laurence a. disch
CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 100 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 100?
I co-parent my ten-year old grandson with my daughter. As a primary caretaker, I interact daily with the Irving School staff, experience the community of parents and children and have a firsthand look into my grandson’s educational journey. What I see inspires me. I see children excited to be with one another, parents interacting with each other and a dedicated school staff working under difficult circumstance. I sit down with my grandson every weeknight to check his homework and help him work through things he doesn’t understand.
I am a strong proponent of public education. My wife and I have post graduate degrees. My spouse is a public school bilingual teacher and my children attended public schools and are college graduates. One completed graduate school. We value education. We live and breathe it.
As a senior in the community I understand the need for a community with strong schools but also feel the anxiety of accelerating property taxes. My household is multigenerational partly because of these rising costs of living. These perspectives are a strength.
I am a retired mental health professional. I have handled many challenging and painful situations and I am keenly aware of the impact that communities have on our individual and family wellbeing. This awareness is my strength. I listen carefully, assess situations objectively and seek the best solutions even when there seem to be no good answers.
The school district community needs these perspectives and I want to be in a position to enhance not only the Irving School Community but the greater school community of South Berwyn District 100. Public education is a critical institution in the community and, unfortunately, trust in that institution is wavering. We need to restore that trust.
2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?
An effective school board member…
must understand the role of oversight and avoid the pitfall of micromanaging problem areas.
seeks open dialogue and input from the community, speaks his/her mind and be wise to reduce tension and promote cooperation.
insures that all students be treated with respect and justice.
Works as part of a team, realizing the that Board is the authority not individual.
Uses her/his voice to resolve and reconcile differences.
3. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
As a community based mental health counselor, I dealt with many challenging situations. When a person became a danger to oneself or others, tactics to ensure safety had to be made and earning the cooperation of the person and families must be achieved for successful outcomes. In situations like these, it is critical to clearly state the goals, listen to all of the concerns that may conflict with or complicate achievement of the goal and then work toward a resolution.
From these experiences, I learned to never give up.
4. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Transparency is honest, open and accountable. It is an obligation of school board governance to act with integrity and independence; to share information with citizens and focus on the school districts interests. Concerns about power and influence arise when partisan politics intersect with school board races. School boards have a long tradition of being non-partisan and I believe its members must continue to honor this tradition.
I would focus on the task at hand and not my personal concerns. I will remain independent and non-partisan.
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)?
My whole life has been painted with an incredible number of opportunities to work with many people different than me.
As a young man, I tutored low income African American kids in a racially divided St. Louis.
I spent a college gap year in 1974 working for an elementary school serving Native American children on The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
I was a prevocational teacher aid for a school in the St. Louis Special School District.
I provided case management services for severely physically disabled children at United Cerebral Palsy Association
I was a community case manager for chronic mentally ill adults and children at risk in South Chicago.
As a mental health counselor, I have been present with families and individuals in crisis and extreme circumstances.
And my wonderful spouse is an immigrant from Chile.
The thread that runs through all these experiences is that we are all the same. Our differences are superficial.
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 career as a mental health professional informs my values regarding this topic. We should shift our focus to disciplinary approaches that enable students to consider the consequences of their behavior and move them toward making amends. This approach builds relationships and fosters community. School safety is of the highest concern so some lines must be drawn, but many transgressions can be dealt with using this approach. Staff training is critical in making this approach a successful one.
Programs that promote the social emotional development of students and services that identify mental health concerns are increasingly important. School social workers can work with community-based services to provide direct services to students and families in need. They can also enlist the cooperation of parents through interventions, support and education. This work should be emphasized and expanded.
7. Some homeowners were shocked by the size of the tax increase after the recent referendum. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with district stakeholders’ desire to have a school district that effectively serves all students?
The South Berwyn District 100 voters approved a referendum that asked for an increase of 2.2 million dollars. I supported it and I am a senior citizen facing a fixed income. The reason for the “shock” was due to Cook County triannual reassessment increasing valuations and the Board’s lack of understanding as to how this changed the calculus. The referendum increase was an unintended consequence, a mistake. The intention of the referendum ($2.2 million increase) should be honored and the Board should commit to voting for an underlevy during the next four-year term to return the overcharge (the unintended excess) to Berwyn property owners.
The District will have the $2.2 million increase to implement the referendum’s stated goals. This increase in funding should be used effectively to serve all the students in the District as is their charge. In our own city, North Berwyn District 98 has a balanced budget, pays their teachers more and achieved higher test scores. I believe we can do it too.
8. Between 2007 and 2018, the budget for the District has nearly doubled, and yet standardized test scores have fallen. What do you believe is the cause for this decrease in student performance on standardized tests?
It is clear that there is a disconnect between money spent and scores achieved. Curriculum alignment is be a part of the problem as well as an over reliance on technology. Scores are slowly improving according to the most recently presented data and hopefully this trend will continue.
But I would like to reevaluate and possibly pull back from our emphasis on technology which has been very expensive for the District. I have not been impressed with how it has been utilized in my grandson’s case and I am aware that many successful districts have not relied on it.
I would also like to explore programs that encourage increased parental participation in their student’s school life. Parental engagement is a marker for student success. District 98 has clear successes and maybe we can learn a few things from them.
9. 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?
I have made a personal decision to stay away from social media. I find it mostly superficial and distracting, and often deceptive and destructive. I prefer direct communication where rules of respect and accountability are rewarded with trust. Communicating with constituents can be done through the District website. Social media can be utilized to disseminate information regarding meeting dates and times as well as special events I would be available to participate in open public venues like district meetings and parent gatherings and through one on one personal contacts.
10.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?
The District is currently involved in studying achievement gaps of special needs groups at each school. Presentations were made by half of the District schools at the last board meeting. Acknowledgment of the issue and ongoing attention will enable the District to put in place specific program strategies to improve scores. The results of these program will be evident in the scores.
11.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?
I would ask for and depend on information from experts along with drawing my own conclusions based on my years of experience on how best to serve students of the District. Prioritizing this not an option, but a necessity.
Demographics of the District show a student body made up of 84% Hispanic and almost 3% African American. I believe the District needs a major focus on building a more diverse staff. There should be a four to five-year plan with specific strategies to recruit teachers of color. It is also important to put in place professional development programs that support instructor awareness of how culture impacts classroom management and instruction.
12.Would you support funding to ensure that each District 100 school has a trained librarian, a nurse, adequate social workers & counselors, and support staff?
13.How do you strive to decolonize education? What work have you done personally and professionally to support this process?
For starters, the School Board should reflect the diversity of the community. If the two Hispanic candidates, Elizabeth Jimenez and Desiree Robles are not elected to the Board, you will see only white faces at the table.
The District 100 student population majority Hispanic. An emphasis should be made towards recruiting education staff and administrators that reflect our community.
Another related issue is the presence of partisan politics in this school board election. Our mayor has openly thrown his support behind three candidates for District 100. And for what reason?
The mayor is also supporting particular candidates from Cicero that are running for reelection to the High School District 201 and the Morton College District. It is well known that Cicero politics have long controlled these bodies of local government and Berwyn’s mayor is supporting its continuation. Why does the mayor encourage this? It’s about power. It is time for outside influencers to back away from school affairs.
I am running with an independent group of residents seeking only individual supporters.
14.What have been your most useful sources of information about pre-secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
I am not a student of pre-secondary education research. But I am resourceful and would know how to access information when needed through the local university system and building relationships with peers at other districts.
15.What is your vision for early childhood education in Berwyn? Do you support the right for every child regardless of immigration status to receive a public education as specified in Illinois law? How can you educate and support these families’ involvement in the school?
Early childhood education should be available to all children. Decades of research assert the benefits of preschool services on later student success. All children, regardless of immigration status should have access to a safe and formative environment that promotes social and cognitive skill development. Community outreach strategies can be developed to identify families with children.
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Robert Fejt, $100
Jose Ramirez, $100
Anthony Harris, $100
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[The above answers were supplied on 3/22/19. 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.]