The Wednesday Journal sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Journal’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.

Joseph Cortese

Name:  Joe Cortese

Age: 43

Previous Political Experience:  None

Previous/Current Community Involvement:  Coach, River Forest Youth Soccer for the last 2 years; participant, River Forest Youth Softball (wife coaches); helped lead Willard Pancake Breakfast, 2021

Occupation:  Partner, senior consultant, Fiducient Advisors

Education:  B.B.A., University of Iowa; M.B.A., Analytic Finance, Accounting, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

1. Do you support River Forest elementary schools adopting all-day kindergarten?

Yes, I believe it is important for River Forest to offer full-day kindergarten.  I do not feel the scholastic programing in the current half-day model is adequate.  

From my discussions with parents and teacher, one of the major drawbacks of the current half-day model is that families are required to supplement the half-day program with a number of additional scholastic programs available nearby.  Therefore, when children arrive in first grade, they come in at different competency levels with different educational background given the different programs they attend in addition to half-day kindergarten.  In other cases, children come to first grade with no additional schooling other than the half-day program which may leave them at a disadvantage.  First grade teachers are required, then, to spend an inordinate amount of time bringing students that are behind up-to-speed and harmonizing the various educational backgrounds of students.  This time and effort could be better utilized directly on learning curriculum if students arrived with more similar educational backgrounds and experiences.

Offering full-day kindergarten is important from an overall community standpoint as well.  I have personally heard from families that have decided not to move to River Forest and decided instead to move to Oak Park and other nearby neighborhoods simply because they do offer full-day kindergarten.  So, by not offering full-day kindergarten, River Forest is putting ourselves at a disadvantage relative to other nearby neighborhoods in terms of attracting new families.  If not addressed, this could impact property values negatively over time.

2. What do you believe are the strongest arguments for all-day K?

See answer to #1 above.

3. What do you believe will be the greatest challenges if expanded kindergarten is approved? Costs? Finding adequate staff? Facilities?

There will no doubt be challenges in shifting away from the longstanding half-day kindergarten policy to a new policy that requires new methods, new resources, new processes, etc.  The district may incur additional costs but I believe we can find ways to minimize the financial impact to the greatest extent possible.  Facilities may need to be reconfigured and it may be difficult to find additional, qualified staffing.  However, I believe our community is strong enough to face these challenges and to work together to find solutions that allow us to do the best for our children and our community overall.

4. With the national COVID-19 emergency declaration ending in May, what do you consider as District 90’s greatest challenges in addressing learning loss during the pandemic and the social impact of remote learning for, at least, some students?

I believe we need a better-defined plan addressing catching-up our students from the learning loss that resulted from COIVD-19.  To date, I do not believe the district has provided any specifics aimed at dealing with the situation directly.  In addition to working internally with district administration, I believe we should consider outside resources with an expertise in overcoming these types of challenges.  How are other, high-performing districts dealing with these issues?  We need to better understand the losses that occurred at the individual student level and put a plan in place to ensure students get the help they need to catch-up. 

5. Do you believe our children, especially by middle school, are dealing with more concerns over mental health than in the past? What is the role of a public school system in providing mental health services and resources to children and families? How is District 90 performing on that front?

I believe we are all still recovering from COVID-19 and the recovery may continue for years.  In addition to COVID, other considerations such as social media usage are having a negative impact on our children’s mental health overall.  It does seem children today are facing more mental health challenges than in the past.

Public schools can play a role in addressing children’s mental health concerns but I do not believe we should rely solely on the school system.  Communication is an important aspect.  I believe teachers, given the amount of time they spend with our children, can help identify when a student may be disproportionately suffering from mental health issues.  To the extent parents, teachers, and administrators can communicate more frequently and effectively on this issue, we should be able to identify children that require additional mental health support and, from there, families can work with schools and other outside providers to get kids the help they need.

I also believe transparency and communication is critical in dealing with children’s mental health issues.  I do not think the school system should attempt to deal with specific mental health concerns without involving parents and guardians.  I believe we will be most effective in identifying and dealing with mental health issues, if parents, teachers, and district administrators work together.

6. In the radical transformation in teaching caused by COVID-19, what did District 90 learn or invent that should be retained in teaching going forward?

The radical transformation in teaching, and in the schooling experience generally, caused by COVID-19 was indeed jarring and traumatic for everyone.  I’m not sure any of the teaching measures that were necessary during that time had a positive impact and should be retained.  From my perspective, the most important lesson we learned from COVID-19 relative to our children’s schooling is that remote education is woefully inadequate as compared to in-person learning.    

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