District 98 school board (4 open seats)

Fritz Paul-Emile | Rob Pabon | Brian Swade | JoAnn Kulis-Kearns Valeriano




1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 98?

As a Board Member since 2007, our District’s fund balances have increased from $22 million in 2009 to $50 million in 2019. This has allowed District 98 to have the highest financial rating according to ISBE. While this has occurred, over the last 4 years, our PARCC scores have grown the most of any feeder district into Morton High School and have had more growth than Oak Park District 97. Because of our test performance, test growth, and fund balances, which have all occurred while I have been on the Board, I feel that I am qualified and want to continue our District’s direction. For the 2017-2018 school year, our middle school, Lincoln, received Exemplary designation, which means that the school performed in the top 10% of all schools in the State of Illinois. As a Berwyn resident, I attended District 98 schools myself as well as Morton. In addition, our superintendent has recently been selected as the new State of Illinois Superintendent. I was one of the Board Members that hired her in 2012 and because of her success in our District, she was offered the prestigious position to lead the State Board of Education.

2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?

An effective Board Member is one who works collectively with the superintendent and other Board Members to improve school safety, improve student achievement and growth, be fiscally responsible of the taxpayer funds in the District, and encourage professional development of the teachers, staff, and administrators. In addition, an effective Board Member does not get into the day-to-day operations of the District, but instead monitors District performance and sets the policies in the District. Too often, certain citizens get on the Board because they have a specific agenda. When that happens, the progress of the District is put on hold for the specific agenda of the Board Member and can be detrimental to the District’s overall performance.

3. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

In 2017, the District was rolling out a dual language program. The initial proposal was to do a District and grade level wide rollout. This caused concerns from teachers, staff, and administrators. The Board listened to all the parties’ concerns and determined that it would be best to phase in the dual language program slowly and agreed to implement the program with one grade level each year. The District is currently in its second year of the program and now has dual language in first grade. Next year will be second grade. This example shows we had competing interests in how the program should be rolled out. Almost everyone was in support of the program, but the speed of implementation was what we needed to obtain feedback, listen to all parties, and discuss other options where the District could successfully implement the dual language program. In addition, we worked with the teachers and administrators so that each year, the next grade where dual language will be implemented would begin training and unit writing the year before their grade’s implementation. For example, the 2nd grade team this year is being trained for implementation of the dual language program next year.

4. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

Transparency in government means that the taxpayers know where and how funds are spent and what decisions and results are the outcome of the funds. We currently put this into practice by having presentations to the public at Board meetings. The presentations include test scores, finances, and school improvement plans. It gives an opportunity for the public to comment or ask questions. Also at Board meetings, the public sees presentations by students and teachers showcasing extracurricular clubs and activities in which taxpayer money is used to support those programs. The method of transparency I prefer is to present, show, and use data to support decisions. Data allows decisions to be quantified instead of basing decisions on a person’s feelings. The District also supports community agencies and the park district by allowing community use of our public school buildings. There are many times the Board meets in closed session. In those cases, it is of the utmost importance that confidentiality remain with those only in closed session for the 16 reasons mandated by the State. However, no action must be taken in those closed meetings, and any actions are voted on in open session.

5. 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)?

When our superintendent arrived in our District in 2012, we did a cultural audit with community members, parents, staff, and Board Members. During this audit, focus groups were interviewed to see what was needed to embrace the changing demographics of the community and school. Data was gathered and presented to the community, Board, and staff. With that, inclusive behavior training was implemented in the District. The Inclusive Behaviors that were taught were Making Mutual Contact, Valuing Individual Differences, Accepting Responsibility, Giving, Seeking, Receiving Feedback, and Taking a Stand on Hurtful Behaviors. In addition, from the audit, Exclusive Behaviors were also discussed including Avoiding Contact, Denying Differences, Blaming Others, Becoming Defensive, and Colluding. Our equity journey has allowed for our District to grow the most in test scores than our feeder districts into Morton and has allowed District 98 to have more growth than Oak Park. Last year, we had middle school students present to our staff at an institute day some of the exclusive behaviors which they have noticed in our middle school, showing that District 98 is comfortable bringing equity issues to the table, talking about them, and changing our behavior.

6. Some have advocated for a shift from policing and surveillance in schools toward restorative justice, mental health, and supportive services in schools. Do you believe in these approaches? If so, how would you move this work forward?

All of these are needed to run a successful school district. All components need to be part of the District’s goal. In District 98, all the Board Members see an increased need for mental health and support services in our schools. Being part of student disciplinary hearings and decision making, we see that the need for increased mental health and social worker help is a must. As a result, we have added additional Social Workers in our District to help with the increased case load of our students’ social needs. As a result, I would increase the hiring of social workers, increase community partnerships with local social service agencies such as Pillars and Youth Crossroads, as well as increase the police department’s partnership by incorporating educational and support services to our middle school students. Because of the age of our students, being an elementary school district, restorative justice can be more useful for the parents or guardians of the students rather than the students themselves.

7. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?

Social media is a valuable tool for finding information out quickly and easily. However, social media can lead to many assumptions, rumors, and inaccurate information being posted on social media. Therefore, social media needs to be used as a tool to provide facts and data and not used for non-fact based opinions, assumptions, or rumors. In addition, social media posts need to be professional in nature.

8. As District 98 begins the process of searching for a new superintendent, what special skills do you bring to the search process? How would you evaluate candidates for this critical position?

As a Board Member since 2007, I have been through the process of hiring our superintendent in 2012. We used the IASB’s executive search services to select an outside candidate who led our District to our current fund balance of $50 million as well as increased our test scores to the most growth of all feeder districts into our high school. We selected such a strong superintendent that she was selected as our next State Superintendent. In addition, as a leader in my profession, I continually hire supervisors and union workers to be part of my team, providing me with behavioral type of interview experience. The process we will use to evaluate our next superintendent will be to ensure our next leader relates with our community, students, staff, and parents. Our new superintendent must continue our District’s equity journey, improve school safety, have processes to increase student growth, and have fiscal responsibility. During our interview search, surveys will go out to the community and staff to see what qualities they would like in the next leader and once finalists are determined, focus groups with the community and staff will be incorporated before making a final decision.

9. How should the District assess its policies and progress with respect to special needs and the achievement gap? As a Board Member, what metrics will you use to determine whether the District is succeeding?

As a Board Member, I will use test score data and our data partners to analyze our subgroups. For example, all test score data now is analyzed based on different demographic categorizes such as race, income level, ESL, and IEP. With that data, we are able to see where particular subgroups need more help. One example is that we know the entire district needs more work in math. However, we may see that a particular subgroup needs even more support in math than another subgroup in which case we will increase resources to that subgroup. With the data, we then look at a growth model or calculation rather than overall score to see if our interventions are working and providing growth. Our current data shows that we have improved on the achievement gap with our Hispanic population over the years but have continued work to reduce the achievement gap with our African American students.

10. How will you support budgetary decisions that better account for differences in student and neighborhood needs and resources? Will you prioritize reinvestment within our schools that primarily service Latin and African American students?

Our District already has a high population of low income, Hispanic, and African American students. 82% of our students are Hispanic, 10% are African American, and 88% are low income. Because of this, our District is one of the lowest funded per pupil as our property tax base is lower than wealthier school districts. Therefore, I support new school funding bills that allow for funding equity between lower income districts and more affluent districts so that all of Illinois students get the same opportunities for an exceptional education. I know that having a State Superintendent that was in our District will allow for a significant voice in ensuring equitable funding happens in Illinois school districts and she will advocate for districts like District 98. In fact, with new school funding bill signed in 2017, our District was able to use additional funding to make our kindergarten full day. That is an example of how I would use additional funds to improve our neighborhood needs and resources.

11. Would you support funding to ensure that each D98 school has a trained librarian, a nurse, adequate social workers & counselors, and support staff?

Our District already has all of the positions at each of our schools currently. Therefore, I support current and additional funding for those positions and in particular would like to increase the social worker/counselor positions, especially at the middle school.

12. How do you strive to decolonize education? What work have you done personally and professionally to support this process?

The equity journey we started in 2012 has already started the process of decolonizing education. We have worked on our cultural responsiveness program to value inclusive behaviors in our District. During many staff professional development days, teachers and staff have been trained to accept inclusive behaviors with our students and parents. This equity journey we have been on the last 7 years in our District has allowed for our test scores to exceed our feeder districts into Morton as well has allowed our test scores to show more growth than Oak Park. Personally, I have participated in the equity journey and the cultural responsiveness initiative since it was implemented and have presented our equity journey at the Illinois School Board Convention in November 2018 along with our superintendent, fellow Board Member, and consultant.

13. What have been your most useful sources of information about pre-secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?

Alliance Legislative Reports sent by the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance keep me abreast of education related bills in Illinois and IASB Legislative Alerts keep me informed of current legislation going on in the state capitol. I also attend class workshop with IASB to keep me up to date on current elementary education issues and topics. Every year, at the Illinois School Board Convention, there are a host of workshops to attend on current education topics, allowing me to stay current on education in Illinois. Definitely, IASB has been a significant resource for me as a School Board Member. When we were voting on the Dual Language program in the District in 2017, research about dual language programs was interesting. In particular, when young students learn in two languages, their test scores tend to be higher than a single language student.

14. What is your vision for early childhood education in Berwyn? Do you support the right for every child regardless of immigration status to receive a public education as specified in Illinois law? How can you educate and support these families’ involvement in the school?

Since I have been on the School Board, we went from no Pre-K to having Pre-K in every school. Some of our Pre-K programs have been expanded to full day with grants. Depending on how many children apply, we can’t accept every student. When that happens we choose the children that will benefit most from Pre-K based on a screening. I would like to continue to look for grants to open up Pre-K for every child in District 98. In addition, while I have been on the Board, we have transitioned kindergarten from half to full day. District 98 already supports the right for every child, regardless of immigration status, to receive a public education as specified in Illinois law. A child is innocent. It was not the child’s choice where they were raised, what background they came from, or where they were born. This is also the reason that equitable school funding is essential because it is not right for a child who was born into a wealthy family to have more opportunities at school than a child born into one of low income. We currently educate and support our families by offering classes for the parents.

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

I have had no donations for my campaign. No money has been contributed to my campaign. In addition, this is the fourth election I have participated in for School Board and have never had any donations to my campaign.

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[The above answers were supplied on 3/18/19. It may be possible to find more current financial information at the Illinois Sunshine website. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]