District 102 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 re-election, having been appointed in November to fill Michael Thomas’ vacated seat. I answered a call for choice of candidates at the time, and I think that need still exists. As a currently serving board member, I am working with colleagues on the board, staff in the schools, parents and organizations in the community to address business items and concerns that have arisen. I certified with the Illinois Association of School Boards for required board member training.
I have served as a public servant before, being a library trustee in La Grange Park for five years. I was treasurer for several years. I am also a vestry member at my church for five years and counting, where I have worked on outreach. I bring 20+ years of experience from a career in museum administration, and 12 years of participation in district 102 as a parent and PTO/PTC volunteer.
Museums are alternative learning environments. They are also community centers and organizations that require administrative skill and training to operate. I hold a M.Sc. in Museum Science, that launched my career and a B.A. in English that has stood me in good stead for communication and research needs that have arisen in my life. Since getting my Masters, I have worked in a broad spectrum of museums, including The Field Museum. I also had the opportunity to travel for work and personally. All this had led me to value diversity, and to enjoy working with people.
Museum exhibits address issues both historical and current through historical records, artifacts, data, and collaboration. They strive to represent multiple voices in the community they serve. This attitude of service, delving for fact and celebration of artistic and scientific achievement, attentiveness to multiple voices, and respect for all is a basis for meaning and action in my life.
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?
The basis for any community work is listening with respect to all constituents. As a school board member, one must impartially balance the needs of students, staff, and families with resources, educational goals, and law. As a library trustee, I did this. As a museum professional working on repatriation, I had a front row seat in sometimes contentious discussions and different world views — and took pride in the creative collaborations or restorative solutions that resulted.
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?
What did we get right?
-Sought considerable input from all stakeholders in developing the schedule for this year
-Implemented safety precautions for students and employees that have kept us safe and engaged in educating our students as much as circumstances allowed
-Being able to offer both hybrid and remote options for families
-Achieving the one-to-one ratio of students to computers, and providing technical support, new devices, repairs and substitutes as needed
-Acquiring the Infinite Campus platform
-Gave teachers an extra week to prepare for the fall term
-Teachers and support staff have given students opportunities to hang out in the remote platform; formed new teacher support groups for constant analysis and support of what was working and what wasn’t, and have developed new procedures for re-engaging students who started slipping
-EVERYBODY in the district and in the community went above and beyond to do the best for our students
What could we have done better?
-Anticipated a longer timeframe for pandemic impact from the beginning
-Communicated more about the process and made it more transparent: what we knew, what were the factors, what was being considered, why we made decisions
-Earlier, more concrete decision making and deadlines provided by the board and administration would have avoided stress employees and families experienced surrounding their planning needs
-This COVID-19 experience has exposed a weakness in our emergency preparedness. No one wants to think disasters and things like pandemics will happen, but they do. From now on we should have a policy and a budget reserve requiring procedures for dealing with emergencies like this
How do you define equity? How has your thinking around the subject of equity evolved and what should District 102 do to address that subject?
I have posted some thoughts about equity on my website, (https://www.DorrenGertsenBriandForD102.com) and invite readers to check that out. I like the fact that the Equity Policy recently passed by District 102 (https://www.dist102.k12.il.us/_theme/files/Equity%20Policy.pdf) reflects the language of our federal and state laws regarding human rights and equal protection. Equity is not just about race and economics as barriers to developing potential, but anything that is used in a prejudicial manner.
As a family member I have lived my life witnessing the impact of learning disabilities and also strong intelligence and artistic ability. As a museum person I have witnessed many different ways of expressing the depths of human achievement and value them all. I believe every person brings gifts, and we must strive to allow them grow to be shared.
For the past three years, I have been a member of the CommUnity Diversity group, refining my understanding of issues surrounding diversity, anti-racism, and equity. I have also been engaging in study of these subjects offered through the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. This has allowed me to put reflect on professional experiences, and to see my community and our country in new perspectives. I see the CEMA Committee in D102 on the same path, led by the Corwin consultants.
This kind of foundational change takes time. You can’t say what the end result will be because it is really a process of community growth, forming new understandings and relationships, and seeing new ways to respond to challenges. You just have to believe you are doing the right thing and take then next right step that presents itself. In the school district this means examining everything we do in light of this approach, and ensuring the school environments and curriculum embody it, that our policies and services support it, and that we reflect this value back to our community.
As a school board member you will play a role in budgeting. How will your values inform your approach to budgeting and fiscal planning?
I am conservative in financial approach to caring for public dollars. I want to follow professional standards; employ qualified staff for financial positions and administration; and communicate clearly regarding needs, goals, and resources. I believe our district is working along these lines.
What are the biggest challenges facing District 102 and how should the school board address them?
I think the top three priorities are:
-Planning for this school year and 2021/22 in a way that supports education that meets students where they are at as we continue to navigate the pandemic response
-Ongoing administrative obligations such as negotiating contracts and budget issues
-Returning to discussions of space and class size that were interrupted by COVID last March.
The board has to address these issues by:
-Gathering information and studying the data available
-Arranging for necessary space studies or alteration of spaces to meet district needs
-Communicating plans and establishing schedules so all parties can be prepared for their roles
-Setting policy and ensuring it is reflected in the budget
-Approving funds for these priorities
-Holding the administration accountable for carrying out the approved plans
-Listening for input regarding the developing plans for this time period from district and community members