Barbara Hickey

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Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey the Wednesday Journal sent out to all D90 candidates running in this year's elections. Candidates full, unedited responses are printed. 

Age:  62

Previous elected experience:  First term on D90 School Board 2015-2019

Previous community experience:  My husband Richard and I are 29-year River Forest residents, and are the parents of five children who attended Lincoln, Roosevelt, and OPRF High School.  I volunteered extensively with Lincoln and Roosevelt schools while our children were students. I held many roles with the PTOs at Lincoln and Roosevelt, including 6 years as Lincoln co-chair for Book Fair, founder of "Heartworks" 4th grade service club, co-chair of team that made "Fun Lunch" a weekly fundraiser, and room parent.  At Roosevelt, I was a grade-level coordinator many times, coordinator of Teacher Appreciation, co-chair of the 8th grade Lock-In, board member of PIMA, and Roosevelt PTO President.  I also served as a River Forest Youth Baseball Division Coordinator.  Following my children's graduation to OPRF, I was a Board member of PING! (Providing Instruments for the Next Generation) for 8 years, including multiple years as River Forest coordinator, and co-author of PING! Presentation for the IMEA Convention. I am presently co-chair for the Oak Park Township Workgroup for Positive Youth Development, a coalition bringing schools, police and local youth-centered organizations together to address underage drinking in Oak Park and River Forest. I have also volunteered at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry for the past 8 years, including as a writer and blogger on hunger issues.

Occupation: Homemaker. Before retiring to raise our family, I was a Manager with Donnelley Directory.

Education:  B.A. in English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1978

                       M.A. in English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980

                        Oak Park-River Forest High School, 1974

1) Why are you running?

      When I ran for my first term, I wanted to serve the community by using my long experience as a resident and parent of five graduates of Lincoln and Roosevelt.  Over the past four years, I have enjoyed the work and built many relationships that help me to be an even better Board member.  I have also learned from experience about what it takes to run a highly successful school district, and would like to continue to apply that valuable knowledge to the needs of D90. There can be no greater trust from a community than election to manage its schools and shape the experiences of its children.  I am very proud of the work the Board has done during my tenure (See attached List of Board Accomplishments) and the experience I have gained during my first term will make me even better able to serve if elected for a second term. I love the work.

2) River Forest District 90 Schools have adopted several equity initiatives over the past few years.  What do you think of this work?

       I am proud of the equity work of the D90 Board.  When people talk about equity, they frequently view it largely as an effort to address achievement gaps, and that certainly describes a part of the work.  Equity, however, is so much more than that.  The Board's efforts over the past four years have sought to improve inclusivity and tolerance by bringing in the National Equity Project to train the Board, Administration and Staff on all types of bias.  The Inclusiveness Advisory Board, now a standing committee, works to promote tolerance and inclusiveness in every aspect of the school climate, so each individual child feels welcome and valued.  At Roosevelt, there is a new Student Advisory program, designed to build relationships between the students and to make sure each child has a trusted adult in the school community to come to with problems or concerns.  Hiring policies now seek to be more inclusive so that we recruit a staff that is not only highly talented, but also diverse.  The Board has created a Gender Inclusiveness Committee, of which I am a member, to form policies addressing the needs of gender expansive children.  All of these efforts align to the D90 Mission to provide an education that meets the needs of each individual child. Equity does not simply address the needs of children identified as needing a particular kind of help.  Strong Equity work improves the experiences of every child in the system.

3) How would you describe D90's relationship to the community?  What does the board currently do to engage residents and what more, if anything, do you believe should be done?

      When I started my first term on the Board, the Roosevelt Exterior Project was a topic of discussion in River Forest, and there was controversy that demonstrated a need for taxing bodies in River Forest to be more closely allied and to communicate effectively as colleagues.  I helped to start the River Forest Subcommittee on Collaboration, which brings together representatives from each taxing body to discuss how we can work together to better serve the community.  The group has met monthly since 2015, and has administered a cross-organizational survey to identify communication needs in the village. In response to that survey, the group collaborated on developing a calendar, rfhappenings.com, which is customizable, showing events from each organization on a single calendar.  The group includes representatives from D90, D200, the River Forest Library, The River Forest Village Board, the River Forest Park District and the River Forest Township. The relationships developed in this group help to improve communication and collaboration between these important partners.

       The Board has also worked to improve communication with the community by redesigning its website, and creating "Crosswalk," an online vehicle to explain how various Board initiatives work together to meet student needs.  We have award-winning Financial Reporting on the website to offer information on school finances to every village taxpayer.  We also publish multiple communications, including quarterly tri-folds, the online "Primer," and information postcards that the District sends to each household in the village.  The Board has also offered open Communication and listening sessions at Board meetings, and Town Hall Forums on subjects of interest.  In addition, I have also been part of Board presentations to organizations like the River Forest Civic Association, discussing what is going on in District 90 with residents who have no children in the schools.  The Board is always looking for ways to improve this communication.  We can always do better.

4) Staff at Roosevelt Middle School are tweaking a block schedule that's current iteration would add math minutes, at the expense of foreign language time for students.  What do you think of this measure?

     The block scheduling proposal is in development to provide improved math programming,.  The changes are necessary because the State standards have changed, and our previous math curriculum did not meet the standards.  The new math program was selected over the last four years by a team of our best teachers and administration, which worked together to identify the best curriculum for our needs, piloted the two best programs, and implemented the new curriculum.  Our class schedule as it is currently structured does not offer sufficient time to complete the curriculum, which leaves deficits in math preparation for all of the children. We know that our community expects our children to be well prepared to meet the challenges of the higher standards.

      The current contract with the teacher's union mandates the length of the school day, so the day cannot be extended without violating that contract.  That leaves us with many demands and no way to add time to the student day without significant re-structuring.  The block scheduling offers both advantages and challenges.  Under the proposed schedule, we would have time to teach math effectively for our many different types of learners.   It would also allow us to teach reading and writing together, as they really should be taught.  We would also be able to apply new pedagogical methods consistent with project-based learning and the Universal Design for Learning, which are the latest and best educational practices.

      With the limits on the length of the school day, something has to give.  In the first iteration of the schedule, it was not possible to take foreign language for the whole year.  In response to parent concerns, we can now offer foreign language all year, but only if families opt out of other exploratory classes, including STEM, music and art.

      As a parent, I really regret that these choices may be necessary.  All of my children have enjoyed international study in college, so their language facility was crucial.  One of my daughters is a middle school music teacher, and another is a global team leader for IBM, and she travels the world in that role.  I understand that foreign language study and exploratory experiences offer enrichment to our middle school children, and regret that choices may have to be made.   With the current proposed block schedule , there is no way to offer everything we would like to offer and still improve our math program to meet the new standards.

      The Board has offered multiple communication sessions with parents and community members to hear ideas and concerns, which has been highly useful.  At the February 19 Board meeting, the Administration proposed that the District consider taking an additional year to implement the changes, so that time may be taken to offer the teachers further in-depth professional development, and make sure we have explored every possible scheduling option.  This choice has the significant consequence that our math instruction will be less rigorous than we would like for the 2019-2020 school year. The Board deliberated and decided to take the extra time to explore all possible alternatives.  The Board directed the Administration to produce an implementation plan to present to the Board in March. The plan will describe in-depth professional development plans for the teachers, and will address approaches to make sure the block scheduling will meet the needs of all students, including our special education students. The Administration will also meet again with our scheduling consultant to consider whether any other scheduling alternative might work better for the district, and allow us to preserve more of our exploratory classes.  The process has been great, and the input we have received from the teachers and the community will help us arrive at the best possible outcome.

The D90 board voted to postpone implementation of a schedule change at a regular meeting on March 5. 

5) What do you think about standardized (PARCC) test scores and academic performance at schools in District 90?  What areas do you believe could be improved and what action can the school board take to help improve student achievement?

     PARCC was introduced to be consistent with Common Core standards, and it has proved to have some limitations that require re-design.  For 2019, it will be replaced by the Illinois Assessment of Readiness.  This standardized test is only one of multiple tests we use to assess growth and achievement for D90 students.  Any standardized test will have limitations because it represents only a "snapshot" of a child's performance on one particular day.  D90 administers additional tests, including AIMSweb, NWEA Map, CogAt and 8th grade STAR assessments to work along with our regular report cards, giving parents and teachers a full picture not only of achievement but also of growth over time.  The Board regularly reviews standardized testing results with the administration, seeking to provide enough testing to monitor student performance, but not so much that the testing is burdensome to the students.  Every test we choose to administer takes away from instructional time, so the balance requires ongoing consideration.

     By almost any comparative measure, achievement of our D90 students is outstanding, but the Board and Administration are always looking for ways we can be better.  In the past years since I joined the Board, we have studied and improved curriculum in math and language arts, and professional development for the teachers is comprehensive and ongoing.  The administration has also increased planning time for teachers at each grade level to collaborate to share best practices and discuss individual student needs.  D90 regularly works with D200 to make sure our transitions for our 8th graders are smooth and well articulated.  In January, D90 met with representatives from D97 and D200 to discuss data sharing and collaboration that will allow us to share each other's best practices.  The Board believes that, with enough time to assure a smooth transition, the Roosevelt block scheduling will allow us to use more project based learning in the classrooms and explore other pedagogical methods that will keep the District among the best in the state for academic achievement.  The River Forest community expects the Board and Administration to provide outstanding curriculum, professional development of staff, and thoughtful assessment to keep our achievement levels high, and the Board constantly strives to meet those expectations.

6) What other issues are important to you as a school board candidate?  How would you advocate for them as a board member?

      As important as academic achievement is to the district and the community, I recognize that our schools need to educate our children not only academically, but socially and emotionally too.  We need to always be considering the larger world in which our students live, helping to make them good citizens as well as high achievers.  No child can learn without feeling safe and emotionally connected to those from whom they learn, so a positive school environment is crucial.  Our students need to be wise users of technology, and we expect them to be good "digital citizens," thoughtful and empathetic in the ways they relate to each other and to the larger world. We need to teach them to serve others generously, and to be respectful of the feelings of others. 

      In the age of social media and constant online connection, these are big challenges.  The district needs to continually connect to parents as well as the children themselves, so that strong partnerships between families and school are not only possible, but expected.  I advocate for policies that address social and emotional issues, and participate in community organizations that help support our kids socially and emotionally as part of my board responsibilities.  I represent the Board on the PTO Council, and keep other Board members informed about the many outstanding things these great organizations do to enrich the educational experience of our children.  I participate in the Youth Network Council, which brings collaboration with our Township Youth Interventionists and multiple mental health organizations that support children with emotional and mental challenges.  As a co-chair of the Workgroup for Positive Youth Development, I lead the collaborative efforts of our police departments, schools, media and faith-based institutions to address the issue of underage drinking, and related substance abuse issues.  All of these are advocacy efforts that inform the Board and strengthen relationships with youth-centered organizations.  The District exists within the larger community structure, and my work in these groups provides valuable context for us to do our Board work.  For me, the social and emotional growth of our students are key issues.

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