*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Jeremy Duffy is running for the Board of Education of Oak Park 97 because he believes that every child deserves an excellent education. As a District 97 parent, a former educator, and an attorney to school boards, Jeremy intends to bring a new perspective to the position and ensure academic excellence and equity for all students in District 97.
Jeremy began his career in education as a middle school teacher in Los Angeles, California. After his first year of teaching, he taught elementary school before moving to Chicago to continue teaching at the elementary school level. His years in the classroom led him to pursue an opportunity to create systemic change within educational institutions by attending law school and committing to a career working with school boards and school administrators across the State of Illinois.
For the last 10 years, Jeremy has advised school boards and school district administrators as an education law attorney to numerous Illinois K-12 school districts in all areas related to education law. Jeremy is currently an attorney to the Board of Education for Waukegan Public Schools.
Jeremy resides in the Hatch area of Oak Park with his wife and their three children, ages 7, 4, and 1.
Do you believe the district is adequately addressing the needs of its most marginalized students, particularly its Black and Brown students?
I am optimistic we can do even more for all of our students, in particular our Black and Brown students. I would be honored to join a Board that has made great strides regarding equity by adopting a very strong equity policy that centers on race. I believe we have some strong equity leaders on the Board, in the administration, and in our teaching and other staff. I also recognize and am thankful for the push on equity from the community, our families, and organizations such as the DivCo.
Now is the time to use an equity lens to focus on the opportunity gap that exists and perpetuates gaps in the overall achievement of our Black and Brown students. If we continue to focus on training and developing our teachers, setting and achieving measurable goals, and engaging the community, we will begin to see the results we want to see for our most marginalized populations. While the District may be proud of how far it has come as a community, we have to demand and work toward more for our most marginalized populations, especially our Black and Brown students.
What are your expectations from the next superintendent who will succeed outgoing Supt. Carol Kelley?
The next Superintendent must be an experienced leader who is laser focused on continuing the District’s growth and engaging and communicating with all the District’s stakeholders. This person should have a proven track record of being results-oriented and data driven. They should demonstrate measurable past achievements in impacting student achievement, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The next Superintendent should also have a past record on implementing an equity policy and achieving measurable outcomes on equity, so that the District can continue to progress on this front. This person should also be an experienced leader on rolling out teaching and leading initiatives. I would also like to see a Superintendent who will focus on improving school climate, providing mental health supports to students, and engaging the community regularly and consistently.
What are your thoughts on the district’s hybrid learning model and its implementation?
My daughter has been engaged in the District’s hybrid learning model since it began. It has been great for her to have in- person time, but I recognize that not all families believe that it is safe to return just yet, and I respect that. The District’s hybrid model is not a perfect model, and I would like to see continual improvements to the amount of time that children have in school, consistent with what the science says is safe for our students and staff. I also believe that the District should think creatively and look at other models for how in-person middle school time can be maximized.
I have heard frustrations from families, teachers, and other community members, but I think we have to continue to build on what has worked thus far to make this model work for our students while continuing to plan for a full day, in-person program. Thus, the administration must continue to plan for students and staff to fully return, and the Superintendent’s advisory council must continue to provide community insight into future programs for a full return to school.
What are your thoughts on the district’s policies regarding race and gender?
The District has a multitude of policies on race and gender. I think the racial equity policy is strong, and is a testament to the hard work of the community that came together to make it a reality. While it has been partially implemented, we need to continue to implement it with fidelity, be transparent about its application, and continue to monitor progress towards its implementation and effectiveness.
The District has a host of other policies on discrimination, harassment, equal educational opportunities, student rights and responsibility, bullying, and the filing of complaints, to name a few. These policies must be reviewed regularly to ensure that the District is continuing to put equity first for all students.
The Board must set the policy and then ensure that the administration understands the importance of the policies and implements them with fidelity. We must also engage teachers, other staff, the administration, students, and community stakeholders to ensure that we are listening to their input and adjusting policy when needed to ensure that we are protecting the rights of all stakeholders.
What are your thoughts on the current teacher contract?
When the current contract was announced, both sides lauded the changes that had been made. The contract runs through the 2021-2022 school year. I think it is a good time to get some feedback, both qualitative and quantitative, on how both sides feel about the contract, but most importantly, information on how the contract has worked for our students. The current contract increased the length of the school day, providing additional opportunities for learning for students. It also dramatically moved away from standard salary schedules, encouraged teachers to become National Board Certified, and delineated specific opportunities for teacher professional development. Such efforts paved the way to ensure a high-quality education for our students, and we must continue to keep student achievement at the forefront. Moving forward, we must support our teachers with reasonable class sizes, provide support staff – appropriate in numbers and training, and ensure meaningful professional development that supports our teachers and all our professionals to ensure that our students receive an equitable and excellent education.
What do you understand to be the core functions of a school board member?
Board Members have a number of important roles. They hire a superintendent, which is critical given Dr. Kelley’s coming departure. As part of this role, the Board should also be the Superintendent’s champion yet hold the Superintendent accountable towards their annual goals and the overall achievement of goals set for the entire District. The Board of Education also has the opportunity to set the vision, mission, and general goals for the District, and along with this, continually monitor the District’s progress. Board Members are also responsible for setting policy while delegating authority to carry out the policies and make day-to- day decisions for the District. The Board of Education also has a duty to approve the budget and major expenditures. Finally, Board Members have a duty to communicate with and engage the community both at Board meetings and outside of Board meetings. This must include the input of teachers and other staff, the administration, parents, students, and community members.