One race for the Lyons Township High School District 204 school board has already been decided.
In the race for a two-year term on the board, incumbent board member Jessica McLean has dropped out, leaving Jill Beda Daniels assured of victory as the only other candidate.
“It has been my great honor and joy to serve as a school board member at Lyons Township High School for the past six years, but due to ongoing family health concerns I will not be seeking re-election,” McLean said in a statement.
McLean is the fourth incumbent who has decided not to seek re-election.
“I am confident that the new board members will embrace their roles with open minds and enthusiasm,” McLean said in her statement. “Being on a school board can be challenging. Many issues that LT faces are complex and require both depth and breadth of knowledge. These volunteer board members, who are our friends and neighbors, will need our support and grace as they begin this work together. It is my hope they can count on all of us. Their success will be LT’s success.”
Daniels has been a critic of the current administration and school board’s approach to issues of equity and inclusivity.
She said last year she doesn’t think the school has adequately addressed the achievement gap between Black and white students. She even paid out of her own pocket for a study of the achievement gap at LTHS and what can be done about it.
Daniels presented the study to the school board but has said the LTHS school board and administration has mostly ignored it.
Equity and inclusivity were topics addressed at a virtual candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area last week for the six candidates competing for four four-year terms on the board. The forum can be viewed on the chapter’s Facebook page (facebook.com/TheLeagueofWomenVotersoftheLaGrangeArea).
There was not a lot of disagreements among the candidates, but all said more had to be done to promote equity and inclusion at the high school, which serves the south half of Brookfield.
“The school district hasn’t done a great job of driving a climate of inclusivity and that has to happen,” said Dawn Aubert, a former member of the LaGrange District 102 school board who is one of the candidates.
All the candidates said they favored new state requirements that teacher education programs in Illinois include training in culturally responsive teaching.
“It is important for kids to hear and see themselves in what’s being taught,” said Michael Thomas, who was appointed to the LTHS school board last fall after Barbara Rosinsky resigned.
Thomas, an alumnus of LTHS who is Black, served on the District 102 school board for about 3 years before being appointed to the District 204 board
Ricardo Martinez, who ran unsuccessfully for the LTHS school board two years ago, also supported the new rules.
“I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be a good idea,” Martinez said.
Martinez called the equity statement adopted by the school board last month “wonderful” but said that board should also adopt an equity statement that directly addresses race.
Tim Albores, who is the director of student services for high schools in Plainfield District 202, emphasized his experience in education. He said that the school must make sure that every student is connected to someone at the school.
“A lot of it depends on the connections that our kids have to school, so I think we have to do a better job of making sure all of our kids find some level of connection within the school,” Albores said.
Albores also noted that because of his district’s work, he has been named a member of a state commission on suicide prevention.
He also said LTHS must address discrepancies in discipline between students of color and white students.
Some of the candidates called on the school board to develop a strategic plan.
“I’m shocked that LT has never had one,” Aubert said.
Jill Grech, a digital marketing strategist for Loyola University of Chicago, also said that the school should develop a strategic plan.
Aubert emphasized her experience serving eight years on the District 102 school board, noting that the new school board will be quite inexperienced. By May, no one will have served on the LTHS school board for more than two years.
“I definitely have the experience,” Aubert said. “First and foremost I’m going to keep what is in the best interests of all kids at the forefront of any decision that I’m going to weigh in on.”
Martinez called for greater investment in facilities, notably the addition of more air conditioning in classrooms. He noted that LTHS is in line for a $1 million capital improvement grant from the state.
“I think there’s an opportunity for LT to invest in instructional spaces,” Martinez said. “We’ve done a good job of investing in non-instructional spaces, and this is our opportunity to invest in instructional spaces as well.”
Julie Swinehart, an alumna of LTHS, said her experience as the chief financial officer of a large company and her experience serving as member of a private school board would be valuable additions to the school board. Swinehart, who is gay, also mentioned that she would bring added diversity to the school board.
Albores and Aubert wondered why LTHS has not implemented saliva testing for the presence of the coronavirus this year during the pandemic.
One question dealt with whether LTHS should have armed police officers at school. Each LTHS campus currently has one police officer assigned as a resource officer.
Thomas, Albores and Aubert, the three who were asked the question, all said they support the police presence in the school.
“Their role is to be community policing partners with the students,” Thomas said.
“I’ve only heard positives about having officers in the building,” Aubert said. “I think it adds an additional level of safety.”