I am running independently as a candidate for the District 200 Board of Education. If elected, I would listen attentively to all members of the school community and seek a partnership with all stakeholders in OPRF. Let me explain who I am, why I want to be a member of the board, and how I would face current and future challenges at District 200.
Who is Dietra (Dee) Millard?
I am a pediatrician with a specialty in neonatology, the care of premature infants and sick newborns, and was trained at Children’s Hospital in Chicago. The clinical practice of neonatology requires close communication with parents as members of the clinical care team.
I am also a full-time faculty member at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. During my career, I have served on numerous hospital and medical school committees?#34;notably, a successful student-led effort to revise the medical school curriculum, and initiatives to improve the achievement of minority applicants and students. As a practicing physician during this time of increasing health care costs, I appreciate the problem of shrinking financial resources and increasing demands for better care?#34;a story similar to that of OPRF.
Before attending medical school, I volunteered as a preschool teacher in southern India. Beginning in 2000, I began working with my contacts in India and OPRF history teacher Steve Goldberg to organize student trips to India. Held every other year, travel to India features home stays with Indian families in Mumbai and visits to slum development schemes, orphanages, and street schools. I am gratified that as a direct result of his involvement in the India tours, Mr. Goldberg has developed a unique and popular curriculum in Asian Studies. I recently began serving as a PTO liaison to International Travel and Field Science Programs at the high school.
My husband, Anthony J Millard, and I have lived in Oak Park for nine years. We have one son, also Tony, a 2001 graduate of OPRF who is now studying journalism at Northwestern University. In 2006 we will sponsor an Indian student to attend OPRF.
Why Millard wants to serve D200
My ambition to serve on the board arises from several aims. First, I love young people and want to foster innovative educational programs that help all our students reach full potential. Second, I welcome greater parent and community access and involvement in deliberations over school programs and policies. Third, I want to ensure quality and diversity in our faculty not only through aggressive recruiting but also by enriching professional development opportunities for teachers. Finally, I want to work for financial stability while actively seeking additional sources of funding for quality teaching and learning.
Millard’s concerns about D200
As stewards of the school, the board needs to create a stronger sense of partnership between all members of the school and the wider community. Some recent decisions and positions of the board and the administration have needlessly limited the participation of community members with legitimate questions or concerns. Although OPRF has many vibrant organizations that generously support the school mission, the school has not welcomed all voices or consistently provided an appropriate forum for exchanging ideas.
Let me offer two examples of limited access and miscommunication that have adversely affected some students and teachers. Last year a large number of parents with TEAM students at OPRF requested a review of some special education programs and a trial of an innovative approach called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) that has been shown to be effective with some special needs students. For many months this parent group advocated for this program unsuccessfully. Only after pursuing a public forum did the parents receive board approval for a pilot ABA program that proved to be beneficial for the students who took part. Subsequently the school has agreed with parents to continue parts of this program. Unfortunately there has been unexpected delay in initiating some of the ABA scheme, but these parents’ rigorous advocacy for this unique program illustrates the value of their input and efforts to expanding educational options for students.
The Special Education Division has the formidable task of providing individualized programs for nearly 400 students, and I have no doubt the staff and parents both want what is best for students, but neither had a proper forum for qualitative communication until their differences were made public. More opportunities for meaningful exchange, fewer obstacles to communication, and true partnership between groups can only benefit our students and their families.
Prolonged and contentious contract negotiations have opened up a troubling rift between the board and faculty. The hard-line position of the board in negotiations has damaged a previously collaborative relationship and put progress toward reaching the school’s educational goals at risk. It is crucial that both sides begin a process of reestablishing trust and open communication before negotiations ensue for the next contract.
Results of the negotiations have led faculty to suspect that seasoned teachers are unappreciated and that young teachers will increasingly see OPRF as a training center rather than as a destination for their teaching careers. The curtailing of incentives for advanced degrees and limited professional development opportunities made available to teachers raise the possibilities of increased turn over and fewer quality educational opportunities for students.
Alarming class sizes?#34;30 or more in some core classes?#34;fewer opportunities for interaction with teachers, and astronomical workloads for deans all may save money, but they also suggest a lack of sound governance and oversight of the educational program.
Although I firmly agree that the board must ensure financial stability and prudence, the board must recognize the hard work of the faculty and creatively invest in their own professional development.
Millard’s priorities for District 200
What, then, would I do to improve academic achievement, enhance communication, reaffirm partnerships, and make OPRF a destination for families and faculty?
1. Pursue creative and innovative methods and programs to engage students
We must maintain high standards of achievement for all students and offer our students alternative paths to achieve success. We need more experiential programs to educate students about career choices?#34;whether medicine, business, or the trades?#34;and to convey the importance of textbook and classroom education. This approach requires a closer relationship with residents in the community who might serve as citizen teaching associates in our classrooms. We also should encourage all incoming students to join at least one extra- or co-curricular activity for personal growth and a stronger connection with the high school.
2. Enhance parental involvement in the school, faculty participation in decisions affecting teaching and learning, and dialogue among stakeholders for more respectful partnerships in the school community
In order to learn, it is important to listen. And each group involved at OPRF needs to listen more carefully to each other. Perhaps the board could invite the faculty to elect one representative to serve as a non-voting member on the board. The board could also consider holding some of their committee meetings in the evenings to allow more community attendance and participation in discussion. Suggestions like these would promote greater transparency in the decision-making processes of the board and augment trust and respect among all constituencies in the school and our villages.
3. Promote collaborative programs with the elementary and middle schools to better prepare our students for high school and make the transition as seamless as possible.
Programs that straddle the elementary/middle school districts and the high school would benefit all students but are crucial for narrowing the achievement gap. In partnership with Districts 90 and 97, OPRF should intensify outreach efforts and set standards for monitoring and evaluating programs. Multiple and varied student-to-student and parent-to-parent mentoring programs, as well as increased scholastic interchange with Districts 90 and 97, also would move OPRF into a closer collaborative relationship with elementary and middle schools in our villages.
4. Enhance the diversity and quality of OPRF faculty and staff
The high school needs to redouble efforts to aggressively recruit qualified minority candidates for teaching positions, and we need to improve the educational environment if OPRF is to remain a magnet and destination for dedicated teachers. We need to put more thought, energy, and resources into serious professional development programs. We need to encourage teachers to apply for such opportunities, provide tuition reimbursement where possible, and recognize teachers for their individual achievements.
Such steps would energize our faculty, set high expectations for professional growth, and boost our reputation as a school with a rich educational culture for classroom teachers and staff.
5. Continue careful scrutiny of the District 200 budget to evaluate how money is spent, to assess what we get in return for funds spent, and to ensure that expenses match the mission of the school and the stated annual goals.
The board needs stronger input from all constituencies in considering how our money is spent. Hiring a full-time grant writer should be given serious consideration as we aggressively search for external sources of funding to supplement limited tax dollars. We also need to maintain a sound relationship with our village officials and our local legislators to ensure our fair share of educational dollars from these sources.
Why Millard deserves your vote
As a member of the Board of Education, I would work for those things that are best on behalf of our students, educational staff, and community members having a stake in OPRF’s future as an outstanding high school. I would listen attentively, try to communicate effectively, and work tirelessly for the benefit of our students and teachers. During the past few years, we have made our school physical facilities among the best in the state. We must now devote ourselves to building from the brick and mortar a truly extraordinary place for teaching and learning. With vibrant partnerships, let us all work together to make OPRF the school known for its vision and strength of basic and innovative educational programs. And let us not lose sight of the OPRF mission “to provide all students with a superior education so that they may achieve their full human potential.”