William Smithing

District 208 School Board Candidate

Age: 51


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 have been a board member for four years, two of those as president and leader. We have been through some of the greatest challenges to our education system in a lifetime. The work is not done, as we open our schools full time with lunch (safely) we will have to work through what our virtual options will look like going forward. This will take strength, experience and demonstrated leadership to maximize our best educational solutions. 

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?

These COVID times have challenged every person in and around the school environment. I am proud of our accomplishments with opening for in-person learning. As president of the board I led a collaborative process working through obstacles to the educational environment such as: Staff vaccinations, COVID testing, stipends, sick days, work flexibility for “at risk” employees, childcare flexibility, enhanced cleaning procedures, special education, and, hybrid learning procedures. Listening as a leader while also being proactive, I have assisted in making RB a true frontrunner within the current COVID educational models. 

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?

One of my major concerns throughout the pandemic has been the academic and mental health needs of our children. Therefore, I have been focused on in-person learning and the intricate process of getting this back on track for our most in need children within our community. We worked with the Special Education department to bring students back to school in August and these students have been in school five days a week for the entire 20-21 school year. Currently RB is open in a hybrid (50% student attendance) format, we have space available for additional children due to a modest turnout rate. We have opened additional days for low performing students and children with IEPs. Currently the administration and staff our working on an option to allow any student in the district the choice to attend four days of in-person learning. I do not believe any person or community could have prepared for a similar worldwide health pandemic; however I believe the district has done a great historical job of building and preparing our district financial situation so that we were able to react quickly to the needs and demands of our students and staff. Furthermore, we were able to make our school safe through enhanced cleaning, personal barriers, increased HVAC airflow, and were one of the first district to have 100% COVID testing available to our staff. Currently we are on track to have the entire teaching and support staff 100% vaccinated by April 1st. 

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?

Equity is each of us getting what we need to survive or succeed to our full potential, access to opportunity, networks, resources, and support without any bias or favoritism. Education is the best antidote to prejudice and discrimination. There is no better way to challenge our own assumptions and come to appreciate cultural differences than to live and learn together with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. At RB we strive to value character as well as intellect. It commits us to helping students develop their capacities to think freely, critically, and humanely, and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. This year we are committed to having open discussions as it pertains to the equity question, led by our principle Dr. Freytas. Discussions around rebranding the second week in October holiday currently known as Columbus Day have already begun.

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 have been on the financial advisory board for past four years and we have been committed to living within our means. District 208 is coming into some difficult financial years, particularly due to the COVID pandemic. We are projecting deficit spending for the next five years. I believe our fund balance is strong enough to get us through this downturn. In the short term the population of the students is decreasing per our projections and feeder enrollment. Our focus must be on the students in most need of education. I would like us to invest in the Freshman on track program over the next couple of years. 

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

1. Budget: This is one of the major challenges for District 208, especially with COVID related expenditures. We are projected to have deficits for the next five years affecting our fund balance/reserves. The board will need to look to the future for financial stability and prepare for needed growth.

2. Preparedness: The loss of education for our students is staggering. As a board, we need to prepare our future students to increase their studies and make up for lost opportunities due to the virtual COVID response. Our middle school children will not be as prepared in the coming years as those students in a pre-COVID scenario. Balancing the needs of the students, teachers, and taxpayers’ will be instrumental in the next year. I have and will continue to work with the administration and RBEA in a productive way to increase the knowledge and learning environment for the students with greatest need.

3. College/Career path: Almost 40% of our students attend 2-year community/trade school or join the work force after graduation. I would like us to evaluate the means we are preparing these students for productive career choices. I have been working with local union education funds to prepare our students in the same manner as we do for college acceptance to the many apprentice opportunities available locally. With the incredible cost of post-secondary education, I would like us to track how many students complete their education with a diploma and a job in their related fields, not just a mountain of debt.