Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Landmark sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Office sought: District 96 Board of Education Member, 4-year term
Previous political experience: none
Previous community involvement:
- I am an active Central School PTO volunteer, including having served as a Central School Science Fair Committee member and judge. Also, I have been a Girl Scout Troop 51401 badge instructor and volunteer for many years.
- Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Integrative Physiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Master of Science and Teaching from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Occupation: Educator. I am currently a private science instructor and also an early development teacher at Principle Dance. My prior experience includes teaching physiology and anatomy cadaver lab courses at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and science subjects at Elmwood Park High School, including biology, chemistry, genetics, physics, and forensic science. At Elmwood Park, I was appointed to the district Strategic Planning Committee, School Improvement Team, Tech Prep Team, Interdisciplinary Committee, and Textbook Committee.
As a school board member, how would you approach the board-administrator relationship? What is your view of that relationship as it exists presently?
It is essential that the relationship between the school board and the administration be one of trust and mutual respect. Being a teacher has given me a great deal of professional experience communicating with principals, superintendents, other teachers, members of the community, and, of course, the parents of my students. It is imperative that the entire team focus on being advocates for the children of District 96 and their achievement through student-centered policies. Establishing an open line of communication will allow this to happen. To me, key elements to this successful relationship include:
- Establishing the expectation that the board and the administration will be committed to the district’s mission and supporting continuous learning for all students.
- Stressing the importance of planning and policy-making as the board’s primary functions.
- Ensuring that both the board president and the superintendent build the meeting agenda together.
- Remaining focused on issues, not personality.
I would want the people that I work with to feel the same way I want my students to feel: supported, listened to, excited to move forward, and part of a team.
With respect to the current board, I think there should be more visible collaboration with the administration. It is essential that there be a positive working relationship in order to signal to the community that our district is working towards student achievement in an effective way. I believe that my professional experience as an educator and positive attitude could help build a bridge to reestablish a working partnership.
What is your view regarding the performance of the current school board? What should change, if anything?
I would like to see more emphasis on and interest in the educational goals for the district. The board must improve communication with the administration and community. In addition, I would like to see more focus on inclusion for all students, support for teachers who have such a vital impact on student achievement, and collaboration between the board and the administration.
The board needs to make a strategic plan to prepare for the future. There are many uncertainties for the district, such as possible funding reform with Senate Bill 1 (formerly SB 16), loss of pension support from the state, life safety expenditures, and technology upgrades. It is crucial to not only understand what funds we have, but also how the use of these funds affects student achievement. The board also needs to address how assessments such as PARCC will have an impact on instruction, and how we can support the growing enrollment in the district.
What do you think of the district’s 1-to-1 laptop initiative? Should it be changed? If so, how?
Technology can be extremely valuable for research and gathering information, analyzing data, and helping students to present their findings. Certainly, twenty-first century skills are necessary and should be practiced. When I’m teaching, it is always my hope that we are encouraging students to use technology to create, find answers to their questions, start conversations, join partners, and make a difference.
Before the purchase of any new devices, I believe that certain criteria must be met. We need to evaluate the current pilot program in fifth grade to determine the value to instruction and ease of use. There must be policies and procedures in place to protect student data, work, privacy, and educational records. In addition, I would like to see professional learning opportunities for teachers on how to use the new technology effectively. Students should be trained in fair use, as well. It is my understanding that a Chromebook-based program would allow for better system administration and support, more customized classroom experiences, less risk from malware or viruses, and better security than the laptops currently used, but at a significantly lower cost. Certainly, I would listen to suggestions from the technology director, parents, teachers, and the community to ultimately form a conclusion.
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?
The district faces many uncertainties at this time, including the risk of a significant loss of state funding through Senate Bill 1 and additional responsibility for teacher pension costs. Under proposed state school funding reforms, District 96 could lose almost $800,000 every year. Technology costs and life safety improvements are also uncertain. In addition, growing enrollment and space issues continue to affect our district. Strategies must be implemented to prepare for these possible contingencies. Illinois tax cap laws limit the property tax levy increases to the rate of inflation, plus new construction, and I believe maintaining the district’s income with inflation is sensible. I believe we need to make long-term plans to maintain the district’s bond rating and to avoid having to ask for a referendum in future. Of course, cost containment must be an aspect of these plans. My professional experience will help to identify policies and programs that provide the most meaningful learning experiences, improve outcomes, and avoid wasteful spending.
How could the district’s gifted and special education programs be improved or changed, or are changes even necessary?
I believe that we can do a better job fostering an environment of inclusion, making our district a welcoming place for students with special needs and their parents. We need to do more to differentiate our instruction in the least restrictive environment possible, enhance communication between the administration, teachers, and parents, and provide much more professional development for teachers.
We need to make each person involved in a child’s education an active facet, where modifications specified in an IEP are followed, procedures are in place to communicate when and how this happens, and parents, teachers, and aides become a team working together in an open manner. Teachers need support from paraprofessionals and aides who are trained in modifications and more in-depth training for strategies related to behavior issues and content instruction.
For the gifted education program, I believe that there need to be changes in the assessments used for placement into the program. Certainly, MAP scores are useful in understanding the level of content knowledge for each child and if they could benefit from the program’s advanced curriculum pace. However, the CoGAT test, often administered in a group setting in second grade, does not allow for individual observation of a child’s approach to tasks, nor does it provide the in-depth diagnostic capability needed to guide educational planning effectively. Whatever method used for placement, it is essential that it be followed consistently and fairly and communicated to the parents in a clear manner.
I think we can do more to provide student-centered curriculum, drawing from their own interests in needs. I would like to see more opportunities for students to take supported risk, chances to encounter failure in a way that encourages them to apply problem-solving and design skills. The students will benefit from more opportunities to practice analytical writing skills, experimentation, design and synthesis, and chances to present an defend an opinion. Lastly, I would like to see more communication to parents about their child’s progress, modifications, and content mastered.
What other issues do you believe will be important for the next school board to address?
Increasing enrollment and class size continue to be major factors in our district. We need to make long-term plans to prepare for this so that we can maintain a reasonably small class size for the best learning environment. Given that the PARCC assessment requires a great deal of time to administer, resources, technology support, and teacher training, I believe we need to take a serious look at the role standardized testing will play in the way we educate these children. Our mission dictates that we want to encourage creativity and critical thinking, and I believe that we need to revisit how we accomplish this goal. It is my hope that District 96 students will be exposed to more interdisciplinary studies, hands-on learning, and STEAM-based innovation, where art and design integrate with STEM topics to increase engagement for a fully literate education.