District 98 school board (4 open seats)

Fritz Paul-Emile | Rob Pabon | Brian Swade | JoAnn Kulis-Kearns Valeriano




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 98?

My motivation behind seeking this elected position lies in my passion to serve my community. As a nonprofit professional, I spent the beginning of my career working with opportunity youth to achieve their academic and career goals. My participants were young adults - many of them from Berwyn ranging from ages 16 to 24 - who were facing multiple barriers and were out of school. My experiences have equipped me with a trauma-informed lens that has allowed me to approach serious issues in a mindful and restorative manner. I also had the opportunity to work in collaboration with parents and families to ensure their youth were being empowered during this critical period.

As a community member, I organized the Berwyn Free Library Initiative which to date has installed fifteen new free libraries in North Berwyn. To accomplish this, I have organized volunteer opportunities for over 100 volunteers since the project launched in 2018 and I have worked with multiple institutions and stakeholders. I’ve also made it a priority that we collect books in Spanish to create access for all community members. I hope to bring my community-building, project management, and consultant skills to the district to continue to serve others.

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

A School Board Member should be an active listener, efficient communicator, and diligent representative of the community. As a School Board Member, you hear many different points of view from many different stakeholder groups. You must be willing to actively listen to everyone to ensure you are making a good decision for the students, teachers, and parents of the district.

It is also important to have a skillset around clearly and efficiently making your argument; this will make board meetings more productive and professional. I also believe that personal issues should not become board business. Board members are elected to represent the people, not their own interests.

In addition, School Board Members should advocate for community or academic issues they are passionate about. They should also possess the necessary skillset to build consensus around that issue. If they are not an expert in the field of education, they should do the research to become an informed and active participant in the process.

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

My professional experience has given me insight in working with diverse stakeholder groups in which there are many different interests to balance. As a Senior Manager, I spend much of my time working with these stakeholder groups to learn their motivations and goals, so I can better advocate for them when organizing community events. I also believe that while I am beholden to all stakeholders, I use my negotiating skills and influence to serve as an ally for community interests. In this case, making community the center of our work is crucial to the success and sustainability of our projects. If I were to take this mindset and bring it to the District 98, I would make students the center of our work.

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

The best way to build trust in any scenario is to start out with a foundation of transparency. Without transparency there is no trust and without trust the entire process becomes compromised. Transparency in government should account for community support and participation. Community members and other stakeholders should have the opportunity to learn about topics that are being decided on and present their support or concerns during public comment. This allows parents, students, or community members the opportunity to speak on a decision that will impact their lives.

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)?

I think if you are going to run for an elected position you need to be connected to your community. Over the past few years, I have worked on issues facing youth, literacy for all, and organized a march on immigrant rights. Through this work, I have met with a variety of stakeholders and had crucial conversations around the issues that are important to them.

As a Latinx, cisgender, male-identifying, abled, middle-class, parent of three, I also think it is important to break down my own biases and engage in conversations with diverse groups of people. I also do my best to speak with individuals that do not hold the same beliefs as me, so I have a better understanding of how the issues impact them.

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?

As a trained circle keeper, I firmly believe that punitive action takes place far too often in school settings. There are times when students face trauma themselves and are acting out to signal for help or to cope.

A young adult’s pre-frontal cortex (there executive decision-making function) isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. We shouldn’t punish our children so severely when they make many of their decisions based off emotion. For those who are learning about restorative justice or are skeptical, it doesn’t mean that rules don’t apply. Restorative Justice intentionally shifts the focus from the punishment to the opportunity for all parties to heal and move forward in community. If done correctly, it could empower everyone who was involved to be more mindful and intentional.

I would continue to support organizations like Youth Crossroads to be a part of the solution for students who are facing disciplinary challenges and push the district to be more restorative in practice, while providing mental health services and supports early on. Social and emotional learning is critical to being preventative and proactive but for it to be successful it must be culturally responsive.

7. 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 started using social media at a very young age, so I understand the benefits and disadvantages of using this platform. Social media can be a powerful tool to raise consciousness, highlight injustice, and build knowledge around an issue. It can also be a toxic space that elevates false information, encourages narcissism, and preys on vulnerable populations. For these reasons, I tend to organize around issues by having real life conversations with people who are curious, concerned, or passionate about issues facing their communities.

I do understand that not everyone has the same access to elected officials, so I would encourage people to reach out to me in ways that are comfortable to them. Crucial conversations should happen in person or in a group setting. Social media often encourages misunderstandings and I would want to be very intentional about my views or platform.

If elected officials do respond to a post or make a public comment on social media, I think that they should be respectful and professional even when being opposed. It is important that elected officials show respect to the office and their constituents by holding themselves to high standards.

8. As District 98 begins the process of searching for a new superintendent, what special skills do you bring to the search process? How would you evaluate candidates for this critical position?

As a trained job developer, I have an expertise in building resumes, coaching individuals on interview techniques, and possess a keen eye for passionate individuals with the skills to match.

I also spent a substantial amount of time in my professional career recruiting, screening, interviewing, and selecting new hires. In 2016, I received a certificate for completing the Non-Profit Human Resource Leadership Program with University of Notre Dame through the Cicero Youth Task Force. This also provided me with a strong background in human resource management that I plan on using to serve the district.

One of my main goals is to ensure the quality and efficacy of the candidate search process, by taking the necessary time to be selective and intentional. Once a diverse and dynamic pool of individuals are selected, I will support candidates who possess the vision and capacity to be transformative and not complacent or regressive. District 98 deserves a leader who will build upon successes and demand innovation. It is also important to me that candidates are culturally responsive and can connect to the community they serve. Parents deserve someone who is going to understand their perspective and champion community focused initiatives.

9. 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 first piece of evidence needed to assess the district’s success would be classroom assessment data. Along with the data, I would want to know what differentiation occurred. Differentiation is important because all students should be given the opportunity to succeed. Apart from classroom assessment data, I would want to see data from the most recent state test. Knowing what neighboring districts that are successful and have similar demographics are doing in respect to special needs and the achievement gap would be beneficial.

10. 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?

One of my mentors taught me a guiding question that leads me to an equity analysis whenever I’m faced with an important decision. I ask myself. Who does this benefit and/or who does this harm? I ask myself this question often while leading in community and serving on the school board.

As someone who has a background in African and Black Diaspora studies, I would be an advocate for Latinx and African American students. It is important to serve and invest in disenfranchised groups to ensure they are receiving equitable opportunities to succeed.

11. Would you support funding to ensure that each D98 school has a trained librarian, a nurse, adequate social workers & counselors, and support staff?

Yes. We owe it to our students to provide them with the necessary supports and staff to ensure their success. We also need to be mindful of how lack of resources and staff impacts teachers and current support staff. Most professionals would not put up with working at companies or organizations that aren’t adequately staffed. We shouldn’t expect that teachers, nurses, social workers and support staff endure this because they are passionate about education. They deserve to be supported.

12. How do you strive to decolonize education? What work have you done personally and professionally to support this process?

As someone who has studied and practiced the co-active coaching model, I believe in educating the whole person and not just the student. I am also a firm believer that students should be learning about topics that link back to their community or culture.

Leading the Berwyn Free Library Initiative is one way I strive to bring education to the students and families of the community. This campaign creates access to resources and bilingual literature that community members can utilize. It is also an opportunity to bring public services to the community. In partnership with the Berwyn Public Library we also organize story telling times in public spaces near little free libraries, so community members can stay in their neighborhood and still participate.

When working with youth, I also worked on a small committee to restructure our GED program. We realized that the youth we were serving did not feel comfortable in a traditional classroom setting, so we reorganized the space, developed lessons that were culturally responsive and allowed them to lead more in class. Class participation increased and so did GED graduate numbers.

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

Berwyn North District 98 has brilliant educators and experts that provide insight and guidance to the board. I learn every time I speak with an administrator or teacher in the district and it is great to know that we are supported in that way.

I also meet with a group of educators regularly to stay on top of any issues or developments within education. These conversations keep me informed and empower me to make better decisions when it comes to issues that impact students, teachers and curriculum.

14. 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?

All the research points to early childhood education being the most critical opportunity to impact the academic future of a child. The amount of growth that can be made in that period is astonishing and many families don’t have the resources or capacity to provide their children with opportunities at that age. As a community, we need to do a better job of explaining the impact and benefits of focusing on early childhood education. I believe that every child regardless of immigration status deserves a strong start to their education and should have access to early childhood services.

To accomplish this, Berwyn needs an educational campaign to share the importance of early childhood education, so that families understand how critical early years are to the development of their child.

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

I am not funded by any donors. I have decided not to take or ask for any campaign donations.

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[The above answers were supplied on 3/18/19. 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.]