NATHAN “NED” WAGNER
CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 209 SCHOOL BOARD
1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the School Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 209?
I am running for reelection to the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 Board of Education because the Proviso Together team of Claudia Medina, Theresa Kelly and I have spent the last 4 years laying the foundation for sustained educational excellence in our schools and I want to protect that work and steward the results. Proviso High Schools is at a critical juncture in it's transformation and it is imperative that experienced and disciplined board leadership remains in place to provide guidance to administration as we delve deeper into the work to identify opportunities as they arise and to assert a collective mindset that balances satisfying short term needs and committing to the long term planning we have put into place. It is absolutely the wrong time to change board leadership, especially considering the district's past history of governance plagued with cronyism and patronage. We have proven that success can and will continue to happen by focusing on what is best for our kids. We must keep it going.
I hold a bachelor’s in psychology and masters degree in human services administration which gives me a unique educational framework to help everyone in our district. My psychology studies have helped me understand the emotional needs of our students and teachers and to help me contribute to the transformation of how our district meets the needs of every person in our schools.
My degree in Human Services Administration gives me the knowledge and perspective to collaborate with the high functioning leadership team we have assembled to wisely utilize district finances, balancing short term needs with long term planning, and to govern our schools' operations efficiently and effectively. 32 years working in social services has taught me the importance of ethics and of focusing the district's resources and intentions on the people we serve - our children.
2. What are District 209’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for District 209?
The greatest strength in our district is our resources. Four years ago we were told we were a poor district and, as a result, cannot achieve. We have proven this totally false! We have more than enough resources to create 3 amazing schools.
One of the challenges we face is staying focused on using our our resources wisely and using them to overcome decades of institutional neglect and deferred maintenance and lack of resources for our kids. Additionally, we will need to address the achievement gap between PMSA and East and West.
With the right leadership in place, we will have 3 excellent high schools that any parent would be proud of. We are shattering the current Paradigm so that our kids will be ready for whatever they want to do in life.
3. What does transparency in government mean to you? Give one example of an action you would take as Board Member reflecting your views on this topic. How would you evaluate the Village’s record on transparency?
Transparency is when all the cards are on the table. Transparency is the key to ensuring the governing body is making decisions in the public eye. Making all information public and governing by the rule of law.
We have made huge strides to create more transparency. For starters, we now live stream and record school board meetings. Work that once happened behind closed doors now happens in committee meetings open to the public.
4. What steps will you take to enhance 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?
We have spent the last 4 years building relationships with the parents and directed a lot of resources to helping parents navigate the school system. We have given them the tools to help their children succeed. We worked with the local business community to find partners for our career communities and the faith community to create mentoring programs, faith support and food solutions and attendance with our children. We have built relationships with village governments and elementary districts.
5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group?
According to the census, Proviso Township is almost equally divided between White, African American and Latino residents. However, as a parent in District 209, I represent a super minority. This means I am continually immersed in our Districts socio-economic and cultural needs -- I work daily to serve the needs of every child in our district. Claudia, Theresa and I run together because we represent diverse ethnicities and cultural backgrounds of our district. As a team, this gives us the ability to look at issues from different viewpoints, and provides a unity of purpose that had been lacking in District 209.
6. If you could create a brand new public high school district from scratch, what would it look like?
I would create a district that is accessible with grand common areas, collaborative learning spaces that engage students and faculty to create and learn using next generation technology.
7. 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?
Special Education at D209 is interesting because we belong to the PAEC Special Education Collective. Over 200 Proviso high school students receive services at PAEC. I am very proud of the inclusion efforts that D209 has made over the last four years. Co-Taught classes that promote mainstreaming of students with IEPs have quadrupled during our tenure on the board. As far as the achievement gap is concerned, Proviso High Schools are in a unique situation. The traditional achievement gap in America is correlated with racial inequity. At D209 this is not the case. The achievement gap is an inter-school dynamic where the students at PMSA achieve significantly higher test scores than the students at Proviso East and West. We have taken tremendous measures to direct resources towards closing this gap. Examples of these efforts include redistributing teachers to support the standard of care wherein there is a 25-1 student to teacher ratio at East and West as opposed to the 30-1 ratio at PMSA; the establishment of Parent Centers staffed by Parent Coordinators at East and West to empower and engage parents in their students' education; the addition of Instructional Coaches and Interventionists at East and West; the establishment of Freshman Academies at East and West; the implementation of Transformation Plans at East and West that are completely revamping the curriculum to Competency Based and Mastery Learning where students learn at their own pace and are held to national standards of completion; the establishment of Career Academies at East and West; and the addition of Extended Learning Opportunities for Students where students have time to meet with their own teachers to receive targeted tutoring, help with their homework, credit recovery and acceleration; and increased AP offerings at East and West.
8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
In my humble opinion the greatest source of information regarding secondary education is being provided by the superintendent we hired 2 1/2 years ago, Dr. Jesse Rodriguez. His ability to assess, analyze, organize, put into action, and monitor results quickly is amazing. Dr. Rodriguez is taking our Board's vision and making it into a reality. A board's main responsibility is to hire and work collaboratively with a highly effective superintendent and in this case the only grade we can give ourselves is an A+. I have also learned a great deal about secondary education from collaborating with board members from other Proviso school districts and attending the Triple I conferences annually.
9. 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?
This is indeed a balancing act considering that, upon being elected in 2015, we were tasked with upgrading our school facilities in the face of over 30 years of deferred maintenance and institutional neglect that literally had students using photocopies and text books from the 1980's. We have addressed this balance by aggressively searching for and re-purposing massive inefficiencies in the district's operations. By accurately sectioning teachers; replacing complacent vendors with dynamic and talented ones; by restructuring and efficiently using our grant monies; by improving our Bond Rating to A+ during our tenure we have been able to not only make an initial purchase of over $1M dollars in textbooks and institute a textbook renewal cycle, but this year the Freshman at Proviso East were the first recipients of laptops and by this time next year all students will have 1:1 laptop computers. Meanwhile through efficient spending; disciplined saving; taking advantage of our increase bond rating to re-finance expensive pre-existing bonds to lower interest rates; and the issuing of very low interest rate limited bonds: Proviso High Schools District 209 has $62M in the bank and will have $77M total to fund the first 3 years of our facility master plan and begin the long over due upgrading of our school facilities. And this is all being done without raising taxes.
10. In what ways can District 209 collaborate with District 91 and other pre-secondary school districts to more adequately prepare students for the transition to high school?
District 209 has been creating wonderful collaborative relationships with all of the foundation elementary districts that send their graduates on to Proviso High Schools. We offer 8th grade algebra to school districts who do not have enough students to support an entire section; our Assistant Superintendent of Academics has been working with the elementary Assistant Superintendents to align mathematics curricula so that graduating 8th graders will be assured of having the proper level of math fluency to succeed at the high school level; and that collaboration is soon to be expanded to the department chair level creating even more specific and nuanced alignment to ensure success. Our summer school program has camps for rising freshman to help them make friends and acclimate to their home high school, as well.
11. Early this year the School Board approved an extensive new master facilities plan for an estimated $77 million in improvements at all three high schools. What tradeoffs do you see for a facilities investment of this magnitude? Are there instances where the Board should have gone further?
The age of our school buildings combined with the extensive deferred maintenance liability creates a situation in which to complete all the work envisioned during our Community Engagement Sessions and Steering Committee work would require a referendum. This board is very sensitive to the financial and economic realities that face our community and we committed to doing as much facility upgrading as possible without raising taxes. This is a minimum 10 year plan and if the board stays true to its vision and disciplined in following our financial guidelines there will be more funding available 5-8 years in the future to continue upgrading our facilities. Are there amazing and wonderful projects that are on the back burner? Of course. Our goal is to complete the most important and high impact facility upgrades without raising taxes over the next 10 years.
12. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Proviso Together for Better Schools donated about $1900, which was all raised at a pig roast fundraiser at Claudia’s house. I donated $1525, and Amanda Grant’s Aunt Linda in Westchester donated about $1000. However, most of our contributions are $25-$50 at a time raised through grassroots fundraisers. People contribute to our campaign because they believe in our vision for District 209.
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[The above answers were supplied on 2/21/19. 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.]
Proviso Together (campaign Facebook page)
Forest Park Review endorsement (Forest Park Review 3/19/19)
Proviso Together pushes forward by looking back (Forest Park Review 12/4/18)
Proviso Together kicks off re-election campaign (Forest Park Review 11/6/18)
Proviso Together campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Proviso Together financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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Claims pile up in D209 board race (Forest Park Review 3/26/19)
State data outlines financial state of D209 campaigns (Forest Park Review 3/5/19)
D209 candidates file (Forest Park Review 12/18/18)