BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A lifelong Fort Madison student, teacher, and advocate has been elected to directorship with the National Education Association.
At a delegate assembly this weekend at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Rachella Dravis, a 28-year veteran of the Fort Madison Community School District, was elected to one of two Iowa directors’ posts on the national board that advocates for public education in the United States.
Dravis is the first teacher from Fort Madison to be elected to the post.
Dravis has been active in advocacy for area students in several different elected positions with the Fort Madison Education Association and the Iowa State Education Association as an executive director representative. She said she has been thinking of seeking the national post for many years.
“I started this process about five years ago. I was nominated a couple of years ago but the circumstances in my life didn’t allow it. My husband died and then my brother died and that was more important,” she said.
“This past year I had friends talk to me and asked if I was ready to do this yet. I’ll call them all my sisters, and we talked about activism, advocacy, and the passion I have for our students and this profession, and I told them I think I’m ready to go out there and see if I can get elected to this position.”
Campaigning for the position is done within the educational community with delegates to the assembly based on membership. With Fort Madison being in a rural district, association members don’t tally as high as the urban and larger communities in the state, which puts rural nominees at a disadvantage, but one that Dravis hit head on.
She made her presentation to the assembly on Saturday as part of the second election process. There were two directors’ positions being filled by election this weekend and Dravis was elected on Saturday after about an hour of voting. Cedar Rapids kindergarten teacher and 20-year teacher Kelly McMahon was elected to the other director’s post. The two will be filling positions currently held by Mike Beranek of West Des Moines and Joshua Brown of Des Moines.
Dravis’ position is actually a one-year position as one of the current directors will be leaving the position with a year left on his term, so she will be filling in that role, but she said she’s already been nominated to be elected to the directorship again at next year’s assembly. Full terms are three-year terms.
She said she has the full support of the FMCSD administration.
“Obviously, this is a pretty big commitment, so I will have to prioritize the other commitments to the local FMEA and the state, but this will allow me to advocate on a much bigger, national platform.”
She said the position would require her to be in Washington D.C. four times a year and attend different meetings throughout the year.
“I’d say I’d be out of the classroom 16-20 days per year, but before I even put my name out there, I spoke with the Superintendent (Erin Slater) and shared with her what this was about and what it would entail. I have her support and the support of the principal (Todd Dirth) and we’ve all talked about different things we can do to get somebody consistent in the classroom so the students don’t see a lag at any level.”
Dravis said she has several issues she’d like to go to work on as a director, but she said one of the first focuses is going to be developing a strategy to get with some of the Iowa federal Republican legislators like Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Reps. Steve King and Rod Blum. The other Iowa U.S. Rep., Dave Loebsack (D-2nd District), is a different story.
“When I go to D.C. I’m going to lobbying for education,” she said. “I already know I’ve got a huge challenge as it’s very hard to get appointments with them. They just don’t want to talk to us. Loebsack is always very willing to work with us, but how can we get our voices to all five of those Congressional representatives. That’s going to be a huge challenge.”
She said she’s happy that the assembly elected someone from a rural area and she wants to use that influence to help redirect some attention to rural Iowa districts.
“I’ve really been an advocate for kids and I see those kids are struggling,” she said. “I don’t think we have a rural voice. After you saw the results of last week’s election, of the 13 locals that had bond issues, Lee County had the only two that didn’t pass. That’s one more example how rural, not just Iowa, other states, too, but how rural kids aren’t getting the same time type of opportunities other kids across the state get. We tried to get that out at the local level and we didn’t do a good enough job making them understand that. My voice now may carry a little further, may be heard a little louder.”
Dravis said she also wants to talk about national issues such as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals. The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth, who came to the United States when they were children, from deportation. DACA gives young undocumented immigrants: 1) protection from deportation, and 2) a work permit. The program expires after two years, subject to renewal. She said Iowa has 30,000 “dreamers” who are hoping to avoid deportation with the student or work permits.
“I want to talk to them about funding IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which is what funds our most vulnerable students. This is all (President Donald) Trump and (Secretary of Education Betsy) DeVos, they want to cut the public funding of education.”
Dravis has been in the FMSCD since kindergarten and went to school at Richardson, Jefferson, the old high school, which was the old middle school, and graduated here. After college, she returned to the district as an associate for eight years, before landing a fourth-grade teaching spot at Lincoln Elementary 20 years ago and is now teaching at Fort Madison Middle School.
Aside from all the issues and learning that will go into the new post, Dravis said she will never lose her one main focus.
“I have a lot of work in front of me, but anything that affects our students will be on my agenda.”