*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I am seeking a seat on the D200 board because I care deeply about OPRF. I want OPRF to be as strong as possible, always evolving to empower OPRF students to thrive in the rapidly changing world.
My family is entirely supportive of this endeavor. My wife, Stephanie, and I have lived with our two sons in River Forest for more than 10 years. Our oldest son graduated from OPRF High School in 2019, and our youngest is an OPRF junior.
Stephanie and I are committed to being of service to our community. Growing up, our own families were devoted to public education and to public service – she and I are wired the same way. I attended public school with students from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds, so I have been long-alert to the role economic and racial inequities play in our lives. More than anything, I share our community’s commitment to excellence in education for all students. This will be the primary focus of my decisions if I get to serve on the board.
I have always been drawn to finding creative solutions for complex issues, and I may delve more than I should into difficult tasks. This is probably why I have made the choices for my life that I have. These choices have resulted in me now being a CPA for almost 35 years and practicing law for over 30 years. I have been a partner at Chapman and Cutler LLP for almost 20 years and now have extensive experience in budgeting and a deep understanding of complicated project finance matters. I have done extensive pro bono work throughout my career in service of social justice and equity for all.
If elected, I will always be mindful of the need to be fiscally responsible, helping D200 to make decisions consistent with its values and to have more to spend on the priorities our community cares about most. This will include advocating for congruence between our community’s core values and D200’s plans and decisions.
Finally, I believe OPRF has a rare and remarkable opportunity to improve the education of all OPRF students in a meaningful manner, while also practicing fiscal care. OPRF can do this by being a leader in teaching media literacy and mindfulness. Other countries have been doing this for decades and teaching these subjects in U.S. schools is a growing phenomenon. Academic research strongly supports this, finding that, among other things, teaching them increases attention, reduces anxiety, strengthens compassion, and improves interpersonal relationships, all Good Things that OPRF can achieve with minimal cost.
I am confident that I will add real value to the D200 board if I am elected. I will do all can to help OPRF provide the best education it can to each OPRF student.
Do you believe the district is adequately addressing the needs of its most marginalized students, particularly Black and Brown students?
Without question, the current administration and D200 board have sought to make equity for Black and Brown students a top priority for the school. At the same time, the decisions they make in service of this goal are often difficult to understand. For example, Phase One of the Imagine Plan involved extensive expert and community input and considered equity as a central tenant of all decisions, but this plan did not include a basement. Despite this, the current administration decided a multimillion dollar basement was needed as part of this capital improvement project, claiming it served racial equity purposes for students because “Adding a basement provides a higher efficiency of space utilization in the building,” and because “The extra space can increase capacity to deliver academic services during times that are required to navigate COVID-19.”
The board approved the basement. Most in our community agree that many parts of the school building need to be improved, but, to my mind, the administration’s reasons for why a pricy basement serves racial equity does not compute. More to the point, I believe targeting the best school basement in Chicagoland as a priority for the goal of equity reveals that something is off on D200’s equity lens. The administration’s execution of Phase One of the Imagine Plan is replete with similar examples.
What are your expectations from the next superintendent who will succeed outgoing Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams?
I am the only candidate against the existing D200 board’s decision to not just initiate the search for a new superintendent but also to choose that person. Thus, new board members, which I would be, have no vote on the superintendent. Regardless of whether I am elected, I hope the new superintendent understands that she or he will be serving a new school board, with members different from the board that made the hiring decision.
I agree with the existing board members and board candidates that the D200 board should choose the best candidate, but we disagree on how to determine that. For example, existing board members have stated that living in Illinois should not be a necessary condition. I disagree. I believe that for a superintendent to be the best for OPRF, she or he needs to live within some range of the school. I think that, among the many lessons Covid has taught us, one is that being in the school matters.
I hope whoever the existing board chooses is someone who is able to excel in a diverse school, understands the importance of excellence in education, sees the need for racial equity, recognizes the importance of aligning plans with goals, has experience with a budget involving tens of millions of dollars, and is skilled at managing a faculty that is represented by a strong elected body. I hope this person is creative, smart, responsive to board directives, and has extraordinary interpersonal skills.
I also hope the new superintendent understands the mediated world in which OPRF students live. Studies have found that, on average, U.S. teens spend 9 hours a day on digital entertainment, excluding schoolwork. I believe it will be critical for the new superintendent to understand this mediated existence and the opportunities and challenges it presents both to OPRF and to OPRF students.
What are your thoughts on the district’s hybrid learning model and its implementation?
My primary thought on hybrid learning is that it needs to be behind us as soon as possible. If a school district as large and complicated as Los Angeles can restore in-person instruction for all of its high school students – and reach agreement with its teachers’ union on doing so – so can D200.
Will you support the district’s plans for freshmen curriculum restructuring? Please explain your reasoning.
I am the only D200 candidate that does not support the administration’s existing plan for restructuring the freshman curriculum. Many in our community consider the issue of restructuring to be the proxy for equity. I offer that framing the issue as a binary choice for or against the existing restructuring plan alone does not address – it cannot address – the complexity of issues involved. More importantly, framing of this matter as a simple “for or against” choice helps conceal essential problems with the existing plan.
I am not in support of the existing restructuring plan because I am convinced it will not do what it claims. The existing plan does not account for the multitude of matters that restructuring experts say a school needs to address for its restructuring plan to be successful. OPRF’s own messaging on what the school needs to do to be successful has neither been consistent nor resolute. We do know that curriculum restructuring is only one aspect of a larger context and is almost certainly the easiest part. Experts on restructuring advise that a “whole array of new programs and policies” are needed to do restructuring right. The experts instruct that restructuring needs to include, among other things, reforming teaching protocols and increasing support for all teachers and students involved.
Equity matters. So do making plans that align with goals. I believe the D200 community is right to hold OPRF to a standard that includes this measure, and I believe the administration’s current restructuring plan does not do this. Therefore, I do not support the current plan.
What are your thoughts on the current teacher contract?
My primary thought on the current teacher contract is that it will expire during the term of the upcoming school board. I believe my extensive experience working on matters of finance and negotiating complicated contracts will be valuable for D200 in putting together an agreement to replace the current teacher contract. I have a successful track record of helping parties achieve a meeting of the minds, while also feeling good about continuing forward in partnership after the contract is entered into.
A number of other factors come to mind in thinking about the teacher contract. Perhaps most importantly, the State of Illinois now makes available meaningful information on how the D200 teacher contract compares against other schools in the state. The OPRF contract does not need to exist in a vacuum, and the terms in the new OPRF teacher contract should not be irresponsible in comparison with other teacher contracts. The OPRF teacher contract should be in line with those schools that we consider to be the best.
The OPRF teacher contract is, without question, D200’s most important contract. D200 should provide OPRF students the best education it possibly can. To do this, it is essential that OPRF get and keep the best teachers possible. In turn, this requires D200 to pay teachers a salary reflecting the excellence our community is committed to.
Thinking forward, the new teacher contract should also anticipate or address issues that had not been considered previously. This is made more relevant in light of the pandemic. The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the most basic aspects of our lives. All or almost all organizations that we would consider to be “blue ribbon” entities are putting formal processes in place to account for all that can be learned from this experience. The D200 board should do the same, and it should follow best practices, tailored to the D200 community’s values and needs, for addressing issues in the new teacher contract where the current contract is silent
What do you understand to be the core functions of a school board member?
I have had the good fortune of working with and serving on a number of boards. In my experience, the best boards have members with different strengths, experiences, and perspectives. Diversity among members on the school board is valuable, and I believe it should be a core responsibility of each school board member to contribute of themselves in a manner that is most beneficial for the school. I believe school board members also share a number of other core responsibilities that are essential for OPRF to achieve the level of excellence that our community is committed to.
Many of these core responsibilities are consistent with those of a member of any similar board. For example, each school board member should act in the best interests of the school, being thoughtful and contributing their own perspective, separate from that of the superintendent and the administration. Each should always be loyal to OPRF and not vote on or contribute input on any matter where they have a real or an apparent conflict of interest. Each should attend board meetings and be prepared for them.
Each OPRF school board member should help to shape a compelling vision for OPRF that has an excellent education for each student at its core. This responsibility is consistent with OPRF’s history, the D200 community values, and our shared aspirations for our students. At the same time, each board member should always be listening and stay current with forces in the school that show promise and opportunity by engaging actively with the community and the school, including those parts that are not in his or her existing patterns of engagement or established relationships.
I believe too there are a number of ways for a board member to make the D200 board exceptional. Members can do this by contributing to a culture of candor, mutual trust and respect, and constructive debate within the school board. Members should not be afraid to question other board members or be questioned by them or to challenge the superintendent. Together with other board members, they should collaborate with the superintendent in a spirit of forthrightness and a shared commitment to excellence. I will do all I can to help the D200 board be an exceptional board.