CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 100 SCHOOL BOARD
[Amber Dawn, Andrea Dressel, and Sarah Lopez submitted their answers to the Activist Toolkit Questionnaire as a slate.]
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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?
We are seeking 3 seats on the D100 Board of Education to ensure the education of every student in our district. We believe that people who value education should sit on the board of education. There are large achievement gaps, high teacher turnover and low assessment scores that are affecting our students, schools and community. We are dedicated, inventive, tenacious and resourceful. We used these skills to bring the community together to build a playground for one of the D100 schools and the surrounding community with no cost to the district or the taxpayers. It took a year to complete the project. We learned many things about funding, grants, community partnerships and engagement. The approximate cost of that park is $200k, it is a place where this community can come together and connect, a place where the children can run and get the healthy exercise they need and be safe. We will use the lessons learned while building the playground to enhance our district that gets just 51% of the funds it needs to serve our students.
2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?
A board is a team of leaders that create a foundation for which a Mission is cultivated. That Mission is to inspire a passion for learning in every student. A board member should value education, value our students, listen to the community, communicate with them honestly and openly, be tenacious and highly inquisitive before voting on something that affects our students and community. A board member should be eager to work as a team to solve the district’s biggest challenges. A board member should be a leader that can envision the long-term, bigger picture and leads the district towards accomplishing its Mission.
3. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
We are three mothers of young children, so we would say we manage competing interests constantly.
Amber Dawn: I faced many obstacles in the Piper Playground project. The district did not like my ideas for fundraisers, they conflicted with the policies of the district. So the Piper Playground Fund was established and I raised the money independently. I took the school district out of the equation. I lobbied the Health District and the Parks District for help. In the beginning The Health District thought that the School District should pay for the playground and told me they would not help, I kept asking. I, along with the Irving PTO were able to get the
Health District to agree to allocate $80k for playground grants not just for Piper but for all of Berwyn. I then had to ask the School District to ask the Health District for help. We were awarded a $55k grant from the Health district for the project. I learned that by listening, learning, compromising and being determined is how to accomplish your goals.
Andrea Dressel: This campaign is the most recent. Running for office, even a volunteer position, means spending many hours away from home and family. Planning, fundraising, attending events, meeting with our elected officials, previous Board members, attending Board meetings and door knocking mean that I miss bedtime for my 18 month old son most nights right now and my four year old daughter begs me to stay home anytime I grab my coat.
I find strength in knowing that I am doing it for the betterment of our community. I just power through. I am taking this run for office very seriously and I am able to stay focused on the task at hand because of the support of this community and my husband. That is exactly what will drive me to manage the sometimes competing interests of the kids and the taxpayers, however I truly believe these two things are not mutually exclusive.
4. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Transparency is the sharing of information and ease in which communication takes place from the governing body to the community, honestly and openly. We have several ideas about this. First, we need to make a stronger effort to include our Spanish Speaking community. We can do this by having video from Board meetings dubbed in Spanish and finding a cost effective method of interpreting meetings in real time. Second, we must improve the district’s website by getting the district’s financial reports and link to illinoisreportcard.com front and center so that it is easier to see the most important information about our district performance. We must also make it easier to find contact info for teachers, administrators and the Board. Our schools are directly linked to our community and our students will be the future of our community. Everyone, whether they have children in the district or not should take an active interest in our schools and students. We believe that a sharing of information and ease of communication would encourage this to occur.
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)?
Berwyn is a delightfully diverse community. We don’t believe in walls that divide us but rather bridges to connect us. Everyone has a seat at the table. However, we do see a need to do more.
First, we have spent months advocating for the children in this district of which 84.3% are Hispanic and 76.8% are Low Income. We have many allies in our local Latinx community and we make a concerted effort to hear their concerns. They have volunteered their time to our election by assisting us in translating and interpreting, and one mother even went so far as to publish her own letter to Spanish speaking parents on why she feels we are the best candidates to sit on this Board. When we knock on doors, we go in pairs with a bilingual volunteer so that we can understand the concerns of the people that live here. We intend to have video from Board meetings posted online and dubbed in Spanish and we need to utilize our current technology to interpret Board meetings into other languages in real time.
Second, there is a big missed opportunity to connect with our non-parent community at large. We have been visiting with folks at the Senior Luncheon at the Rec Center the past couple of months. That has been an eye-opening experience. Our district has no real mechanisms in place to reach out to our community members that do not use or cannot afford technology. This is one reason we want to create a district wide PTO or community led volunteer committee to reach out to our school neighbors via phone or door knocking. It is something that would cost us little to nothing but could do so much to bring us together and improve communication and transparency.
Because Berwyn is such a diverse place, when we are out door knocking, we never know who we will meet, whether they are new to town or have lived here all their lives, any race, any orientation, any income, for that reason we always ask if the resident has any questions or concerns regarding the District that we may be able to address right then and there and if we are not able, we follow up.
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?
We wholeheartedly believe that approaching education from a whole child perspective is key, nurturing their mind, body and soul. Giving them the attention they need to overcome the emotional and physical hardships that they are facing will help them to not only succeed but to become a better person. Our district does not have the appropriate number of social workers to engage our children that are struggling. Our district does not have the appropriate number in interventionalist to help our Special Needs Students. Our district does not have the appropriate number of Bilingual Coaches to serve the needs of our English Language Students. We must prioritize getting all the children the support they need to succeed. We also think that challenging our students so that they stay engaged is very important, a child should never be bored or frustrated in school and if they, we need to figure out why.
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 triennial property value reassessment, which increased our property values by 21%, was unexpected by nearly everyone. This increase in property values was compounded when the Board levied the max of 4.195% in Dec 2017. While they intended to raise 2.2M as a result of the April 2017 referendum, they actually raised 4.1M. This historic increase in taxes created some serious hardships on our community so the School Board returned the unexpected resources in the form of a tax break by abating bonds and lowering the Operations Levy of the district. This means that there will be no unexpected resources collected in the future.
Taxpayers will see relief in the D100 line item on the second installment of their property tax bill this summer. What we plan to do not only for our students but for our community, is to strategically set in motion a plan to see a return on our investment by growing education in D100. The taxpayers have been through enough. We understand that. Our district, however, is still severely underfunded, even under the new funding model. Part of our mission is to supplement our district's resources. We have started the SoBe Education Foundation, we plan to hire a grant writer that will pay their own salary from the grants they secure for the district and have already explored the creation of public/private partnerships to enhance our students education but not tap into the district’s resources. This community and district cannot afford another financial mistake. We will ask the questions that need to be asked, obtain the knowledge that needs to be obtained and reach out to the community and teachers to have a discussion before making any major decisions regarding the district’s finances.
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?
We are unable to confirm the doubling in the budget for this time period because we do not have access to that data at this time. However, we are already keenly aware that test scores are a major concern in our district. According to the Illinois State Report Card, for school year 2017 to 2018, our district received just 51% of the funding the state deems necessary to educate our students. The state average for state level funding is 24.4%. For D100 state level funding is significantly higher at 47.2% which means we are more reliant on state funding than other districts in Illinois. According to the 10 year trend data in the report card, we have seen severe fluctuations in our funding because we are at the mercy of the State of Illinois to a greater degree than is average. State averages fluctuated between 22 and 28% in the last 10 years. For D100 they have fluctuated wildly between 12 and 50%. When we are more reliant upon the State for funding and they do not support us consistently, we cannot provide support for our students consistently. In 2016, just 3 years ago, we saw a dramatic decrease in state funding, hitting that wild low of 12% and we were in full crisis mode: floating bonds to make payroll, making cuts to nearly all nonessential staff and going to referendum in 2017 just to prevent school closings, grade centers, elimination of all extracurriculars and elimination of preK. We are still recovering from that crisis. We do not have the appropriate number of support staffers for our most vulnerable students, who also tend to be the most challenged test takers. We do not have the appropriate number of language coaches for our English Language Learners, nor do we have the appropriate number of support staffers in place for our Special Ed students. This is roughly ¼ to ⅓ of our student population. We have to step up and provide our most vulnerable students the support they need if we are going to expect them to excel on standardized tests.
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?
The sharing of information is vital, the ease in communication is key. The district must be able to connect not only with parents but with community members that do not have D100 students. Above we mentioned improving the district’s website but a presence on social media where anyone can get all the facts directly from the source will negate the community getting a partial story from people serving their own self interests. Publishing news of the district in an established quarterly Magazine would also aid in connecting with the community. There are two such publications in Berwyn that we would approach, Berwyn magazine and the Berwyn Parks Magazine. Furthermore, the development of a district PTO/citizens committee would also function as a mechanism for community outreach.
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 resources from ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act, can and will only be allocated to hire and retain the interventionist, Bilingual Coaches and Social Workers to serve the needs of our struggling students. Also we will bridge the salary gap of our teachers in our district and create incentives to improve teacher retention. We will evolve our policies to match our district’s new Mission Statement. We will provide for our children the attention they need to succeed. Part of our platform is to create a strategic plan for the next 1, 5 and 10 years. This will allow us to circle back annually to measure our achievements as well as identify growth opportunities.
ESSA provides a very functional rubric to identify areas of opportunity. We will also measure success by surveying parents and teachers, analyzing the assessment scores and being engaged and present in school events.
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?
We will prioritize the health, safety and education of all 3728 children in the district. Four of our eight school principals outlined the specific needs of their schools at the February Board Meeting. Time and time again we heard that each and every one of our schools need more Bilingual Coaches, support for Special Ed students and staff certified to work with students that cross over into both of these areas. As a Board, we must rely on the staff that is engaging our kids on a daily basis to communicate their needs. Then we can make informed decisions on how to best allocate our resources. We must close these education gaps between our advantaged and disadvantaged students whether the gap is language or income or ability. We must value and believe in our teachers and students if we are to inspire them to believe in themselves.
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?
The history of one people tells a very different story than the history of another. We believe we must know the whole story so we can truly learn about ourselves, so that we can be better people, more connected with one another and overcome centuries of contention. Learning about other cultures fosters understanding, acceptance and connections. This is vital if we are to teach our children to be completely inclusive in their world . The Piper PTO hosts a Dia de los Muertos workshop to learn about and celebrate this Mexican Holiday. We held a Luau fundraiser for the Piper Playground and brought dancers from Halau i Ka Pono to teach the children about the Hula Dance. We held a Salsa Dance, volunteered at Oktoberfest, and taught children how to square dance at a Hoedown for the Playground. Furthermore, the State of Illinois has recently enacted policy to require Holocaust and LGBTQ education. We can always do more in this regard and we are committed to doing so.
14.What have been your most useful sources of information about pre-secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
We have done extensive research regarding school funding in relation to student performance, charter schools, our own district stats compared to neighboring districts. We’ve researched the top schools in the state and country. We’ve engaged local School Board Members, previous School Board Presidents of D100 and D98, our Superintendent and Teachers. We are doing our due diligence as candidates not only in regards to education but also in regards to our community. We have met with several South Berwyn Alderman to get a clear idea of their constituents needs.
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?
Preschool for all was implemented some time ago in our community. It was on the verge of being cut prior to the 2017 Referendum. Thankfully we are able to continue the program through a partnership with the Berwyn Park District. PreK is shown to have tremendously positive long term effects on a child's academic success. We strongly support the educational rights of all children. Every child has the right to an education regardless of immigration status.
We must continue to find ways to connect through language and community. We would like to create language support services for the parents of our English Language Learning students, utilize technology to interpret Board meetings, and move forward by hiring and retaining bilingual teachers and support staff.
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
All of our campaign funds have been donated through individual contributions.
James Salazar $530
Caty Stengemann $335
Partners Machine Inc $250
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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.]
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At school board forum, candidates talk about issues (My Suburban Life 3/12/19)