District 201 school board (3 open seats)

Mark Kraft | Lido Manetti, Jr. | Jeffry Pesek | Edwin Robles | Esteban Rodriguez

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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 201?

My greatest motivation to run for office is also the same reason why I have been working in the nonprofit sector for over 13 years, to continue improving the quality of life for our youth and families. I have been blessed in being able to work in different fields ranging from education, youth, health, safety, criminal justice and housing. By having a great understanding of the various needs our communities, I am able to look at policies from different perspectives. My experience and formal/informal training allows me to assess situations from a holistic lens that is both trauma informed and has our youth and families highest interest in mind. Having positively impacted and worked directly with thousands of youth and parents from the community for over 13 years will allow me to create and amend policies that are directly informed by the community and will impact thousands more in the future.

  • 13 years in nonprofit experience

  • Morton East Graduate - Class of 2006

  • Bachelors in Psychology - Class of 2011

  • Masters in Public Administration - Class of 2016

  • Former Director of Health Programs at Corazon Community Services (youth serving agency in Cicero)

  • Current Director of Community Schools and Youth Organizing at Northwest Side Housing Center

  • Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)/ Trauma Informed facilitator

2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?

Accountability is a large component of effectiveness. If elected, I will hold the Superintendent accountable to the highest standard and ensure that he is upholding the vision and goals of the board and the community. I will gather information, concerns, comments from the community and put forth specific, measurable and relevant policies. A school is a hub for the community, and I will continue working with the parents and youth to take ownership by empowering and engaging them to be more present in the lives of their child’s education. I will speak up against inefficiency and lack of transparency. Thinking ahead, putting your students and community first, being strategic and being able to work with other stakeholders, regardless of differing views is what makes an effective School Board Member. If elected, I will represent the current youth, work with feeder school board members for future students, parents, tax-payers, community based organization, hospitals, business, and any major key stakeholders who have the best interest of our students in mind.

3. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

Most recently and one of the toughest experiences, was having to step down from a Board position — that is very dear to me — to launch my candidacy for District 201. I did so in order to avoid any conflict of interest. While it was a difficult choice to make, I kept the well being of the community at the forefront of my decision.

4. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

Transparency in government means everything to me. As community members, it is our right to know what is happening that will impact us all. Especially taking into consideration that District 201 is funded in part by our property taxes. I have said this throughout my entire career, the community is the boss, they are the taxpayers, they are the constituents, therefore; they will have a major saying on how they want the leadership to handle their communities. I will have accessible days and times in which the Board meetings are held. I will have continuous conversations with the community- coffee with the board members- with the end goal for all to understand the importance of a School Board Member. I will also encourage community members to hold all of the Board Members accountable and call us out when they do not agree with us. I know some folks may not feel necessarily connected to the district because they do not currently have students in 201, but I want them to think about the fact that regardless of whether they have student in the district or not, they are paying property taxes and as such, should also be included in the decision making process.

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)?

This seeking of understanding has been the basis of my work for the past 13 years. I have worked with all demographics and have a strong understanding of the needs of our communities. I have been cultural competent across all identifiers and have a clear understanding of the systemic issues the lack of proper representation has impacted our residents.

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?

My number one platform in which I would start working towards is a truly trauma informed school. Through my experience in violence prevention and in the criminal justice field, policing and surveillance will never provide a shift towards a positive and healthy community. We need to ask the important question to your youth “What happened to you?” and NOT “what is wrong with you?” Our communities our flooded with obstacles from cradle to college and we need understand how we can end a cycle of trauma. Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) has been correlated as of the most prevalent indicator of health in adult life. The more traumas a child has experience the more likely they are to have a negative effect from health, social economic, behavior, education. As the biggest advocate from the candidates for mental health, my attention will be on how fast we will have the entire school (anybody receiving a payment from the district) trained on how to manage certain situation with the youth while working with experts in the field, hospitals, community based organization to support and provide their wealth of resources.

7. 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?

Portion was answered in Q: 4,

Overall, the constituents are my biggest stakeholders; they will be involved and informed in any major decision that will impact the quality of education for their youth while taking in consideration the impacts it will have on the communities.

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?

Develop metrics as a community: For so long, the community has been disengaged from educational institutions, including the decision making process. Community/participatory hearings, focus groups that include stakeholders at all levels and individual interviews. Metrics start before the inception of any curriculum development and metrics shall not only focused on academics but their overall quality of life indicators. Measuring the quality of life from, employment, health, higher education and as simple as level of happiness shall be additional fields for evaluating the success of the district.

9. How can the district act to support social and emotional learning for students?

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has a strong correlation with my proposed platform towards building a trauma informed and trauma practicing school. By understanding the child past experiences, a proper course of action shall be created. Tailored plans per youth that will build a relationship and allow the youth to properly set and achieve their goals. The districts engagement will too once again hold the administration accountable to make sure all the needs of the district are being met.

10. 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?

Budgetary decisions and conversations are not easy tasks, but we need to account for and include community residents in these conversations. While doing so, we have to make sure that we are maintaining accessibility and presenting the information in a way that they will fully comprehend the course of the proposed allocations. I will prioritize reinvestments to groups that have historically been disinvested in. My main objective is to not shift resources but work with other outlets to invest further. Our community based organization have skilled grant writers and development departments that would love to work in the district, we also have the biggest concern and that is the state providing its fair share of funding to our district. We are currently the second lowest funded district in the state (lowest high school) according to Advance Illinois.

Many community members that I come in contact with express their discontent with the quality of education provided by the district and often times opt out of sending their students to 201. Many talented students are outsourced to private institutions because we are simply not at a point of competition. We need to invest heavily on ensuring that we are retaining talent and building them to be post-highschool ready while also avoiding property tax hikes.

11. How do you strive to decolonize education? What work have you done personally and professionally to support this process?

I strive to ensure that our students feel represented in the content presented in the curriculum. I want to make sure that we incorporate history that is reflective of the community and student body. We know that the traditional, colonial school system does not teach students about the real history and suffering of our communities. They do so in order to avoid a connection to our roots. Our ancestors in many ways were already radicalizing and resisting colonization for many years, but we are never taught about that.

In addition to providing community centered history, providing robust experiences that afford students the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom through real life and relevant experiences-experiential learning is critical toward decolonizing and unschooling.

Encouraging civic engagement and public discourse with those in power that are shaping the lives of students is also a large component. Often times, students are not allowed to voice their opinion about what is happening at the district and local level. For example, when the new grading system rolled out, many students expressed their concern and discontent with the new process and the lack of community engagement (in the decision making leading to the adaptation of the model). Students organized within the school and the community and created an intergenerational movement that included parents and other concerned community members. They attended board meetings and provided their testimonies but where then told to keep quiet. The job of Board Members is not to keep students quiet, but rather provide a platform for them to voice concerns and engage in discourse. I plan on not only supporting students who express concerns about policies that affect their day to day lives, but encourage them to be critical, global thinkers. I want to make sure that we are building students who can go out and question how the different institutions that surround them have shaped (and maybe continue to shape) their lives. We need to be engaging students and helping tap their potential to become change agents in their communities and be revolutionary in their own way- we need to be fostering independence!

It is imperative that we as Board Members are always looking at any curriculum development and policy making process through the lens of our student population. Currently, the district serves students who are facing homelessness, who have a disability, are low income and primarily students of color. We have to think, how will this decision affect all of the students? Do I have an implicit bias that does not allow me to see how this change will affect the student population?

Lastly, the current percentage of teachers of color is 17.9%. It is extremely important that we are putting educators that look like students and come from similar backgrounds in front of them. Overall, the teachers and board members need to be reflective of the community and they are currently not.

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

Through my current employment, many of the grants and direct services being provided have included a series of information overload. From behavior changes, recruitment, retainment, best practices, implementation and evaluations. I have found most of my sources derive from foundation and City of Chicago identifying schools performances. In addition to that, working with youth and received feedback on their concerns and or successes. One of my favorite quotes by a mentor was “those closest to the problem are closest to the solution”. For this specific question

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

Arcelia Rodriguez and Wael Skaik $500
Jorge Ramirez $500
Sergio Rodriguez $250
Dante Orfei – In-kind attorney fees (Candidacy challenged for having 4 times the amount of my petition signatures, incumbents oldest trick in the book. For an educational institution, they are sure trying to silence options and information)

All of my largest donations came from folks in the community who are also tired of career politicians running education as if it were a business and putting their interests before the interests of our students.

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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.]