Katherine Murray-Liebl

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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: 41

Previous political experience:  None 

Previous community experience:

Served as Longfellow PTO co-president

Served on the Ascension Parish Council

Currently a member of the Longfellow PTO Diversity Committee

Occupation:

Stay-at-home parent, previously taught 6th and 7th grade language arts

Education:

Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and German (Saint Mary's College)

Master of Arts in Teaching (Dominican University) 

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

The D97 board is clear in its definition of the functions of the board.  According to the D97 BOE website, the board is expected to clarify the district's purpose, connect with the community, employ and evaluate a superintendent, delegate authority, and monitor performance. Ultimately, the school board needs to ensure that the teachers and students have what they need in order for the teachers to facilitate learning and for the students to show not only proficiency and readiness but also the ability to grow as individual, lifelong learners. The board must ensure that the standards and policies address the needs and protect the best interests of the students. When making decisions, a school board member must be constantly informed about and engaged in his or her community in order to fully appreciate the perspectives of community members, students, teachers and staff. Board members should always have equity and excellence at the forefront of the decision-making process. 

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 used as a means of encouraging new business growth and redeveloping areas of a community that are seen as not able to do so on their own.   Essentially, once a TIF district is created, the tax revenue collected by the taxing bodies is frozen for the life of the TIF (usually 20-23 years) and the excess tax revenue goes into the TIF fund.  In Illinois, the law is very specific in naming how TIF money can be spent. Ideally, creating a TIF district and investing in the infrastructure of a specific area will encourage developers and investors to bring their businesses and developments to an area, thus creating more tax revenue. School districts can benefit from TIF districts as they are a probable source of an eventual increase in tax revenue for  a school district (from an area which may have otherwise remained stagnant).  However, school districts cannot rely on a source of revenue that is not yet theirs, and so schools cannot fully take increased revenue into consideration before the expiration of a TIF district.

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

If the referendum were held today, I would vote for it.  Currently, D97 is at a point where we cannot continue to provide the quality of education we have come to expect in Oak Park without an increase in funding for our schools. Unfortunately, we can no longer count on the State of Illinois to provide even the minimal amount of state funding  that we were previously receiving. We also have seen a large increase in our student population in the past 5-6 years, making the current level of funding inadequate for our growing needs.  In addition to a lack of  state funding and a drastic increase in our student population, the PTELL limits the incremental amount of funding we are able to receive from standard tax increases, forcing districts to go to referendum to enable the community to decide on the relative need for an increase in funding through a referendum.  

As a parent and a community member, I feel it is necessary to provide the school district with the funds it needs to keep our buildings safe and in working order; hire, retain and support qualified teachers; and provide our students with engaging and rigorous curriculum, class sizes that  provide an optimal learning environment, opportunities for support and enrichment, and programs that promote physical and social-emotional learning and growth.  Although I fully support this referendum, I am painfully aware of the fact that each time we raise taxes we are potentially endangering our socioeconomic diversity in Oak Park. As a school district with a community that values its diversity and considers diversity an asset and a strength, we need to be constantly mindful of the fact that the way in which we choose to allocate funds within our budget says a lot about our values as a community. The choices we make as a community, and also those made by our board, have a direct impact on why people come to Oak Park, why people stay and why people leave. If we value diversity in every sense of the word, then we need to make certain that the way that we spend our money as a district is meeting the needs of ALL of our students and their families.

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? 

Do I think D97 has an equity problem? Absolutely.  However, I think that Oak Park has the resources and the desire to make equity among all of its students a reality.  If a school district is supporting a model of equity,  each student would have what they need to in order to have the opportunity to succeed. Success, however, is defined differently by each person.  We all learn and develop at different speeds, with different intentions and different goals.  We arrive at different points on our journey towards success with different feelings of satisfaction, different reasons for our quest of success, and different hopes for what our individual success might mean for our futures.  As a school district, we need to make sure that we are providing the same opportunity for success to each student.  In an equitable environment, each student receives what they need to succeed--however, that doesn't necessarily translate into each student receiving the same resource, support, etc.

I think we need to specifically take a look at how we are (or are not) providing equitable chances for success.  When we study the data that show that we have an achievement gap/opportunity gap between white students and students of color, we often focus on resources.  I think we should be asking ourselves additional questions.  Do we have the same expectations for all of our students?  How does implicit bias affect learning in our classrooms? How do students' perceptions of themselves and of others affect their own expectations for themselves? How does the lack of significant diversity in our teaching staff impact student learning? Is the curriculum we choose engaging all of our learners or is it partial to some?Are we looking at our programming and structures and seeing the same level of interest, participation and success across all groups?  Are our buildings serving our students with disabilities equitably? Are we providing enough opportunities for enrichment to satisfy each learner who walks into our classrooms? We are searching for answers to all of these questions.  I believe that D97 is place where these questions can be answered and equity can be attained.

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

Dr. Kelley has shown her dedication to our district in so many ways.  During her first year,she threw all of her energy and passion into wanting to know more about Oak Park, our schools, and our community values.  She did this by listening.  She didn't come here pretending to know what we needed or what we wanted.  She asked us.  She asked teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members to come to the table so that she could hear from US.  Now, in her second year, she is putting OUR thoughts, needs and wants into action.  She is helping us to see how to change our approach to achieve the things that we say we want to change. She is helping us to analyze our systems of support in order to make sure that each student is getting what they need to achieve.  She is asking us to rise to meet the expectations that we have set for ourselves.  She's helping us to deliver on our OWN PROMISES to our students and to our village. The road may be bumpy.  We are discovering where we are and where we want to go.  I believe that Dr. Kelley is the person who can help us to get there.

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

In any productive educational environment, assessments should be used to measure both proficiency and growth. Ideally, educators would be informally assessing students daily (without interfering in the instructional time and learning process) and measuring both proficiency (a basic/minimal target for each student) and growth (an individual measurement based on previous achievement).  Informal assessments allow the students and teachers to stay engaged in what they're doing.  When students are engaged in learning, educators are more likely to truly get a sense of what they know.

While informal assessments give a much clearer picture of teacher impact and individual student learning and growth, formal assessments are used to compare student achievement on a larger scale.  Data collected from formal, standardized assessments can be useful when used in a specific, limited way, but unfortunately, the overuse of standardized testing takes a significant amount of valuable instructional time away from our teachers and students.Stopping the learning process to be formally assessed can lead to anxiety for students, which, in turn, can skew the results.  Using too much time in the classroom for formal, standardized assessments is arguably not a productive use of time and in many cases is detrimental to students' growth mindset and view of what learning can and should be.

In order to prepare students for higher education and the world beyond our classrooms, we need to ensure that each student is not only reaching a basic target of proficiency but also that students understand why growth is important and how to achieve growth as individuals.  We don't want students to simply stop wanting to learn because they've met a target or passed a test; our goal should be that students see endless opportunities to grow as learners and maximize their potential.

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