Jennifer Kovar, a National Board Certified middle-school teacher in Riverside, said in a recent interview that she wants to bring the skills she’s honed in the classroom to the District 97 board table.
“I know how schools work from the inside out,” said the mother of two D97 students. “I know the best practices of teaching and learning, and I’ve served on more committees and held more leadership roles than I can count.”
Kovar said, if she’s elected on April 6, her number one policy priority would be making sure the district’s equity policy is working to eliminate the opportunity gap between white students and students of color.
“We need to be putting all of our energy into closing the opportunity gap — almost with blinders on — and not letting things distract us from that work. I commend the district for establishing the equity policy, but now comes the hard work of implementing and evaluating its effectiveness.”
Kovar, 45, said she co-founded the Best Buddies Club at the Riverside middle school where she teaches. Best Buddies helps integrate young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the general student population so that they feel less excluded. She also serves on Oak Park’s Disability Access Commission, which advises the village board on policies relating to people with disabilities.
“Tied to the equity work is the focus on inclusion,” Kovar said. “I have a keen awareness of inclusion. I want to make sure students of all identities are included and welcomed.”
Kovar said she would look to improve how the district communicates and collaborates with community members, particularly those from traditionally marginalized families.
And as a middle-school teacher herself, she wants the district to pay more attention to Julian and Brooks.
“Oak Parkers are asking for more of a focus on our middle schools. I feel like the middle schools are like forgotten stepchildren in the district,” she said. “It’s time to put more attention and energy toward helping the middle schools be as excellent as they can be. That goes hand-in-hand with a student-centered approach. Pre-adolescent students are ready to be engaged in their own education and their voices should be heard as we’re making decisions about their learning.”
Kovar also offered her input on the criteria she’s looking for in the person who succeeds outgoing D97 Supt. Carol Kelley at the end of the school year.
“I’d start by saying this new leader should be someone we promote from within,” she said. “Someone who is deeply committed to Oak Park and has roots in Oak Park and understands the equity work.”
Kovar said Kelley’s successor should also be someone who has the ability to “repair trust issues” in the district and who is an “excellence communicator,” adding that the right candidate would also “be really strong with data and analytics.”
She said the right candidate should be able to utilize data in a savvy way, but beyond being smart with numbers, the person should also “be passionate about teaching and learning” and “110 percent committed to bringing the best to every student in Oak Park.”
Kovar said she’d also bring her experience as a teacher in her role as a board member governing during a pandemic. She has been teaching hybrid learning “in the trenches” since the fall.
“The good news is that we know so much more than we did just six months ago,” she said. “The data has shown us that the risk of transmission in school buildings is super low … and we know how vital it is for the kids to have those in-person relationships and how much they’re missing out on not being able to engage in person with their teachers and peers,” she said.
“It seems we’re ready, but we still have to allow a remote option for families who aren’t comfortable or have reasons to keep their child at home,” Kovar added. “Two, rescheduling and making these systemic changes is a lot of work, so we have to keep our expectations realistic. And three, we have to be prepared for anything because if we’ve learned anything, we now know we can’t predict the future, so we have to be prepared.”