Tammi Drawbaugh

Tammi Drawbaugh being sworn in at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

MUSCATINE — Tammi Drawbaugh was first elected to the school board in 2006. She has seen three superintendents, helped guide the district through the 2013 budget crisis and was a governor appointee to the Institute for Tomorrow's Workforce board. Today she is the senior acting member of Muscatine Community school board. 

She has the reputation of being the district's loudest cheerleader, often seen at school functions supporting her two children Emma and Kaleb. 

"Every one of our students needs something a little different," Drawbaugh said. "But our commitment is that our students deserve the very best we have to offer."

On Tuesday, Drawbaugh sat down with the Journal to talk about the challenges facing students in the district.

What do people misunderstand about the needs of the school district?

You have to remember, we also are talking to students and parents who might be living in generational poverty, who've never understood the importance of attendance all day, everyday. Those students aren't necessarily just sitting at home because they don't want to be in school. They're sitting at home because they need to take care of a sibling, because they may be taking care of a sick parent, because they may be making sure that when somebody comes to shut off the lights or gas that somebody is home. They are dealing with such big issues. It is not just 'I don't want to come to school today.' I'm certain there is some of that, but we really need to understand where kids are coming from.

Muscatine Community School District has contracted two employees of Trinity Hospital to be the school’s new resource navigators. How do they fit into this question of fulfilling student needs?

I think our navigator program is another really important place where we will begin working with community members. So (we are) working with our local health care industry to say, 'We need your help in scenarios that we as a school district are not experts in.' We need some people who can help students navigate that system. If I can't read the map, if I don't understand the map, I'm going to get frustrated and I'm going to give up pretty quickly. Finding areas to partner with our community, makes us all stronger.

Have the needs of Muscatine's students changed since you were first elected?

Our free and reduced-lunch rate was much, much lower. It looks dramatically different (higher) now. I don't necessarily see that reversing. So what are the things that drive and cause that? What are the tools that need to be offered because of that?

Mental health issues in our community, in the State of Iowa and in our nation are skyrocketing. Part of that is recognizing, acknowledging some different things. How do we get our families the help they need?

What barriers impact a student's ability to be present in the classroom?

If I'm a family that is living in poverty, I'm worried about a rent payment. I'm worried about food. I'm worried about clothing. If I can't adequately do those three things, I'm not necessarily worried about attendance for my student. Not because I don't think it's important. But because I can't provide the basics and I don't know what to do and I have nowhere to go and I don't know who to ask and I'm probably too embarrassed to ask.

Having things like a navigator program that can say, 'We have a variety of resources that you can just plug into.' Someone that can just say where I can get a hot meal on a Sunday for lunch — because there is only one place in Muscatine. Do you know where that is? How do I get there? 

What are some resources available to help students overcome some of these barriers?

I watch kids at the high school and I watch the activities they choose to participate in based on what they can do. The Kids First program is an amazing program. Maybe I need help affording reeds for a band instrument or I want to be on the football team but I don't have cleats or I want to be on the swim team but I don't have a cap and so now I can't be on the swim team. For teachers and staff who knows, we are able to say, 'Is that the only thing that is stopping you? Okay. Let's take care of that.' 

How about the student who is diabetic? His meter requires test strips, and he's lost his strips. (He) can't test his blood sugar now, but we expect (him) to be in school all day, every day. He can't test his blood sugar so he doesn't know for sure. He may think his blood sugar is off, but it requires a prescription, but nobody can fill his prescription because nobody has money to buy the strips because he accidentally lost them — not because he is irresponsible — because he's a 16-year-old kid and he loses things sometimes. 

The student who doesn't have the test strips or the student who can't afford the football cleats, could be the next president of the World Bank. Are we really going to say, 'No you have to go figure that out yourself?'