Jennifer Cassell. Chandler West/Staff Photographer.

Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections. 

Age: 37

Profession: attorney; adjunct legal writing instructor at DePaul University College of Law

Years lived in Oak Park: Six

Spouse, if applicable: My husband is Reggie Wright, a former state champion wrestler for the Little Huskies wrestling club (formerly the Warhawks).

Do you have children in D200 schools? How many and what ages? Yes, one daughter, who is 15 and a sophomore at OPRF.

Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office? No.

If you are not currently on the school board, how many school board meetings have you attended in the last year? Three

Why are you running for this office?

I am running to join the District 200 board for primarily three reasons.

First, I am an invested stakeholder in Oak Park River Forest High School and the community. As an Oak Park resident and taxpayer, I appreciate the value that our high school brings to the community, and I would like to see the school continue to thrive and serve as an example of excellence in our town. Perhaps even more importantly, my daughter is a sophomore at the school and ensuring that she receives a world-class education remains our highest priority. I want to act as an advocate for excellence and equity for all students, just as I do for my daughter.

Second, I believe that my personal and professional background will make me a valuable asset to the board. I credit the teachers who taught and mentored me with many of the successes that I have achieved. I can relate to the struggles and obstacles that many OPRF students face, and I know that without my education I could not have overcome these barriers.

Moreover, as an experienced litigation attorney for the federal government, I have a keen eye for spotting legal issues and an analytical mind that will work to solve problems.

Finally, I am running for the board because I genuinely believe in the importance of public service. I volunteer with organizations such as West Suburban PADS and Just the Beginning A Pipeline Organization. I also helped to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Common Roots Initiative (CRI), dedicated to providing scholarships to graduating seniors and teachers for classroom materials in the western suburbs. I continue to serve as Secretary of CRI’s executive board.

What do you think are the three biggest challenges facing the district in the next four years?

The first challenge is implementation of the district’s strategic plan. The second challenge will be developing and implementing a long-term facilities plan. The third challenge is creating a culture of excellence and equity within the school. I will discuss the Board’s role in relation to each of these challenges in turn.

With respect to the strategic plan, the current Board has laid a strong foundation for implementation of the aspirational goals identified. The creation of the Strategic Plan Operations Committee and the implementation teams are great first steps to ensure that the plan’s goals come to fruition. Board members will need to support the work of both the committee and the implementation teams with resources and funding where appropriate. Board members also must listen to and seriously consider suggested action steps and innovative ideas to address the issues identified in the plan. Board members should be willing to provide resources to put those steps and ideas into action.

As for the long-term facilities plan, I believe that the district must prioritize creating a viable plan to address the outdated physical structures of the school, the school’s projected increased enrollment, and the need for integrating 21st century technology into the classrooms. The Board must ensure that this plan not only is forwardthinking, but also fiscally responsible and student-centered.

The third biggest challenges relates back to one of the strategic plan’s most important aspirational goals – excellence and equity for all students. Not only must the district commit funding and resources to address the disparities in achievement, it must also take a proactive approach to ensure that students of color are not disproportionately represented in the school’s disciplinary system. Moreover, OPRF leaders must be committed to school-wide dialogues about equity issues and willing to consider innovative ways to make the school climate welcoming and accepting of all students.

What skills/talents do you have that would enable you to deal with those challenges?

I am an involved parent who is invested in OPRF providing an excellent education to all students. I have always advocated for my daughter to be held to high standards and witnessed first-hand that she can and will rise to the occasion. I believe the same to be true for most students. I also am an individual who overcame socioeconomic and other barriers to become the first in my immediate family to graduate college and graduate school. Finally, I am an experienced federal government attorney skilled at identifying legal issues, resolving complex problems, and achieving results in a fiscally responsible manner. Put together, these various parts of my life will allow me to bring a fresh, unique, and balanced perspective to the board.

If elected, what are three goals that you have for the next four years?

First, I will support initiatives that foster 21st century learning for all students. Second, I will work to improve the transition from middle school to OPRF and from high school to post-secondary opportunities, with a focus on student persistence to complete post-secondary endeavors. Finally, I will promote a culture of excellence to ensure that all students are challenged and held to high expectations. I believe that we can accomplish these and other district goals in a fiscally responsible manner.

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