CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 91 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 91?
I am a resident of D91 with two children in the schools and a taxpayer. I have, for the last two years, spent considerable time asking questions of the board - some my own, some based on other peoples' questions and public comments. I have concluded that D91 is doing a generally good job, but they are ineffective at communicating what they are doing, how they are doing it and why. I am a consultant and data scientist by trade. I make my living helping clients identify and quantify problems, and then break those problems down into solvable pieces in an effective, efficient manner. This requires care, attention to detail, and the ability to follow a solution through. These are traits I think the board and by extension the district would find useful, especially with regard to helping them share their work with the public.
2. What are District 91’s greatest strengths? What are its greatest challenges? What is your vision for District 91?
Forest Park is a (rightfully) proud town with a keen sense of its own history and a strong sense of community. I have lived here for 13 years, after living all over the world. There is no place I would rather be, no place I would rather raise my children, than Forest Park. We are also incredibly diverse and resilient. Our greatest challenge as a town is remaining sustainably prosperous, socially stable and affordable to live in. Our greatest challenge as a district derives directly from the challenges the town faces. We are financially stable and well run, but we will have to shoulder teacher pensions at some point in the future, which will be a significant cost. We currently have excellent teachers and administrators, and do what we can for students who may not have the resources and advantages every kid should have. We provide school lunches, pay for school supplies, keep special needs children in the district wherever possible, and work very hard to ensure a safe, caring educational environment for all our children. My vision is to partner with the municipal government to continue and expand the good work we are doing as we identify other community needs. Public education is one of the areas of our society that I feel is a fundamental right for all our young citizens and an inarguable positive social and economic good which deserves our full, unconditional support.
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 District’s record on transparency?
Transparency is not only obeying the letter and spirit of the open meetings and open records laws, but also actively engaging with the entire community served, understanding its concerns and providing clear, concise, quantitative (where possible) explanations for decisions made. Under no circumstances should any governmental organization withhold information and analysis from the public, nor take action to prevent the public from having an opportunity to understand and opine on the matter at hand - and not just by attending a meeting, which many in our community simply cannot do. One specific example I would implement is to publicize not only the PARCC score summaries (which we already disseminate), but also Dr. Cavallo's board briefings on those scores by grade level, including relevant analysis, commentary and remediation activity.
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?
District 91 does a poor job of communicating. Meeting minutes are not posted after meetings in a timely manner, and they omit any materials presented at the meetings and do not summarize discussions in anything remotely resembling a complete manner. It is impossible for a member of the community to know what the board is doing unless they physically go to the meeting. This is one of the key drivers behind my candidacy. They need to do the following: Record all meetings and post to the district web page either the video or a complete transcript within one week of the meeting; post all supplementary material presented at the meetings, with all appropriate context; Implement a formal request process such that a person in the district with a concern can submit a question or request and have a meaningful response within a reasonable period of time; post all questions received and answers returned publicly.
Elected officials owe the community responsiveness, but in an organized, consistent, coherent manner. The communications recommendations above would, I think, ensure that.
5. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the experiences, concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group?
We moved to Forest Park because it was economically and ethnically diverse. I drop my kids of at school every day, and have done so since they started school. On the playground I talk to other parents and teachers. I have attended the D91 Board of Education meetings to get a better understanding of concerns at all levels of the district. We shop local, both north and south of the Eisenhower, deliberately to engage with our entire community. We and our children actively participate in soccer, ice skating, girl- and boy-scouts, and my wife and I both take leadership or leadership-adjacent active roles. We buy pool passes every year so our family can spend time together in the company of other local families. Anyone who has participated in any of those activities can attest to the diversity of the participants. I have also actively engaged with other candidates for the D91 board to understand why they are running and what concerns them, especially those who are aligned with Proviso Together.
6. If you could create a brand new public elementary school district from scratch, what would it look like?
Funding should not be based on property taxes. Continue our practice of paying for school supplies and summer school. Keep grade centers so we can continue to enjoy the benefits of our diverse community. Coordinate with local social service agencies and the community to enable the schools to work holistically with the child and their family - their home life does not stop at the door in the morning, and their scholastic life should not end when they leave in the afternoon. Gather all data, within the bounds of privacy, and rigorously assess our progress in a robust manner, and course-correct based on feedback and insight gleaned. Work with the teachers to implement in-class practices that ensure consistent oversight and feedback and minimize administrative distractions. Teachers should be teaching and observing. Anything that distracts should be minimized. Ensure the curriculum was developmentally appropriate and included physical activity, creative play etc. in addition to traditional school work. Identify how each child learns and adjust our teaching mechanisms to support the most effective methods for those kids. For example, experiential learners require a different, hand-on approach to grasp key concepts. Adjust subject matter teaching to engage students. For example, music class should emphasize making music, not basic rhythm theory, etc.
7. Low test scores, particularly in math, continue to be troubling signs for the District, and enrollment has been declining. What specific steps would you take as a Board Member to improve test scores?
The boards role is governance, not micromanaging the superintendent, so the role is to determine if the superintendent is adequately doing his or her job and implementing remediations as needed. This means asking hard questions and requiring substantive answers, and following up. As for declining enrollment, we are a small district - I would first want to understand if this 'decline' is a blip or a trend and if it is a trend, does it have to do with our schools or with other external factors. I am a data scientist by trade, so when someone says' enrollment is declining because our test scores are low' I would challenge them to prove that empirically. So far, no one has been able to do so. That said, I do plan to continue pursuing the matter with Dr. Cavallo and his successor. I understand the measures currently being pursued, but have not been in a position to monitor as closely as a board member would be.
8. 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 needs covers a large ground, and measuring achievement for children with learning disabilities is very different from children may have non-cognitive challenges - poverty, domestic issues, etc. We need to identify what metrics are relevant to which children, how to gather data to monitor these metrics, and how to interpret the data gathered. Test scores are a part, the IBIS scores play a role, but neither is perfect. Our challenge is that the best metric - how do students do when they move on from D91 - is unavailable to us, unless the kids go to Proviso, and even then, D209 has no obligation to give us information about their students, and may even be constrained from doing so by privacy concerns. We are also a very small district, so all data will be highly variant. Two kids who have a bad day on testing day can skew PARCC scores for a whole grade to a statistically significant degree. I think it is better to focus on intra-grade measures - how do students within a grade level stack up against their peers, and can we control for teacher variation. This plus continued oversight of curriculum implementation and gap identification and remediation should help. Also, continue to keep our teachers and social workers integrated and aligned.
9. Early this year the School Board approved a new Equity Imperative designed to remove barriers to opportunity so that children can reach their full potential. Do you believe these new policies will be successful? Why or why not? What further policies are needed?
Any equity imperative that is enacted without full engagement with the parents and community will not succeed. The equity initiative is a good one, but one of my observations, as noted above, is that D91 does not provide timely, complete information about the detailed operations of the district to the parents and community at large. Unless this is remediated, it will fail. I have heard discussions of the Equity Initiative at board meetings, but as a parent, I have heard little about it.
10. What have been your most useful sources of information about pre-secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
My resources for pre-secondary education have been primarily discussions with my childrens' teachers (both attend D91 schools) for specific operational and developmental insights, and discussions with Dr. Cavallo in person and via email about higher-level expectations by year. Understanding the changes in expectation and capacity based on what is developmentally appropriate added a lot of nuance to my understanding. I spoke to my childrens' kindergarten and first grade teachers extensively to understand what is developmentally appropriate during the first few years of school - not just for my children, but for children at this age in general. Our teachers are incredibly well trained and willing to educate parents. Dr. Cavallo has also been responsive and helpful with higher level questions - how do they choose and implement a curriculum, how can they ensure it is being followed, what corrective steps are taken, etc.
11. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with District stakeholders’ desire to to have a school district that effectively serves all students?
As I noted above, public education is a critical governmental function, which I think needs to be a priority. As both a parent and a taxpayer, I would not support decreasing school funding to reduce the tax burden. Ed Brophy and his team continue to do an excellent job keeping us in good financial shape and I have confidence in their ability to continue to do so. The board should work with the municipal government to identify creative solutions to funding. I would be honored to be involved in such an effort.
12. In what ways can District 91 collaborate with District 209 to more adequately prepare students for the transition to high school?
The district currently coordinates extensively with 209 for this purpose. I had a lengthy discussion with Ned Wagner on this subject at a 209 Together event and with Dr. Cavallo in person after a D91 board meeting. What I would do is make sure the district is communicating what they are doing and how they are addressing gaps - which they do at board meetings, but do not disseminate.
13. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
I have not accepted any donations from any outside source for my campaign, nor do I intend to do so in the future, for the April 2, 2019 election.
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[The above answers were supplied on 2/20/19. 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.]
Forest Park Review endorsement (Forest Park Review 3/19/19)
Survey Responses: Steven Rummel (Forest Park Review 3/1/19)
Understand the issues we face (Forest Park Review 1/29/19)
More D91 board candidates emerge (Forest Park Review 11/20/18)
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D91 board wannabes talk district highlights, shortfalls (Forest Park Review 3/12/19)
D91 challengers file for school board election (Forest Park Review 12/18/18)