The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Landmark’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.

David Herndon | Provided

Name: David Herndon

Age: 55

Previous Political Experience: board member, LaGrange Elementary School District 105 for 12 years, president for 8 years
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Church youth leader for 10 years, travel baseball coach, Church League Basketball Coach, Ruling Elder at the First Presbyterian Church of LaGrange

Occupation: Director and a lead compliance officer at a Fortune 100 company that provides financial services to academic, research and medical sectors

Education: B.A. in Communications, University of Illinois-Chicago

1. Why are you running for the board of Lyons Township High School (LTHS)? What motivates you and what experience and perspectives would you bring to the job? How would these be valuable as an elected official? 

My desire to give back is part of my DNA. I believe the Lyons Township HS Strategic Plan is sound and thought my previous school board experience might be a good fit for me to lend a hand. 

The true motivator came about during college visits with my youngest daughter in 2021. One admissions counselor said to us, “it’s statistically impossible for that many Lyons Township High School students to have a 4.0 or above GPA. We know about the school’s retake policies on tests and homework not counting, its hurting kids coming from that school.”

This was totally a different take on LTHS than what I had heard during college visits in 2017 with my eldest daughter. When touring colleges that year, whenever we brought up LTHS, admissions counselors said she would be well prepared and that “Lyons Township High School was the equivalent of a college prep school”. 

Continued lack of communication with their constituents over the years, lately with the Willow Springs property issues, has shown what can happen with an inexperienced board and superintendent.

Watching these things, I knew I wanted and could do something to help.

I believe my 12 years of previous school board experience would be an asset to the community. As a Board member, I will be committed and focused on working with the Board and administration and guided by the LTHS Strategic Plan to improve student performant, provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students, teachers, and staff, and build trust, transparency, and cooperation within the communities of the Lyons Township High School District

2. For the 2021-22 school year, LTHS hired a director of equity and belonging and launched initiatives to address equity. What, in your view, is the value of pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives? 

I believe that all children and staff have the right to be treated equally with respect, dignity, and kindness. As a Board member, I would not tolerate any behavior that led to any discrimination, bullying or any other inappropriate behavior directed at anyone due to their race, sex or sexual orientation and insist that the administration ensure that every student has a safe learning environment that is intimidation free. The administration needs to ensure that policies are in place and enforce policies that help deliver a safe, discrimination free and bullying free equitable environment for every student and staff member.

Has LTHS started to achieve equitable outcomes for students? How can it do better? 

Equity in education is ensuring that students with the greatest need are receiving the services and resources to help them reach their academic and social and emotional developmental goals. Based on the performance of LT’s tier 2 and tier 3 students, LT is falling short and the administration needs to develop plans to significantly improve differentiation in the classroom to help this group of students close the achievement gap. At the same time, we need to insure we are providing resources and opportunities for our highest achieving students.  Additionally, I would like to see the district work with the communities with students that have the greatest needs to put in place programs to meet students in their communities to assist with social, emotional, and academic needs. 

Recovery from Covid has led to significant decline in social and emotional health with our children. Over the next several years additional resources will be needed to continue to help get our children back to where they need to be emotionally.  An improved social and emotional environment should also help improve an equitable outcome with student achievement.

3. During the past year or so, there has been much discussion about modifications to LTHS’ grading system. What are your views on the change/tweaks? Do you believe that there is anything else that needs to be done and, if so, what?

The tweaks are an improvement from an unequivocally poor decision made by the Board and administration that hurt children, left them unprepared upon leaving LT and left some children out of the running of their college of choice. However, I think they need to go much further. Homework needs to count more towards a student’s final grade, homework should not be allowed to be turned in weeks late. Test retake policies should be evaluated and targeted to promote additional learning, not just a regurgitation of what the student missed and learning that content to get an A. Retakes should be different from the first tests so students can truly master the materials they did not know. The number of retake options should be minimal 

Additionally, staff should come up with other ways to help encourage learning and improve student performance for those kids that need it most with things like extra credit. If students want to put in the work, they should be rewarded. The biggest reward will likely be improved academic performance which can lead to better outcomes in many areas of a student’s life, not just education. With the past and current policies, the district is failing to teach and enforce accountability, quality of work and preparing students for the next step in their life.

I would like to see the administration perform a curriculum audit and ensure that their curriculum is aligned with the SAT tests. If changes are needed to align to the college aptitude tests, I would like to see those happen as soon as possible. Standardized tests can’t be the only tool that analyzes student performance, but with lacking test taking and homework policies, it is unfortunately one of the few tools we have to evaluate student performance.

The deficiencies in student performance, some of it driven by the pandemic, requires a different approach than we have done historically in education. We need to have a team that is dedicated to constant evaluation of data from staff and other evaluation tools around student performance to triage our greatest areas of need. Our teachers are our best resource to understand student achievement deficiencies, we need to leverage them to help make rapid response decisions on where we deploy resources or alter curriculum to help our students close the achievement gap and be better prepared for their next steps.

4. There has been some discussion in the District 204 community about whether or not LTHS is maintaining high academic standards and preparing students adequately for college and careers. Can you provide examples in which the school may be lacking or in which it excels in delivering a high-quality high school education?

My daughter is a freshman at the University of Kentucky, during her first week she called us in a panic saying, “I don’t get to retake tests here, LT did not prepare me for this”. This is the complete opposite of the experience my oldest daughter had just 4 years earlier when during her first year at Western Michigan she shared that she had students in college classes that didn’t know how to properly write a term paper and that LT had really prepared her for college. 

In the last two years we have also heard about more students being deferred and or outright denied from colleges they qualified for, but for some reason were denied. 

As one of nine members of my family to have graduated from LT, the one thing LT has been known for is preparing its students for the next steps after high school. Unfortunately, over the last few years the priority of providing an academically challenging curriculum with differentiation in the classroom to bring the best possible academic outcome for students has become a lower priority for the school, which shows in declining school rankings. We must focus our attention and efforts and reestablish LT as the high achieving and well-respected school it used to be.

5. District 204’s board of education is planning to sell 70-acres of land it owns in Willow Springs, possibly before the next school board is seated. What is your view on whether or not the land should be sold? If you support the sale, what do you believe is the best use of the proceeds?

I am not in favor of and would not support the sale of the land to an industrial developer in Willow Springs. The district continues to say they will use the proceeds on facility improvements as part of their strategic plan, but the board has yet to share any of those details. 

The process the district has taken is completely backwards. Having done school facility improvements in a previous Board role, the first thing that should have been done is coming up with plans working with the district’s architects at a variety of price points and presented it to the community prior to engaging in conversations about selling the land. The next step would have been to engage the leadership of Willow Springs and let them know their intent, and finally should have had the property appraised for the zoning that is approved which is residential, then reviewed the value of that versus the facility improvements you would like to do and scale the project based on the money you might be able to receive. Finally, they should have presented their options to the community and the communities that would be most affected by the land sale prior to initiating any part of the sale process.

6. What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing District 204 and how should the school board address them? 

Earning the trust of the community back. From Covid back to school missteps, violations of the open meetings act, attempts to silence constituents and lastly the many failures and tone-deaf responses to the Willow Springs community has made this difficult to repair. The board needs to improve their lines of communication with the community. If elected, I will ask for and publish my LT email address so the community can reach out to a Board member, I will encourage other board members to do the same. I will ask the board to go on listening tours and town halls in our feeder communities to help improve communication. Finally, I will ask the administration to foster and improve relationships with village leadership from the municipalities that feed into LTHS.

 I believe the Board needs three new members to help foster in an improved environment of trust. I believe my 12 years of experience as a Board member would go a long way to helping repair the trust barrier that currently exists. Even if you are doing everything right, if the community does not trust you, it is very difficult to govern. If we can rebuild the trust in the community, providing the tools to improve student performance should also be easier to achieve.