candidate for 2019 District 90 School Board
1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board of Trustees, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 90? What have been your most useful resources for information about pre-secondary education?
I believe the schools are the most important taxing body of any village. Great schools are at the center of great communities and surrounded with great people. I want to be part of what helps River Forest kids go on to do great things. Also, the most effective boards are unique in experience, challenging in ideas, effective in execution and always focused on the community it serves. My skills as an applied scientist, experience building teams and ideas and my history of unwavering commitment to the children, families and schools of River Forest separate me from others. I’ll improve the board. I’ve chaired multiple school committees for the last eight years bringing me close in relationship and understanding to the families, teachers and administrators of the community. It’s time to contribute at a higher level.
2. What steps will you take to improve and expand 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?
Ease of communication is the bane of effective communication in our information-society. How to break through is just as difficult for schools. I’ve been studying how other districts maximize transparency of their Boards and committees and reach the communities they serve through multiple sources of media. We have many opportunities to leverage technology for real-time engagement, awareness and archiving to bring D90 up to excellence that ensures Board priorities reflect community priorities.
It doesn’t end here, excellence in transparency and communication involves a degree of vulnerability and some intentional measurement. Excellence will be achieved when the parties relentlessly pursue affirmation of transparency and effective communication.
A school board is accountable to the community it serves and therefore I believe BOE members serve as conduit to the community. My view is BOE member accessibility to the community is fundamental, and vetting issues from the community with the board can help our educators focus their time and effort on curriculum and instruction.
3. 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 enjoy processing data and information, and pouring over reports helps paint a reasonable picture of demographics. However, there is no substitute for meeting people. My passion is unlocking imagination in children cared for local child and family service agencies. We do this through a small social impact toy
business and connect people to children recovering from abuse and neglect and in line for foster care and adoption. Being with the kids is the greatest reward. I’ve volunteered for service with our districts Inclusiveness Advisory Board and I’ve chaired a community breakfast event that happens early in the school year. It helps new family’s associate faces with the names their children bring home. I am one demographic data point, but my ‘group’ resembles a cluster plot.
4. What do you think should be the three main priorities for the District over the next four years?
The main priority should always be delivering curriculum and instruction to grow every child. A top priority should be careful accounting of individual elements associated with implementing a new instructional philosophy. We’ll have to know what’s working and not working to continue improving. After this, the next board will help develop a new five year strategic plan. A priority of that plan should be bringing transparency and communication up to a level of excellence. Last, the cost of education is continuously rising and this impacts all River Foresters regardless of having school age children. We’ll need to operate within the tax levy, anticipate a cost shift and make sure dollars remain focused on curriculum and instruction – the things that directly impact growth and achievement.
5. How can the District best assess the extent to which it is providing a quality education to the children of River Forest?
I think it’s important to use multiple measures for educational success. It starts with feedback from families in the community; are they having a good experience and are needs being met. Standardized assessments are a tricky, but a minimum number will be an important part of measuring progress. I like the idea of teachers contributing more thoughtfully to permanent records that follow children throughout education. Following young adults into post-secondary education provides perspective on the quality of education that proceeded them. ‘College’ comes in all shapes and sizes now, and it’s probably less about where or how you continued, but that you continued to chase a dream. Bringing dream chasers back to inspire tomorrows leader is an old idea because it works.
6. If you could create a brand new elementary public school district from scratch, what would it look like?
I’m not qualified to create a brand new school, but this is a fun question and I really like to have fun. The district would be inviting and accessible to young families. At each building there would be equal parts green space and building so the natural world was a direct part of their education. One tree on each campus would cast a large and comforting shade; it’s an evergreen $o that every child gets what they need and every teacher sees a long bright future. The buildings are beautiful, safe and filled with children who never expected to make new best friends. Some classrooms are large, hum with group activity and the last five minutes is always used for clean-up. Other rooms are smaller and quiet where children concentrate individually. Smiles are everywhere, and teachers have come from all over to be part of what’s happening at this school. There are extra-curricular clubs and sports that challenge kids to grow in different ways and at draw crowds of supporters. Each day closes with a minute or two to dream about what must happen to make this public school district happen again tomorrow.
7. What is your opinion on Universal Design for Learning?
UDL is how you teach and aimed at better engagement, representation and expression (ERE) of lessons and can be implemented in a range of ways. At its simplest, and probably least effective, it’s a single teacher giving one (undifferentiated) lesson to a full range of abilities using multiple ERE methods. In the middle somewhere, it’s a teacher reaching students in a leveled-ability classroom with multiple ERE methods. And at its most complex, and most equitable, it’s multiple instructors reaching different ability levels, each using multiple ERE. Each way has its strengths and weaknesses. Without differentiation, the simplest way lacks rigor for some ability levels and is inequitable. With multiple instructors each reaching different ability levels, the most complex is as close to individualized education as could be expected in public education. My opinion is UDL is only as good as it is rigorous or able to reach each ability level with ERE, and this is a question of commitment and resources. I think piloting UDL with grouping across classrooms could be an effective way to explore its benefits in D90 and the research I’ve found suggests science is a great place to start.
8. What is your position on providing a full-day kindergarten option in the district? What do you see as the primary benefits and challenges to providing full-day kindergarten?
I support re-opening the topic and exploring a full day kindergarten option in River Forest. The primary benefits are providing time for instruction of state standards designed for full days. If we fully subscribe to the mission of developing a love of learning in children, then we need to create a first learning experience that would produce this love. With commitment, and equal measures of patience and flexibility, I believe we could develop an option for RF families that would serve our mission.
9. Beyond measuring student academic achievement through standardized testing, how should District 90 measure its progress in improving equity and inclusion?
I think D90 is in an especially difficult position to effectively measure educational equity given the demographics and small sizes of most subgroups. It’s a very small district with relatively low diversity. The flip-side of this is we should be able to listen closer to the children, observe progress well and support teachers and their assessment of equity.
On measuring inclusion, it’s a difficult social science measure, but characterizing a sense of belonging across the population and over time using various methods should provide an indication of change.
10. The Board recently took a position against arming teachers/school staff. Do you agree or disagree with that position? Please explain.
I was at this meeting and agree. I believe our strongest line of security should be at entry points to schools, and done well this strength prevents the need for and risks of arming teachers in classrooms.
11. As of the drafting of this questionnaire, the current Board was poised to adopt a policy for gender inclusivity. What is your understanding of that work? Do you support gender inclusivity? Please explain.
Schools are a place where every child should feel welcome and enjoy a sense of belonging. I support developing policy to guide this endeavor, however I haven’t been able to locate the draft policy on gender inclusivity on the district website for review before submitting answers.
12. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Steve Lefko, Susan Conti
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[The above answers were submitted on 2/15/19. For current financial information, please see Campaign To Elect Steve Lefko financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
Vote for Lefko, Gibbs, O'Connell and Brennan (WJ 3/27/19)
Getting it right and getting it done (WJ 3/26/19)
Voting for Lefko for D90 school board (WJ 3/26/19)
Exceptional candidates for extraordinary times (WJ 3/19/19)
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/14/19)
Creating homes for the imagination (WJ 10/23/18)
Campaign To Elect Steve Lefko financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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League of Women Voters River Forest D90 Candidate Forum (YouTube 3/21/19)
River Forest candidates face contested elections in April races (Forest Leaves 12/18/18)