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.
Name: Gavin Kearney
Previous Political Experience: Incumbent member, D97 School Board
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Prior member of Div-Co
Occupation: Clean Energy Attorney at Earthjustice
Education: B.A., Lawrence University; J.D. University of Minnesota Law School
1. Why are you running for the school board of District 97?
I’m running for reelection on the school board because I’m excited by our new leadership and believe that we have a great opportunity over the next few years to significantly advance our goal of ensuring that all D97 students receive an excellent and equitable education.
As a D97 parent and member of Divco, I was heavily involved in the crafting of D97’s equity policy and efforts to adopt it. I ran for school board shortly thereafter because I saw the position as an opportunity to help put the policy into practice effectively. The last four years have not panned out as any of us would have hoped or expected, but the pandemic has underscored the urgency of putting our shared values around equity into practice.
I’m ready to do the work that it will take to make real progress; to hold ourselves accountable to our values; and to engage constructively in examining our systems and practices to figure out where and how we need to improve. I’m confident that Superintendent Shah, D97 teachers and staff, and fellow board members are ready to do the same.
2. What experience and perspectives would you bring to the position and how would they be valuable as an elected official?
My past four years on the school board are particularly valuable. I’ve learned much about how the District works, and how individual Board members and the Board as a whole can contribute to D97’s educational mission. As a board member, I was also heavily involved in the search for our new Superintendent and have worked closely with Dr. Shah and others as we begin to identify collective priorities over the next several years and the strategies to put them in place.
Professionally, I have dedicated my legal career to advancing civil rights and environmental justice. I have deep experience crafting and effectuating policies that advance equity and address racism, including designing structures to ensure that implementation achieves policy goals. I have done most of my work in coalitions and in partnership with a diversity of people. I have learned a lot about how to build consensus around a shared vision, how to develop trust with different stakeholders, and how to ensure that a coalition functions in an effective and timely way. These skills and experiences have been useful to me as a board member.
3. What do you believe are some of the greatest challenges facing the district?
I think our greatest challenge continues to be the gap between our ideals of equity and persistent disparities in academic opportunity and progress among our students. I have been in Oak Park since 2015 and know that during every point in those 8 years, and even further back than that, we had an expressed commitment to advancing equity and a set of strategies we could point to for doing so. And yet, disparities among our students have persisted and, in some instances, gotten worse.
As a District, we all need to come together around our shared commitment to our students and engage in tough questions and deep discussions to better understand what’s not working and where we need to head in the future. An initial first step is making sure that we have the right systems and structures in place. This includes ensuring that core district functions that impact on the classroom experience are strong, things like recruitment, retention, professional development, and curriculum development. We also need the capacity and frameworks in place to effectively evaluate our programs and practices and allow us to determine whether they are achieving their intended and expected outcomes, and if there are necessary course corrections where necessary. I also think that we need to strengthen the trust among different stakeholders in the district – parents, teachers, staff, administration and the school board. I think this happens through honest and direct engagement around shared goals and challenges, and a willingness to seek out and learn from other people’s perspectives.
One thing I’m excited to work on in my next term as a Board member is developing a sustainability policy and plan for D97. Climate change is one of the most important and urgent issues our students will confront in their lifetime, and it has significant equity dimensions. I am excited to work with students, administration, teachers, staff and community members to develop a sustainability policy and plan for D97 that: embeds sustainability considerations in our decision-making, including procurement and facilities; ensures that educational content and curriculum educate our students on the realities of climate change, with an emphasis on climate equity; and instills in our students the sense that they can play important and meaningful roles in responding to climate change. I see this as a great opportunity to bring together stakeholders to help build a sense of shared purpose and trust while ensuring that our District is doing its part to advance sustainability.