For over a decade, Nicole Thompson has immersed herself in the River Forest School District 90 community. A mother of four, she started off volunteering. She helped chaperone field trips, became a room parent and organized events such as family math night. These small steps inspired Thompson to give more and get more involved in her children’s schools, and in the last four years, she was able to do just that as a D90 school board member.
Outside the district, Thompson, 45, is a physician who practices general anesthesiology and pediatric anesthesiology. Aside from her clinical work, she also slips into an educator role and mentors medical students and resident physicians.
So, when the coronavirus pandemic erupted last March, Thompson’s two worlds converged. As all of the uncertainty unfolded around her, she leaned on her experiences, which led her now to believe that she was “in this role, I think, at the right time.”
“It gave me the perspective of seeing things on the front line of the pandemic – and some things I didn’t necessarily want to see,” she said. “It gave me a realistic view of what things really look like for people that were affected by COVID. It gave me a real clear understanding on the importance of safety around this and trying to mitigate risk or decrease risk in any way.”
After D90 school board hopeful Scott Hall withdrew his candidacy last week, Thompson is now one of four remaining candidates vying for four open seats in the consolidated election on April 6. Like Thompson, incumbents Stacey Williams and Katie Avalos look to retain their positions and serve a four-year term. First-time candidate Sarah Eckmann will also most certainly join the board.
As Thompson reflected on the pandemic’s upheaval, she spoke about participating on the district’s safety and operations action team, which laid groundwork to bring students back to school, and on the COVID-19 advisory panel. Beyond that, she thought about her time on the board, where she served on the education committee and helped shape the district’s 2020-2025 strategic plan.
And, if re-elected, Thompson said she can’t wait to continue working on those efforts. Her goal as a board member is to make schools better for students, a place where they feel welcome, can explore their curiosities and want to learn.
“I want them to have that fire when it comes to school and just being able to think critically and dive deep into different topics because they love it, and I want us to be a district that fuels that and feeds that,” she said.
Research shows that instilling the love for learning is critical for children, especially for second and third graders, said Thompson who also has experience working with elementary students through the Urban Health Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Thompson said it’s important to set that bar of expectations high and let children know “that you expect great things from them because they’re capable.” She believes students should feel empowered, and if re-elected, she would see to it that those efforts are carried through.
While Thompson cited the strides D90 has made in recent years, including creating the Equity Committee and the Inclusiveness Advisory Board and implementing the universal design for learning, she knows there’s more work to be done. There’s always room for growth, she said, especially when it comes to offering more opportunities for students to be heard.
Thompson said she’d like to see a more collaborative relationship between the board and D90 students. She wants them to have the chance to express their thoughts and provide input. She wants more student-led committees or students on committees, so they can “really dissect the information and really contribute in an intentional way.”
As a health provider, Thompson also worries about how the pandemic has impacted the district’s young students’ health and well-being, and if re-elected, one of her focuses will be to find ways to help staff and students cope and heal from the COVID chaos.
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“We’ve been in this over a year now, and so it may take over a year to recover,” Thompson said. “We really don’t know, but we really need to be sensitive and be prepared to address the concerns and whatever issues the students might have and teachers, as well.”
As Thompson looked back on her first term on the board, she couldn’t help but think forward to the possibilities that another four years could bring. She remains committed and “putting in the time that’s needed” to make District 90 the best that it can be.
“I’m used to hard work. I’m used to long hours,” she said. “It’s not something that makes me shy away from and doing the hard work, because I’m used to doing that anyway.”