Michael Thomas

District 204 School Board Candidate

Age: 54


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 would like to continue my work as a current member of the District 204 Board of Education because I am passionate about improving the quality of education for each and every student. I believe that education is the key to opportunity and success. 

My interest to continue to serve our community as an LT Board Member is the culmination of my upbringing and my desire to give back to the community. My experience as a Board Member at LT and District 102 would add value to the Board because I am familiar with how to work collectively with a team to confront an array of tough challenges and make well-informed decisions that represent all students to continue moving the District forward.

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 best way to balance what’s best for the district as a whole over specific interest groups is to develop a district-wide strategic plan that would establish priorities and action plans in the areas of student learning and achievement based on input from all stakeholders (teachers, staff, students, parents, and community members).

As a member of La Grange School District 102 Board of Education; I was part of the Board that had to make a decision about re-opening schools in the Fall of 2020 in the middle of the Global Pandemic. As a member of the Board, I believed that it was important to offer families a choice of in-person/hybrid instruction or remote instruction so that families could decide the best option for them. I had to collaborate with my board colleagues and superintendent to ensure that a comprehensive plan was delivered to families and teachers.

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?

While there is no perfect solution in the middle of a Global Pandemic; I believe that the District could have looked closer at surveillance testing to add to their mitigation strategies. 

It could have encouraged more families to opt into hybrid instruction. The District should consider bringing together a COVID-19 Task force that includes teachers, students, staff, parents and medical experts that can brainstorm and develop action plans based on best practices seen around the country as well as evidence-based practices that are innovative so that we are ready to implement them in the future.

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 means offering individualized support to students that addresses possible barriers. My thinking has evolved on Equity to the point that when all schools are mindful of different backgrounds and provide the right resources, all students are prepared to learn and help each other to succeed. 

District 204 should partner with the feeder schools to develop bridge programs and supports to reach students in those early formative years to help close the achievement gaps sooner. 

Additionally, the District should adopt an Equity Lens approach to decision-making throughout the district. Analyzing opportunities, practices, and policies with an Equity lens requires leaders to constantly re-evaluate decisions to ensure that they are not creating or exacerbating barriers to opportunity for students.

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 believe in being a good steward of financial resources and exercising frugality when it comes to managing my expenses as well as those of our tax paying base in the community. As part of the board, I would advocate that the board establish clear expectations for maintenance of the district’s financial health and monitor month-to-month financial performance to ensure the plan remained within the budget.

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

The top three priorities facing the District 204 Board in the near future are: Financial stability; COVID-19 Impact on student achievement; and Equity for all students.

-Financial Stability

According to District 204’s latest financial projections published on the website, the District’s expenses are exceeding revenues, and there is a projected $1.9 million deficit for the year. Current expenses may be understated as the District balances the uncertain times of the Pandemic, which could further exacerbate the projected deficit. The District will need to prioritize capital projects and work judiciously to find a balanced budget while at the same time not losing programming that provides our students with an excellent education.

-COVID-19 Impact on Student Achievement

Our education system was not built to deal with extended shutdowns and hybrid learning caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some statistical models estimate that students who receive average remote instruction could lose three to four months of learning, and with lower quality remote instruction, the loss of learning could increase to seven to eleven months.

In addition to the negative effects of learning loss, the Pandemic has increased social isolation and anxiety among our students, which has reduced academic motivation and general levels of engagement. 

Our District must think creatively about how to encourage ongoing learning over the summer. This might include expanding existing summer-school programs that provide additional enrichment to students, targeting those students who are average learners and especially those students who have significantly fallen behind. Additionally, a creative option could include partnering with corporations to help identify and train volunteer tutors to provide expanded support resources as students head back into the classrooms in the Fall.

-Equity for All Students

Lyons Township High School consistently achieves high performance levels on the standardized SAT Test as published on the Illinois State Report Card website, with scores well above the state averages in English, Language Arts, and Mathematics. However, a difference in achievement across some student demographic groups is evident when taking a closer look at these results. The student groups, as defined by the State of Illinois, that repeatedly exhibit an achievement gap by not meeting testing standards include “Low Income,” “Hispanic or Latino,” “African American or Black,” “English Learners,” and “Students with Disabilities.”

The expectation for all students should be to meet and exceed standards regardless of their income, race, gender, or disability. Our students should be provided with excellent teachers who set high expectations in a high-quality learning environment and ensure that equitable resources are provided, so all students can reach their full potential.