Lorena Gasca

District 208 School Board Candidate

Age: 47


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? 

When I moved to North Riverside eight years ago, one of the most welcomed surprises was that I now lived in a school district that elected their school board members. I was raised in Chicago and attended Chicago Public Schools. To date, one of the biggest challenges in that school district is the lack of ability to elect a school board. I remember thinking, “One day I will serve my community in that capacity.”

Historically, North Riverside has not had consistent representation on the RBHS board and when I heard that our current North Riverside school member was not running again, I knew it was time to step up. It was with great anticipation that I finally decided to “just go for it” and do it! It is a great responsibility and I know I am up to the task. 

I am motivated by the idea of serving others. Many people have helped me in both personal matters and in my professional career and it is time to pay it forward. My ability to recognize that issues are multifaceted and must therefore have multiple viewpoints in order to find the best solution possible will serve me well. Additionally, for the past 15 years I have worked on a grant that has given me the opportunity to work with a variety of people including students, teachers, parents, community members and administrators. I feel very comfortable listening to others and helping craft viable solutions for educational opportunities.

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?

This question feels like it could have easily been paired with the question regarding equity. (See below) In essence, equity is making decisions with the needs of specific groups in mind. It is not a one size fits all approach.

What is in the best interest of one group is not necessarily in the real or perceived best interest of the other. And this is where the balance you mention comes into play. The district as a whole can and will only improve when all of its stakeholders, whether students, teachers, staff, or families, have their needs not only addressed but met. As leaders, we have the responsibility to make decisions that are informed through an equity lens to ensure that all groups, especially those that have been traditionally marginalized by those that hold the power to make decisions, have their needs met, in order to be a part of a thriving community.

For the past 15 years, my professional career has BEEN to advocate for all students and their families that are a part of the grant by which I am employed. I am not afraid to speak up for others and have uncomfortable conversations to find the best solution possible for all groups. When decisions are made with the goal of meeting objectives, the perceived unfairness should go away.

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?

This feels like a loaded question! Let me explain. As we all know the current pandemic in which we are living has caused us all to adapt to living differently. Whether you are a frontline, essential worker having to go in to work in person or a non-essential worker privileged enough to work from home, we’ve all had to adapt.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of having to implement remote learning has been the division of stakeholders in all schools. Somewhere along the way it became a parents vs teachers, teachers vs administration ordeal. This is perhaps where the District could have done more. I am a huge believer in ensuring that ALL voices, not just the loudest voices, are heard. Information sharing and gathering, early, often, and transparently could have avoided a lot of the (mis)communication issues that ensued.

Remote learning, in my opinion, is not a yes or no, wrong or right issue. I truly believe that it was done out of necessity. No one wants to be home for the sake of being home. We are social creatures and need each other to not only survive but thrive. Adapting to virtual learning AND teaching has not been easy, but instead necessary, in order to keep each other safe. The tough decisions are those that need to be made with the greater good in mind. And the greater good, in this instance, was the implementation of remote learning AND remote teaching. I hope that one day, we are all able to understand that.

As far as future disruptions are concerned, it is my hope that there will be some serious reflection given to the lessons learned during this time. Once these lessons are identified, plans for proactive solutions should be created and plans put in place, ready to be activated at a moment’s notice. We have spent the last 12 months in reactive mode and that should never happen again. If elected to the school board I will make it my job to ensure that ongoing reflections take place. 

How do you define equity? How has your thinking around the subject of equity evolved and what should District 208 do to address that subject?

As explained above, equity is ensuring that all stakeholders get what they need in order to succeed. In essence, equity is making decisions with the needs of specific groups in mind. It is not a one size fits all approach. (One size fits all and everyone gets the same thing is equality)

The “How has your thinking changed around the subject of equity evolved” leads me to think that perhaps the author of this question thinks equity is a new concept due to recent historical events. It is not. As a woman of color, I have been affected by issues of both equity and equality. The only thing that has evolved for me is realizing that people currently don’t feel comfortable talking about these issues. As you look around, organizations everywhere are scrambling to find a diversity, equity and inclusion officer and that’s great….on paper. What are organizations, RBHS included, really willing to do to ensure that students’ needs are being met? Hiring someone is easy; willing to change years of institutional culture is not.

One of the biggest opportunities that District 208 has is addressing the gap that exists between the student body population and the staff serving them. Students thrive in environments where responsible adults look like them. The question to address is: as staff members leave, what recruitment efforts are being made to attract others that reflect the student body? What relationships are being developed with area universities to host student teachers that mirror the student body population? I understand that this takes time but what is RBHS willing to do to ensure that it is a diverse, equitable and inclusive learning community for ALL of its members? 

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

For me, budgeting is simple: what goals are you trying to achieve, both in the short and long term? What resources are you willing to allocate in order to achieve those goals? Finally, what are the school’s priorities? Once this has been identified, the budget is built. (For a specific example, see answer #6)

Also, what additional resources are needed to fully fund priorities? I would say that as a school board member, the responsibility is not only to budget with what the district is given but also to actively look for additional resources to help the district fund the necessary improvements.

What are the biggest challenges facing District 208 and how should the school board address them?

The pandemic has amplified the need for social emotional learning and mental health needs of our teens to be addressed. These needs are not new and are not a result of the pandemic. Additionally these needs are not going to magically disappear when we return to in person learning.

One of the best ways we can serve our teens is to ensure that a plan is in place to address these needs. Does this mean hiring more counselors and social workers? What about hiring support staff to ensure that those students who are having difficulties re-engaging in in-person learning are supported? We can no longer continue to neglect these needs and blame it all on the pandemic. What are we doing to proactively have support resources in place for students as they transition back into the building? Let me help!

I look forward to engaging with community members, parents, teachers and students in order to better understand their needs and to be a part of looking for solutions. I was recently asked, “Why are YOU running for RB school board?” My answer is simple: “Why NOT me?” All voices, not just the loud ones, need to be represented at the table. My commitment is to serve in the best interest of all students.