifically in Alabama, Pilcher-Hayek said she witnessed racism that led her to want to improve racial justice.

“I think that the way to make change and to have a positive impact on social justice is through public education,” Pilcher-Hayek said. “I think that’s how we reach the most people and make the biggest difference in our society’s future.”

If the pandemic is hard for adults, it must be harder for students, Pilcher-Hayek said, given the shifts to and from K-12 online learning.

“I think that in the last several years, and culminating in the pandemic, we have students that have gone through a lot,” she said.

Pilcher-Hayek said, if the district had a more social-emotional learning curriculum put in place, children would not only be more comfortable but also understand how to process certain events.

“I think we’re seeing kids act in ways they wouldn’t normally,” Pilcher-Hayek said. “They’re picking on each other in ways that I don’t think they would normally do, if they had all the social and emotional support they need.”

Sheila Pinter

District school board candidate Sheila Pinter is a senior analyst for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Pinter and her family have moved around the country and have been exposed to many different school districts, she said. The first thing her family noticed in Iowa City was that there were some mental health resources that were missing.


She said mental health has been affected dramatically because of the pandemic and it will only be a larger issue as the pandemic subsides.

“I just felt that it was time for me to step up and step out and get into a possible school board position,” Pinter said.

Pinter said any mental health challenges a student faces should be targeted early on, which is why she is advocating for more mental health resources in the district.

“If you have mental health barriers or concerns at a young age, and they are not addressed, they only become exasperated and then you have any type of what are called ‘adverse childhood experiences,’ and that, you know, it’s just a cycle,” Pinter said.

As someone who surveys data in her job, Pinter has seen that adults in the workforce who weren’t exposed to mental health resources in school now experience challenges in their occupations.

“I want to make sure that all [students] have the best available education available to them that’s accessible, that meets their needs, and meets their interests,” Pinter said.