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’m running for District 204 School Board because I want to be a strong voice for equity in achievement and to advocate for access to opportunity. I was first motivated to run when the answer to my questions about improvements for the school in conversations around the community was frequently “I don’t know, it’s always been that way.” I believe we can capitalize on more opportunities if we aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.
I’ve been active at LT School Board meetings – organizing robust community support for facilities investment in 2019 and asking for progress in racial equity in 2020. I serve on the Board of Directors for my synagogue and have participated in tough discussions around our own reopening and financial investments. I care deeply for this community – I served as a panelist for Highlands’ principal panel and participated in LT’s superintendent search forum. I also work as an analytics and insights manager for a distributor and hope to bring this data expertise to LT’s Board.
I believe that the best Boards are made up of a diverse group with unique skillsets and differing backgrounds. I’m a young Latino with kids in LT feeder schools who would add a new, unique perspective that’s more representative of our community. I worked with Belonging & Equity at LT from its inception, and after speaking at length with several students and members of the community around racial equity, combined with my own personal learned experience, I’m comfortable being a leader to help increase belonging and reduce the achievement gap in our district. LT is great – I’m seeking a seat at the table to capitalize on opportunities to make it even better!
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?
First, I look forward to working collaboratively with the Board on the District goals which are set to expire this year. Generally, it will be easier to write policy and approve funding that directly helps our school achieve these long-term goals. Outside of that, I will be frequently asking for data and considering equity in every decision. There will be times that I might advocate for funding or policy that only directly affects a smaller population, but I strongly believe that increasing equity for specific groups can also have a positive effect on either a small group of others or every person in our district. Although, I am mindful that sometimes you need to authorize a decision that really only effects a specific group – and that’s okay!
If elected, I plan to frequently ask our students and staff, “What can we do to improve our school?” and “What do you need to succeed?” We can all work together to evaluate the potential risks and rewards for these decisions and engage in healthy debate around which projects should take priority. While serving on my synagogue’s Board of Directors, we were tasked with reviewing the bylaws. In order to increase access to the best candidates, I suggested an amendment to allow our Executive Board members to not be Jewish. While it seems like this amendment would only positively affect our non-Jewish congregants, I was able to effectively communicate to our Board that this change would make our Board more inclusive and potentially more representative of our congregation. I plan to advocate for an inclusive and belonging environment at District 204 as well!
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?
LT has taken some steps to be helpful around social emotional health – advertising to reach out to a counselor if you need help and continuing the ROAR campaign for students to anonymously report any trouble they see. I’d like to see more investments in support staff as the ratio of social workers at the school is 1:1,000, student support counselor ratio is 1:1,333, and school psychologist ratio is 1:2,000. If elected, I will advocate for a reassessment of these ratios as we prepare for the fall semester of 2021.
COVID has put a spotlight on the historical lack of spending on facilities at both campuses. I’m encouraged that the District secured a grant to invest in some air conditioning. However, the buildings will require some additional investment to increase safety standards. If elected, I will advocate for improving the building such that students and teachers can return expediently, and potentially help to decrease disruptions in the future. Additionally, I would support increased careful investment and continued evaluation of proactive measures such as saliva screening, classroom purification units, and staff/student vaccinations to ensure that our community can return even more safely.
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 in a school setting means that you put systems and policy in place to strive for every learner having an equal chance to succeed. This summer, LT held a special Board meeting to discuss the achievement gap and the lack of belonging among minority groups at the school. In the most recent year of data, the achievement gap was between 37-55 points and 28% of our school is minority students – this combined with multiple accounts of racism and microaggressions is a call to action. Enacting better policies on racial equity and inclusion starts with listening and understanding, which I see as a primary responsibility of serving on the Board.
To start, nine months after LT’s special meeting to address these issues and after meeting with a consultant, the Board released a responsive equity statement. I absolutely agree with everything that was written in the statement, but this was not the racial equity statement that I feel the community was waiting for.
Missing from the equity statement was any mention of race at all – I will advocate that any future statement or resolution around equity should acknowledge the complex and historical factors that have contributed to inequities within District 204.
We must not leave race out or sweep it into a bucket of “all students” if we truly want to make progress in this area. In order to provide equity to marginalized student groups, District 204 should be bold and specific. I will ask for a clear plan, addressing specific opportunities and including measurements of accountability with a concrete timeline.
I’ve been working with a group called Belonging & Equity at LT that helped research ways to make the school more inclusive and to reduce the achievement gap. During my time researching, I read about a resolution around racial equity that was written downstate in Decatur, IL.
I contacted their School Board to get more information and found that their resolution was customized for their district but adapted from several other school districts with similar ideas.
District 204 School Board should work to collaboratively draft a resolution that puts our administration to work on items such as integrating racially/culturally relevant content into curriculum, gathering complaints about racial bias and sharing them with the Board, gathering data on hiring and promotional trends among racial groups for staff, and much more.
Regarding the achievement gap, I met with an award-winning researcher from UC Berkeley who has some intriguing ideas around using data to tackle the problem. If we use data to weigh and quantify “headwinds” (like having a learning difference or being an English Language Learner) against “tailwinds” (like having parents with high education levels and cultural capital), then we can weigh and index this data to determine the support we need for each individual student.
Potential results could include improved integration from feeder schools (assuming they’ll partner with us on this initiative) and improved test scores overall.
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’ve had the chance to work on the budget as a member of the Board for my synagogue, and I’m very comfortable with the ins and outs of budgets. I’ve heard other candidates concerned about the deficit in our budget in the latest year, and I’d like to explain why this isn’t particularly alarming. The District has significant reserves (~$39 million saved), deficits are not common (there was no deficit in the past two years, in fact the reserves grew), and any incremental investments made to improve learning during the pandemic were a necessary reason to spend down some of the reserves. I will use my background in data analytics and strategic recommendations to ensure that the district can make sound investments without deficits becoming a cause for future community concern. I will continue to advocate for a flexible long-term plan for additional capital improvements to upgrade learning spaces in the school, and I’d like to share these plans with the community who funds our projects.
What are the biggest challenges facing District 204 and how should the school board address them?
I believe that the biggest challenges facing District 204 moving forward will be racial belonging and equity, facilities improvements, and grading policy.
-Racial Belonging & Equity
I will advocate for a collaborative resolution that both acknowledges racism and specifically assigns administration to tasks to improve belonging for the 28% minority population
I will advocate for a data-centric approach to close the achievement gap, partnering with our feeder schools to identify incoming and current students who may need more support
I will advocate for a long-term plan to fully air condition LT: Classrooms at LT exceed 90 degrees in the hottest months (dangerous and limits learning)
I will advocate for incremental improvements to learning spaces including HVAC upgrades and many other overdue classroom repairs
In the last eight years, LT has invested over $11 million in non-learning spaces (cafeteria, auditorium, etc.), now the district has an opportunity to invest more in instructional spaces
I have talked with the community and will advocate that District 204 totally reevaluate to precisely determine the costs and benefits of the new system
If we keep this system: collaborate with teachers to share best practices, optimize uniformity of the system, and determine supplemental methods to motivate students – must drastically reduce failure rate and accommodate students who have challenges in summative work generally
If we leave this system: consider improving on prior system by eliminating grades for class participation and extra credit, eliminating group grades, eliminating the curve, and adding back grades for formative assessments