Blankemeier will work to make D97's excellent schools outstanding

Opinion

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JULIE BLANKEMEIER

I am running for the District 97 School Board to help our district provide schools that give every child in the Oak Park the opportunity to excel.

Oak Park has long been known for its superior schools?#34;in fact, many people have moved here because of our schools. Although our schools are fine, we have the financial resources, the educated and involved parent base, and the community-wide dedication to social justice, to make our schools outstanding. If any community can assure children from diverse backgrounds, with diverse strengths and needs can excel in a public school system, Oak Park should be the model.

Our school board must expect and appreciate excellence from our school leadership, children, teachers, and our parents. We must hold our superintendent and all those responsible for our children's education accountable in measurable ways. The community should be filled with confidence and pride in school leaders who demonstrate integrity, vision, and a clear sense of our district's mission. Finally, our district must wisely use the financial and human resources that our community provides.

My background

I am a mother of four children attending school in District 97. I was a Holmes School PTO vice-president. I have been a room parent for all of my children's classes covering grades from kindergarten through fourth grade. I was a facilitator of the Great Books Program.

Professionally, I am a family physician and currently at home as a full-time parent. I spent the majority of my career at the Genesis Center of Health and Empowerment, a community health center serving the uninsured, Spanish-speaking population of the Northwest suburbs. I founded the center and was executive director for its first eight years. This experience shows my ability to set expectations of excellence and hold a system accountable to these expectations in the community service sector. During medical school, I served as director, chairman of development, and program manager for the Cabrini-Green Youth Program. I was one of 14 medical students selected for an International Health Fellowship in Nigeria. While an undergraduate at Northwestern, I served as co-chair of Special Olympics, tutored English as a second language, and developed my fluency in Spanish.

Strategies to implement my goals for Dist. 97 schools

District 97 needs reliable implementation and close follow-up of performance appraisal measures for administrators, staff, and teachers, whereby excellent performers will be noted and appreciated and poor performers will be identified. There are excellent administrators, staff, and teachers in District 97. We need to recognize and emulate them. We also need to objectively identify those who are not performing at the standard set by our state and district. These individuals must improve the quality of their work in measurable ways.

The challenges in our district are exciting opportunities to become an exemplary model of academic and community excellence. While it is tempting to deny our problems, such denial prevents us from being true to our tradition of academic excellence.

Opportunities for improvement include our middle schools. Currently, the student and parent experience ranges from "very dissatisfied" (to the point of withdrawing one's children from the school) to "satisfied, but could be improved." For many parents, our middle schools appear to be an academic and social "holding place" for our children. Some teachers and parents have found that District 97 students are not as well-prepared for high school as those from other area schools. I believe this has been one of our greatest challenges for many years, and has not yet been improved. There is no irreparable reason that all students should not be challenged throughout their years at the middle school.

Among issues at the middle schools is a distinct problem with behavior that limits the education for all. We must develop the system that maximizes learning in the classroom and prepares those who are having problems with behavior to have future success.

We must address challenges at Brooks. Concerns have been raised by parents, teachers, test scores, and mobility rates. Board members and administrators have told parents and teachers why these concerns and indicators are invalid. Instead of trying to invalidate these concerns and indicators, our school leaders must make rapid improvements for our children now.

We must address the diverse needs of our student body. There are classrooms and programs in our district that are challenging the academically talented child. These classrooms and programs should be noticed and emulated, so that no child sits unchallenged in our classrooms.

Our children with special education needs remind all of us that we need to improve the partnership between teachers and staff within the school and parents.

We have children in social and economic situations that put them at risk. Teachers should be asked how the community can further help these children succeed in school. I believe, given the opportunity, many in the community would give their time to help meet the needs of at-risk children. The district should provide a variety of avenues for volunteer community members to help any child that needs more resources beyond those the school provides.

We have a well-known achievement gap. Instead of blaming parents or teachers, this energy should be harnessed for implementation of positive solutions. I requested information regarding all programs and initiatives in place and attempted in the last five years to address the achievement gap in District 97. Such a list does not exist. If we do not monitor the success of these programs, we do not know that our resources are being appropriately utilized, and we could be delaying implementation of more successful programs.

We are a uniquely diverse community. We are proud of this, and yet we hide from the issues our diversity can raise. We are sitting on the issue of race?#34;which few will talk about publicly. A large part of our school community feels hurt and worries that their children's education is being undermined by issues related to race. We need to address these issues; to talk in a safe, caring environment that is respectful and allows all of us to grow.

Finally, the district must wisely use the resources that our community provides. We must focus the use of the money on the one factor that has proven to help all children excel: smaller class sizes.

Cooperation between our administration and those trying to obtain grant funds for our schools must improve. In District 97, parents and staff pursuing grants often get little cooperation and notice. Our administration should perform tasks for which consultants are hired at significant expense. I made a request for the number of paid consultants utilized over the last four years, the cost of each consultant, and the written purpose for each consultant. I am told this information is unavailable. There are plans for consultants to review all of our schools. Given our present financial constraints, this is not a responsible use of our money.

Please support my candidacy and beliefs that:

Each and every child in the Oak Park community should excel in District 97 schools.

With the financial resources in our community, the caring and educated parent base, the community dedication to children, and the community dedication to social justice, our schools should be outstanding.

If any community can assure that children from diverse backgrounds, with diverse strengths and needs can excel in a public school system, Oak Park should be the model.

We must expect and appreciate excellence from our school leadership, our children, our teachers, and our parents.

We must hold our District 97 leadership accountable in measurable ways.

Our community should be filled with confidence and pride in school leaders who demonstrate integrity, vision, and mission.

The district must wisely use the resources that our community provides.

Challenges in our district should be seen as opportunities for improvement and growth.

The school board must provide and promote honest, reciprocal, and respectful dialogue with all in our community.

For complete statement, please visit: www.JulieD97.com.

 

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