Jeremy Duffy has a simple response for anyone who asks why he’s running for a seat on the District 97 school board and what sets him apart from the other five candidates seeking one of four open seats in April.
“I’ve done the work already,” said the 37-year-old education lawyer and former teacher. “I think that’s what sets me apart. I’ve already worked with school districts around equity. I’m working with my own district right now on our equity plan.”
Duffy said he started teaching in the Los Angeles Unified District in California just after graduating college.
“I spent several years in the classroom at the elementary and middle school levels and moved to Chicago to continue teaching,” Duffy said. “After that, I decided to go to law school and pursued a career in education law. For the last 10 years or so, I’ve worked at private law firms throughout the Chicago area providing counsel to school districts across the state of Illinois.”
The father of three, one who is a student in D97, said he was hired as board attorney for Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 last year, just after the pandemic hit.
Duffy said he’s never run for office before and doesn’t consider himself a politician.
“I’ve never wanted to be in politics, per se,” he said. “This is just me wanting to carry out a mission I’ve lived my entire career, which has been focused on education and making sure students get what they need and deserve.”
Duffy said, if elected, he’ll be particularly interested in ways the district can continue to move the needle on equity in outcomes, particularly student achievement.
“Looking at student outcomes and how we’re impacting student achievement from an equitable lens is critical,” he said. “I really think we have to take a strong look at organizational structure and how we’re training staff, so we can move the needle when it comes to outcomes.”
The most important priority for the future board may well be hiring someone to succeed outgoing Supt. Carol Kelley, who announced last week that she was resigning at the end of the school year to take a superintendent position in New Jersey.
“I think the person who replaces Dr. Kelley needs to be results oriented,” Duffy said. “I think they need a proven track record of success in moving the needle in terms of the opportunity gap. So, this person has to come from a district where they were able to implement an equity plan and could look at the data and show measureable results in doing so. Those are some of the most important qualities.
“We also need a strong leader who is going to take ownership of their position and run the district in a way that it needs to be run, so we can get the best outcome for our students,” he said.
Duffy said that, if elected, he’ll push for the continuation of Kelley’s advisory council that was created to facilitate the transition from fully remote to hybrid learning. Duffy said he’d like for the council to meet with regularity into the future in order for the district to think deeply about the swiftly changing pandemic environment.
“Thinking through some of these things and having some options ahead of time is really critical,” he said. “It’s also important to keep in mind that some people will not want to send their kids back to school and we have to respect and value that decision.”