August 19, 2022

Hammerly and Whipple sworn in, Friedman takes over as president

School board reorganizes with two new faces

Two new members of the Newton school board were officially sworn in Nov. 22 to serve four years with the district. Liz Hammerly and Ray Whipple earned the second most and third most votes in the recent school board election, behind and ahead of incumbents Robyn Friedman and Travis Padget, respectively.

After the board accepted the election canvass from the Jasper County Auditor’s Office and bid farewell to outgoing members Cody Muhs and Graham Sullivan, Tim Bloom, director of business services at Newton Community School District, swore in the two newcomers:

Do solemnly swear that you will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Iowa and that you’ll faithfully and impartially, to the best of your ability, discharge the duty of the office as director at large in the Newton Community School District as of now and hereafter required by law?

Hammerly and Whipple confirmed their oaths.

Muhs, who served as president of the Newton school board, also accepted an individual achievement award from the Iowa Association of School Board’s Better Boardsmanship Awards Program the same night he would leave his post. Muhs and Sullivan received plaques for their fours years of service on the board.

Superintendent Tom Messinger “greatly appreciated” working with Muhs and Sullivan, and he thanked them for their support as he transitioned into the Newton school district. With a new board now in place, members nominated which members they felt would best serve as president and vice-president.

School board members Josh Cantu and Friedman were both nominated for president; Cantu nominated Friedman, and school board member Mark Thayer nominated Cantu. In the end, Friedman was chosen as president. Cantu was then nominated and chosen to be vice-president of the Newton school board.

Friedman told Newton News that Cantu, who served as vice-president alongside Muhs this past year, would have taken up the role as president had his schedule allowed it. Friedman has previously served as president of the Newton school board and was happy to re-assume the leadership mantle until he is ready.

“I am thankful to get voted back in as school board president and feel it will allow for a smooth transition with new board members joining our table,” Friedman said. “Josh has multiple work conflicts that made this year not a good fit for him to move into a president role yet.”

Friedman looks forward to continuing collaborations with district administrators on goal measurement, supporting work to make the new core values come to life and assisting the “amazing staff and students” as they work through a challenging year, particularly regarding staffing and engagement.

“I hope to be able to work as a board to improve both the staffing situation and the engagement challenges.”

The staffing challenges were mentioned briefly during a “Red Pride Shoutout” by Aurora Heights Elementary Principal Jim Gilbert. He gave a shoutout to his staff. The elementary, like a lot of other schools in Iowa and across the United States right now, experienced a “massive shortage” in substitute teachers.

“We have had sickness just like everybody else, and for some reason this year seems more challenging than last year,” Gilbert said. “And I’ve been hearing that from colleagues all around Iowa. And I have friends that are principals and teachers in other states and I’ve heard the same sort of thing.”

However, the past few weeks, he added, have been very difficult to navigate.

“There are no substitutes,” Gilbert said. “I know I’m speaking for my colleagues here as well. We have days where we’ll have three, four, five positions with no subs … It takes a teacher to be in the classroom. Our teachers have given up their prep times. They’ve given up their lunchtimes.”

Title 1 teachers have given up part of their days as well, and so have counselors. An instructional coach, who is now on maternity leave, was giving up part of her day to serve as an in-house substitute teacher. Gilbert commended his “exemplary” staff for devoting their time to filling in for absent teachers.

Gilbert said he won’t ask his staff to do something he would not do himself. So for three days last week — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — Gilbert taught kindergarten. During that time, he learned “a lot more” than he taught. As a result, Gilbert wanted to give appreciation to school staff and associates.

“They’re just awesome and exemplary professionals,” Gilbert said.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.