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.

Kenyon Duner| Provided

Name: Kenyon Duner

Age: 48

Previous Political Experience: Current Brookfield Parks and Recreation Commissioner, since 2014

Previous/Current Community Involvement: IHSA/Brookfield Little League umpire 

Occupation: Superintendent of Recreation at New Star Recreation Services

Education: Lyons Township High School; B.A. in Philosophy, Clarke University, Dubuque, IA

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 running for the District 208 School Board because as someone born and raised in Brookfield I feel I have the experience and ability to represent the community effectively.  With only one current board member residing in Brookfield, it’s important to have someone that knows the educational background of the schools that feed into RB.  My college education gives a lot of support to being effective as a board member.  With a degree in Philosophy, I’ve constantly used the skills of conflict resolution, mediation, problem solving, and logic that were keystones of the degree.  

I’ve been a member of the Brookfield Parks and Recreation Commission for 9 years which has provided valuable experience with community relations, municipal governance, and board operation.  During the 9 years that I’ve been on the board, the expansion of programs of the Brookfield Parks and Recreation Department and increased services offered have been very exciting.  While the credit for that goes to the Recreation Department Staff, I’ve been very proud to be part of the process. As my full-time job is in special recreation, I have a strong background in working with adults and children with disabilities.  Special education is an important component of Riverside-Brookfield so I would be strong advocate for that population.  Before Brookfield joined the SEASPAR special recreation cooperative I was able to use my position as a commission member and my work resources to offer special recreation programming through the Parks and Recreation department for Brookfield residents where there were no programs previously.  

One of the ways I’m in constant interaction with the community has been through IHSA umpiring at Nazareth and Lyons Township and little league umpiring in both Brookfield and Riverside.  Seeing kids progress from prep and farm to majors and juniors and finally high school varsity while experiencing it with the same parents for years and years is very rewarding. The flip side is when those people you have relationships with disagree with a decision you’ve made.  Weather it be a coach, parent, spectator, player, fellow board member, or an audience member, you need to be respectful and listen as people want the best things for the community as well as to be heard.  

The role of a Board of Education member is to represent the community and students.  While we of course have different agendas and goals, it’s important to filter decisions through the lens of community needs and expectations.  With my experiences in the community through the Parks and Recreation commission and interactions as a longtime community resident I feel very confident in my ability to serve the residents of District 208

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?

There’s always an opportunity for schools such as Riverside-Brookfield to do more for students.   The question is how best to achieve that with the time limitations in school and after school clubs, staff work load, and budget.  With the increased attention paid to student loan debt there has been helpful discussions about schools expanding the vocational pathways available to students as well as a focus on community college options.  I think RB has been proactive in acknowledging these tracks for students through classes.

I attended College of DuPage before I went away to the 4-year institution where I graduated and there were a lot of educational, social, and financial benefits from that decision.  While the $18 per credit hour tuition I enjoyed is long gone, it can still make a large difference in costs.  The dual enrollment programs available through Triton College to RB students is a great opportunity to get a head start. The variety of programs available are strong, but hopefully can be expanded.  A strong Applied Arts Program can help with opening up vocational opportunities for students as well.  RB’s Television Arts Program and Automotive sequence are assets to the school.

Just as important is the opportunity for college focused students to thrive.  RB has a robust dual credit program through Advanced Placement classes that offer the basics like English and Math as well as less traditional options such as studio art and music theory. The opportunity for independent study offered by RB is also a valuable chance for a student to receive credit for curriculum such as foreign languages not offered by the district.   Summer internship opportunities through RB also give students a chance to receive high school credit in non-traditional ways.  The additional requirement of an interview to be accepted into the program is a valuable experience.

While each individual student will have a different experience at RB, I feel the curriculum does a sensible job at providing meaningful opportunities for the full span of students.  With a renewed focus in vocational studies, a robust offering of clubs, activities and sports, as well as the benchmark of college preparatory classes I think RB is in a good place.  

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?

With the changing demographics of the Riverside-Brookfield High School a lot of attention is being paid to the faculty make up as compared to that of the student body.  I believe it is important for students to see themselves represented by the makeup of the faculty.  The challenge is that most every district with a diverse population is also striving to achieve better representation and there currently aren’t enough teachers from diverse backgrounds for all schools to accomplish this.

The question that follows is how we can best get as many quality teachers with as much representation as possible in the school. Part of RB’s Executive Summary on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion addresses that through the section on Equal Employment Opportunity and Minority Recruitment. The policy to advertise in minority publications, job fairs, and colleges and universities with significant minority enrollment is a solid strategy to attract these candidates.  Diversity in staff isn’t just important for students to interact with staff who share their backgrounds, it’s also important for students to have experiences with staff who do not. While focusing on the benefits of representation for minorities in important, ignoring the benefits for the majority invites criticism that these policies only help minorities.

The increased diversity in the RB student body and our local communities is making us stronger, kinder, more aware community. Principal Dr Freytas is a strong asset to the school and community. In our attention to diversity, we might also look to hire administrators and support staff to meet our representation goals. While it may be necessary to look far outside the area to attract teachers that represent the student body, hiring people from within the district for other student facing positions is a possibility to help match the demographics.  

The demographics of the school today will not be the same in 20 years, so it is necessary to have a framework in place to anticipate these changes.  In cases where the school may not be able to immediately address these demographic changes, it always remains important to have the best staff available. Retaining the quality staff that are familiar and comfortable with the students at RB will always be in the school’s best interest.

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?

Any organization should have equity as a value, but having it spelled out in the mission statement along with the detailed Executive Summary on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shows a stronger understanding of its importance.  There’s a big gap between saying you are for something to creating a set of policies, actions, and initiatives you are using to achieve that goal.  The work by the school and the board to put the DEI into writing is commendable.

The list of professional development the staff are asked to engage in is appropriate for DEI training.  Implicit bias is something we all need to be aware of whether we feel we risk engaging in it or not.  Parent inclusion on the Race and Equity Commission is necessary to add direct input from the community as needs and concerns are continually changing and developing.  Any additional parent involvement, regardless of the subject matter should be encouraged as well. 

As someone with a minor in Justice and Peace studies I am excited to see a Restorative Justice Team in place at RB.  Discipline arrived at through mediation and agreement instead of by the numbers punishments keeps students involved in the process and offers a chance for dialogue about issues the student is facing. It also provides additional avenues of prevention and accountability for students, keeping them more involved with what’s happening in their school and the effects of their behavior.    

The simple changes from a Western Civilization to World History curriculum introduce many different cultures and civilizations.  World history, in addition to the Global Studies and World literature, offers ways to engage with differing perspectives and experiences in a world that is becoming more connected.  The Urban Studies class is a particular highlight in bringing attention to the ideas of equity in the community and schools.  With a focus on poverty, segregation, homelessness and similar topics there can be a lot of realizations about where we are as a community.

One way equity can be increased is through reducing of class prerequisites.  A student feeling stuck and unable to take classes that interest them or feel they can succeed in without extensive parent intervention does a disservice to many students who possess great potential.  When students have limited choices they are unmotivated and underachieve. Empowering students to take these classes gives them increased stakes and motivation in their performance. While some interventions may be required for students to succeed, the outcomes are worth it.

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?

One of my strongest guiding principles in working with a budget in recreation is ensuring participant outcomes. Making sure there is an open dialog with participants, parents and guardians about what they expect from our programs helps set budgeting priorities.  Reviewing which needs have been met and which needs are to be addressed and the costs associated with them are always a priority. The same process is appropriate for schools, prioritizing providing what students need and the community’s expectations for the school.

Working for a special recreation cooperative we are funded in a similar way as a school district, with property taxes based on the agency’s EAV.  When looking at the budget of a school like Riverside-Brookfield I am able to use a lot of the same experiences as I use in my current job and the Brookfield Parks and Recreation Commission.  Having a budget tied to property taxes does provide some volatility when there are large economic shifts, but even in those cases there is time to prepare.

A first step in budgeting is reviewing any plans, policies, or procedures that have been set already set prior to budgeting. Most organizations have a strategic plan laid out to guide the process. Keeping those policies in mind before moving on to specifics helps focus on already agreed upon desired outcomes. Valuing and respecting the work school administration and previous boards have done to put the processes in place will ensure continuity and smoother budgeting process.

Ensuring the staff that interact daily with students and provide lasting positive impacts on students are compensated fairly is an important consideration to me in the budgeting process. While there are financial limitations that can’t be avoided, the cost of replacing quality staff in both a financial and quality of education sense must also be considered. 

Sustainability is a personal ecological, societal, and financial value. Ensuring we can meet our needs with finite resources, have a positive impact on our community while minimizing negative consequences, and not compromising future possibilities is a consistent goal. In a school setting, money and time are finite resources we need to maximize. RB should be seen as a positive resource for the entire community, not only for students and their families. The school should do what it can within budgetary reason to minimize negative impacts in the community, such as traffic congestion. Lastly any financial decisions made should be strongly discouraged where it may limit opportunities for future students. 

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

One of the biggest challenges facing schools going forward is the impact of students growing up with increased access to technology. While there are certainly benefits to having more technology at a student’s fingertips from a young age, there are some drawbacks that are becoming increasingly prevalent that we need to be aware of.  Some of these things are being addressed already in the schools but there are also emerging trends such as the impact of the Covid years that need to be accounted for.  

A key resource already in place is a curriculum with Social emotional learning.  Increased time spent online sometimes leads to feelings of isolation for kids, a lack of communication skills for directly developing relationships, decreased emotional development, and a lack of empathy that manifests itself in bullying behaviors. Brook Park’s hiring of a full time SEL teacher was a good step in addressing these challenges to students. 

With the increased screen time many students have seen a decreased attention span. Social media inundates us with shorter and shorter videos to entertain us as our attention spans have responded accordingly.  While keeping a student’s attention has always been a crucial skill for any teacher to have, additional time spent with classroom modifications, seating adjustments, and movement breaks to facilitate better attention takes more time away from instruction.

A recent issue of concern in students and adults is media and information literacy.  While it’s very easy to find news and opinions about topics, it’s becoming harder to verify the credibility of many of these sources.  Having a student attending a school district that currently doesn’t have a full-time degreed librarian in either the elementary school or the middle school, it does a disservice for students for many reasons, including a lack of quality instruction in information literacy, effective research skills, and understanding formats and sources.  They then start high school with these deficiencies and need to catch up.  While RB used to have 2 full-time librarians, they currently have 1, leaving less opportunities for students to master those abilities before graduation.

There are remedies for all these issues facing education and thankfully many of them are already in place. The question for the board is are they enough to overcome the challenges, and if not, is it best to tweak what is in place (more SEL instruction, tutoring, resources for implementing Move to Learn and other strategies, etc.) or starting from scratch.