Chanda M. Szczeblowski
CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 100 SCHOOL BOARD
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 100?
I have been involved in District 100 since my 15 year old started Kindergarten at Hiawatha. Education has always been my number one priority. My mother always said: “Education gives you choices— and choices bring you happiness.” And I take that to heart. I spent many years being involved in Berwyn C.A.R.E.S, the PTA and then moved on to our DACEE (district advisory council for excellence in education) committees where I served on the committees for Gifted Education, Technology, Budget and finally Referendum. I was inspired to spearhead the 2017 referendum effort and founded and was President of “Fix the Funding” which was a grass-roots community group that passed the first operational referendum in our district in 30 years. Once that was completed, I wanted to continue to serve our community and our kids and realized that I could make an impact on the school board. I believe that some of my strengths are: an ability and willingness to listen, communicate and discuss difficult topics with anyone that I am working with. I have always been very straightforward and forthright in my communication. I have no qualms at all about asking hard questions and will always listen to answers with an open mind. I also demand follow through and accountability from everyone. I am dedicated to seeking out information through research. I am committed to working on a higher level with our State Reps and Springfield to move legislation forward.
2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?
I believe that the definition of an effective school board member is explained well by the IASB (Illinois Association of School Boards) and I stand by these:
Thoughtful approach to the position after gaining an understanding of the issues
Constructive attitude and ability to work as a team
Willing to spend the time to be well-informed
Able to represent the entire community without surrendering to special interests or partisan politics
Willingness to listen thoughtfully
Able to have honest and respectful discussion with colleagues
Respect the confidentiality of privileged information and not compromise the administration or board
Continue to learn
To abide by the code of conduct that each board develops
Identify, recommend and encourage candidates and mentor new board members to help them become effective school leaders
3. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
Our board has recently faced this issue. What I put into practice for myself was to listen to all perspectives in play without having my own bias interfere. I realized that when I could really open up to listen, new ideas were born. It is so important to be able to withhold judgement and decision until after you can truly understand the perspectives from all sides and the facts at hand. The biggest lesson I learned is to wait until I have all the information before stating a position or an opinion on a matter of deep division. This was why I organized a series of one on one listening sessions to foster better communication between the community and the school board during this time of great confusion and concern.
4. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
I strongly believe in the importance of transparency in government to help build public trust and consensus. I have consistently worked to make the workings of the board as transparent as we can while maintain the confidentiality of privacy issues. I believe that transparency includes making information accessible to our entire community which is why I helped to assure that our board meeting information appears in both English and Spanish. I am also forthright with anyone who has specific questions and will always look for the answers- even when they aren’t the most flattering. I provided a live stream of our recent community forum because I believe it was important that our city had access to all the information it could when listening to the candidates in front of them.Transparency requires 2 way conversation and this is why I felt strongly about our one-to-one sessions that I organized.
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)?
I consider myself an ally every sense. My own demographic is complicated. I am a Jewish minority here with family from all over the world. I have had the opportunity to grow up in many diverse communities all over this country which I think has given me a unique perspective. I am also disabled myself (I wear hearing aids), as does my younger daughter. My mother was profoundly deaf, my aunt completely deaf. My cousin was in a wheelchair for most of his life. I have a niece with Angelman’s syndrome and the list goes on. I have gay and transgender family members and am an active ally in LGBTQ issues. I believe in the power that lies in celebrating difference and work daily to be an ally for any group that feels underrepresented. I realize that it is so important to have representation from all our communities and continue to encourage, celebrate and respect that. I understand that, even as an ally- I can not speak from the perspective of a member of an another group. I am committed to continuing to reach out to amplify these voices. This is ongoing work that I continue to learn every day.
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?
I am so excited to see restorative justice, attention to mental health and supportive services coming into play in our schools. I come from a background of positive, attachment parenting and positive discipline. It’s important to understand that the word discipline means to follow. I truly believe that all children want to be the best they can be and want to be loved and appreciated. Unfortunately, some of our kids have had adverse experiences in their young lives and this has left injury on them. If we can teach our kids to be accountable and responsible to each other, to be compassionate to each other and show them what respect feels like- we will go a long way in healing. If we lead with love and respect- we reap what we sow. If we use restorative practices- we can go a long way to change the course of a child’s life.
7. Some homeowners were shocked by the size of the tax increase after the recent referendum. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with district stakeholders’ desire to have a school district that effectively serves all students?
The recent tax issue in our city was incredibly complex and I have spent the last 8 months understanding it and trying to explain it to anyone who has wanted to discuss it. We have addressed the issue of the surplus by abating bonds for last year and moving forward- the board voted to underlevy. The taxpayers will see this lower amount in their July bills. It’s important to understand that this issue has been resolved. There were groups of taxpayers who were angry and wanted their taxes lowered and there were groups of taxpayers that were angry that we were wanting to return the surplus. I was and remain committed to the intent of the referendum as I intended it- to raise $2.2M as we said to our community when we walked and asked for their support. I have tried to emphasize many times that our district is in better shape than we have ever been in since I have been in Berwyn. We saw the passage of a referendum to bring $2.2M into our operational budget (what pays our teachers and the day to day operations of our schools). We have seen the introduction of Evidence-Based Funding which has so far brought in an additional $1.8M. Are we where we should be? Absolutely not. We are still in the low 50th percentile on how we are funded but we are moving in the right direction. I am continuing to push for change in how we pay for our public schools. We need to stop using local property taxes to fund public education which unfairly burdens and unfairly underfunds communities that need the support the most.
8. Between 2007 and 2018, the budget for the District has nearly doubled, and yet standardized test scores have fallen. What do you believe is the cause for this decrease in student performance on standardized tests?
I believe there are many reasons for the budget changes and lower test scores. As for budget- past administrations and boards made some decisions that put us into debt. This debt is passed on to our taxpayers. There were hard times with no State Budget and decisions were made to move ahead with initiatives that we really couldn’t afford at the time. I also believe that our district budget went up to begin to address some areas where we were lacking as our demographics continued to change. We had been hugely underfunded for a long time—with a budget and tax rate built for an entirely different and much smaller population. In my research of administration ratio and pay—we fall well below the state average. Test scores only tell a small piece of the story and I believe that standardized tests (like the now retired PARCC) work against an EL (English Language learning) population. In the past—the point of test scores were to show achievement and I’m happy to see that ESSA (what has replaced No Child Left Behind) is showing a move toward showing growth. I believe this will let us measure the effectiveness of our teaching approach much more quickly. We have had years of not having a curriculum director which, I’m also thrilled to say, is no longer the case. Jon Pakora is actively working on aligning curriculum between grades and schools and increasing rigour so that our kids can all be on the same page and this is especially important when moving into middle school and then high school. The thing that has frustrated me the most is that the state continues to change the tests and criteria so over and over again we are left with an apples to oranges comparison. D100 has been using MAP testing for several years now and I do think this is a better measurement of a single point in time for our students.
9. 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?
This is something near and dear to my heart. I believe strongly that our local elected officials need to have social media policy in place as well as general conduct policy since we represent various public entities. School board members need to remember that even when we are outside of meetings- we are still representing the School District. In the last couple weeks- I have actually been thinking about this a lot as I have been enjoying walking around in our community and meeting residents—many of whom are not on social media. The district also communicates with our webpage, with email, phone blasts and most importantly with our monthly public meetings. I think it’s important for our board members to remain active in our community and to attend as many local events as possible to continue to engage. Engagement is my goal which requires 2 way conversations.
10. 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?
I am proud to say that we were the first elementary district to address the needs of our kids who do not identify as cisgender in school policy. We are tracking the growth of our special needs, children of color and EL students. I am concerned with the opportunity gaps that I currently see in our district and believe part of our lag is due to teacher retention and our current IL State teacher shortage. Special Ed teachers and EL teachers are in short supply and I’d like to see these areas of teaching encouraged by our district. Reducing opportunity gaps for all our children is one of my biggest issues. I have had the chance to attend conference sessions dedicated to that and plan to continue to look for actionable direction. ESSA and Evidence-Based Funding require the district to publish this data and these are the metrics that I count on when assessing our effectiveness.
11. 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 Latinx and African American students?
Our school district identifies as 84.3% Hispanic, 2.9% African American and 76.8% low income. It is important for us to celebrate, include and support all of our children. We need to create an equitable environment that allows for every student to succeed.
12. Would you support funding to ensure that each District 100 school has a trained librarian, a nurse, adequate social workers & counselors, and support staff?
As the daughter and wife of a librarian- I have a deep understanding and appreciation of the importance of libraries. It is hugely important to have librarians to help navigate the complicated and exploding world of information we live in. Librarians are not replaced by computers. My sister in law and aunt are both nurses. I have a child with asthma. I believe that we need to have trained nursing staff to support our children and have been concerned with these lack of resources even though we meet the state guidelines. There has been an ongoing nursing shortage as well - I am very relieved that our districts now are allowed to carry epipens for general use and legislation to allow schools to carry asthma inhalers is on its way. Social workers/counselors are an area of great need. The workload is high and difficult for our amazing staff on hand. I am hoping for and working toward increasing this staff with the implementation of Evidence Based Funding and our district commitment to the “whole child”. It is a difficult balance and unfair that we need to have to decide where to place funding-- classrooms or social, emotional and physical welfare.
13. How do you strive to decolonize education? What work have you done personally and professionally to support this process?
Multiculturalism is a priority in our district. We have students from a whole host of countries and cultures and I think that the District as a whole tries to celebrate that. I believe that an area we need to grow in is in our cultural sensitivity and providing our teachers with an understanding of cultural differences and norms so that all our children can succeed. Personally and professionally, I have tried to attend conference sessions that address this and this is an area that we encourage in professional development for our teachers.
14. What have been your most useful sources of information about pre-secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
I am grateful that we have experts in this field and that their job is to look at best practices in teaching. I am not an expert in education and believe that it is important to have a school board with a variety of strengths. We have been lucky to have our administration and teachers provide us with this information and this is my primary source of information. We are also lucky to have members on our board who are also experts in education. When I hear about something new- I do go out and look at a variety of responses and discourse both for and against. I cannot say that I have a single source that I look to.
15. 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?
Due to our referendum passage and our district priorities- our early childhood education is thriving. I absolutely support educating every child who is in our district. We have a strong policy in place in regards to immigration status- we do not ask or collect this information as we feel it is irrelevant to our mission. We have policy and have created training for our office staff on how to respond to outside agencies that either seek that information or try to enter our schools. We did communicate this to our district families to hopefully alleviate fear and concerns that we see has elevated in the last years since the country has moved in a direction that makes our immigrant community feel unsafe. I know that we have several staff and administration that have reached out on a personal level to communities to let them know that they are safe at school. It saddens me to think that families are concerned with this and are afraid to attend school events and so we need to continue to amplify this message. It is our job to educate every child in our district. I believe in safe schools.
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Jacob Willis (my brother): $500
Robert Fejt: $300 (in kind stamp donations of $200 plus $100 cash donation)
Hannah Fink (my aunt): $100
John Gorlewski: $100
Friends of David Avila: $100
Jose Ramirez: $100
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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.]
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At school board forum, candidates talk about issues (My Suburban Life 3/12/19)