Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Previous political experience: Current D200 school board vice-president
Previous community experience: Board member-Collaboration for Early Childhood, Sarah’s Inn and Lauren’s Hope; D97 Strategic Planning Committee, Excellence and Equity in Education (E=Team), Village of Oak Park Diversity Task Force- Education Subcommittee 2000-2001
Occupation: Developmental Psychologist
Education: MA & PhD Developmental Studies- University of California, Los Angeles; ScB Psychology- Brown University
How would you define the role/functions of a D200 school board member?
The primary role of a D200 school board member is to understand and focus on policies and goals that have the well-being and achievement of students at the core. My role is to work collaboratively with fellow board members and the superintendent concentrating on continuous school improvement in the areas of policy, budget and facilities without sacrificing accountability and stewardship. As a school board member, I take responsibility for transparent, regular communication with the broader community as to the goals and work of the board.
As a board member, you may be asked to make decisions relating to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. What is your understanding of TIF districts? My understanding of TIF districts comes from my work on community development initiatives and hands-on training for the school board. TIF’s, in their intended form, allow economic development in designated areas of communities where redevelopment is unlikely to occur.
What are your thoughts about their impact on school districts? TIF’s can be beneficial to school districts if at their onset, Intergovernmental Agreements are established that address the potentially destabilizing impact of extensions. Destabilization to a school district can occur if a TIF extension changes the budgeted amount of anticipated revenue. School districts can also be impacted by taxpayers’ wariness of tax increases from different taxing bodies in the community, which in turn can create fatigue with new initiatives and distrust of governing bodies.
Do you think that OPRF has an equity problem? How do you define equity? Do you believe that the district is currently utilizing its resources effectively enough to address the long-standing issue of equity?
I define equity as maintaining high standards by providing fair access to the resources and opportunities needed to succeed.OPRFHS has struggled with equity, particularly racial equity as evidenced by achievement and discipline disparities and lower participation rates in extra-curricular activities. There is more to do to insure that OPRFHS is a welcoming, supportive environment for all of our students. Yes, there are areas of concern and great needs regarding equity that must be addressed but we are not starting from zero. Coming from an asset-based perspective, resources are being utilized in programs and initiatives such as peer mentoring, revision of our discipline policies, and increasing participation of underrepresented students in honors and AP classes. During my board tenure, there has been an intentional focus on viewing our work through an equity lens so that we can insure that all our students benefit from a rigorous, supportive education that prepares them for postsecondary success. Effective utilization of our resources could include:
- A change from a Code of Conduct to a Code of Respect to better reflect our desire for a welcoming, inclusive school.
- Continued promotion of student leadership and inclusion of the student voice in policy issues. Student input is a necessity in making OPRF a safe, nurturing space for student learning.
- Increasing training and support for staff in cultural competency and social emotional learning.
- Elimination of punitive practices and put restorative practices in place.
- Hiring more Black and Brown faculty and staff.
- Ensuring that Black and Brown students taking Honors and AP classes are not the only students of colors in their respective class. Grouping students reduces feelings of isolation and encourages more students to enroll in these classes.
Shared leadership is evident with our students and adults who are action oriented. They aren’t simply demanding change but are working collectively towards it. Listening to our students and adding their voice to our decision-making has been oxygen to our process. Our students are sharing their experiences and are offering cogent, thoughtful solutions to eliminate existing barriers that some students encounter in accessing resources and opportunities. There is much work to be done in not only initiatives but in having a shared definition and commitment to equity in our community with the understanding that equity is not a zero sum argument. OPRF is moving beyond analyzing the problem to courageously working towards systemic change.
Were you for or against the recent swimming pool referendum that failed? Explain your position. I voted for the referendum because our pools need to be replaced.The pool issue was one of the first major decisions I faced as a new board member. I came onto the board with 3 other first-time members meaning that there was a majority turnover of the board. We had a steep learning curve and had to develop a plan to replace our deteriorating pools, a longstanding issue that former boards had not resolved. We need modern facilities that can safely and adequately fulfill our PE and extra-curricular needs. The amounts of energy and passionate debate that have ensued over the pool have frankly surprised me. I’ve stated in many board meetings with overflow attendance that I hope there will be the same attention and focus on issues of achievement and school climate which the board also works hard on. I believe we should upgrade our facilities and that it can be responsibly done as part of our main priority-educating our students and eliminating achievement disparities. Our financial priorities must reflect our commitment to student achievement and illustrate our belief that safe, adequate facilities are necessary for a quality, learning environment.
What is your impression of the new community outreach committee that will be attempting to build community consensus around a financially feasible long-term facilities plan that addresses numerous issues at the high school, including equity, 21st century learning environments and a plan for replacing OPRF’s old swimming pools, among other issues?
The narrow defeat of the referendum in my opinion was a mandate for a comprehensive plan that will be achieved through community input and deepening trust between the District and taxpayers. I think that the community outreach approach being taken by Dr. Pruitt-Adams will help to garner insights from more stakeholder groups and will align the disparate groups for and against the referendum. The comprehensive nature of the process allows for the committee to review the numerous reports and plans suggested over the last few years as a framework and gather community input. The focus will continue to be viewing long-term facility needs with a student-centered focus on instructional needs.
Are you aware of OPRF’s most recent disciplinary data (for the first semester of 2016-17) and what are your thoughts about its accuracy?
As a current board member, I viewed and commented on the most recent discipline data. The report was not incorrect, but rather incomplete. The data presented did not have factual errors but rather needed to be analyzed and presented in a more multi-faceted way. The report didn’t provide information on race by gender, or give meaningful breakdowns by grade. The data showed declines in, “In School Suspensions'” and “Out of School Suspensions,” but without additional analysis it’s unclear how much if any of the reduction is based on IL Senate Bill 100, which was effective September 2017 and mandated exhausting all mechanisms prior to suspension. The Board has requested a more nuanced analysis that links data about our pupil support services and academics to updated discipline data. We will then better understand the role school climate and discipline issues play on achievement.
Are there other issues or initiatives that you are particularly interested in having the board pursue during the next four years and how are you planning to advocate for them?
The feedback from many community members around the referendum made it clear that the dedication and hard work of the district in the areas of student achievement and school climate were not widely viewed as areas of Board priority. There is a need to improve communications of the comprehensive nature of the Board’s work. Building relationships and trust through improving community access via town halls, shifting venue of some board meetings, and topic specific seminars could be used to improve communication.
With our new superintendent at the helm our strategic plan is being fleshed out to have action items linked to accountability measures that will inform and improve the work of the district. The opportunity to continue working with her is exciting. Her expertise, coupled with her knowledge base and leadership style are already increasing morale in our students and staff.
Issues that promote our district as student-centered will continue to be a priority. Our students will rise to the level of our expectations and I’m committed to furthering the work that will insure all of our students have a positive, successful experience.