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 seeking office because I want to encourage better collaboration across all of the Oak Park governing bodies. This is why I'm running in collaboration with two excellent D200 candidates, Jack Davidson and Douglas Springer. While pursuing my PhD, I took public policy courses that taught me how to perform program assessments -- determining which programs are best suited to achieve an outcome, and stakeholder analyses -- identifying who will be unintentionally impacted by new policies. I look forward to applying these skills as a first-time elected official.
Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change? Why or why not?
Prior to running for school board, I started a social impact business called Science Solved L3C, which connected science researchers with volunteer software developers who were interested in writing custom tools for scientists. I ran the business for about three years, but ultimately chose to shut it down due to a lack of interest on the researcher side. Currently, I run a Youtube channel called NerdStuff4Kids where I post videos of activities, toys, and gifts that help parents and caregivers engage their children in science.
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?
I do not believe the school board has successfully communicated with the public -- but it's not for a lack of trying. The D97 website is full of resources and is very transparent in what goes on during school board meetings. Unfortunately, few community members visit the D97 website on a regular basis. To engage with the public, you have to utilize mediums that the community utilizes on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. These mediums can include the OP/FYI, the Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly, MomMail, direct mailers and others. Don't wait for people to come to you, you have to make the effort to reach out to them.
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?
If you look at D97's test scores on the Illinois Report Card, our achievement gap is larger than the state average. That tells me what we are currently doing isn't working. There are a lot of studies that suggest solutions to the achievement gap. However, as a scientist, I also know that evidence-based practices are ineffective if there isn't buy-in from teachers, students, administrators, and parents. If we want to solve the achievement gap, we need to work with families that are the most at risk of academic failure. We need to ask, "What is the best way for us to help you"
Racial bias is a persistent problem in special education. How can the district address this issue at an institutional level?
If you look at the statistics, it is very clear that there is a racial bias problem in special education. This is not a problem that is unique to Oak Park, it is happening all over the US. The main causes are bias in the assessment programs, and cultural bias or ignorance on the part of educational staff. The best way to address this problem is to educate teachers and administrators on the causes behind this bias, and then to engage parents, teachers and administrators to create their own solutions to this problem.
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?
Analyzing data was a major component of my doctoral thesis. My PhD is in the field of enzyme kinetics and protein structure. I spent many hours running multi-variable kinetic time courses to study enzyme activity. Then I correlated the kinetic data with structural data of the proteins. This involved creating a sequence alignment of about 25 proteins that was based, not only on genetic sequences, but also on the secondary structure of each protein.
D97 has two referenda on the ballot this year. Do you support these referenda? Why or why not?
I do not support the facilities (capex) referendum because I consider building additions to the schools to be a permanent solution to a fluid problem. The demographics of Oak Park is changing and schools that are seeing increased enrollments now, are not necessarily the schools that will see enrollments in the future. Therefore, I favor more agile solutions such as renting additional building space. If the district wants to come back with a smaller bond request only for completion of ADA and maintenance, I would support it.
For the operating referendum, I encourage all residents, whether they have children in D97 or not, to take a look at arguments and facts on both sides of the issue. While my family can afford to pay an extra 1,500 in property taxes, (an extra $740 per $10,000), I know that high property taxes are keeping businesses from opening stores here, causing families without children to leave, and prohibiting lower income families from moving here. All of these things will exacerbate the problem of having historically high enrollments. On the other hand, the consequences of a failed operating referendum are severe and downright scary; I don't want to lose a fifth of the teaching staff. Ultimately this is a decision that each family must make on their own, and as a board member, it is my job to find a way to make it work with the resources available to me.
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.
The school board has already approved about $3 million in cuts related to laying off about 30 positions. In addition to those cuts, which will automatically happen at the end of this school year, I would get rid of the iPad program. I understand the consequences of the digital divide, and I agree that children without access to technology are at a disadvantage. However, I feel that there are other, better solutions to this problem besides giving each and every child an iPad. While the iPad program initially cost $2 million to implement, it is about $500,000 to maintain each year. I think the money could be better spent elsewhere.
I would consider getting rid of the IB program, but would want to hear more opinions from the community about this. I've heard many complaints by parents that the IB program has forced their children to choose between an arts elective or a music elective -- many wish their children could participate in both. Additionally, the high school has decided to utilize the AP curriculum, which creates a disconnect between the two districts. Adopting similar curriculums would ease the transition from middle school to high school.
I believe both Cast and Bravo are mostly self-funding through ticket sales and fundraising. The benefits of these programs far outweigh their minimal costs.
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?
I grew up in a union home, my dad was UAW, so I understand the importance of collective bargaining. I also know that no body becomes a teacher for the money -- they choose this career path because they want to make a difference in the lives of children. I believe the best ways to keep high-quality employees is to make certain a) they feel empowered in their careers, b) they are developing and improving professionally, c) and they feel they are making a difference in the world. As a D97 board member, I will be dedicated to ensuring that teachers have and feel the support they need to advance their careers.
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?
During my graduate studies, I spent a lot of time performing program assessments. A program assessment is more than just asking, "Is this program achieving the goal?" The assessment also asks, "Are there other ways to achieve this goal? Is this the best way? What are the alternatives? Is there another entity that is better suited to address this goal, such as the park district, the library, or the village?" It's easy to get excited about the latest, greatest educational innovation. However, we must take care that our excitement doesn't blind us to the potential pitfalls of adopting a new program. It's important to thoroughly vet a new program, and to always ask, "Is there a better way?"
Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
The largest donation to my campaign was $100, made by a private citizen who wished to remain anonymous. The rest has been self-funded.
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