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

 Age: 63

 Profession: University lecturer

 Years lived in Oak Park: 16

 Spouse, if applicable: Jeanine Pedersen

 Do you have children in D97 schools? How many and what ages?

  • Two children, in grades 5 and 7

 Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office?

  • Not office, but six years of service on a commission: specifically Oak Park’s Transportation Commission from 2005-2011.


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

Why are you running for this office? Concern over educational policies at District 97

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

  1. Current cost projections indicate a need for another voter referendum in 2017. The high degree of public trust enjoyed by the board in the 2011 referendum – passed in a spirit of mutual sacrifice driven home by D-97 teachers accepting a wage freeze – has been undermined by a number of ill-advised district initiatives since then. In 2011 we rallied around a defense of the status quo – to preserve existing curriculum, arts programs and class size. That status quo-oriented approach will not sell this time around. Restoring public trust requires a rigorous accounting of our educational and budgetary priorities, a willingness to make sacrifices where needed, and the ability to admit errors where those were made.   
  2. Disparate enrollments amongst the district’s eight elementary schools must be addressed. Some schools enjoy excess capacity while others have become overcrowded. We must find cost-effective ways to address this problem; if a choice boils down to costly physical alterations versus redistricting, the fiscally responsible solution lies in redrawing sub-district boundaries.
  3. We must do better in recognizing and meeting the diverse needs of all Oak Park students. If Oak Park’s diversity is one of our great community assets, it also presents challenges we need to address. Even within our relatively well-off community, great disparities in incomes and leisure-time, across households and even neighborhoods, distort and tilt the educational playing field. Oak Park schools have an honorable track record in attempting to address these concerns – as shown by our whole-day kindergarten and PKP programs, for example – but much more needs to be done. Below, in my discussion of goals, I suggest that a wider application of differentiated learning strategies also should be incorporated into our schools as one approach in addressing these issues.


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

As an educator, I’ve thought long and hard about various educational policy issues, including those pertaining to classroom technologies. As an Oak Park parent, I’ve long been active in our local schools; that my wife served as PTO president at Longfellow for two years has given me added perspective regarding local administration and parent-school relations. As a community resident, I have a deep and abiding commitment to Oak Park itself – one great civic venture and cultural mashup deserving of the best possible stewardship.


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

  1. Promote greater communication between the board and the community-at-large. Oak Park parents are unusually well-informed and passionate about educational issues, and there exists – in informal gatherings, in PTO meetings and across social media –lively discussion about these issues as they relate to District 97 and its schools. Yet there remains little meaningful connection between the board and this broader conversation. We need to encourage greater outreach by the district, as well as the board itself, through public meetings, as well as more active online communications including social media.
  2. Rigorously address technology issues in the classroom. We need to forge community-wide consensus as to which technologies are desirable and which are not – vague talk about being “technology leaders” is the last refuge of today’s scoundrel and snakeoil salesman. This evaluation needs to be informed by the growing body of research into these issues, as well as teacher and principal input as to best practices. In the case of technologies, such as the iPads, that spell wide-ranging consequences for households, parents must also be brought into this process.
  3. Promote serious discussion over the application of differentiated learning strategies across all district schools. Students are not passive consumers of information but should be engaged as active partners in their own education. That partnership requires that students be brought into the process at their own levels of comprehension and ability. Differentiated learning is not tracking; the Passport reading program at Longfellow, for example, depends upon reassessing student performance several times per year so as to reassign students wherever appropriate according to their progress. Meeting the diverse needs of students at every level of performance is a civic obligation and moral imperative. More, it is entirely doable. Differentiated learning, I believe, is one important means in getting us there.

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