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.

Kari Dillon | Provided

Previous/Current Community Involvement: Volunteer, Moms Demand Action, Westchester Food Pantry, Chicago Survivors, NAMI Chicago

Occupation: Account manager, marketing agency

Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing and communications

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?

I am the current LTHS District 204 school board president and over the last four years, we’ve accomplished so much. I’m excited about what’s ahead with the recent adoption of our Strategic Plan, an LT first. There are so many reasons why I’m running again, but at the core:

  • I firmly believe in public education. Not only do I believe in it, but I am a champion for it. 
  • I support and admire our teachers and administrators. LT has an impressive reputation for retaining highly qualified teachers and administrators who care deeply about our students.
  • I love our community and I believe the high school is the heart of it. This is the last stop on our children’s education journey before they launch careers or go on to higher education. 

I have served on the LTHS District 204 board for the last four years, helped navigate through a pandemic and hired a new superintendent. I know it takes patience, dedication and collaboration to work with a team of seven. Together, we effectively implemented a 1:1 laptop distribution program; developed the first district equity statement; established the Director of Student Services and Director of Equity & Belonging roles; enabled the first live-streamed board meetings, upgraded 64 classrooms with air conditioning and recently completed a community-engaged facilities study to identify future projects/needs to improve our aging campuses. 

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

This is a position that I was instrumental in helping to create and I am passionate about the importance of this role. Dr. Rowe has been a valuable addition to the LT team. In her role, she is responsible for assessing and addressing disparities and barriers that prevent marginalized groups from achieving their full potential. The role seeks to ensure historically underserved groups will get the supports they need to have the same opportunities as student groups who are not underserved.

With this role, we’ve implemented professional training and begun evaluating our processes, procedures and policies. We have a lot more work to do, but I am committed to making LT a welcoming space for all to feel as though they belong. It is with that focus, that we can affect true learning. 

As a board member, I will continue to support these initiatives and look forward to evaluating our progress along the way.

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?

A review of LT’s grading processes began in 2014 to streamline and provide a consistent education experience for all students regardless of who was teaching their courses. These improvements were rooted in a research-based methodology that has been in practice nationally for more than 20 years. The process included a review of course content and grading policies within each division, which took several years and included input from student/parent surveys. The rollout was then applied across the entire system.

The timing of the rollout during the pandemic, had a direct influence on the success of this initiative and like all significant process updates, needed some adjustments once applied. LT listened to feedback from teachers, the students and the parents, which resulted in the grading system currently used today:

Teachers agree to a common syllabus and gradebook, coursework can account for no more than 10% of the final grade, course teams may choose to limit retakes if applicable, and every course culminates in a final exam experience as defined by the instructor.

The current system provides teachers with flexibility and autonomy while keeping the experience for each and every student consistent. 

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?

I personally believe that standardized tests are just one metric out of many that tell the story of student success. That said, this is an area that LT continues to work on. Specifically, this year the new testing coordinator has been instrumental in collaborating with the academic divisions to identify standardized test areas where LT students need improvement and ways that instructors can help students better prepare for that content. We are also looking at strategies to improve the outcomes for historically underrepresented groups through co-teaching and partnering with Equal Opportunity Schools. 

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?

It is the school board’s fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to make decisions on behalf of the district that will benefit all students at the least expense to all taxpayers. The proceeds from a potential sale could dramatically improve the infrastructure of our campuses and would contribute to fulfilling strategic Goal 5. 

6. What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing District 204 and how should the school board address them?
Developing the post-pandemic student:

  • Academically. Providing opportunities to improve student learning. And that starts with our teachers. Late start days on Wednesdays give our teachers the time needed to enhance their lessons, evaluate progress, connect with division teams and students to improve academic retention and learning. 
  • Emotionally. We restructured our student services division and increased the number of counselors to align with national standards. We’re continually working to improve the ways in which we support our students and their families through resources beyond our school walls.
  • Socially. We’re creating opportunities for our students to connect with each other and within the community through charity events, volunteer opportunities and working with local businesses.

Improving campus facilities while maintaining fiscal responsibility
Our buildings were built in 1888 and 1957. And in many areas, it still looks like it. It’s about more than just updating the aesthetics. It’s about function. To leverage new technologies and best teaching practices, we need learning spaces that are conducive to collaboration and co-teaching. 

We need updates that will extend the life of existing facilities, address life/safety issues and improve accessibility. And many of our student and community athletic and wellness facilities need updating as well.

Fulfilling the goals of our strategic plan
The facility improvements are tied to Goal 5 of our strategic plan, but we have four other detailed goals we’re working on simultaneously. We have begun to make strides with Goal 1 of improving student growth and achievement – 2022 marks the highest number of students taking at least one AP exam. And we continue to work on closing the achievement gap through a partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools. We’re making strides on Goal 2 of providing an inclusive learning environment through professional development for staff and improving intervention systems and supports for our students. Goals 3 and 4 are evolving as we expand our hiring outreach to accurately reflect the LT community and find better ways to connect and build relationships with families and the greater community.

My name is Kari Dillon and I have been a resident of Indian Head Park for 10 years. I have two daughters: a recent LT graduate and a junior. I volunteer with Moms Demand Action, Westchester Food Pantry, Chicago Survivors and NAMI Chicago. I work in the West Loop as an account manager for a marketing agency. I graduated from Illinois State University with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing & Communications and I have 25 years of experience in strategic marketing and project management.