DISTRICT 97 SCHOOL BOARD (4 open seats)

Barika Grant | Gavin Kearney | Jung Kim | Cheree Moore | Holly Spurlock

2019 Candidate Photo Holly Spurlock.jpg

Holly Spurlock

candidate for 2019 District 97 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 97?

I am motivated because I believe all of our kids have the potential for greatness and it is our responsibility as adults to establish systems and structures so that they can all succeed. I am also motivated by the need to raise critical thinkers in our community and beyond. I am invested in Oak Park’s commitment to send kids into the world as scholars and global citizens.

The most valuable skills that I bring to the board are listening, problem-solving, and thoughtful decision-making. I am currently the D97 Board President and over the last 4 years I have gained a solid understanding of our Vision, our teaching and learning structures, school finances and budgetary challenges, and a strong relationship with our teachers, administrators and community members. My perspective is based on being a parent of 2 biracial/interfaith children at Whittier and a legal career that has led to my current role as a negotiator where I focus on the underlying needs/interests of my counterparts to reach agreements. By listening and critically thinking about the challenges we have in our schools and with the benefit of a deep understanding of our District and a passion for the success of our children, my contribution to the Board is my practical, reasonable, thoughtful deliberation and decision-making.

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

An effective School Board Member understands the role of the Board v. the Administration. We know how to create policy to ensure the school environment, outcomes, and practices are consistent with the community’s values. We support our teachers’ professional development and school staffing needs so that teachers are able to deliver high quality instruction in our classrooms. We recognize the value of community engagement and solicit input so that as many voices as possible are considered during decision-making, including but not limited to student voices and voices of community members that may not engage but for our proactive efforts to reach them. We understand that while 38% of our community interact with our schools, many community members live and love Oak Park but may not be as aware of the needs of our students and that it is our obligation to include them in the conversation. We acknowledge the tax burden in our community and we act diligently and responsibly with each expenditure decision. Finally, we consistently take steps to ensure that every single student receives the services that they need and we meet every student where they are so that they experience a positive learning environment that is equitable, inclusive and focused on the whole child.

3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the District 97 Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the School Board, District staff, and the ten schools in the District?

The school Board has six primary duties according to the Illinois Association of School Boards. Those duties include: (1) Employing a Superintendent, (2) clarifying the district purpose, (3) delegating authority, (4) connecting with the community, (5) monitoring performance, and (6) taking responsibility for itself. In real terms, the Board employs a superintendent who we believe will lead our district consistent with the community’s values. We create policies that codify our purpose and then delegate implementation of that policy to the superintendent and her team and monitor progress and performance. Throughout that process, we independently connect with the community and support the superintendent and administration team’s community engagement to ensure we stay current on community needs.

Our relationship with District staff and the ten schools is via the superintendent, in her capacity as District CEO, and our collective bargaining agreements. We support the district staff by approving professional development and considering requests for additional resources for students and teachers as well as encouraging the superintendent to invite district staff to board meetings to share their experiences and provide feedback on practices and programs. Our collective bargaining process allows for staff to express their issues and interests so that we can work together on solutions that affirm their value.

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

One of my primary responsibilities at my job is to negotiate agreements. I participate in approximately 30 mediations a year arising out of lawsuits against professionals (i.e. lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, etc.) by their clients. In addition to my extensive negotiating experience in my professional life, as a D97 board member, I have participated in the negotiation of 3 collective bargaining agreements as well as the 2017 referendum campaign.

I believe the process for balancing interests is different depending on the circumstances but there are some common threads. First, the process works better when it is clear and transparent and provides opportunities for interests to be stated and listened to. In my professional life, we often find that despite the fact that we are negotiating over money, there is an additional non-monetary interest and learning about it early is helpful to reaching a resolution. Second, the parties should agree to an objective set of facts and data to work from. If the different factions are basing their positions on different data, then reaching a solution is more difficult. Finally, there should be a true discussion of possible solutions, not just those favored by one side or the other, and those solutions should be grounded in the overall goal of the process.

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

Transparency in government means being open and accessible to constituents.  Decision making should be grounded in facts and data and that data should be shared with the voters.  Initiatives, expenditures, programs, and practices should be introduced, with a clear explanation of their purpose.  That purpose should include a discussion of expected outcomes/results from the proposal.  If the proposal is ultimately approved and implemented, there should be follow up to demonstrate that it was implemented with fidelity and that the stated purpose is being accomplished with measurable outcomes.  In the event that the purpose changes and/or the implementation is not successful or not yielding the communicated anticipated outcomes, that should also be explained along with proposed remedies.  

Practically speaking, as a Board member, I have insisted on clear presentations of proposals for expenditures, programs, and initiatives that include data and anticipated outcomes along with implementation plans and follow up reports to ensure accountability.  We should also ensure that the information is disseminated via as many media as is required to reach as many stakeholders, whether or not they interact with our schools through having children who attend them.   

6. 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?

The school board is limited by law and policy about communicating via social media. The open meetings act does not permit board members to engage in dialogue with stakeholders via social media. We are able to post the existence of agenda items and comment on votes that occurred. We can provide links to information and quote that information but we are not permitted to have discussions about the merits of an initiative. That said, we are permitted to consume information and should diligently use social media to inform our understanding of the community’s needs and desires.

I believe we should proactively seek feedback from families that may not likely attend a board meeting or submit an email via teachers/staff, community partnerships, faith-based organizations and other Oak Park taxing bodies. We should proactively encourage all community members, especially those who do not have children in the district, to subscribe to the district emails. And we can’t throw up our hands when one of our strategies is not successful – we have to keep trying. Regardless of the tactics, we should be creative and not complacent in our efforts to push information but more importantly – we have to use all available resources to gather input from as many community members as possible.

7. 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)?

It is easier to think through issues based on our own personal lived experience. Despite the fact that I am fortunate to have a diverse set of family and friends, I know that I cannot understand the concerns and needs of residents outside of my demographic group without taking the time to listen, read, and critically think about other people’s lived experiences. I listen through direct conversations, and seeking out live opportunities, as well as TedTalks and similar platforms, to hear individuals share their personal experiences. I am also intentional with my reading and I love fiction. I deliberately select novels on a variety of subjects, with a variety of settings, and written by authors of color with a variety of ethnic backgrounds, gay and lesbian authors, and women authors. I am lucky to have thought partners who are also deliberately thinking about how we raise global citizens who are conscious, understanding and respectful of cultures and embrace the opportunity to live in a world that celebrates our differences. Finally, I truly like people and I always enjoy learning more about other people’s experiences. This true passion for the human experience has allowed me to be open minded enough to hear and attempt to understand others needs and concerns.

8. How should the District assess its policies and progress with respect to special needs and the opportunity gap? As a Board Member, what metrics will you use to determine whether the District is succeeding?

Since I joined the board, we launched and expanded co-teaching. Co-teaching is where a general education and special education teacher teach in the same classroom. Rather than pulling out our special education students, our teachers teach to all of our students, to all of their benefit. One measure of progress with regard to special needs students is the expansion of co-teaching to all of our schools.

Both of my kids have experienced co-teaching classrooms at Whittier. While I know that being invited to birthday parties is not a “true” measure of progress, I recall distinctly when I asked my kindergartener who he wanted at his birthday party and he said, “I want my whole class” and then proceeded to list off his friends. Of the first 5 students he named, 3 of them were special education students that would not have been in his class but for co-teaching. This anecdote demonstrates the impact of inclusive classrooms.

With regard to metrics, student performance metrics are important but not the only factor. Other valuable metrics are student surveys of our special education students asking them questions about belonging, data on number of hours students spend in general education classrooms rather than pulled out to special education classrooms, and discipline data to ensure that our special education students are not being disproportionately disciplined.

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

Our community is fortunate to have experts in education. Our District administration staff and teachers are also highly credentialed both via their education and background as well as their experience. I have sought out many of them as resources about everything from school finance, to class size, to equity in education. They have been my most useful sources of information about pre-secondary education whether we have engaged in a conversation about a particular topic or they have referred me to an article or journal to review independently.

I have referred to several websites and materials for information as well including the National Equity Project and Inclusive Schools Network. I have also read part or all of several books over the years including those from Dr. Kelley’s book club: Whistling Vivaldi, The Leader in Me: How Schools Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time, and Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.

10. Why have property taxes assessed by the District increased so substantially over the past 10-15 years? Can the District continue without additional tax increases? How?

The increase in taxes over the last 10-15 years is primarily driven by enrollment and gaps in state funding, combined with the community’s desire for small classrooms and the need for social emotional support for students. Because 80% of our budget covers staff compensation and healthcare costs, for each new classroom needed to meet the enrollment, the cost to run the district increases. Likewise, the needs for additional social workers, psychiatrists, instructional coaches, and other support for our students and teachers increases with the increased enrollment. While we are committed to keep the cost per student on par with the average expenditure per student in our peer districts, the total cost has increased as more families move to Oak Park. In the future, if enrollment increases, the community may reassess its position on classroom size in order to address the tax increases.

Historically, annual CPI increases have been authorized by the Board in the levy. These increases are meant to reflect cost of living increases that are passed on to our teachers as annual CPI raises per the collective bargaining agreement. They are also intended to cover increases by our service and material vendors ranging from utility services to busing to landscaping costs. Other than a CPI increase or those driven by enrollment, the revenue needs should remain steady.

11. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with the need to create an equitable environment for all students?

An equitable environment is achievable with our current revenue, subject to my comments on enrollment above. Assuming the draft Educational and Racial Equity Policy that was presented to the Board on February 12th is approved, a planning team of stakeholders, including parents, community members, teachers, Board, and administrators, will be formed. Over the next 6 months this group will develop our implementation plan and likely evaluate current practices and programs and make certain resource allocation decisions. The community’s desires will be reflected in the implementation plan that results from this process.

As a Board member, I am sensitive to the desire to control the tax burden that falls on all of us. I want Oak Park to be affordable. I also think it should reflect our values. Our community values equity in education and an equitable environment for all students. It is our job to consider all expenditures carefully, eliminate wasteful spending, stick to our budgets and attempt resource allocation before we agree to resource additions.

12. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a formal equity lens/framework across District 97, and if so, what specifics should it include? How have you engaged with efforts by the current Board to develop an equity policy?

Equity is creating a positive learning environment where every child gets what they need to reach their individual potential with the underlying premise that all of our kids have potential for greatness. Equity includes high expectations and rigorous coursework with high quality instruction from a teacher who believes that each of her students will succeed.

I am in favor of implementing a formal equity framework. I think it should include training, hiring a diverse workforce, social emotional learning, eliminating disproportionate application of discipline, stakeholder engagement, and utilization of a flexible assessment tool so that our staff is able to assess their practices at all levels, whether they are making a decision about a single book to be read in a single classroom, or determining a schoolwide celebration, or establishing a Districtwide program.

As the current Board President and one of 2 board members who serve on the Policy Committee, I have worked on the current draft of the Policy that was discussed by the Board on February 12th. Through the course of our work, I have read as many policies as possible, consulted with equity experts and worked with the administration, staff, students and community members so that the Policy positions us for successful implementation.

13. The District has recently taken steps to eliminate tracking in some areas (for instance, in math classes for some grades). How effective have these initiatives been? Should they be expanded? What specific initiatives would you support to address the range of learning differences among students?

The initiative to collapse math has been effective in ensuring that students are not placed in a classroom that presupposes a lack of ability to succeed. The next step is to increase the rigor of all math classes so that we not only eliminate tracking but we also prepare all of our kids to enroll in the most challenging math classes at the high school.

The shift in GTD services to a push in model supports expanding access to enrichment by not limiting the program to students who “test in”. The GTD shift allows more flexibility in differentiated learners through observations by both classroom and gifted teachers. It also provides more flexibility for a student to be identified as an advanced learner at times other than a single test day in third grade. Through pushing in GTD services, all kids are accessing challenging work and more of our diverse students are being identified as benefiting from the challenges of advanced curricular opportunities.

I am supportive of the upcoming work to be more deliberate in classroom placements. Dr. Amanda Lewis is providing training to our building leadership in classroom placement. The practice of deliberate placement, especially in early grades, will have a direct impact on reducing tracking.

14. Allegations of sexual harassment (between students) have been made at both middle schools, and the District has been criticized for its failure to have a well-defined policy on how incidents like this are addressed. As a Board Member, how would you work to protect students in the wake of such allegations? What challenges would you anticipate while drafting a policy? What safeguards should a new policy include to protect to populations already affected disproportionately by disciplinary practices?

Our sexual harassment policy was historically contained in our bullying policy. Our policy committee, of which I am a member, has been drafting a new stand-alone policy with community input from resident experts in sexual trauma and assault, juvenile justice, and sexual education, students at the middle school, and leaders in this area at OPRF.

The primary challenge is balancing adolescence and education with protection for students who experience harassment. We want to provide a clear reporting structure so that students know how to report an incident and so that the teachers and other staff are prepared to support a reporting student, and a student against which allegations are made.

All of our sexual harassment policy work has been undertaken with an equity lens. We have worked on both policies simultaneously. This has allowed us to frame the sexual harassment policy equitably and focus on eliminating racial and other bias both against students reporting sexual harassment and against those whom sexual harassment is alleged. We have ensured that the policy is not limited by gender, gender expression or sexual orientation and explicitly includes our LGBTQ community. The sexual harassment policy specifically requires anti-bias and other training for our staff, to ensure that the interaction a student has at the time of reporting is one that forwards our overall goal of creating a safe environment free from sexual harassment at our schools.

15. District 97 Board Members share responsibility for oversight of the Collaboration for Early Childhood. What is your vision for early childhood education in Oak Park? Should preschool be available to every child in Oak Park? Should the District fund a preschool program for all students?

Oak Park thought outside the box and beyond our years when we established the Collaboration for Early Childhood. Our focus on early intervention is showing benefits by Kindergarten. For example, the CEC coordinates hearing and vision tests for our local preschools so that kids receive services before they reach elementary school. Our other early screening allows families to engage in at-home treatment, if appropriate, to prepare them for school so more kids who might not be able to enroll in a traditional classroom are able to do so. The network has provided families with social emotional support and connections both within and outside of the community, so that families enter the schools with more knowledge about what resources are available.

I believe in preschool for all. I am familiar with the research that shows that preschool has a larger impact on the success of students later in their school years than many other programs in place for students in elementary and middle school. The District currently offers a program that does not have the capacity to provide preschool for everyone in the community. I think we should continue to explore ways to make it economically feasible to expand on the program so that all of our kids have access to quality preschool.

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

I did not collect any donations for my campaign. I also did not have lawn signs made and did not spend any personal money on my campaign.

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[The above answers were supplied on 2/13/19. 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.]

Holly Spurklock for Oak Park District 97 School Board (candidate Facebook page)

Vote for principled, pragmatic candidates (WJ 3/26/19)

Wednesday Journal endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)

Oak Park Teachers Association endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)

Candidate Profile (WJ 3/14/19)

D97 board president pitches progress, continuity (WJ 2/5/19)

'We ask for what we need': Oak Park School District 97 to seek tax levy increase of about 3 percent (WJ 10/12/18)

New Oak Park District 97 teacher contract includes longer school days for elementary students (Oak Leaves 6/5/18)

'There would be no savings': Oak Park District 97 no longer considering elimination of bus service (Oak Leaves 4/11/18)

D97 board approves levy amid pushback (WJ 12/27/17)

Oak Park District 97 to honor both Columbus Day, indigenous people on Oct. 9 (Oak Leaves 10/2/17)

D97 board grants supt. new 5-year contract (WJ 8/22/17)

Overwhelming referenda wins for District 97 (4/4/17)

Oak Park District 97 to use roughly $2.6M of surplus tax funds to repay debt (Oak Leaves 7/20/17)

D97 board gets new leadership (WJ 5/2/17)

Spurlock specializes in change management (WJ 3/24/15)

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About the District 97 School Board

SEOPCO candidate forum (Facebook live 3/20/19)

Collaboration for Early Childhood Candidate Survey (PDF)

League of Women Voters Candidate Forum (Facebook Live 3/11/19)

Equity issues, minority hiring topics discussed by Oak Park District 97 school board candidates (Oak Leaves 1/22/19)

Equity dominates King Day candidates forum (WJ 1/22/19)

Suburban Unity Alliance School Board Candidate Forum (Facebook Live 1/21/19)

Everyone on the ballot in Oak Park, River Forest elections (WJ 1/8/19)

Election a go-go (WJ 12/18/19)

Nearly a dozen running for village board as ballot takes shape for April election in Oak Park (Oak Leaves 12/18/18)