Jill Grech

District 204 School Board Candidate

Age: 45


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? 

With several seats turning over this election, there’s a unique opportunity to add new voices to the Board. Like most in our community, I want to close the achievement gap, ensure social-emotional support for students, and create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. 

I’ll be an LT parent through 2027 – one of only three candidates with LT students the duration of this four-year term. Twelve years of engagement in our community outside any election process, my connection as a parent to the critical issues facing LT students, and my collaborative approach to creating impactful solutions makes me a strong voice on behalf of our LT families.

Additionally, I bring a unique perspective from my role on Loyola University’s marketing and communication team, where I typically focus on digital strategy and data analytics. Like LT, Loyola has faced similar COVID and racial justice challenges. This past year, I’ve been deployed across campus to work with various teams on community engagement and policy communication.

At any given time, I’m working with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force, on our Anti-Racism Initiative, organizing communications for our University strategic plan or meeting with students about the challenges of COVID life. This is what I do all day, every day. It would be a great privilege to apply my energy and expertise in this area on behalf of LT.

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?

Developing a comprehensive strategic plan would help the Board and LT’s Administration balance critical decisions like this. A structured development process allows key stakeholders input in and ownership of key priorities and strategies for successful outcomes. Once adopted, the strategic plan becomes our compass. 

I work a similar process every day in my role at Loyola on the strategic marketing team. I work with campus partners to set goals, tactics, and action plans for projects. Once set, it’s my role to make sure we adhere to our roadmap, while remaining aligned with overall University priorities. 

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?

I appreciated the Board and Administration re-evaluating the original plan last summer to bring us the current hybrid model. They prioritized flexibility for our students in a way many other schools have not. This model served us especially well with the fluctuating COVID rates through the holidays. And I’m very happy that a four-day school week is now being offered more broadly to all interested students.

I am in favor of a full return, following safety protocols, as soon as possible. It seems prudent to explore testing options and any necessary adjustments to learning spaces, which haven’t been discussed at length during open Board meetings in recent months. I would also lean into LT’s Counseling and Social Work team to outline specific tactics and success outcomes across the five key SEL competencies — self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. 

As the parent of a freshman, I know there has been little opportunity for meaningful interpersonal engagement among students and with faculty. I would expect additional professional development programs for teachers to recognize and address the needs of students whose struggling may not be as evident.

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?

Equity is not a stand-alone concept, but the cornerstone for building solutions to address key issues like the achievement gap and social emotional learning. So much so, that the Illinois School Board of Education recently adopted new standards in cultural responsiveness for secondary education teacher preparedness.

Our community voices, coupled with data evidence, are crystal clear that this is a priority. For some in our area, perhaps COVID and some students’ lack of access to necessary resources came as a surprise. I have the benefit of working across a couple different DEI task forces at Loyola, which helped me form a holistic perspective on systemic inequities. I don’t view equity as an “either/or” problem to solve for some students and not others. It is a “both/and” necessity. Investing in our underserved students makes all our students stronger.

Our new equity statement is only the beginning. Data from the recent climate survey, the superintendent leadership report, and community input will inform a comprehensive strategic plan to chart the course on this. I’m happy to hear there are plans to hire a dedicated diversity / equity / inclusion administrator. We also need to evaluate practices for recruiting more diverse faculty and staff. It is critically important for ALL our students to build relationships with teachers from all walks of life.

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

Over the years, LT and the Board have been fiscally responsible stewards, resulting in very healthy reserves. I would continue a fiscally conservative approach, support spending when in our students’ immediate best interests and advances equitable access, such as the 1:1 technology initiative.

What are the biggest challenges facing District 204 and how should the school board address them?

First and foremost, we need a comprehensive strategic plan. A structured development process allows key stakeholders input in and ownership of key priorities, as well as strategies for successful outcomes. Once in place, this becomes our compass for all initiatives. Our community has expressed an immediate need to address social-emotional learning (especially during the pandemic), equity and the achievement gap, and transparency of communication (especially related to the new grading policy).

Teens were experiencing an alarming mental health crisis before Covid, exacerbated by this past year. Social-emotional needs are being discussed in Board meetings, but keeping students engaged and successful academically remains a challenge. LT’s Counseling team is working to engage with every student, beginning by increasing staff. I support this and will advocate for maximum resources, raise community concerns, and plan for parent education / support tactics. I support a safe, full return to school as soon as possible. Each student will need emotional and academic support in new ways – the sooner they are back on track, the better.

It will be up to the Board and LT to create meaning out of the new equity statement. We have a wealth of data available for evaluation — community testimonials, the achievement gap report, the community-wide superintendent survey (Leadership Profile Report Summary), student success metrics, and soon-to-be-compiled climate study results. Discovery through these data sets will lead to achievable, specific, and measurable outcome goals.

Our community needs, expects, and is asking for clarity around policies, initiatives, and actions. Given my role on the marketing and communications team at Loyola University Chicago, I’m uniquely positioned to help on this front. LT sends frequent, detailed emails, but there are opportunities to reduce the information overload many feel. 

The real need is improved and transparent Board communication. The website should be evaluated for improved accessibility, highlighting key issues — organized less by the internal structure and more by need, impact, and/or audience. Adding executive summaries and project timelines, along with video recordings of all Board meetings, would improve transparency. Proactive meeting reminders and more prominent contact details would improve community engagement.