By Terry Dean
The candidates for the District 200 Board of Education have another week before the April 9 election to sell themselves to voters. Candidate forums have taken place throughout the month. Though 13 candidates are officially on the ballot, the forums have been attended by a core of about 10 hopefuls. Below is a sampling of the candidates and their views on a range of issues discussed at a Buzz Café forum earlier this month.
Is standardized testing the best measure of student success?
Terry Finnegan (incumbent): Standard testing alone is not enough to measure student achievement. It has to be a component of that but one of the things we did was look at removing class rank and really asking colleges what they're looking for. And we got an interesting response. Standardized testing at the national level is important, but what's most important is really that overall academic achievement of that student. What classes they took and what grades they got. Their rank really wasn't that important. The schools that have had a lot of experience with OPRF want to look at each individual child and see how they would do at the college setting. So we want to raise kids who are both career- and college-ready.
Steve Gevinson: I agree that standardized testing can be a plague on schools actually. And I believe it's very dangerous today, actually. I think there's something like a testing industrial complex. I think that in a school like ours — as we know it's a single high school district with a very strong faculty — that as much as possible the faculty should be designing assessments that are made for their classes. They should be working together and collaborating as much as possible. The state is going to do its testing and I think we should minimize if we can and as much as we can in the high school.
Jackie Moore: I do not believe that standardized testing should be the measure of student achievement for their ability. I think that, nationally, what is happening is that with colleges, the input that they're placing on testing is starting to decline. They're looking more at students' transcripts. They're looking at their writing ability. They're looking at their experiences and that trend is certainly starting to filter down to schools. And I think that we, in this community, can be a model for not teaching to the test but teaching our children academic and social skills that are necessary to do well beyond the high school years.
Where can the high school reduce spending?
Eric Davis: One of the things we have to take a serious look at is the cost of the administration. Now, obviously today's school administrations have to deal with a lot more federal and state standards than back in the day when you could get by with only five administrators. But the situation where we're cutting back on teachers and class size at the same time we're increasing our administration, I think that's a situation we really have to look at. One of the ways I think we can be smart about reducing administrative costs is for government to work together better. Are there ways we can economize, be smart and accomplish the same things, but really return the focus to the classroom?
Tom Cofsky: Cost-cutting is a word I really don't like to use because it indicates that you're cutting something but it doesn't necessarily mean that what you're removing isn't going to impact you. So what we focus on is cost-control, and the way to do that is really by digging into the weeds. And that's based on process-improvement, what can we do to make things more efficient? And are we doing things where we're spending money today where it's not adding value really to our students. The whole purpose of the school is to educate the students. And so are there activities that are going on today that are not helping to improve the educational quality of a student?
What are the targeted areas of improvement for teachers?
Julie MacCarthy: One of the most important things for teachers is to have a relationship with their students. I think it's really important, when you have however many number you have, to reach every student. And to make sure you're just not talking to the kids in the first couple of rows, or the kids who are raising their hand and responding. I think it's important to engage every kid. I think there is a lot to performance when you're a teacher. What I found is that what works for one does not work for the next person, so I don't think there's one script that they can follow that's going to help them be effective."
Melanie McQueen: Being a teacher today is so different than the demands that teachers had when I was in school. And remember that in most districts, they only have 48 minutes in the high school class. And being there, depending on the relationship, you may only get 38 minutes to teach. And it's not necessarily because of anything the teacher has done. There are so many things that they have to do; there are different things that have to be done before that day is over. You're not being able to teach like you'd like to. We have two generations of teachers at the high school. You have one generation that's been teaching for 10 or 20 years. And you have new age teachers who have come in with all these different ideas. There are so many things that have to happen in the classroom versus the whole teaching and learning part. And I think that's what we're missing today.
What are the most important issues the board will face and why are you the best to face them?
Steven Nations: The financial issue and the tax issue go to long-range planning. My belief is that the people of these two villages are fabulous people. And it's my firm conviction that if we show that we're being good stewards of their money, they will support the school long term. I've never been here when a referendum failed. They've supported great institutions. They built two new middle schools. I think it's the long-term approach that I would use to show the people and know that the two villages support the schools.
Jeff Weissglass: I talk about trying to create a student-centered, highly-engaged, 21st-century learning environment. That's really where my focus is. But innovation, I think, is one of the pieces that's been missing. As I've sat at board meetings, there is a technology plan. All of the innovative uses of technology are embedded in the technology plan at the school and they're not embedded in the organizational development plan. And I don't even think they're coming up in the strategic plan. So as a board member, one of the real keys is to look at issues down the road to see how we can move them into a larger scale or bigger vision.
John Bokum: The real estate tax levy. At the local level, 93 percent of your tax dollars go to education. And this plan was created by our politicians in Springfield, and Oak Park is one of the communities I consider to be under a microscope, not only locally but nationally. So we can make changes. I think it needs to be pushed to Springfield and worked on at the local level. The second thing is the Early Childhood Collaboration and the achievement gap. I think they work hand-in-hand. Last, concerning the upcoming teacher contract, put everything on the table in negotiating a new contract.