Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Profession: Research Assistant in the College of Education at University of Illinois at Chicago
Years lived in Oak Park: 4 years
Spouse, if applicable: Marella Croom
Do you have children in D97 schools? Yes
How many and what ages?
One, 8-year-old daughter
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? No If so, when and which office?
If you are not currently on the school board, how many school board meetings have you attended in the last year?
I have attended every regular and special District 97 School Board meeting since December 2014.
Why are you running for this office?
I am running for the office of board member because I, like all voters in Oak Park, want each child in District 97 to excel. As a candidate, I have experiences and accomplishments that have prepared me to help our district answer the difficult question of how we will accomplish this vision.
When community members approached me and urged me to become a candidate, they planted the seed toward my personal decision to run and helped me to see my lifelong work and myself differently. I have been fortunate to experience such transformations time and time again and I believe that every child in our district should experience this kind of inner revolution through our schools. Teachers and administrators should see in our students, and call out of our students, possibilities that students themselves may not yet see. In other words, everyone in District 97 should be empowering each child to excel. I appreciate that community members of Oak Park encouraged me to offer service to District 97. On April 7th, we’ll see if Oak Park voters take me up on my offer.
What do you think are the three biggest challenges facing the district in the next four years?
- Developing the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) that our district needs (www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may04/vol61/num08/What-Is-a-Professional-Learning-Community¢.aspx). PLCs are made up of colleagues who continually ask and answer the following three questions:
a. What do we want each student to learn?
b. How will we know when each student has learned it?
c. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning? This is one of our biggest challenges because PLCs are not a quick fix; they require a fundamental shift from touting what is taught to looking closely at what is learned. This difficult shift is necessary because teachers and administrators must build capacity to instruct and support individual students who, in turn, must accomplish the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and demonstrate expected learning in Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams and other assessments. Beyond developing administrators’ and teachers’ capacity to respond to the unique demands of the Common Core and PARCC, PLCs will also provide District 97 with a powerful mechanism for growing administrators’ and teachers’ capacity in other crucial areas like: culturally responsive teaching, language development, classroom management, effective ways to include exceptional children in each classroom, and the development of multiple literacies. By committing to more ambitious teaching and learning, District 97 helps the village of Oak Park assure new companies that we are indeed “open for business.” As I see it, District 97 can make a significant contribution to the economic development of Oak Park by delivering a key factor of any community’s quality of life: a system of schools wherein each child excels. When each child excels, we all win.
2. Articulating trustworthy, persuasive reasons for Oak Park voters to support the scheduled 2017 referendum.
3. Increasing the level of trust between the Oak Park Teachers’ Association (OPTA) and the District 97 School Board.
What skills/talents do you have that would enable you to deal with those challenges?
As a career teacher, I have improved my teaching, and witnessed others improve their teaching, through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). As a board member, I will bring this insight to district-level decision-making where PLCs are concerned. Understanding PLCs from the inside helps me to support administrators and teachers from within the parameters of a board member’s role. If elected, as one board member of seven, my role will be to work with fellow board members so that we can give unified, clear direction to the new superintendent. Where the search for a new superintendent is concerned, as a candidate I have already influenced the criteria by which applicants will be considered. Among other key qualifications, I expect for our next superintendent to have a clear understanding of what it takes for PLCs to work well at the school and district level. Our next superintendent must be able to demonstrate an understanding of instructional leadership that goes beyond surface answers and educational jargon.
As a non-incumbent candidate, I have nothing to defend when it comes to having an honest conversation about the last referendum and how that money was allocated and spent in the District 97 budget. This means that I am capable of being more objective than I might otherwise be when criticisms are offered. Further, as a professional I have accumulated a deep toolkit that will help the board communicate well with voters about this contentious issue. In short, I have the skill set and the credibility to engage in straight talk with Oak Park voters about their tax dollars. I believe Oak Park voters will appreciate this and support our scheduled referendum (April 4, 2017) if we approach it in this manner while making spending decisions according to how it impacts our first order of business: preparing our children well for life in the 21st century.
It is clear to me that the current OPTA collective bargaining agreement left some ill feelings between the Board and the Association. While I broadly think that the contract is a good agreement, there are places that may need revisiting. Time will tell. As a board member, I will bring the perspective of having been in teachers’ shoes (albeit without collective bargaining contracts in North Carolina), which makes me sensitive to the point of view of Oak Park teachers. When contract issues arise, I want to ensure that Oak Park teachers feel valued and respected for choosing a professional career in education. I also want to help teachers see the larger picture that is impacting their contract and their work as instructors. In short, I am capable of translating the board’s view to teachers and the teachers’ view to the board where the contract is concerned and even in other matters. I think both sides want to do what is best for our children and our community, but each may lack some understanding about the standpoint of the other.
If elected, what are three goals that you have for the next four years?
I have more than three, but three are:
- Create the district-wide conditions for Professional Learning Communities to flourish.
- Improve District 97 compliance with HB1402 (http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/99/HB/09900HB1402.htm) by supporting district-wide African heritage celebrations and expanding our excellent Multicultural Center, all of which builds on Oak Park’s tradition of racial and cultural diversity.
- Carry out a strategic action plan to reduce or remove systemic barriers that restrict our ability to fulfill the District 97 mission with each child.