Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Landmark sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Office sought: Board of Education 4 year Term
Previous political experience: None
Previous community involvement: Volunteering at Central School
- B.A. University of the Witwatersrand
- J.D. University of Dayton School of Law.
As a school board member, how would you approach the board-administrator relationship? What is your view of that relationship as it exists presently?
A good board-administrator relationship is vital to a thriving school district. The Board sets the goals and the administration implements those goals on a daily basis. While the Board should not micromanage the work of the administration, it is important that the Board critically evaluate whether goals are being met and how money is spent. The Board functions as a check and balance to ensure the functioning of the district. As we have seen in the past, where the Board is not serving this function, there is the avenue for abuse. I think that there is always room for improvement in the relationship between the Board and the Administration. I approach the issue by establishing good relationships both on the Board and with administrators. This engenders trust and a free flow of information which is essential to the successful functioning of the Board and Administration which must work together harmoniously.
What is your view regarding the performance of the current school board? What should change, if anything?
There is always room for improvement. Since Rich Regan and I have been on the Board, we have been able to work well and cohesively. There has been no drama, just work. This is as it should be. Having a Board that can work together is essential. I would like to see a greater focus on the children. I also think that it is essential to the work of the Board that all members are provided with the best information regarding decisions we are required to make. When the Board is not well informed it leads to the perception that there is a disconnect between the Board and what is happening in the schools. I also think that Board members should spend more time in the schools so they can be on top of developments in the district.
What do you think of the district’s 1-to-1 laptop initiative? Should it be changed? If so, how?
The 1 to 1 laptop initiative is a good concept but could be improved. Technology is the future and our children must be equipped to succeed. However, many of the computers are old and not functioning properly. My daughter’s laptop has a missing key. The District is the process of evaluating devices for future use, including Google Chrome Books and IPads. This and the improved infrastructure which is currently in the works, should improve the way the program functions.
D96 has amassed a large budget surplus since its successful referendum in 2004. Do you think the district should continue to ask for the maximum annual levy it is allowed? Why or why not?
This question requires clarification. If the maximum levy referred to is the limiting rate under the tax cap formula, this is the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. The Board did not request the maximum levy in 2013. To the contrary, the Board voted for a zero percent increase or a flat levy. If the maximum referred to is the maximum rate prior to the requirement of public hearings under the Truth in Taxation Law, this maximum represents a 5% increase. Many school districts automatically ask for the 5%. I would oppose this approach. The District should annually evaluate the needs of the district including infrastructure needs and curriculum needs. The request/levy should reflect those needs. The District should not continue to amass huge reserves unrelated to the needs of the District. However, it is important that the District be fiscally sound. The reserves should, at a minimum, allow the District to maintain its AAA bond rating. Thereafter the levy should focus on maintaining the reserve.
How could the district’s gifted and special education programs be improved or changed, or are changes even necessary?
The gifted and special education programs can be improved and expanded. I would like to see more STEM (science and technology) programs like robotics and coding offered. These should be offered in the elementary schools and not only at Hauser. I also think that the District could support more activities for our gifted children like extracurricular math clubs. With regards to special education, I would like to see more professional development to train teachers and paraprofessionals. This should help the staff to help the kids. I think it is easy for children with learning and related disabilities to fall between the cracks. The District is also working on some additional programs like Big Buddies to help with inclusion outside the class room. I think this is a good start. I also think there are improvements that could be made to the buildings to make them more accessible to special education students. That will make inclusion more meaningful.
What other issues do you believe will be important for the next school board to address?
District 96 schools have substantially slipped in the academic rakings. Blythe Park went from the number 1 ranked school in the year 2000 in the State to number 466 in 2013. This decline must be reversed. It is unacceptable in a District that has the resources and support that District 96 enjoys. We must identify the reasons for the decline and address those. It is also important that we look at what high performing Districts are doing to make sure that we are competitive. This includes a focus on early childhood education and full day Kindergarten. At present we have a preschool program that is only available to a small group of children. This advantage should be available to all preschoolers who want to participate.
In addition, this is the first year that the District has been working with the Common Core State Standards. This involved the development of a brand new curriculum and training the staff. It is essential that the new curriculum be refined and improved so that we do not lose the momentum. It is also essential that we continue to offer an excellent professional development program so that we can assist our teachers with this transition.
Also in the works is a technology infrastructure project to address the badly outdated technology that exists in the District. This is a big and potentially expensive project. The new Board will have to educate itself on every aspect of this project to make sure that we are making a fiscally prudent investment.
Last but not least is the negotiation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the teachers. A contract which is fair to all sides and puts the children first would be a great achievement. Rich Regan and I are part of the negotiating team for the Board. This is important work which we hope to continue.