Charity Caldwell

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Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's District 97 school board election. 

Age: 36

Previous political experience: None

Previous community experience:

Current Beye parent volunteer, duties include "lunchroom sorter" which is the parent in charge of having kids separate their lunch garbage into liquid, compost, recycling, and trash; previous volunteer for 5 years to help green card holders fill out citizenship applications; 8 years of weekly tax season volunteer and site leader with Ladder Up (formerly TAP), doing taxes for low-income families. 

Occupation: Previous careers in Higher Ed/Educational Technology, and teaching Higher Ed ESL.

Education: B.S. Physics; B.A. Music; M.A. Linguistics 

How would you define the role / functions of a D97 school board member?

Each school board member must carefully consider community concerns and continually review district policies to determine if the policies of the district are most helpful to allowing schools to meet student needs. School board members have a paramount responsibility to use tax dollars carefully to create greater equity for the student body and negotiate a teacher contract that attracts and maintains excellent teachers in our district schools while ensuring accountability. Our current school board has done an excellent job of contract negotiation and hired an effective new superintendent.

As a board member, you may be asked to make decisions relating to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. What is your understanding of TIF districts? What are your thoughts about their impact on school districts?

My current understanding of TIFs is that large new construction within those districts, including residences that may contribute to the number children in the school system, divert property tax money away from the school district. For a school district stretched to capacity both physically and financially (at current service levels), I do not consider TIFs to be beneficial to D97. However, I will be meeting with the township assessor and may learn more about TIFs that could change my opinion.

If D97's impending referendum were held today, would you vote for or against it? Explain your vote.

I am voting YES on both referendum questions. D97 has been very careful with taxpayers' money as exhibited not only via its credit rating and commendation from the organization of Illinois school boards, but also through its ability to keep actual expenses below predicted levels even though the number of students has risen so dramatically. The number of students in the district parallels the student population from the Baby Boom era, and I believe our schools are doing more for students than they did then. This huge increase in student population has occurred at the same time inflation has been low, preventing D97 from receiving even normal increases in revenue, and at the same time the state of Illinois has utterly failed to pay what it is required to provide. Way less money coming in and way more students in attendance combine to require D97 to ask for more funds and I think this is reasonable.

I understand some people are concerned that the higher taxes that will result may reduce socio-economic diversity of our village. As a landlord, I just received my First Installment tax bill for the current year. Our current property tax will increase $600 under the referenda. I know I will not raise my tenants' rent by $50/month, nor would the rental market support that. I do not think rent in the village will change significantly due to these referenda. Moreover, the cuts required should the referenda NOT pass would eliminate music, art, and other enriching programs. I couldn't possibly sign my TWO kids up for weekly music and weekly art classes for $50/month. My $50 a month will help to ensure that not only my kids but ALL kids in the district have access to these programs. D97 is spending our money wisely and serving a huge number of people at the same time. 

Do you think that D97 has an equity problem? How do you define equity? Do you believe that the district is currently utilizing its resources effectively enough to address the long-standing issue of equity?

Yes, D97 has a clear equity problem as does our community and our broader society. Equity has many different angles. The one most often referred to in D97 is that the data demonstrate that children from households of low socioeconomic status do not perform as well in many academic measures as students of higher socioeconomic status. This is sometimes called the "achievement gap" but equity is a more accurate term. Students who need more help may need more resources to reach the same level of academic achievement as other students reach without extra help. Disability access is another example of equity problems in D97. Non-ADA compliant buildings prevent students with certain physical disabilities from attending their neighborhood school. I do not doubt the good intentions of D97 and our community for these and other equity issues, but we must continue working to solve them. 

Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the current performance of D97 Supt. Carol Kelley? Explain your sentiment.

I am satisfied with Dr. Kelley's tenure. Already since her arrival, I have heard of several changes within the district that I believe are smart ways to begin to address some of the equity problems in D97. I'm especially encouraged by the focus on diverse hiring practices and programmatic efforts like Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

Explain your views on the relative advantage of assessments and using them to measure proficiency or growth.

Assessments are necessary. However, the standardized exams taken via computer starting in 3rd grade are not the only kind of assessment available to teachers. Nearly any other assessment given by a teacher will be more useful to the teacher, their students, and their parents than those standardized exams like MAP or PARCC. There are potential issues of bias in any assessment, whether locally-created or nationally standardized, and at least at the local level, that is something we as a district can examine.

Standardized diagnostic assessments are useful for initial assessment of the knowledge and academic skills students begin the year or a particular unit with. For example, when a teacher checks a young student's sight word comprehension when the school year begins. Thereafter, formative assessments made by the teacher will allow a teacher both to learn how students are progressing and help a teacher understand how effective certain aspects of their approach are. It should be noted that this sort of assessment is generally NOT a test. The teachers at our D97 schools are excellent and are doing this constantly. Formative assessments are an excellent way to show growth in learning over a particular topic.

D97 students receive their end of term evaluations with a combination of those formative assessments and summative assessments, which are likely more test-like or project-based. Summative assessments are things like chapter tests or a diorama at the end of a literature unit. All of this together contributes to the end of term grade and is what shows the students and their parents how a student has met proficiency on a given topic in that class.

The standardized exams currently used (MAP or PARCC) are nonetheless useful in the way they reveal large patterns. The equity problem in D97 (and many districts) would perhaps not be so obvious without a broad standardized assessment. I consider some standardized testing to be necessary. 

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