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’m running for school board because I want to use my skills and experiences to make a positive impact on the district. I care deeply about education and its ability to transform and change the trajectory of one’s life – especially those who come from low income backgrounds. Because of this passion, I have spent nearly my entire professional career in education in a variety of roles and settings – secondary Language Arts teacher; director/VP of development and external affairs for education and teacher-serving organizations; and currently, as the founder of KLB Consulting, a nonprofit executive search consultancy that specializes in education and school leadership searches. My consultancy has a focus on building diverse candidate pools to help ensure that senior level executives in nonprofits and school leaders reflect the communities in which they serve and work. I also have served on 2 boards — Polaris Charter Academy, Chicago’s firstexpeditionary learning school, where I gained deeper understanding of an innovative, non-traditional curricula approach to education; and Boundless Readers, a nonprofit that supports literacy teachers in Chicago Public Schools through professional development opportunities and the Rochelle Lee Teachers Awards. If elected, all of these experiences would lend themselves to my service on the school board.
Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change? Why or why not?
Yes. I founded my consultancy to address the absence of people of color in senior leadership positions in urban school districts and nonprofits that serve low income and/or communities of color. I think diversity (in all forms) is a strength and that’s it’s incredibly powerful to have people from all backgrounds participating in education. If elected to the board, I’d like to advocate for changes that the community feels are the most important. A top down approach that assumes that the school board knows best is not my preferred method for doing this work. I think it’s most important to tap into the smarts and expertise that currently exist in the community to find and implement cost-effective strategies that are most likely to promote excellence and equity.
One of the most important roles of the school board is connecting with the community, both serving as 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?
There’s always room for improvement. An amazing volunteer recently hosted a focus group with a parent representative from nearly all of the D97 elementary schools. The insight provided in that 2-hour meeting was invaluable and showed the importance of parental input. Some parents enjoyed Dr. Kelly’s listening tour and felt it was a step in the right direction toward gathering important community input about the schools. A few parents noted that very few board members use social media to share updates or engage with parents and thought being accessible through social media would be one way to foster and improve communications. I welcome more opportunities to get parental, student and teacher feedback on the schools.
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?
I support efforts to foster excellence in the district while also reducing the black-white gap in student achievement. Initiatives I’d advocate for are below:
1. Boost efforts to recruit highly qualified teachers of color and men to the district. Nationwide, the teacher pipeline doesn’t have a large number of men or people of color in it and that scarcity is reflected in D97 classrooms (and school districts across the country, to be frank). Because of this, D97 must identify creative ways to market the district to diverse and male teachers. Our kids should see a diverse group of leaders in their school, and targeted recruitment could be a step in the right direction.
2. Move away from student tracking and place greater emphasis on the whole child. Students are greater than the sum of their test scores. I think it would be great to focus on growth in addition to other forms of assessments. Teachers who are able to help students who enter D97 behind grade level grow more than 1-2 years academically in a school year should be recognized for their efforts. Children in, or who enter, the district behind grade level and grow 1-2 years academically in a school year should not be viewed as failures because their standardized test scores don’t reflect all of the hard work they’ve done in a school year to catch up to their peers. Looking at test scores without factoring in growth tells only part of the story.
3. Get direct feedback from black parents directly impacted by the achievement gap to discuss what is (or is not) happening in the classrooms that is impacting their child’s academic performance. What are some strategies/programs that they’d like to see that don’t currently exist? What is the school doing well for their child? What areas can be improved? Opening lines of communication earlier and often will ideally allow for tougher discussions that must be had in order to effect real change.
4. Teacher professional development. I also think it’s important to explore professional development opportunities for teachers that provide new instructional strategies (e.g., blended learning, project based learning) and that explore topics such as implicit bias.
Racial bias is a persistent problem in special education. How can the district address this issue at an institutional level?
I think it’s important to look to the data first to see which students are being identified as being in need of special education and make sure that these diagnoses are not just behavioral. In the same way that school districts across the country are examining their discipline procedures in light of disproportionate punishment for male children of color, we should be mindful of how we’re labeling kids in special education. This is another area where teacher professional development could also help ensure that our expectations and instruction for special education students is high quality and equitable.
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’m comfortable with data analysis thanks to my nonprofit career where I’ve had to understand the impact of programs in order to get foundations, corporations and individuals to make a financial investment.
As a director of external affairs, my ability to raise millions of dollars was directly connected to my ability to show impact (usually through data) and be able to discuss how we’d effectively steward a donor’s money to improve or accelerate program effectiveness. I’m also comfortable with setting and managing policies, thanks to the many experiences I’ve had working in the nonprofit sector.
D97 has two referenda on the ballot this year. Do you support these referenda? Why or why not?
I will vote for the D97 referenda. My family chose to live in Oak Park because of the schools. Proximity to the Loop and the village’s diversity are also tremendous draws for my family of five, but without great schools, those assets would diminish in importance. I think the best investment we can make to ensure the vitality and attractiveness of our community (compared to other nearby or far flung suburbs that also have desirable assets) is in our schools and the education of the great kids who live here.
Whether the referenda pass or fail, I think the community conversations that are happening right now about financial stewardship and inter-governmental collaboration, among other things, will be instructive for the new D97 school board members and will hopefully spur a greater focus on data driven resource allocation.
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.
If elected, I would be one person on a a 7-person team that must work collaboratively to make decisions that impact the district —- the decision about budget cuts would not be made by me, or anyone else, in isolation, so it’s important to note that. Before making decisions, I’d like to allow parents, students and teachers to share their insights about the programs and services that have had the greatest impact on excellence and equity in their schools. More broadly, my approach to budget cuts would be identifying cost-cutting measures that are least disruptive to students, their achievement and equity. However, I think all options should be on the table, and we should use data (quantitative and qualitative) to assess which programs contribute most to furthering equity and allowing Oak Park to provide students with a high-quality education.
Although I’m a strong supporter of libraries and arts and music education, decisions about program cuts have to be made by consensus so I have to keep an open mind and listen to the feedback I receive from other board members, teachers, parents, students before making a decision.
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?
As an executive recruiter in the education field, I have to stay abreast of salaries in cities and districts across the country in order to create competitive compensation packages. My work also requires that I stay abreast of teacher and education policy; as a result, I’m familiar with teacher contract negotiations here and in major cities across the U.S. A big part of negotiations is communications and I’m a good listener with an open mind who doesn’t believe that things have to be done the way they’ve always been done and more importantly, believe if something isn’t working, let’s find ways to fix it. I think having an open and flexible mindset is an important skill or competency to bring to the table. I’m honored that my candidacy was endorsed by the Oak Park Teachers Association and it would be great to have the opportunity to take part in the next round of contract negotiations.
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?
Taxpayers will get the most for their money by voting for public officials who will balance concerns of quality, equity and excellence with financial stewardship. I’m comfortable with budgets and audits thanks to my work as a director/VP of external affairs. I’ve also thrived at nonprofits (big and small) with lean budgets so I’m very comfortable with (and prefer) being resourceful.
Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
I made a personal decision to not raise any money for my campaign. I am incredibly thankful for the support of wonderful volunteers as well as supporters who have helped spread the word about my campaign.
District 97 Endorsement (Wednesday Journal)
Oak Park teachers endorse three for D97 board (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (SUA)
Candidates file for Oak Park, River Forest elections (Oak Leaves)
School board candidates riff on equity (Wednesday Journal)
District 97 Endorsements (Wednesday Journal)