Katherine Murray-Liebl



What motivates you to seek this office?  Have you participated in public service in the past?  If so, how? If not, why now?  What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the running of the school district?

I am motivated for a number of reasons to seek this office.  First, as a former middle school teacher and as someone who has worked in many different educational settings from early childhood to high school, including special education settings, I believe that my background knowledge and experience would be an asset as the board works to make decisions about curriculum, programming, and policies. I also believe that my background would be beneficial as the board strives to work collaboratively with our teachers in order to fulfill its mission to provide a high quality education to all of our D97 students in an inclusive and equitable way with a focus on the whole child.

I also bring my perspective as an adoptive mother of 4 African-American children (3 of whom are currently in D97) and as a 15-year resident of Oak Park. I have been active at Longfellow while 3 of my children (5th, 3rd and PKP) have been there.  I have volunteered in classrooms, served on the PTO as VP of Enrichment, Co-President, and as a PTO Council Representative. Currently I am serving as a member of the Diversity Committee.  While my children have been at Longfellow, I have worked on issues related to food allergy and wellness guidelines and  brought attention to issues surrounding equity as they arose for my children and other children as well.

Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change?  Why or why not?

I would describe myself as an incremental agent of social change. I don’t feel as if I fall specifically into a particular social change agent category.  This is the way I would describe my role as a change agent so far in my life:  I usually become interested in a particular issue, I engage in conversations with people also concerned about that issue and ask pointed and pertinent questions, and then I work to solve the problem at hand.  My desire to do this comes from a personal commitment that I have to society as a whole.  I am committed to using my resources and talents to bring change, in small increments (adding to the sea of change), to my community and the communities beyond my doorstep.

I have always used my voice to help other voices be heard.  I am not afraid to ask questions and to be persistent about finding answers.  I believe that knowing which questions to ask and insisting upon answers that can then be shared with the community  is of vital importance when it comes to serving on the school board.  I hope to be able to serve the community in this way.  If elected, I will continue to ask pertinent and direct questions and work to solve identified problems that exist in order to bring equity and inclusiveness to all of our D97 students.

One of the most important roles of the school board is connecting with the community, both serving as as an advocate for district improvement and reporting back to the community on the district’s performance. Do you believe the board’s communication processes have been successful in recent years?  What specifically would you do to improve two-way communication?

Connecting with the community is one of the roles that I am most anxious to play if elected to the school board.  I think that over the years, there has been a disconnect in communication between the board and the community. As a community, I believe that we have a duty, regardless of which role we find ourselves in (parents, educators, leaders, etc.), to seek open, honest and effective paths of communication.  I am fully aware that a  breakdown in communication can occur for many different reasons; I don’t believe that it is always the fault of one party. All sides need to engage in order to have effective communication.  

Working to engage the community in a way that opens lines of communication would be a priority for me.  I think that the current board is on the right track with the newly formed Committee for Community Engagement. I think an additional committee that focuses on issues related to equity is absolutely necessary. I would also like to see the board offer more frequent opportunities to engage with the community in a less formal setting than the regularly scheduled board meetings.  Holding monthly or bi-monthly townhalls, listening sessions, or online discussion forums where community members could ask questions or discuss a specific issue could be successful.

Oak Park has a persistent achievement gap between white and black students, despite ongoing conversations and a stated commitment to diversity. How will you support the district in addressing the achievement gap? What initiatives would you advocate?

The achievement gap is of great concern tor me as a parent of four African-American children and a member of this community.  We cannot consider our school system successful when we have a large achievement gap between white and black students. It is unacceptable to me that Oak Park, with resources greater than many of our surrounding areas and the desire to educate all students equitably, finds itself in this situation.  I believe that in addition to looking at ways in which our resources are or are not allocated equitably, we also need to look at the lack of diversity in our teaching staff, the expectations (or lack thereof) placed on all of our students, the implicit biases that exist and affect teaching and learning, and the reasons why our curriculum may not be engaging to all learners.  

I would advocate that we develop an urgent timeline for recruiting and hiring highly qualified teachers representative of our community in Oak Park; mandate ongoing professional development for teachers and staff that addresses implicit bias and the ways in which it affects teaching and learning in the classroom; and select highly engaging and culturally appropriate curriculum so that we meet the needs of our students by allowing them to connect with the curriculum in front of them.  

Racial bias is a persistent problem in special education.  How can the district address this issue at an institutional level?

I think the district can address the issue of racial bias in special education by looking at statistics related to which students are evaluated and placed into special education and why.   I believe that we should be looking at statistics and demographics in conjunction with one another and asking pointed questions any time we are grouping students by ability, evaluating disciplinary systems, and placing students in any educational environment (especially one that is outside the general education classroom environment).

When a student is considered for an evaluation that may or may not lead to special education services, there should be clear and consistent communication between all partners in the process.  Lack of knowledge about evaluations and systems can lead to parents making choices about the educational environment provided to their child without fully being aware of their legal rights.  As a district, we need to examine our system of identifying and evaluating students and how those statistics compare to our district’s demographics. The district also needs to identify ways to  present the information and choices to parents in a way that enables parents to fully understand their rights under the law and helps them to make informed and appropriate decisions about their child’s educational environment.

The board monitors progress toward district goals and compliance with board policies using data as the basis for assessment. What experience do you have with setting and managing to policies? How comfortable are you with data analysis?

As a former middle school teacher, I am familiar with how data is used to identify gaps and  inform teaching. I believe that when data is used to monitor progress, many other factors also need to be taken into consideration.  I do not believe that data collection can be used in isolation.  We must also be engaged in dialogue with all concerned parties to make sure that the data collected is in fact a true reflection of what is happening.  Before setting policies as a result of data analysis, it is important to gather input from many sources.

D97 has two referenda on the ballot this year. Do you support these referenda? Why or why not?

Currently, D97 is at a point where we cannot continue to provide the quality of education we have come to expect in Oak Park without an increase of funding for our schools.  We can no longer count on our state to provide even the minimal amount of funding needed. We have also seen a large increase in our student population, making the current level of funding inadequate for our growing needs.  In addition to a lack of state funding and a drastic increase in our student population, the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) limits the incremental amount of funding we are able to receive from standard tax increases, forcing districts to go to referendum to enable the community to decide on the relative need for an increase in funding through a referendum.

As a parent and a community member, I feel it is necessary to provide the school district with the funds it needs to keep our buildings safe and in working order; hire, retain and support qualified teachers; and provide our students with engaging and rigorous curriculum, class sizes that  provide an optimal learning environment, opportunities for support and enrichment, and programs that promote physical and social-emotional learning and growth.  

Even if the referenda pass, D97 will need to contain costs. Where do you think the district should make cuts? Which programs should be protected? Address specifically your recommendation on the middle school CAST and BRAVO programs, library aids, etc.

While I don’t believe that I can suggest specific programs to be cut without further input and discussion from board members, teachers and staff, and community members, I do believe that when addressing cuts, we should focus on:

1) Equity (How are we equitably allocating resources to each of our current programs? Are we supporting programs that serve a variety of interests and address a variety of needs within our community?)

2) Whole-child education (Are we selecting programs and resources that directly align with our vision and goals to support the whole child? How are we specifically addressing the academic, social-emotional and physical needs of our students? Are we giving students opportunities for learning and engagement outside of their core subjects?)

3) Excellence (Are the programs and resources selected enabling each one of our learners in D97 to reach our standard of excellence?)

4) Professional Development (Are we providing our teachers and staff the opportunity to learn more about teaching our students in a way that is culturally appropriate and engaging?  Are we supporting opportunities for our teachers to reflect on messaging and implicit bias that may be affecting their students’ ability to participate and engage in learning?)

Staff salary and benefits account for roughly 80% of D97 costs, and the current teacher contract ends 2018. What experience and ideas would you bring to the upcoming contract negotiation?

As a former middle school teacher, I understand a great deal about what parents, administrators board members and students expect of teachers and staff and how all of those expectations are wrapped into contracts and negotiations.  If I am involved in the 2018 negotiations, I would bring my perspective as an educator as well as my perspective as a parent in D97 to the table.  By 2018, we will hopefully be able to observe whether or not the new salary scale is in fact having its desired effect.  I believe that there are ways to invest in our teachers (through professional development opportunities supplied by the district) that are seen as beneficial from the perspective of the teacher and the district alike.  

Seventy percent of D97 funding comes from local property taxes.  How can taxpayers get the most for their money?  What experience would you bring to your role of financial oversight for the district?

My experience as Co-President of the Longfellow PTO taught me a lot about being a financial steward. We were asked to receive money provided by parents through fundraising and allocate that money equitably throughout the programming offered by the PTO. We were asked to ensure that we had a variety of programming for both boys and girls at a variety of ages and with a variety of interests and needs.  We were asked to ensure that all children had access to all programming provided by the PTO and that we provided financial support to those who needed it.  Balancing a budget created with public school fundraising and creating a system of programming that offered activities and support to a variety of students was a great responsibility and one that I took very seriously.

When we talk about how we as taxpayers can  get the most for our money, we don’t need to look far.  In addition to high-quality education in Oak Park’s public school system, I would urge taxpayers to use the many great resources available to us here in Oak Park.  We have a fantastic library system.  We have a park district that provides programs and facilities that are second to none.  We have services offered through the Township that provide valuable services to many Oak Parkers and we have police and fire departments that are always on hand to provide guidance and protection.  As a school district, I think we can always improve on ways to lean on and collaborate with all of the services and programs offered to us as taxpayers in Oak Park.

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

When I decided to run for a seat on the D97 board, I decided that I would fund my own campaign.  While it has not been easy or ideal to rely solely on my own resources, I felt most comfortable with the decision to fund my campaign without the help of donations. With my limited personal resources, I have purchased postcards, yard signs and an occasional advertising boost on Facebook. This decision  limited the resources that I had available to me, but I have been fortunate that many friends and supporters have chosen to donate their time,  energy and support! Thank you!