CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 209 SCHOOL BOARD
1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the School Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 209?
I am a parent of three children, two of which attend Proviso High Schools. Four years ago, I was elected to the school board along with Theresa Kelly and Ned Wagner as part of the Proviso Together team. Proviso Together is a grassroots initiative of community members who fought to ensure our district was run by parents who had children in the district because they had a stake in every decision that was to be made instead of letting politicians make the decision for us. Ned Wagner, Theresa Kelly and I have spent every day of the last 4 years laying the groundwork for incredible transformation and I want to continue the work. We have proven that we can do the job well and our district needs us to keep it going!
My 30 years experience as an educator, bilingual teacher, and teacher educator has been instrumental in navigating a new curriculum, how to attract and retain the best teachers and how to work with all levels of a district to promote collaboration.
2. What are District 209’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for District 209?
Proviso Township District 209 is undergoing a huge transformation. Our strength is how students, parents, administration, elected officials and community leaders have come together to participate in our schools. Our community is finally embracing our schools that have been sorely neglected for so many years. As a result, the district embarked on and passed a master plan for transforming our schools into state of the art learning facilities.
The greatest challenge we face is to keep the district out of the hands of the politicians who had neglected our schools for decades and allow the community to continue to work toward building state of the art learning facilities for our children.
My vision for District 209 is for all our schools to evolve into state-of-the-art learning communities. A district with three excellent schools our entire community can be proud of.
3. What does transparency in government mean to you? Give one example of an action you would take as Board Member reflecting your views on this topic. How would you evaluate the Village’s record on transparency?
Transparency in our School District is essential to the success of the district and creating trust across all the key stakeholders. Since we were elected four years ago, our board meetings are now live streamed and archived so anyone can see them. We do all of our work in committees that are open to the public and have updated our communication tools so that everyone is aware of what is going on in the schools. Transparency and accountability are keys to building trust.
4. What steps will you take to enhance 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?
Community engagement at District 209 has undergone a dramatic improvement since we were elected. We have established a program that builds relationships between our schools and communities. We established a Parent and Community Engagement Committee, which focuses our efforts to connect our District with area stakeholders. Parent Compacts have been a keystone initiative to ensure that parents engage as partners with the schools in their child’s education. When parents and schools collaborate, our kids thrive.
Our Facilities Master Plan was developed over the course of a year, with continual input from the community via a number of community presentations, open forums, and listening sessions. This is simply not a process that would have happened under previous boards, which made major decisions without community input and behind closed doors.
The board and the Superintendent have work together to seek opportunities to invite elected officials, parents, business owners, student leaders, religious leaders and community members to participate in our different committees, town halls, events, and celebrations. We attend and participate in sporting events, parades, community events in all 10 towns that comprise our district, so that we can best understand and be present to the needs of all of the students and families. All these events provide opportunity for personal communication with our greater community.
5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group?
Proviso Together’s commitment to building relationships across racial and geographic boundaries is reflected in the diversity of our slate. I am proud that we have built a diverse coalition of people from across Proviso township that rejects attempts to pit our communities against each other.
In addition to being a school board member, I'm also the Co-chair of PASO, the West Suburban Action Project. PASO is, a community-based organization that engages community members to act through their faith and values to address issues that affect them, their families, and neighbors to build stronger communities where everyone can live dignified lives regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic or immigration status. PASO prioritizes cross-cultural solidarity, and I have been honored to serve and volunteer with incredible people from all communities to pass legislation to end racial profiling, work to reform the criminal justice system, and protect healthcare for our communities - all issues that involved building alliances with across demographic groups.
6. If you could create a brand new public high school district from scratch, what would it look like?
While we can’t do that, the District 209 Facilities Master Plan reflects many of the values that I have. There is a focus on 21st century learning, adequate facilities for both college bound learners and high quality vocational programs, communal spaces for student gatherings, adequate facilities for our athletic and extracurricular activities, equitable practices, and a welcoming atmosphere in our schools.
7. 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?
Our achievement gap between special needs students and other students is well below the state average. We have evaluated best practices, co-teaching and opportunities for inclusion for all our students. We are in a process of growth and expansion and will provide further opportunities as we are able to fund the programs we have researched and seek to implement.
No child is a test score, so while we can’t ignore testing data, we must also look at other indications of our schools’ success.
Our graduation rates are up, and our Freshman on Track to Graduate (a metric developed by the State) has skyrocketed in recent years. This year 90% of the Freshmen in Proviso West are on track to graduate, up from 25% in 2014.
Our tardies and truancy are down and hundreds more families are choosing to send their children to our schools.
8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
Secondary education is incredibly interesting, but I learned first to understand how the adolescent brain works. This helps me to make better decisions when seeking to support students. Neuroeducation is a newer field that has provided us lots of insight of adolescent’s development. I have 2 books that have supported my understanding best: Strategy In Action which is about how school systems can support powerful learning and teaching, written by Rachel E Curtis and Elizabeth A. City. Strategy In Action describes how school systems can engage effectively in complex, challenging, crucial work, by identifying the core competencies of high performing school systems. The work of education is complex because we really need to be focused so that we can create an impact. Meaningful progress only happens when we elevate teaching and learning. All transformation plans that we have brought forward in the district, have focused specifically on teaching and learning and I believe that this has allowed us to look and reevaluate our school system. The second book that impacted me was From Good To Great by Jim Collins, it was a gift from Dr. Rodriguez our D209 Superintendent. I learned that even though you've been doing something for decades, does not necessarily mean that you can be the best in the world at doing it, and from going from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence, and looking at discipline to generate further growth. In district 209 we continually look at how we can potentially do better so we can get to that greatness.
9. 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?
Even though Ned, Theresa and I and the other Proviso Together Board members have only had a few years in charge of the District, we have made dramatic strides to ending waste and mismanagement. The clearest example is the fact that we have saved $62 million to begin our Master Facilities Plan without raising taxes. Our financial health is in the top ranked category, according to the State of Illinois, our bond rating is now A+, and we have saved millions of dollars by refinancing high-cost loans.
We have dedicated the money saved to make real academic improvements like: buying over $1 million in new books to replace badly outdated materials; launching a 1:1 computer program so every student will have their own laptop by this time next year; hiring new intervention specialists to work with students when they fall behind; instituting a new 8 period flex schedule that gives teachers 2 hours of professional development every week and students 3 hours of additional time to work with their teachers.
10. In what ways can District 209 collaborate with District 91 and other pre-secondary school districts to more adequately prepare students for the transition to high school?
Articulation. The only way that districts are going to move forward together is by starting to have joint meetings as school board members and create a standard of academics for the entrance to district 209. We need to seek to develop a K-12 mentality. Set a district wide vision, and start having our students have relationships through sports, after school activities, theater, joint choir events and academic activities. If every district operates independently of each other, there will not be an effective, solid K through 12 vision for every student in our district. Silo Education serves no child.
11. Early this year the School Board approved an extensive new master facilities plan for an estimated $77 million in improvements at all three high schools. What tradeoffs do you see for a facilities investment of this magnitude? Are there instances where the Board should have gone further?
I don't see any tradeoffs from savings $77 Million to improve our school’s facility and bring it into the 21st century. This master’s facility plan builds our future together as One Proviso. Our schools have been in desperate need of improvement for decades, health life safety needs have not been addressed. But before we ever started the facility master’s plan, we increased our instructional funding for summer school, we increase instructional funding and allocations at all district and school level, we completed and approved transformation plans for Proviso East and Proviso West. With this transformation plans we assigned an eighth flex period which provides extended learning opportunities for students creating a safety net for all students and professional development opportunities for our faculty.
To best support our students prior to starting the master’s facility plan we invested in parent centers with full time parent coordinators at proviso East and proviso West. Through these we have developed a robust program with parent workshops and social activities to support all our communities. Most importantly change has been intentional, and our vision has purpose.
12. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Proviso Together is a grassroots movement of parents and community members who care deeply about our schools, Proviso Together for Better Schools donated about $1900, which was all raised at a pig roast fundraiser at my house, Ned Wagner donated $1525, and Amanda Grant’s Aunt Linda in Westchester donated about $1000. However, most of our contributions are $25-$50 at a time raised the old fashioned way with community fundraisers. Our entire team are volunteers and no one is getting paid on this campaign.
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[The above answers were supplied on 2/21/19. 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.]
Proviso Together (campaign Facebook page)
Forest Park Review endorsement (Forest Park Review 3/19/19)
Proviso Together pushes forward by looking back (Forest Park Review 12/4/18)
Proviso Together kicks off re-election campaign (Forest Park Review 11/6/18)
Proviso Together campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Proviso Together financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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Claims pile up in D209 board race (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
State data outlines financial state of D209 campaigns (Forest Park Review 3/5/19)
D209 candidates file (Forest Park Review 12/18/18)