Calvin Davis | Matt Heffner | Barbara A. Hickey | Carol Allison Jack
Hui Kang | Richard Moore

District 90 school board - 2 YEAR TERM (1 open seats)

Kathleen M. Avalos | Steve Lefko

allison jack.jpg

Carol Allison Jack

candidate for 2019 District 90 School Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board of Trustees, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 90? What have been your most useful resources for information about pre-secondary education?

Working in education my entire career, I want to be part of ensuring D90 continues to be an education leader in the state by serving all families well and preparing students to be successful in the 21st century economy. I want to ensure that spending is happening in the places where it can have the greatest impact on children’s’ lives and futures.

I started teaching on my 22nd birthday. I spent seven years in the classroom and since then have worked on education in both municipal and state government as well as in non-profit settings. I attended public schools until I went to the University of Chicago for graduate school. Because I had some incredible teachers, I was able to successfully navigate college and beyond. The challenges for our children will be different, and we need to ensure they are prepared.

Through my different roles in education, I have been able to visit and observe in hundreds of schools from traditional to the most innovative. Like all parents, I know children learn differently, and I believe it is the role of board to ensure the conditions are right for teachers to create the best learning conditions possible for every child.

2. What steps will you take to improve and expand community engagement with the District and the School Board? What is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents?

In a school district like District 90, often people move to the community for the schools. They see the test scores and rightfully have faith in the schools, teachers and leadership. Therefore it can be a challenge to engage the community in an ongoing way. When I have visited schools with the most authentic engagement, I see a multi-faceted strategy to engage every segment of the community.

I would like to see a variety of events in a number of different formats: coffees, open discussion forums, evening events. The emphasis should be on quality over quantity. Timing is critical; scheduling needs to work for working parents, work-at-home parents, retired community members and families with fewer childcare options. Regular communication is critical, but it must be focused and consistent so people know where to go for what information. I have also seen schools use affinity groups well, where specific community members, such as new families, come together regularly.

Having attended D90 board convenings, I would support more engaging, relevant and time-bound meetings; perhaps the number of meetings could be reduced to cover more in each meeting.

3. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?

In 2015, I met with many parents, most of them parents of pre-school age children to understand their thoughts about a full day kindergarten option. This was a great introduction to the community. I also have coached soccer for two seasons and met many new families. I have organized our block party for several years and have been successful at getting some of our retired neighbors to join us in the festivities.

With four small children, I have not gotten to know as many community members who don’t have school-age children as I would like but I am seeking to meet more of them during this campaign.

I have been part of the Inclusivity Advisory Board (IAB) for the past three years and have been pleased to meet and get to know so many diverse members of the community who are committed to making River Forest a more inclusive place. Through the IAB, I have learned about the varied experiences of different members and the efforts the district is making towards ensuring everyone feels welcome and valued.

4. What do you think should be the three main priorities for the District over the next four years?

With a history of excellence, District 90 cannot rest on its laurels. Expectations for 8th grade graduates is changing, and D90 leadership must navigate change carefully. I believe two critical priorities for moving forward are ensuring the community understands major changes as they’re considered and that teachers feel they have the training to implement changes.

Secondly while D90 exceeds state averages, not all students are achieving at their full potential. Gaps in achievement remain that a district as well resourced as ours shouldn’t have; the most pronounced being 28% of low-income students are proficient in math on the state test while 65% of non low-income students are. Providing needed support for students below grade level must be a priority but shouldn’t come at the expense of options for students prepared for advanced work.

Finally, research finds that early investment in children provides the most value. Kindergarten is a critical year; the district lags behind the 93% of districts in Illinois which offer full day kindergarten options. The lack of full day kindergarten is a place where the achievement gap can be tackled head on. D90 kindergartners are just not getting what they need in two hours, 50 minutes per day.

5. How can the District best assess the extent to which it is providing a quality education to the children of River Forest?

There are multiple measures that a school district can and should use to determine if it’s providing a quality education to all students. The obvious one is standardized test scores. However there is so much data a school board (and parents) should be looking at to determine school quality. Below is a list of measures that could provide a comprehensive dashboard:

  • Student growth – how much are students improving/moving up levels on both state and local assessments

  • The 5 Essential Survey – the climate and culture survey (when filled out by a critical mass of parents and teachers) provides a great measure of how the school treats its community

  • Measures of social emotional growth – this is a fledging field but they are multiple assessments that measure students’ sense of safety, support, inclusion, interest in taking risks, self-confidence, self-advocacy, and other “softer” skills that research shows are precursors to student success

  • Exit surveys – (I don’t know if this happens or not) when families leave the district, a team can interview them to understand the strengths and areas of improvement

  • Discipline data – who is being suspended, are there repeat offenders, what are the trends related to race, gender and socioeconomic status in disciplinary actions

6. If you could create a brand new elementary public school district from scratch, what would it look like?

As someone who’s visited 100s of schools, I’ve thought a lot about my dream school, a school for two of my children, the ones who don’t sit still, like to talk and explore, and have clear ideas of what they want to learn. This school would be similar to Montessori, including multi-age classrooms, but with technology.

Students would spend the morning on academic subjects. Each student has a plan for the week; assignments are a combination of online, group and teacher-led work. Students are moving through the standards at their own pace. In kindergarten through second, there’s more teacher-led and group work and less online; more online work starts in third grade. Because the technology knows exactly where each student is, he/she is always working in their “sweet spot.” Teachers provide support when a student is having trouble. It’s amazing how fast students can more through a curriculum tailored to them. Afternoons are freed up for project-based learning; building rockets, making videos, organizing a community clean-up, all based on student interest. This school exists: Acton Academy, a private school in Austin, Texas.

Some students thrive in more traditional school settings; some wither. The challenge of a small district is ensuring both of these types of students get what they need at school.

7. What is your opinion on Universal Design for Learning?

I have three opinions of Universal Design for Learning (UDL):

  • It is a great concept in theory.

  • Great teachers are already doing this.

  • The way it has been explained to the D90 community has been confusing and inconsistent, not surprising because it is a complicated concept.

My understanding of what UDL is is that once a teacher knows what skill or standard she is going to teach, she then figures out 1) how she can engage the students (why do they care?), 2) in what ways is she going to teach it (just lecturing won’t cut it) and 3) how will students demonstrate their learning.

Finally, in researching UDL and talking to educators, it seems the origin of UDL was to support students with special needs to be successfully mainstreamed into non special education classrooms, a critically important goal, laudable and educationally sound. My main concern with UDL is that we might lose some of our time-honored benchmarks about what students need to know and be able to do, like learn times tables, write a 5-paragraph essay, and find Washington, DC on a map, and begin to accept less than our students are capable of.

8. What is your position on providing a full-day kindergarten option in the district? What do you see as the primary benefits and challenges to providing full-day kindergarten?

I fully support a full-day kindergarten (FDK) option. Part of the impetus for me running for school board was the board’s total lack of reflection when a group of 95 families presented our case for a FDK option in November 2015.

The board and superintendent rejected our plea in January 2016, two months after we presented, stating:

  • There isn’t enough space in Willard or Lincoln; costs to add space is prohibitive.

  • Affluent children don’t benefit from FDK (actually statistically affluent children don’t benefit from any intervention)

  • D90 covers all required content in a half day.

Many, many parents in River Forest believe a FDK option should be offered for the following reasons:

  • The kindergarten standards cannot actually be covered in so little time.

  • Kindergarten teachers want full day.

  • There is no time for play which research says is critical to social emotional development.

  • Kindergarteners are naturally curious, and there is no time for exploration.

  • For students of color and students from low income families, the impact of full day kindergarten in significant.

Finally, there have been three construction projects since 2015 at each of the schools, and none of them included space for an additional kindergarten class.

9. Beyond measuring student academic achievement through standardized testing, how should District 90 measure its progress in improving equity and inclusion?

The Inclusivity Advisory Council puts out an Inclusiveness Survey which asks parents many questions about the levels of equity and inclusion in the schools and at related events. The data in the survey can be used as a benchmark to see if the district is improving, and the results should be shared more widely.

I also know that students have a lot to say, and an anonymous survey of students in 7th and 8th grade could provide much insight into their experiences related to equity and inclusion.

Finally, while it might be hard to track, it would be interesting to look at participation in school events such as Open House (where there is no childcare provided), and the fundraiser auction, to see if participation is consistent with the district’s demographic make-up. And if it isn’t, which I suspect it isn’t, what steps could the district take to make events more inclusive or create new events.

10. The Board recently took a position against arming teachers/school staff. Do you agree or disagree with that position? Please explain.

I 100% agree with this. I don’t believe that more guns result in less violence; I believe that more guns result in more violence.

11. As of the drafting of this questionnaire, the current Board was poised to adopt a policy for gender inclusivity. What is your understanding of that work? Do you support gender inclusivity? Please explain.

My understanding of gender inclusivity is that school is made to be a safe and welcoming place regardless of whether or not the student identifies as the gender that he, she or they was born. School should be a safe place for all students. Research shows that students under stress or in fear cannot learn. The brain is too busy assessing the threat all around the child.

This is an emotional and contentious issue in some communities, and I believe there is not universal support for gender inclusivity in River Forest at this point. I think one of the more challenging roles of the board should play is to facilitate these tough conversations and understand where people are coming from. But, at the end of the day, the role of the board and D90 leadership is always putting the safety and security of the students at the forefront of any policy.

12. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.

As I write this on February 13, 2019, I have only two donors:

Martha Arendt - $100

Joel Feinlieb - $200

I do expect a $1000 donation from Leadership for Educational Equity which is a sister organization to Teach For America (TFA) that supports TFA alumni to run for office.

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[The above answers were submitted on 2/14/19. For current financial information, please see Allison Jack for D90 financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]