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.

Deanna Zalas | Provided

Name:  Deanna L. Zalas

Age:  50

Previous Political Experience:  Current member, District 208 Board of Education

Previous/Current Community Involvement: Current president, District 208 Board of Education; board member and treasurer, Riverside Little League, 2013-2019; member and chair, Riverside Economic Development Commission, 2009-2010, during which time the EDC supported the creation of the Riverside Arts Weekend, Riverside Farmers Market, and published a “Wright in Riverside” brochure for local distribution; active in District 96, including strategic planning effort, 2015/16, volunteered as room parent and cultural arts representative

Occupation: Director, Cook County Department of Risk Management 

Education: B.A., Illinois Wesleyan University; M.A., University of Illinois at Springfield

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

I am a strong supporter of the public education opportunities available in our community as a whole and specifically District 208.  All of my children are either current or former RBHS students; I am personally invested in the continued strength of RBHS and am committed to supporting its continued evolution to meet our changing world.  

As I know from my current service, the volunteer School Board position takes not just time and effort but also dedication to a culture of continuous improvement.  Over the past four years we have faced fiscal choices around programs and staffing, set measurable goals for the District, negotiated stakeholder contracts, increased engagement with the addition of a student voice on our Board and community input to the goal-setting process, and addressed a variety of other, important issues while also navigating a global pandemic.  My temperament and engagement, coupled with my professional experience, has allowed me to serve as a valuable member of the Board and I would request the opportunity to continue that service.

2. Do you believe it is necessary for Riverside-Brookfield High School to do more to better serve all students? If so, what areas do you believe need improvement? Do you believe that the high school focuses too much attention on one area in particular? How can RBHS better prepare students for college and/or career?

As a Board and as a community, we need to acknowledge that students begin with different resources and we must find ways to equitably support them in and out of the classroom.  District 208 is not immune to the challenges inherent to public education, and balancing demands that range from government mandates to Advanced Placement opportunities to extra-curricular support to Special Education requirements to Arts programming to Social Emotional Learning needs –  all within a constrained budget – often results in some displeasure.  A goal-oriented District can support continuous improvement across all areas, and leveraging RBHS’ small size, dedicated teachers, and parental engagement can ensure, in the words of our Mission Statement, “graduates are well-equipped to be responsible members of a diverse and ever-changing world.”  

3. Between 2006 and 2021, RBHS’ student demographics changed significantly, from 14% Hispanic, 2.8% Black and 79.4% white in 2006, to 39.3% Hispanic, 5.4% Black and 50% white in 2021. Do you believe that it is important for a school’s faculty to represent the diversity of the student body? Do you believe RBHS has made progress in recruiting teachers who reflect these changes and, if not, how can it do more in that respect?

The goal of the District should be to reflect the communities served and promote a variety of perspectives.  Actively recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce has been a priority of the current Board of Education and there has been incremental progress.  I have also encouraged diversity among those seeking to fill Board positions.  

4. In 2021, RBHS adopted a new mission statement that included equity as one of the values it was committed to achieving. How do you think the school has done regarding implementing initiatives that promote equity? What more can or should it do?

Addressing systemic racism requires the long-term focus and investment of government bodies, and District 208 has begun to make these important efforts.  A top priority for the Board of Education must be a continued partnership with the school community to support not just the 2021 mission statement but also to advance an annual, detailed goal setting process.   Through the Board of Education’s leadership, District 208 has begun to meet the action steps in support of the 2022-23 goals in an effort to “continue on-going training and engagement in diversity,  equity, and inclusion.”  

5. As a school board member, you will play a significant role in budgeting. How will your values inform your approach to budgeting and fiscal planning?

With 20+ years experience in the public sector, I understand the need to balance competing priorities using limited resources.  In my current term, I have led the Board’s efforts to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract with our bargained members and a fair and reasonable contract with our Superintendent.  Good government budgeting requires a transparent process that respects both historic trends and anticipated changes while understanding the full array of funding source.  The current District budget remains balanced and responsible while investing in staff and programs that directly support student outcomes.   

6. What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing District 208 and how should the school board address them?

When I ran for my first term on this Board, no one was predicting a world-wide pandemic.  As we navigated the pandemic period, there were certainly disagreements along the way but ultimately the strong core that IS District 208 (parents, teachers, administrators and community) allowed us to move forward and serve the students. The Board of Education must lead by example – listen to multiple perspectives, understand complex situations and maintain a focus on the educational outcome of District 208.  I believe I have the temperament and engagement required to continue this valuable work regardless of the future challenges we may face.