The Wednesday Journal sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The candidates’ replies are as shown as they were received by the Journal. For more on a candidate, click their name or photo.
1. Why are you running for the Oak Park District 97 school board?
We know that schools are more than centers of learning—they are the center of our community. I’m proud of our schools and at the same time I’m invested in making them the best they can be for all students and families.
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.
A significant amount of my tenure on the board was during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the work of navigating the district through the height of the pandemic was important, it overshadowed some other issues, like a deep and impactful engagement with the equity policy. With the hiring of a full-time, permanent superintendent focused on equity, I feel we are at a place now where we can really pursue advancements in equity and achievement in the district, and I want to be part of that process.
I am running for the school board of District 97 because I believe Board continuity as we move forward from the pandemic, implement our Equity Policy, and work with our new Superintendent Dr. Shah is critical. I was elected to the Board in 2015 and over the last 8 years I have gained institutional knowledge, voted to adopt policies that support our students, and established meaningful relationships with many of our teachers, administrators, and families. I am running for the school board to continue to listen and respond to the expectations our school community and community at large have of our schools.
2. What experience and perspectives would you bring to the position and how would they be valuable as an elected official?
I am an attorney by trade and have dedicated my career to public service, specializing in public benefit programs. Currently, I lead the work of the IL Commission to End Hunger, working to ensure equitable delivery and access to federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, and school meals. This work requires collaboration with internal and external partners to build coalitions capable of systems change. I have spent my career tackling complex policy issues and successfully implementing solutions.
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.
As a former teacher and current teacher educator and researcher, I feel that I bring both a local and national understanding of education to the position. Between the so-called CRT bans, book challenges, and demands for scripted curricula, public education is currently under attack in this country. As someone whose work straddles many of these arenas, I feel that I am particularly well situated to help navigate the board/district in these tumultuous times. Having been on the board for one term already, I also bring a sense of continuity, my experiences from the last four years, and the ability to push the work forward. I also try to be reflective as a board member and work collaboratively with my colleagues, something that is important for a unified group.
I bring my whole self to the position of school board member. I am an Oak Park community member since 2012 – prior to having students in D97 – and I recall how it felt to not yet be a parent in the district and want to ensure our community members are informed about the schools. I now have an 8th grader and a 5th grader who have attended Whittier elementary school and Brooks Middle School so I am also a parent who has experienced D97 schools. This allows me to comment on my firsthand experience in the district. My children are biracial and interfaith and I bring that perspective to my work on the Board as we strive to make our schools inclusive and welcoming to all of our students. I am an attorney where a large part of my job is negotiations. Negotiations requires an understanding of different perspectives, an ability to compromise and recognize needs and wants, and involves problem solving strategies. These skills are helpful as we balance programing and investments in initiatives. Overall, my perspective is about serving our district. I truly believe in our students, teachers, families and the system overall and I am committed to the success of our students.
3. What do you believe are some of the greatest challenges facing the district?
I think many people feel they do not have enough information about how our schools and school board operate. I’m interested in helping to work towards greater transparency in communications. I also think we need to continue to think and talk about the mental health crisis our youth are facing and ways the district can support.
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.
Because of the pandemic and disruptions in district leadership, the last several years have been about keeping our heads above water. With the hiring of a new superintendent and emerging out of the crisis of the pandemic, there is now a great opportunity for change and growth within the district. With all of the losses from COVID and the continuing disparities in academic outcomes for historically marginalized groups, there is much work to be done in truly making D97 a district that works for equity. Change is hard, though, particularly with calls for a “return to normal,” which ignores that normal was not working for many people. In addition, the ongoing economic challenges of inflation and the impending teacher shortages compound the difficulties of a district trying to move “the work” forward. I have faith, though, that this district and community can rise to the challenge.
At this juncture, the district is in a good place. We have strong leadership in our new Superintendent and an uncontested race for the board that will ensure continuity of board members. We have an Equity policy that was adopted in 2019 but only 6 months into implementation when the pandemic hit and our team is ready to execute on it. Our community is recovering from the collective stress we experienced during the pandemic and ready to emerge stronger and with refreshed ideas of how best to serve our students and the community. Being in a good place, however, does not mean we are without challenges. We have stalled in our work to improve outcomes for all students as we navigated Covid and we need to make up for lost time. Our achievement/opportunity gap has widened and it is imperative that we adjust and meet the needs of all of our students so that all of our children reach their potential. Our teachers and staff have done so much to ensure our school communities powered through Covid and we need to support their growth as teachers and as individuals as they strive for personal balance. Even in the face of these challenges, however, I am confident that we will be stronger in the next 4 years than ever before and that we will work together to support each other and our students.
Cheree Moore did not submit responses