2023 Board of Education candidate Q&A: Melissa Kelley Black

Jake Pfeiffer, News Editor & Copy Editor

This Q&A is a part of The Central Times’ coverage of the 2023 Board of Education election. The election will take place on April 4. For more information, click here.

The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: Why are you running for D203’s school board?

A: A couple of reasons. I have kids in the district. My background is I have a master’s and a bachelor’s in education. So I’ve always liked education. My kids have unique needs, so over time, I’ve had to advocate for my kids. They have abilities everywhere from gifted to special needs. I have kept up with education, attending seminars at Harvard, MIT, Stanford and done research across the globe, so education is my thing. Now I did have a family and I started a business. So I haven’t been teaching for quite a while but I still associate myself as an educator. 

Q: Was there a specific incident or thing you saw happen that made you want to run?

A:  I’ve seen really great things from 203, but I’ve seen places where they’re really dropping the ball. It’s great to have great intentions as a school board, but the question is, are the policies and practices that we’re putting into place [good]? They can sound good, but it’s a mess of how they’re actually executed and implemented and what the outcomes are as to how effective they are. We have student gaps in student achievement. So we know that some kids are falling through the cracks. I really want to see the board focus on not just saying, ‘we implemented great programs,’ but actually tracking the data and saying, ‘this is working,’ and then finding where it is not working and correcting it.

Q: What experience do you have that will make you a good board member?

A: I have an educational background, I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s [degree in education]. I went to seminars, I’ve done educational research across the globe. I’ve worked for Cambridge University doing research, and the Jane Goodall facility. I always feel that traveling is educational, but another advantage of that is going across the globe and working with the local people. We’re lucky to have a community with so many different people, so I pride myself on being exposed to other cultures. As a business owner, really, the school board is a service industry. Our goal is to produce students, student achievement and student growth. That’s what we’re meant to do, so besides having the educational aspect, it’s the idea of to run a big, complex organization, you have that skill set of being able to say, I’ve done this, I know where we should invest. It’s not about throwing money. You know, the taxpayers paid a lot of money for our schools. They want their investments that return. So how do we get the best return?

Q: If you’re elected, what would your priorities be as a board member?

A: It goes back to what I said before, really pushing for that accountability and transparency with the community, and looking at numbers. Making sure that what we’re doing is working, and then problem solving and being agile in problem solving. If you have an objective, you set it up, but you have to monitor it. And you have to while you’re monitoring it be able to be a quick problem solver. So I want to promote those types of attitudes on the school board.

Q: If you’re elected, you’re going to serve on a board with six people, so you can’t necessarily be a one person force for change. So how would you plan on working with your colleagues to get the things you want if you’re elected?

A: Well, I think the first thing that’s most important for the community and the colleagues is you have to build trust. You have to be legitimate in what you’re saying. You have to be respectful, and I think that’s something that’s important in our society today. How do you disagree with people that don’t hold the same opinion? I think you build up a rapport, respect each other, you work together and you collaborate. A lot of life is about compromising, finding a solution that works,  keeping the focus on using those facts to back up why things are good for our community and our kids.

Q: What do you believe the role of the school board is?

A: According to the state of Illinois, the School Board oversees [everything,] and the actual day to day [work is done by] is the administration. However, the school board’s responsible for the administration, so we keep the administration accountable to the people. What’s the goal? What do people want? Are they getting what they want? And we hold the administration accountable for that. At the end of the day, the board is to represent the community we’re elected. The school district belongs, at the end of the day, to the community.

Q: Two decisions made by the board this school year generated some controversy amongst students- phasing out the district’s Latin program, and adding a co-curricular requirement to extracurricular music groups. What are your views on these decisions?

A: I think that sometimes we are so lucky, because we are well financed. We actually have money sitting there available. People move and live in Naperville. We pay more for our houses, we pay more in taxes. We do that because we want quality education and opportunities for our children. To be honest, our home values and the desirability of our community depends on the quality of the school district. So it’s a smart investment to invest in schools. So I think we need to look at creative problem solving. I don’t think answers should always have to be yes or no. And I really want the community to be able to police things and find ways to accommodate them. We’re lucky that we have the resources to do it. I think a lot of times it’s yes or no. Another thing we should do is not just pass something, especially when they’re controversial. What you can do is give it a deadline and say we’re gonna reevaluate in one year, this is the criteria. One of the things I did like one of the board members said that the music program is what’s the goal? And I think that’s really where we have to stop and say, ‘our goal is better quality education for our students. How does this factor in?’ So again, I think there’s a little more creative problem solving that can go on.

Q: There is also plenty of controversy surrounding education at the national level- book banning, Critical Race Theory, etc. What are your thoughts on these issues?

A: As a teacher, I don’t care about your background or who your families vote for. I feel that you need to be welcomed. My philosophy in life is to respect those people around you, and make them feel welcome. And I think that some of the rhetoric coming out is absolutely appalling. I think that it is foolish to think that you can limit information or ban books, and that kids today with their phones can’t reach them. My whole approach is that it’s the opposite of what we want. We want [kids] to have information. We want [them] to learn to be critical thinkers. How do you build a logical argument? How do you have these discussions with others that don’t agree with you? That’s what we need to have these taking place in our schools. We don’t just block out and fake it. For a child to feel somehow that they’re wrong, their family is wrong, is just not acceptable. 

Again, my goal is the education of the students. That’s who I’m accountable to, because that’s what I think the community wants. So I make my decisions based upon what’s in the best interest of the students. So that’s my job, to make all the kids feel safe so they can learn.

Q: What do you think differentiates you from the other four candidates who are running for the Board?

The biggest advantage I have is my experience and knowledge. We’re the checks and balances for the administration. The school board hires the administration, but to oversee them is the ultimate responsibility. The buck stops with the school board. Well, in order to make informed decisions, you have to have a certain amount of knowledge, otherwise you’re depending on other people to give you the knowledge. I have the knowledge myself. So I think that’s going to give me an edge, to be able to share that. I’m able to come in and already be prepared.

Q: Give me your final pitch as to why people should vote for you.

A: Again, I think it’s knowledge and experience. I think it’s the educational background. It’s knowing how to run a business. I’m not doing this to promote myself, or a company or draw business. I don’t get anything by sitting on board. If you want someone who’s gonna fight for all the kids, who’s gonna base it upon facts and measurements and use the latest research based approaches, and has a growth mindset, I’m your candidate. It is also important that we have people on [the board] that don’t have a history of associating with groups or posting things on social media that are extreme. I think that we need people that are open minded on the board.


For more on the 2023 Board of Education election, click here

For a profile on Kelly Black, click here.