Calvin Davis | Matt Heffner | Barbara A. Hickey | Carol Allison Jack
Hui Kang | Richard Moore

District 90 school board - 2 YEAR TERM (1 open seats)

Kathleen M. Avalos | Steve Lefko

headshot - avalos.jpg

Kathleen M. Avalos

candidate for 2019 District 90 School Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board of Trustees, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 90? What have been your most useful resources for information about pre-secondary education?

I believe in D90’s mission to instill a love of learning and ensure educational excellence for all children. For the past four years I have served as the PTO Board of Education Liaison and have attended meetings on a monthly basis which allows me insight into the decision making process behind current initiatives, how they align with our districts’ mission and goals, and how they are being implemented in a thoughtful manner with opportunity for teacher feedback and professional development. We have great schools but there are always ways we can be better. I want to be a part of the process as we continue to improve. While I have this foundational knowledge, I offer a fresh perspective based on my experiences as a parent of three children with varying academic needs. I have a child who has learning disabilities and receives special education services, a child who is a high achiever, and a child who is a hands-on learner with more average academic outcomes. Raising children with three different learning profiles allows me to understand the experiences of a range of children and families within the district. My most useful resources are conversations with teachers, administrators and board members.

2. What steps will you take to improve and expand 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?

Improved communication is a cornerstone of my campaign. A main function of the board is to connect with the community by engaging in a two-way conversation to hear the community desire’s and inform the community of district plans and performance. We must provide more options for community engagement. The board should explore live streaming the meetings, videotaping and sharing key presentations, holding drop in hours to allow constituents to have conversations with board members, offering childcare at the meetings and continuing the community learning and listening sessions that began earlier this year. Elected officials are accountable to their constituents and must be willing to have transparent conversations that allow for stakeholders to voice their support as well as concerns. As a candidate, I have willingly engaged in conversations in various platforms, including social media, and would continue this practice. It isn’t enough to just offer an opinion and walk away, as candidates and elected officials we must answer questions. As the PTO Board of Education liaison, I attended board meetings, summarized the information, and reported back to the PTO and shared information with other community members. I would continue this practice as a board member.

3. 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)?

The celebration of diversity with the goal of understanding other people’s perspectives and experiences is a foundational value in my family. The desire to learn from people who are different than me and respect those differences while appreciating how we are similar is part of the core of who I am. My husband and I are from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds which means in our home we regularly have conversations about the varied experiences within our country and within River Forest specifically. I am the mother of a child with learning disabilities and physical impairments and have many relationships with children and parents with similar experiences. My work through the Community of Congregations allows me to engage with people with different faith traditions, gender identities, sexual preferences, housing experiences, and immigration statuses as well as individuals from a variety of age demographics (including many senior citizens). As a board member, I would consider our community as a whole and best represent the interests of the variety of people who make River Forest great. It is important to me that we all have a voice in the process.

4. What do you think should be the three main priorities for the District over the next four years?

First, ensuring the proper implementation of the initiatives being introduced. It is essential to support teachers during this process and properly assess what is working and where we need to improve while maintaining academic rigor. Second, is D90’s deficit spending. Because our district engages in long term financial planning, the deficit spending was anticipated. The district will continue deficit spending until bonds reach maturity and are sold. Because of the fiscal responsibility and healthy reserves, the district can cover overages but that is not a long-term solution. Other options must be explored. Finally, we must pay attention to the rise of anxiety and depression among our students. In a recent survey, 28% of Roosevelt 8th graders said they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. We have dedicated and creative social workers and programs through Connect4Kids but we must look for more ways to support our students. Struggles with mental health issues impacts children’s ability to learn and succeed. As a district that is dedicated to an excellent educational experience for all our kids, we have an obligation to better address this issue.

5. How can the District best assess the extent to which it is providing a quality education to the children of River Forest?

In the assessment process, the district must consider the whole child and the mission of instilling a love of learning and ensuring educational excellence for all children. Formal assessments and standardized tests are part of the process; guaranteeing that we are providing a rigorous curriculum that allows our students to make progress towards Illinois Learning Standards. Data sharing with D200 is useful to determine where our kids are succeeding and where they need more preparation which will allow D90 to modify curriculum as necessary. Teachers must remain a part of the assessment process by serving on committees that evaluate new curriculums and initiatives; piloting them in their classrooms allowing for teacher and parent feedback. Through informal conversations and formal communication D90 must engage teachers, parents and students to learn from their experiences and hear what they think allows for an engaging educational experience. D90 social workers have shared that they are seeing a rise in anxiety and depression among students. In order to provide a quality education, we must also assess how we are addressing this issue. A quality education is more than just test scores. It is about educating the whole child and instilling a growth mindset.

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

In creating a brand new elementary public school district, I would take into account the obligation that we have to best prepare our children for the modern world. I would look for ways to increase opportunities for critical thinking and problem solving. Using one of the main tenants of Universal Design for Learning, I would provide flexible learning environments including collaborative spaces for both students and teachers as well as gross and fine motor spaces within each classroom. I would include technology in ways that enrich student experience including stem labs within each classroom. I would create fully accessible classrooms and playgrounds. I would hire qualified teachers that are representative of the student body. I would provide all day kindergarten, air conditioning, and a functional cafeteria. I would increase engagement and communication between the board and stakeholders. In a completely ideal world, I would develop this school district in an area that is not land locked thereby allowing for the ability to grow over time as the community’s needs change.

7. What is your opinion on Universal Design for Learning?

UDL is an instructional model that has been around for 30 years. It allows for multiple means of expression, representation, and engagement. It allows for students to access materials in different ways and for more flexibility in how they show what they know. Its original purpose was to support special education students in general education classrooms but its application has been expanded to all students. UDL recognizes that we all learn differently and we all benefit from more individualized instruction. It moves away from standardized tests as the primary determinant for how children qualify for higher level classes and allows for classroom work to be a larger part of the decision making process. The purpose is to remove barriers for learning and increase access and opportunity. It is about excellence for all students. Many of our teachers are already using UDL strategies in the classroom. The adoption as a district initiative is to support a more uniform application. I fully support UDL and am excited about its implementation. I am proud of our administration and board for looking internally to determine how we can better serve our students by offering more individualized learning.

8. What is your position on providing a full-day kindergarten option in the district? What do you see as the primary benefits and challenges to providing full-day kindergarten?

All day kindergarten is a when rather than if question. Half day kindergarten is a logistical challenge for many families. The time crunch can at times be challenging for our teachers and for some kids. The discussion should be revisited in the context of other district priorities, initiatives and obligations. The main challenge is the cost. The state currently manages and pays our teachers’ pensions. This responsibility will likely be transferred to the district in the near future. Out of respect for our teachers we must set aside money to fully fund their pensions. D90 is also in deficit spending and we must take that into consideration. My son attended all-day kindergarten and my two daughters attending half day. Both had benefits and challenges for my family and children. For full day, it was beneficial for instruction to be broken up over the course of the day intermixed with play based learning opportunities. Because the board is accountable to the tax payers of River Forest, it is important to take a critical eye to decisions that involve such large initial and year over year expenditures. Unfortunately, it is a complicated decision but I welcome the opportunity to revisit the discussion.

9. Beyond measuring student academic achievement through standardized testing, how should District 90 measure its progress in improving equity and inclusion?

One of the most valuable ways will be teacher, student, and parent feedback. D90’s Inclusion Advisory Board recently met with a group of Roosevelt students who shared their feelings about RMS’s culture. It was an eye opening experience for those who participated and such conversations must continue as a way to monitor our progress. Parent and student surveys will offer important insights and responses can be tracked over time. D90 can monitor progress towards the efforts to hire qualified staff who are more representative of our student body. D90 can also look at data relating to the number of students from marginalized groups who are gaining access to higher level classes (including but not limited to children of color, children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, children with identified disabilities, children who are LGBTQ). Although board and staff have participated in implicit bias training related specifically to race, it is important to widen this training to include other marginalized groups. The district should also look to continue to partner with outside agencies, such as the National Equity Project, that can offer analysis on where we are succeeding and where we can improve.

10. The Board recently took a position against arming teachers/school staff. Do you agree or disagree with that position? Please explain.

I agree with the position against arming teachers/school staff. Guns have no place in schools. Teachers and school staff should be focused on educating our children.

11. As of the drafting of this questionnaire, the current Board was poised to adopt a policy for gender inclusivity. What is your understanding of that work? Do you support gender inclusivity? Please explain.

I support creating an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment for all our students – including LGBTQ students. As part of professional development last year, our teachers received training from Lurie Children’s Hospital about how to best support LGBTQ students and learned important steps for creating a more inclusive environment. Board members watched Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric to better inform themselves specifically about transgender students’ experiences and have formed an ad hoc committee to evaluate other districts’ gender inclusivity policies with the goal of formulating a policy specifically for D90. I think it is essential for the board to adopt a policy that allows all children to feel safe and welcome in our classrooms. For full inclusivity students must also feel that they have a valued voice and must see themselves and varying family structures reflected in the curriculum and learning materials in the classroom, including books in our classroom libraries.

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

Rebecca DeGroff $500

Carol Tully $500

Multiple $100 donors

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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.]