Photo courtesy of Donna Wandke
Introduce yourself. What do you do?
I am Chief of Staff for [Illinois Rep.] Janet Yang Rohr, which is a legislative position that I just started in January. I started as a math teacher at Naperville North. When I had my third son, I stopped teaching and took a little bit of time to stay home and did a lot of volunteering in their schools. My position on the board is vice president. I’ve been on the board since 2013.
What prior experience do you have on the Board of Education?
I was recognized in Bloomington, Illinois, from the Illinois State Board of Education for my work as a school board member. I have that master school board member [award] from [the Illinois Association of School Boards]. In the eight years that I’ve been on the board, we’ve returned $32.7 million to taxpayers based on the decisions that we’ve made. We have the highest number of exemplary [K-12] schools in the state. That has a lot to do with the goals that we set for the superintendent: [all day kindergarten, expanded early childhood services and making sure that summer school was expanded] and how we move those forward. We have a nationally-recognized social emotional learning program, which is super exciting. There are school districts all over the country that are asking our team of administrators to come and speak on what we’re doing as far as social emotional learning goes.
What do you hope is accomplished by the board if you’re elected?
My biggest concern going forward is making sure that we have an environment that educates our students without compromising anyone’s health. Something that we have to continually [work on is] looking at metrics and data, not just in relation to COVID, but the metrics and data related to student engagement, grades and accomplishments. My other goals have not changed that because they continue to evolve. One of them is making sure that I am transparent and communicate to the community as best I can. I also think that it’s my job as a board member to be a good financial steward.
What are your thoughts on the current district COVID-19 response? What is going well? What would you change?
I think that the plan has always been very detailed. Every time I’ve asked a question, the administration definitely has responses and has thought through everything. I’m oversight; it’s their job to implement the actual plan. I’m not disappointed in that at all. What I am disappointed in is the fact that there have been unforeseen circumstances that caused us to have to shift gears at the last minute. I remember that cross country practice [in October]. We get a note from the DuPage County Health Department recommending that we all go into full remote learning. We were due to go back into hybrid starting with the younger kids the next day. It really upset the community, but it’s not like the board or the administration [did] that out of disrespect. We’re in the middle of a pandemic; we have to be fluid and able to move with whatever the experts in the field [are] telling us. In fact, we didn’t go fully remote. There [was] some leeway for students with special needs or students who were also struggling.
Are you in support of mandatory COVID testing or a mandatory COVID vaccine requirement from the state for students to learn in-person next fall? (Aside from medical or other exemptions?)
I’m not going to take making [testing] mandatory off the table; I’m going to listen to the recommendations of the health department and our administration as to if they think they need to do that. As far as requiring the vaccine, it always comes down from state mandatory law and [the] department of health.
If re-elected, how do you think the board would address issues with teacher fatigue and excess teacher turnover?
We actually have a good number of teachers that apply for any position. That being said, the teachers and the staff we have right now are quality staff that I hope we retain. They’ve had lots of new initiatives all at once: they’ve got the block schedule, they all had to go remote [and] now they’re doing live streaming, like those are all huge things for them to adapt to. And so I just want to make sure that we have resources available to them.
During the Aug. 17 meeting, the current board passed “Resolution affirming the authority of the superintendent to implement Return to Learn plan for 2020-2021 school year.” Any thoughts?
With or without a relative resolution, the Illinois State Board of Education gave the superintendent that power. If we somehow created some policy [to hinder] that, it would slow things down drastically, because you have the presentation of whatever we’re changing, then we talk about it, then you have to wait two weeks, they have another presentation of it and then we vote on it. Do you know how much that plan changes in two weeks? It would just continue; we never would vote on it. The accountability that the superintendent and the administration has been held to has been much higher on this than anything else. I know the community thinks what they think, but how many times do we spend 10 months talking about a plan and getting all the details and every question out?
How can we as a district address issues regarding racism, bias, diversity, equity and inclusion?
While I’ve been on the board, I’ve been very supportive of hiring our new Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Rakeda Leaks. She’s amazing. [However], because we’ve hired her, there’s room to improve [in this area]. I would continue to support her and her efforts, and if we need to increase staff there, I would support that as well.
You’ve recently been hired by former board member and newly elected Illinois House of Representatives member Janet Yang-Rohr to be her chief of staff. Is there a conflict of interest?
Superintendent Bridges checked with our district lawyer [and] with the Illinois Association of School Boards lawyer, and there’s no conflict of interest. It’s just not an issue. We work with legislators all the time. I work in a legislative role, it’s not a political role in any way. We do ethics training, where you can’t in your job do any kind of political activity for your representative.
One last thing: why should people vote for you?
We’re in a time of crisis, and I think it’s important to have some continuity and experience. I have a lot of experience, I have a lot of knowledge [and] I have a lot of passion for education. Everything I do revolves around what’s best for students. I’m trying to be a mentor to my colleagues as well and help them.
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