Heather B Claxton-Douglas

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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: 33 

Previous political experience:

During my coursework at University of Michigan, I performed: a case study of internet access and adoption in Detroit, a stakeholder analysis of the HIV vaccine (in clinical trials), and a program assessment of the SBIR/STTR federal program.

Previous community experience:

I have volunteered with FreeGeekChicago, and Female Founder's Pitch.

Occupation:

Agreement Specialist in a tech transfer department (OTM) at University of Illinois-Chicago

Previously, I ran a social impact business called ScienceSolved L3C

Education:

PhD in Biological Chemistry, from University of Michigan

Certification in Science, Technology & Public Policy, from University of Michigan

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

The Oak Park Elementary School District 97 website lays out six duties of a D97 board member. In summary, it is the job of the school board, through communication with the community, to create a vision of where the district should go.  It is the job of the superintendent to create and carry-out a plan to get us there.  The school board is then responsible for monitoring the superintendent and the progress she has made towards that goal.   A duty that I would like to add, is that it is the job of the schoolboard members to work with the other governing bodies within Oak Park to address needed resources for the district and community.

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?

TIF districts are areas of a village/city where a portion of the property taxes paid every year by residents of that district go into a TIF fund – Oak Park currently has three TIF districts.  The last TIF will expire in the next few years.  Money in a TIF fund can be used to pay for economic development projects.

The impact a TIF has on a school district is negative; it diverts a significant portion of funds away from the schools.  Because these TIF can last 23 years, the amount of money diverted from the schools can become significant over time.  

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

I would vote no for the capex referendum.  I do not support building additions to the schools because I consider it a permanent solution to a fluid problem.   This year, Longfellow and Lincoln are nearing capacity, but a few years ago, it was Irving that was at capacity.  If Schools of Choice policies are passed, we will see an influx of out-of-district students into any one of the schools.  Therefore, I favor a more agile solution, such as renting additional building space. 

The operating referendum is a much harder decision.  While my family can afford to pay an extra $1,500 in property taxes (an extra $740 per $10,000), I know that high property taxes are keeping businesses from opening stores here, causing families without children to leave, and prohibiting lower income families from moving here; we lost our Title 1 state funding because our percentage of low income families attending school in the district have dropped.  All of these things will exacerbate the problem of having historically high enrollments.  On the other hand, the consequences of a failed operating referendum are severe and downright scary; I don't want to lose a fifth of the teaching staff.  Ultimately, this is a decision that each family must make on their own, and as a board member, it is my job to find a way to make it work with the resources available to me. 

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 an equity problem. This problem is evident when you compare the test scores of economically disadvantaged vs economically advantaged students, as well as comparing scores of white vs minority students and male vs female students.

I think D97 has a history of applying the latest and greatest research-based practice after practice in an attempt to fix the achievement gap – and nothing works.  Before we can fix the achievement gap, we need to understand what causes the gap here in Oak Park.  The only way to figure that out, is to speak with parents, teachers and students to identify the barriers that are holding our students back. From there, we can identify what resources are needed and apply them to where they can do the most good.  For instance, if a student is coming to school hungry, we should provide access to healthy breakfast and lunch. If the problem is that her parents aren't available after school to help with homework, then we should provide tutors instead.  If the problem is that a student feels she's failing math because 'girls are just bad at math', we need to provide cultural icons and role models that prove the opposite.

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

I am satisfied with what Carol Kelly has accomplished in her first year and a half.    

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

Imagine two grizzly bears are climbing a tree.   Grizzly Bear A starts at the bottom of the tree and climbs two-thirds of the way to the top.  Grizzly Bear B starts at the middle of the tree and climbs to the top.  Assessments that measure proficiency, would say that only Grizzly Bear B is proficient at climbing because only Grizzly Bear B reached the top of the tree.  Assessments that measure growth would say that Grizzly Bear A is performed better at climbing, because Grizzly Bear A climbed farther in a single day than Grizzly Bear B. 

Currently, the PARCC assessments measure proficiency, telling us only which students have reached a set milestone of achievement, regardless of where that student started the school year.  While I would prefer to measure the academic growth of our students, how much our students learn during a school year, I am leery of increasing the amount of time our students spend taking tests.

Reader Comments

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Gina Sennello from Oak Park  

Posted: March 29th, 2017 4:08 PM

I think Heather would be a great addition to the D97 Board

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To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.

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