When it comes to public service, especially in local units of government, there is no substitute for direct engagement with one's constituents. That is especially true when it comes to our local school boards, as the decisions made by those bodies impact the education, health and welfare of our community's most precious resource — our children. Given the import of those decisions, members of our school boards must be accessible and responsive.
But as important as it is to engage directly with one's constituents as a school board member, it is also important to be cognizant of the quality, tone, and genuineness of that engagement. Put differently, engagement must be authentic. The quantity of engagements — the number of meetings one holds, the number of listening tours, town halls, one-on-one meetings, info sessions — is no substitute for the quality of those engagements.
It seems to me that in the race for District 200's school board, there is one candidate who understands this more than any other — and that candidate is Matt Baron.
Perhaps it is because of Matt's exceptionally successful tenure as president of our public library board, which is culminating in his successful outreach to, and recruitment of, candidates of color to run for that board during this election cycle. Or perhaps it is because of Matt's background in journalism and communications, which involves plenty of talking, but also plenty of listening.
Whatever the reason — and it is likely a combination of all of the above — Matt understands that authentic engagement is what the board of Oak Park and River Forest High School currently requires.
He is also experienced enough in local government to recognize that the challenges facing OPRF — the fund balance, the need for a comprehensive facilities plan, and, most importantly, the achievement gap, are complicated. Any solution advanced at the board level will have its proponents, but there will also be opponents. Complete agreement or even broad consensus is probably not realistic.
But Matt is pragmatic enough to locate the opportunities for quick incremental progress on all of the above. He is also collegial enough and cooperative enough to forge partnerships with colleagues who might not agree with him on every issue. On a board that can easily fall prey to "paralysis by analysis," given the magnitude of the decisions it must make over the next couple of years, Matt Baron has the skills and the open-mindedness to be a leader and a bridge-builder at the board table.
When you cast your vote for District 200 school board on April 4, Matt Baron deserves your vote.