James Robert Breymaier
RESPONSES TO THE OPCTA QUESTIONNAIRE
What motivates you to seek this office? Have you participated in public service in the past? If so, how? If not, why now? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the running of the school district?
I am motivated by a personal commitment to equity. I am running because I know that if we take intentional actions to leverage the excellence of our school system, we can create a more equitable and even better learning environment for our children.
I have been involved in numerous ways over the 11 years I’ve been in Oak Park. This includes work with the Success of All Youth Initiative, The Diverse Stakeholders project at District 97, the Citizen Involvement Committee, public forums with the Oak Park Public Library, the Irving Schoolyard Project, various neighborhood efforts, and many other efforts regarding housing, race, and community development in Oak Park.
My experiences have ensured that I am aware of the community’s goals and aspirations. It has allowed me to connect with people of all races, incomes, and experiences in the community. I think those volunteer activities and my day-to-day work in sustaining the racial integration of Oak Park have prepared me well for the board.
Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change? Why or why not?
I believe that it is my duty to work as an agent for social change. My commitment to equity requires me to use whatever power, privilege, and prestige I am afforded to help others. As a white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, non-disabled person, I have been given a lot of this by default. My life’s work has been about fighting for civil rights and building a more inclusive society so that those categories that I fit into are no longer an advantage. My campaign for school board is an extension of this work.
One of the most important roles of the school board is connecting with the community, both serving as an advocate for district improvement and reporting back to the community on the district’s performance. Do you believe the board’s communication processes have been successful in recent years? What specifically would you do to improve two-way communication?
I think the board has done a great job at providing the right information for people to engage in critical analysis of the district. However, we have significant room for improvement in how we distribute that information and listen to the community as they provide their reactions and additional thoughts. None of this is insurmountable. We can implement policies and strategies that will improve communication with residents. That includes ensuring that we make greater efforts to reach populations we have traditionally not been well connected with. One specific way to overcome that is to provide more opportunities for face-to-face feedback, including providing a variety of times and places to accommodate different schedules and needs.
Oak Park has a persistent achievement gap between white and black students, despite ongoing conversations and a stated commitment to diversity. How will you support the district in addressing the achievement gap? What initiatives would you advocate?
For starters, this will be my top priority and the lens though which I consider policy and budgeting. We can improve achievement gaps in a number of ways. We can provide professional development opportunities that help understandings around implicit bias and cultural competency. We can expand restorative justice methods. We can hire teachers, administrators, and staff to reflect the racial demographics of our schools. These efforts will change how we interact and value our children. These methods will also increase academic performance and social emotional development.
One thing that we can do immediately is replicate the afterschool program that Frances Kraft created at Holmes across the district. That program has had extraordinary results. By implementing it in every elementary more students will reach their full potential and meet grade level performance. I will be advocating for this program to be implemented in all 8 elementary schools. The modest cost (it’s only $30,000 annually) will be an investment that will save us much more money. And, more importantly, it will improve the lives of our children.
Racial bias is a persistent problem in special education. How can the district address this issue at an institutional level?
My understanding is that this could be ameliorated through greater cultural competency and better evaluation methods. I think restorative justice efforts could help as well. My experience is that sometimes children of color are assumed to have special needs when in fact the system is failing to identify how we are marginalizing particular children. A lack of cultural agility and a system of punishment over reconciliation can exacerbate these misinterpretations that inflict long-term negative consequences for the individual children and the educational environment. As board members, we have to provide the right tools to deal with these implicit biases.
We also must foster a culture in our district that equity is paramount. That commitment must be demonstrated personally, implemented in policy, and communicated to the community in order to institutionalize a culture of inclusion.
The board monitors progress toward district goals and compliance with board policies using data as the basis for assessment. What experience do you have with setting and managing to policies? How comfortable are you with data analysis?
I set and manage policies and programs continuously for my job. I have abundant experience in ensuring that programs are connected to mission and vision. In my position as a non-profit executive director, I (with my board and staff) use a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods to measure our impact and outcomes.
I am extremely comfortable with data analysis. It is a part of my regular work. I think it is fair to say that I am a data and analysis nerd. This isn’t just quantitative analysis either. I am comfortable with qualitative evaluations that will be important in assessing how we are teaching the whole child. There are some important evaluations that are better evaluated with short answers rather than numerical methods.
D97 has two referenda on the ballot this year. Do you support these referenda? Why or why not?
Yes and Yes. As I have stated repeatedly, there is very little possibility that we will be able to improve the equity of our schools if we do not pass the referenda. The operating referendum will allow us to provide an excellent education that will provide us with the strength and stability to improve equitable outcomes. The capital expenditure referenda will ensure that our schools are all accessible for students with disabilities. In both cases, these referenda are an investment in our children and in ensuring that all of our children can reach their full potential.
Even if the referenda pass, D97 will need to contain costs. Where do you think the district should make cuts? Which programs should be protected? Address specifically your recommendation on the middle school CAST and BRAVO programs, library aids, etc.
I think the iPads have proven to be ineffective as an educational tool. I would like to see them phased out. I would prefer a more cost-effective solution to assist the families in need of a device. Not every family needs the district to provide a device for their children. And, I would rather provide Chromebooks than iPads. Most Chromebooks are cheaper than an iPad Mini and they are a more appropriate tool for our children. They have better functionality, larger screen size, and real keyboards.
I would look to stay as far from the classroom as possible in my suggestions for cuts, and I would try to avoid cuts that would eliminate programs altogether. I think there are ways we could reduce expenditures through partnerships with other taxing bodies and with non-profit organizations that would allow us to maintain our programs. I am fortunate to have relationships with many of the non-profit leaders in the community that could be partners.
Staff salary and benefits account for roughly 80% of D97 costs, and the current teacher contract ends 2018. What experience and ideas would you bring to the upcoming contract negotiation?
My approach to negotiations will be to identify the outcomes we hope to achieve and work from that as our basis. That would allow us to understand the constraints on the budget as well as identify the goals we have in the district. I think this also allows us to approach this in the least adversarial manner possible. The initial assumption from both sides should be that the negotiations are an effort to provide appropriate compensation that will result in the best education possible. We are partners in serving our children and our community. To that end, I would look to find ways to provide incentives for teachers who complete professional development directly related to our goals of eliminating achievement gaps and improving equity.
Seventy percent of D97 funding comes from local property taxes. How can taxpayers get the most for their money? What experience would you bring to your role of financial oversight for the district?
I have to budget in the same way for the non-profit I run. We have to balance income and expenses in a way that will allow us to continue our mission and achieve our annual and strategic goals. When cuts are necessary (and they have been) I look to find ways that will have the least impact on our mission. It requires constant attention to the small expenses as well as the large ones.
I think taxpayers will get the most from their money by staying engaged with us. We will make better decisions when we get feedback from the community. The iPad example comes to mind again here. My perspective is that there is near universal dissatisfaction with this expense. Fast Forward was another example. Those decisions were both made during a period when we had a superintendent that did not value listening to the community. We are in a new era now. I think the new superintendent, current board members, and many of those running are committed to improve communication and listen more intently to the community. We have a duty to find ways to ensure the community is well informed about the budget and financial considerations we are making. As I have stated in previous questions, I will make community engagement a priority. As board members, we are the conduits to share information between the administration and the community.
Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
My three largest donors are my friend Mary Jo Shuler, my parents, and my friend Kelly Mavros. As of this submission I have received donations from 22 households who are all family and friends.
District 97 Endorsement (Wednesday Journal)
Oak Park teachers endorse three for D97 board (Wednesday Journal)
Breymaier is best for D97 (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (SUA)
Professional Biography (OPRHC)
Candidates file for Oak Park, River Forest elections (Oak Leaves)
School board candidates riff on equity (Wednesday Journal)