Four candidates running in the upcoming April 4 election to fill the three open seats for the River Forest School District 90 Board of Education attended a meet-and-greet with community members at the Buzz Café in Oak Park, to answer questions and hopefully pick up some votes. 

Cal Davis

Incumbent Calvin Davis, a 25-year resident of River Forest, has served on the school board for six years. What began with volunteering at a pancake breakfast has led to involvement in a plethora of community organizations. 

A project manager at O’Hare Airport, Davis is running again because, he says, “The children are important — not just mine, but everyone else’s too. I am an example right that the process works. … I have a 12th-grader now [OPRF High School] who got accepted into the college he applied to, got accepted into all the Big 10 schools in the area, including Northwestern, and that is our main goal as parents is to get our kids into these colleges, so the process works.” 

With over 90 percent of students passing algebra, an increase from previous years, Davis said he is proud of the previous work of the board in improving the math program. 

If re-elected, he hopes to continue building a stronger foundation for early education in the community, saying that he was a proud supporter of all-day kindergarten, which was recently passed by the board. The board is now working on getting the district’s finances in order, he added, which could potentially help fund additional programs. 

Joseph Cortese

For candidate Joe Cortese, choosing to raise his three daughters in the same neighborhood where their mom grew up, made him want to be an active voice in the community. 

With all three daughters currently attending Willard Elementary, he said, “we have grown a little concerned about the direction of the schools in the last few years.”

Originally from Iowa, he moved to the Chicago area to pursue an MBA at the University of Chicago and has worked in financial services for the past 20 years. 

Cortese believes his finance background would be of direct benefit to the board. He has also served on private and nonprofit organization boards to help them be effective stewards of their assets. 

After a reading curriculum change a few years ago, Cortese said, student reading scores have declined. If elected, he would call for a critical review of that change.

“You can look at things like the Illinois Assessment of Readiness Scores that shows only 62 percent of students are meeting English and Language Arts expectations and only 58 percent of students are meeting math expectations,” Cortese said. “We could do better.” 

“We feel the current board, hasn’t placed as much importance on what the community expects from the district and feedback that the community has been providing hasn’t been given the weight it deserves in board discussions. 

Cortese said surveys would be a great way to solicit feedback from the community. 

He is also a supporter of full day kindergarten.

“We all want to deliver the best education we can and it is just a matter of working together to ensure that it happens. I think there are some things we can do to improve how that process works.” 

Eric Isenberg | Provided

Eric Isenberg grew up in the area and decided to move back 10 years ago. He attended Willard Elementary and Roosevelt Middle School before graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School. 

He was an associate director at a nonpartisan social policy research organization that plays a role in studying and researching what education policies, strategies, and programs work for kids and which do not. Currently, Isenberg is working on a study of English learners. 

“It has been a career devoted to trying to find out what works for kids,” he said. “Lots of programs sound good but it doesn’t mean they all work better than some equally good or not as expensive program,” Isenberg said.

He is concerned about the percentage of children in the district who are proficient in reading. 

“It is still pretty high relative to the state,” he said. “That kind of motivation is going into the schools, so you expect to get very high proficiency rates coming out of the schools.” 

Even if the reading curriculum change was the right decision, he said, that doesn’t mean it is the right decision for students now. 

Isenberg said it is about finding the best practices for teaching kids how to read, whether it be phonics-based or other well documented, well researched practices. 

Isenberg has three daughters in the district.

“There has been a lot of improvement over the years, and I just hope we can keep moving in an upward trend,” he said. 

Kristine Mackey | Provided

Kristine Mackey began her career in education as a middle school science teacher in Nebraska before coming to the Midwest and working as associate dean in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. 

Currently she is vice president of communications and provincial assistant at USA Midwest Jesuits. She said she has always stayed close to education because of her love of teaching. 

Her decision to run for the board was inspired by hearing concerns from younger parents regarding certain issues, said Mackey, who has three grandchildren in the district. 

“I saw some of the reading homework and listened to other people talk about the reading thing, that we aren’t on the right track,” she said. “I understood it more when I saw what the kids were doing.” 

The district, she said, is overdue for a review of the reading program. Additionally, she is concerned about finances. 

“I think I could be helpful with that,” she said.

Calling herself the “dark horse” in the race, Mackey praised teachers and the district as a whole. 

“We have some things we need to worry about in the future or worry about today, but it doesn’t diminish the goodness of this district.”

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