District 204 School Board Candidate
Why are you running to be on the school board? What motivates you and what experience and perspectives would you bring to the job? How would those be valuable as an elected official?
I am running for the LTHS School Board with immense enthusiasm and passion for our community, our students, and our schools.
As a former District 102 board member for 8 years, I know how to be a successful school board member, and I understand my responsibility to students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. I will be able to hit the ground running without a learning curve to advocate for positive change at LTHS.
I am a mother of three and I am LTHS Proud! I have a sophomore at LT and two daughters who are recent LT graduates and now in college. My eight years of experience with LT has made me aware of the district’s many strengths and also areas that are primed for improvements. It would be my honor to be part of LT’s long tradition of excellence and serve on the school board to Elevate LTHS for ALL.
Please learn more about my priorities and candidacy at www.dawnaubertford204.com
As a school board member you will be asked to balance what’s best for the district as a whole with what might be in the interest of specific groups. How will you do that? When have you had occasion to do something similar in the past and how did you accomplish that?
It is critical to understand the interests of the community and to ensure that decisions represent the best interests of the district as a whole. Gaining widespread input from stakeholder groups is essential and is accomplishable in a variety of manners. District and board initiated surveys, town hall meetings, and strategic planning are all effective vehicles for gathering widespread input.
When I was on the District 102 School Board, we were considering options to address space issues in the schools. One option was to convert Barnsdale school to a full day kindergarten program, and another option was adapting Park to a grade 6-8 campus.
We held meetings at each of the schools to discuss the options with the community and to solicit feedback. We also did surveys and Town Hall meetings, and discussed options at several regular board meetings. In the end, we moved ahead with implementing a full day kindergarten program that has been very successful.
The past year has been a challenge from the perspective of balancing the social, emotional and academic needs of students with the need to ensure the health and safety of all in the extended school family. What could the school district have done better to achieve that balance and what succeeded? What planning is needed to respond more quickly to any future disruptions in the traditional learning environment?
The district announced hybrid and remote models for learning in July of 2020 and then announced a different model in early August. On August 11th, another revision was announced based on “questions, concerns, and suggestions” that had been received during the week of August 4 to August 11.
Since the district had not offered a formal vehicle for input, it gives the appearance that the revisions were made reactively, and based on the limited feedback from those who decided to provide impromptu input.
Overall, the district needs to improve communications to the stakeholders and allow for formal avenues of feedback earlier in the planning process. I am also perplexed that District 204 did not take advantage of surveillance screening, which is a safety layer that would have allowed LTHS to bring students back to school earlier, and to keep them there.
Schools using surveillance screening such as D102 did not have to take the adaptive pause that LT took in November, less than one month of the students returning to the school. I believe the community appreciated the flexibility to move between remote and in person instruction earlier in the year when our transmission rate was much higher.
It is not clear if the community still values or needs this type of flexibility since we are in a different environment with the virus and many families and students wish to have the opportunity for increased in-person learning.
As we move forward, it will be essential for the district to engage in earlier planning, and to communicate and formally query stakeholder feedback earlier in the process. Many high schools have already done community meetings announcing plans for return to school in the fall.
How do you define equity? How has your thinking around the subject of equity evolved and what should District 204 do to address that subject?
Every child deserves to attend a school with access, opportunities, and supports to a high expectation and rigorous learning environment. Every child needs to feel a sense that they belong in their school and in their community and that their worth and dignity are honored.
In order for us to make meaningful progress in the area of equity, the school board and District need to drive a vision of inclusivity within the school and community. The District has done segments of work over the last several years in working toward equity, but this work needs to be accelerated and done in a collective and collaborative process.
The school board recently adopted an equity statement into policy, but action plans need to be determined to carry out this vision. Currently, LTHS does not have a strategic plan, and my hope would be that the new board and new superintendent will engage in a strategic planning process to determine the district’s mission, values, vision, goals and objectives for the next five years.
I would expect equity for all students to be part of the strategic plan whereby the goals and objectives, along with metrics to measure progress, will be clearly defined in the plan.
As a school board member you will play a role in budgeting. How will your values inform your approach to budgeting and fiscal planning?
As a former school board member for eight years, I understand school finances and the importance of budgeting and planning to operate on a balanced budget. This year, LTHS is projecting a deficit that to my knowledge is the first deficit in decades or longer.
While this appears to be the result of revenue changes, it will be critical to plan for a balanced budget and to replenish reserves. Financial stewardship of taxpayer dollars is a primary responsibility of the school board.
What are the biggest challenges facing District 204 and how should the school board address them?
I have outlined six priorities on my website (www.dawnaubertford204.com) that I believe are the biggest challenges facing the district. These are: Covid-19 Impact, Equity for All Students, New Superintendent Transition, Strategic Planning, Financial Stewardship and Grading Changes Evaluation. Since this questionnaire has touched upon several of these priorities, I will provide more detail on those that have not been fully explored:
Students need to be back in school. The district needs to communicate a plan for the fall whereby students will return to school for full day, in-person learning for five days per week. Contingent plans should also be developed and communicated in case virus levels increase to a point where mandates prohibit students from returning to school.
The district needs to consider increasing safety levels on campuses to keep students and staff safe. Ensuring that all teachers who want to receive the vaccination receive it as quickly as possible, and implementing surveillance screening are two important safety layers to build confidence in students returning to school and keeping students and staff safely in school.
The district must also have plans to deal with the social and emotional needs of our students that are likely to look very different from the needs of the past. I am very concerned about the mental health of our students coming out of the pandemic.
My understanding is that LTHS currently has six social workers who work with a population of over 4,000 students. This seems to be a very high ratio of students to social workers and it will be important to understand if the current levels of staffing are effective in supporting students with emotional needs. We need to be proactive in addressing the emotional well-being of our students, not reactive.
Finally, the district also needs to be prepared to address educational setbacks that have affected our students during the pandemic. The learning models utilized this year had a significant reduction in instructional minutes, and the overall disruption of the pandemic has created challenging learning environments at best. It will be important for the district to determine ways to assess students for learning loss and to create plans to address these gaps.
Grading Changes Evaluation
Six grading changes were implemented this year that have been significantly challenging to student, teachers, and parents. It is curious to me that these changes were made during a time when our students and teachers are experiencing the most disruption ever seen in our education system. I have significant concerns about the grading changes and the impact they are having on our students right now.
Semester One grade evaluation indicated a significant increase in students failing classes and receiving D’s. While the pandemic and other factors may be contributors to the increase in failed courses, it will be critical to evaluate and understand how the changes in grading may also be at play.
In the new system, only summative assessments count toward the final grade and since homework and other work leading to the summatives does not count toward the grade, many students have interpreted it as “optional.” This could have significant impacts to the learning process itself, and this needs evaluation.
Homework and other formative work for many students is essential in the learning that occurs along the way, and provides students and teachers timely opportunities to build learning in the process toward mastery. A thorough evaluation of these changes is needed and a restatement and understanding of the goals to be achieved by these changes needs to be articulated. It will be essential to gather formal feedback from students, teachers, and parents about the impacts of these changes.
New Superintendent and Strategic Planning
The current school board has appointed Dr. Brian Waterman as the next superintendent for LTHS. Dr. Waterman, who is currently the principal of LTHS, will formally begin his new role on July 1, 2021.
Dr. Waterman and the new school board will need to work effectively and swiftly to navigate out of the pandemic and engage in the vision, goals, and direction of LTHS. LTHS does not have a strategic plan, and I view this as an immediate opportunity for the school board and superintendent to evaluate.
A strategic plan provides all stakeholders opportunity to give input on the priorities and vision of the district. Once adopted it provides stakeholders a shared language and understanding of the district’s mission, values, vision, and goals. This plan also defines how success is measured and progress monitored during the implementation of the plan. Since all stakeholder groups are involved and provide input into the plan, the process of strategic planning often results in increased engagement and communication in the District.