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 91?

I am a resident of Forest Park for 20 years and I have 2 children in D91 (5th and 8th grade). Since the first of them got into 1st grade I went to the superintendent 2 or 3 times a year with concerns, ideas, proposals and request.  All of them were ignored. That’s why I’m running, to make sure that the board and superintendent take carefully care of parents concerns and requests. My background is:

  1. Doctorate in Musical Arts (DMA),  Cello/Education, and MM, University of Illinois

  2. 4 years Civil Engineering,  National University of Córdoba, Argentina

  3. 4 years Team Management and Leadership program, Landmark Education

  4. High school accounting diploma

Also valuable for my contribution in the board is my Hispanic background, my bilingualism, my multi ethnic family (white, Hispanic and a son in law African American), my experience as business owner (own/mange/direct/teach the Gasse School of Music since 2001), 38 years of teaching experience and talking with parents and students about their school experiences, and 4 years of working with Proviso Together and PMSA to create the amazing transformation of D209.

2. What are District 91’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for District 91?

The greatest strengths I see on D91 are:

  1. Solid financial management  

  2. The ratio of  students to teachers

  3. The dollar to student ratio

  4. D91 has many experienced, well trained, and dedicated teachers who care deeply for their students.

  5. D91 has a free preschool class

  6. The Special Education program is very strong in D91

The greatest challenge is its poor academic results. Other challenges are

  1. Communication on many different levels (parent-teachers, board-teachers, Superintendent-teachers, parents-PTA, teachers-students, school-school, and more)

  2. Discipline, mainly in FPMS

  3. The lack of before and after school classes, clubs, sports, and other activities

My vision of D91 that within the next 4 years we:

  1. Improve academic standards to be at the top of the D209 feeder schools

  2. Provide more before and after school classes, clubs, etc

  3. Improve communication at all levels (superintendent, teachers, schools, parents)

  4. Reduce drastically detentions and suspensions

  5. Racial and economic disparity is addressed with equity and achievement gaps are minimized

  6. Special education and preschool are functioning at its best

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 District’s record on transparency?

It means that every decision taken, transaction, policy written, etc. is available for the general public to check.  That brings up the honesty and accountability of the elected officials. D 91 is transparent on the financial management,  but for many years it was not very transparent how and why decisions were taken at the academic level. An example of that is why 3 exploratory teachers were fired (or somehow let go)  at the beginning of the school year 2017/18 and were never replaced. To the opinion of many parents that was a blow to the students who lost their chances to do robotics, computer programing, animation, STEM or home arts from then on. The reasons for the decision was never explained to the parents and their request of having replacements were dismissed. I think transparency on this part of the district administration (hiring teachers, choosing programs, writing curriculums, choosing didactic approaches to teaching different subjects,etc) is not good.

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?

I think the most important element of engaging the community is listening.  The parents, students, teachers or anyone else should feel that they were heard, and follow up actions should demonstrate that they actually were. That is valid for person to person conversations, on the phone, at a board meeting, in a meet the board members event in a school or for any way of communication, including electronic. D 91 is suffering now the consequence of many years of parents feeling disregarded when they brought their concerns, ideas, requests or proposals. I’m one of those parents and most of my friends are too. Many parents tried for a few years and, feeling they couldn’t make any difference, left town or changed to a private school. The board members should open up to questions, comments, criticism, suggestions and requests from any member of the community by attending to school events, holding Q&A events, email or telephone.

5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group?

My family is multi ethnic (I’m hispanic, my wife is white , my son in law is African American and 3 of my children are white/hispanic/American), multi lingual (I speak 5 languages, my daughter 3 and everyone else 2) and multicultural (I have lived in 3 countries of distinctive cultures and my wife’s country, England, is the 4th ).  Also, I have lived many years of my life with incomes below the poverty level and have been discriminated for my ethnicity. I have experienced the difficulties that brings not being fluent in the language of the country you live and work in 2 opportunities (Brazil and USA) and my 2 older children went to public school ESL programs when we first came to USA. Most of my friends are either Hispanic, African American, Asians, or first or second generation immigrants and they struggle or have struggled with the barriers ethnicity creates. At some time in my life I have also had to deal with single parenting 2 really young children. I have a child with special needs and another gifted, and have to deal with both sides of difficulties. For all those reasons understanding the experiences, needs and concerns of other people comes natural to me.

6. If you could create a brand new public elementary school district from scratch, what would it look like?

My ideas for ideal schools include:

  1. Instructional gaps are eliminated.

  2. All assignments are at grade level.

  3. Expectations are always high.

  4. Academic subjects are taught in the classroom and the homeworks serve to reaffirm what is already learned

  5. Programs used are tested and researched prior to implementation

  6. Presents and tests academics in a variety of ways accommodate different types of learning.

  7. Directions, requirements, expectations, deadlines, etc. are communicated clearly to students and parents in several different ways.

  8. The district strives to instill a high level of pride in its staff and students.

  9. Teachers receive  the support they need (access to training, equipment, meetings, etc) from superintendent, and school board

  10. Teachers are included in the design and implementation of the curriculum

  11.  The superintendent meets frequently with teachers

  12. Students have a voice at the school (student council)

  13.  Students are held to a high standard of behavior.

  14. Enough before and after school classes and clubs are provided to support the students needing help and the ones needing challenges.

  15. Parents are empowered to be leaders and partners with the schools

  16. Racial and economic disparity is addressed with equity and achievement gaps are minimized

  17. Communication is fluent between teachers/students/parents, Superintendent/teachers/parents, Board/students/parents, school/school, grade/grade

7. Low test scores, particularly in math, continue to be troubling signs for the District, and enrollment has been declining. What specific steps would you take as a Board Member to improve test scores?

After many years of parents’ requests, the district took action on the Math deficiencies. Algebra was added to the curriculum, and a  coach was brought in to help individual students. Changes like this are exactly what we need to see. D91 should ensure that students have no gaps in their instruction, high expectations, assignments at grade level and teaching of any new topic  done in the classroom. Also teaching should be engaging, students should be proud of the project they are preparing, no student should feel the topic is unimportant and he/she is wasting time. On the other hand the schools should help those students to catch up to grade level by having coaches, before or after school classes, clubs, summer school or other programs.

Low enrollment this year  was due to the bad tests scores last year. That’s the biggest factor for incoming young parents. The rebranding campaign D91 launched a few months ago will help. Partnering with D209 will help both districts to improve; if we send better students to them they will improve sooner, and if they do we’ll stop our “brain drain” sooner. Working  with other schools from districts similar to ours and scores better than ours will also improve our performance sooner.

8. 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 think that special education and preschool are D 91 greatest  strengths, and I’d work diligently on keeping that being our strength. I’m proud of the approach D91 has taken in regards to the achievement  gap. I agree with paying attention to the needs of the families with difficult situations. As a Hispanic and Spanish speaker I can help bridge some of the cultural barriers for Hispanic parents that don’t speak English well or think they won’t be understood by a non-Hispanic that doesn’t share their background. Also, it’s my conviction that the best help we can give to those children is a great education, and so, by raising the bar of the entire school, the students at the bottom of the class will improve their performance.  The response from parents and the special needs teachers will be the best way to measure the success of D91 in this area.

9. Early this year the School Board approved a new Equity Imperative designed to remove barriers to opportunity so that children can reach their full potential. Do you believe these new policies will be successful? Why or why not? What further policies are needed?

Equity Imperative is a great step forward in the road to eliminate social injustice.  I applaud D 91 for having adopted it. As any rule or program the effectiveness of it will depend on its implementation.  On a hand we need to pay attention to the needs of all our students, parents and families regardless of their race, culture, sex, religion or  economic stratus, on the other hand we need to maintain the high level of education in spite of the needs of some or even many members of our school population. In other words: Offer all the necessary help to the ones on need while offering enough opportunity to the gifted ones.

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

My most useful source of information about  pre-secondary school education is experience.  Four of my 5 children went through it, having talked with dozens of my friends parents and their children, and having taught hundreds of middle school students during more than 30 years I have heard all their concerns, what they need, what their problems are, what is frustrating at the schools, etc. I know what their experiences were when the got to high school and what they wished they have had in middle school that prepares them for the new tasks. In addition to my experience I have studied, as part of my doctoral degree curriculum, the needs, potentials and expectations for each grade level.  I also have talked with all my children’s teachers and principals. I come from a family where all my 4 siblings are educators ranking from preschool and special education to high school, post secondary school and university level . Since I’m the youngest in the family I have been involved in teaching conversations since 6 years before I enter my first year in college.

11. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with District stakeholders’ desire to to have a school district that effectively serves all students?

As a board member I will carefully look for the minimum budget that can deliver the appropriate educational level that our students and families deseve. On a hand we should be good stewards of our taxpayers money and on the other we should serve the students.  A good school creates a good village and that is convenient for everyone, including the ones who don’t have children in our schools.

12. In what ways can District 91 collaborate with District 209 to more adequately prepare students for the transition to high school?

District 91 has operated completely disconnected from Proviso District 209 for as many years as I can remember. The aspirations of the district were to send the top graduates to private schools and the rest to Proviso East, which had been underperforming until three of years ago. As a result, parents who wanted to send their children to public high school but feared the bad reputation of Proviso East moved out of town, creating a “brain drain” that constantly kept the performance of FPMS low. Now, thanks to the insistence of District 209 Superintendent Rodriguez, D91 has started coordinating  actions with District 209. We need to do much more of that. Our curriculum should prepare our students to be accepted to and succeed at PMSA if that is what they desire. In order to do that we need to improve substantially the level of Math, Science, and English in D91. All my ideas of how to make that improvement are already stated on questions #3 and #6

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

Charlie Rizzo : $1000
Sarah Gasse: $350
John Stob: $200

• • • • •

[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.]

Run for the board to work (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)

Survey Responses: Daniel Gasse (Forest Park Review 3/1/19)

Expectations should be high (Forest Park Review 1/29/19)

Cotton, Gasse announce D91 runs (Forest Park Review 11/13/18)

• • • • •

About the District 91 School Board

D91 board wannabes talk district highlights, shortfalls (Forest Park Review 3/12/19)

D91 challengers file for school board election (Forest Park Review 12/18/18)