Claussen, Finch, Malone, Pilcher-Hayek win Iowa City Community School Board election

Six candidates ran for four open seats on the school board. J.P. Claussen and Ruthina Malone were reelected on Tuesday night. While Maka Pilcher-Hayek and Jayne Finch both won their first election on the Iowa City Community School District Board.


Jeff Sigmund

Iowa City Community School District sign 1725 North Dodge St.. As seen on Thursday, Oct.15, 2020.

Cooper Worth and Arabia Parkey

J.P. Claussen and Ruthina Malone were reelected to the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors. Jayne Finch and Maka Pilcher-Hayek both were elected to their first terms on the board.

The other candidates for the three four-year terms on the board were Krista Burrus and Sheila Pinter.

With all precincts reporting on Tuesday night, the unofficial votes pending for official canvassing totaled:

  • Malone with 8,932 votes
  • Claussen with 8,507 votes
  • Finch with 5,907 votes
  • Burrus with 4,480
  • Pinter with 2,982
  • Maka Pilcher-Hayek, who ran unopposed for the two-year term vacant seat, with 10,025 votes

This election will be Claussen and Malone’s second term on the board after being previously elected in 2017. Jayne Finch will serve her first four-year term. Pilcher-Hayek ran unopposed to fill a two-year vacancy on the board.

Finch is replacing Janet Godwin on the board, who was elected in 2017 and did not run for reelection.

J.P. Claussen, 48, said he feels validated with his reelection.

“It feels like the community is behind the direction that the board is going,” Claussen said. “That puts some wind in your sails.”

Claussen said he was happy with the turnout. The 8:00 p.m. final turnout report from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office was 14.38 percent.

“It was on the high side, which was great,” he said. “I didn’t know if it would be that high.”

Going into his second term, Claussen said he hopes to continue the work the board has been doing.

“Keep the work going that we’re doing, especially the work on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Claussen said. “Keep us moving in the right direction, and keep up the work we have been doing for the last four years.”

Before serving on the board, Claussen was a special education teacher at Iowa City West High School and was involved in the Iowa City Teachers Union for four years. Claussen and his wife, Alice, live in Coralville and have three children.

Claussen currently teaches at the Circle School as an educator in the inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric unit at the University of Iowa Health Care.

Ruthina Malone, 45, the current vice president of the school board, said she is proud to be able to continue to work on the board.

“I’m honored that the community trusts me enough to have me come back for another four years,” she said.

Malone added that she is happy with the engagement in this election.

“I’m always happy that people go out and have their voices be heard,” Malone said. “I wish more people took advantage of this opportunity, but with what we’re seeing tonight, I am pleased with folks stepping up.”

For her second term, Malone also said she looks to continue working on the district’s diversity and inclusion plan.

“Jumping back in there to continue the work on our diversity, equity, and inclusion plan,” Malone said. “Make sure we are hiring great teachers from diverse backgrounds, but we figure out a way we continue to retain them.”

Malone ran on addressing the opportunity gap in historically marginalized students by offering a solid foundation to students regardless if they choose to enter the workforce right after school or go on to college or a trade school.

In addition to serving on the board, Malone has worked for the UI since 2003, and she currently works as an administrator within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She oversees the administrative and financial needs of the department of sociology and the department of psychological and brain sciences.

Malone lives in Iowa City with her husband, Malone Malone, who is a teacher in the Iowa City school district. Their daughter previously attended school in the district.

Nichole Griffith, 36, said she voted for Malone and Claussen because she is happy with how the school board has functioned recently.

“I voted for the top three ones because of the advice of two of my friends,” Griffith said. “One of them mentioned something about being data-driven and I have a data background, so they seemed like they had good ideas.”

Jayne Finch, 50, will serve her first term on the board after running for a four-year position. Finch told The Daily Iowan before the election that her top priorities were maintaining quality instruction within the classroom, and incorporating social-emotional learning and mental health support for students.

Finch said on Tuesday night that she felt overwhelmed by support from the community and is representing all students and families within her role on the board.

“I would like to continue working with our board in a way to continue to benefit the students and the teachers in our district,” Finch said. “I want to make an impact on the disparities in discipline and achievement.”

Finch, a physician assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said on her campaign site that as chair of the school district’s Equity and Advisory Committee, she sought to uplift student voice and invited students to serve in leadership positions on the committee.

She said this experience assisted in inspiring her to serve on the school district’s board.

Finch and her husband live in Coralville, and their sons attend Iowa City West High School.

Maka Pilcher-Hayek, 45, will be serving her first term on the board after running unopposed for a two-year vacancy previously filled by former school board member Paul Roesler whose campaign Pilcher-Hayek managed.

Pilcher-Hayek said on Tuesday night that she is excited for this next step in her commitment to public education. Her major goals this term include continuing to support a variety of student social and emotional needs, especially during difficult times.

“There’s nothing more important than public education, especially when we’re going through political divisiveness and a global pandemic,” Pilcher-Hayek said. “The [Iowa] City Community School District is a safe place for 14,000 students every day. So that means there’s nothing more important than public education right now.”

She added that she would advise increased mental health resources and ensure the district is meeting the needs of students with individual educational plans.

Pilcher-Hayek has three children in the school district and is a lawyer and co-president of the Districtwide Parents Organization. She also previously served on the school district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion plan committee, the School Climate Action Task Force, and the School Improvement Advisory Committee.

Alexander Feller, 20, said he voted as a brand new resident of Iowa on Tuesday.

“I was just picking, and choosing, and guessing,” he said. “So, no real strategy, I guess.”

Krista Burrus, 41, lost with 4,479 votes on Tuesday. Burrus’ top priority was to make sure students are prepared for life outside of school and to focus on increasing the number of Iowa City school district students on track for college and career readiness across the K-12 continuum.

Burrus said even though she was disappointed with the result, she knows the winners will do well on the board.

“I am disappointed with the result but very grateful for the experience,” Burrus said. “I think our district is in good hands. I wish all the board members the best, and I think they will do a great job.”

Sheila Pinter, 52, said she was disappointed in her loss with 2,981 votes, but is considering running again for the board in the future.

“I’m of course disappointed, but I think we got a lot of messaging out about where improvements can be made within the district,” Pinter said. “And I had been working with the district before, and there’s absolutely no reason that I’m going to discontinue my work. In fact, I’ll continue to amplify it.”