*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Kate Odom is the momma of two girls (2nd grade and rising Kindergartener) and truly believes that education, and the public education system specifically, can be the place for all children to access the education and resources to achieve their aspirations and potential. As a child/family psychologist who’s worked most of her career in schools, Kate knows how the holistic well-being of students (and school personnel) impact a student’s ability to learn and engage in the educational process. Kate hopes she can bring this knowledge, experience, and expertise to the D97 community.
Professionally, Kate has served at the student, school, and district level. At the student level, she’s provided counseling, assessment, and consultation services in schools across 3 different states. At the school level, she’s provided consultation and mediation for schools and families in legal disputes, giving her a deep understanding of school policy, education laws, and the special education systems. At the district level, Kate has provided training and consultation on building trauma-informed classrooms, buildings, and behaviors. Currently, Kate works as a clinical supervisor in Adler University’s community mental health training program and has built partnerships with After School Matters and Aunt Martha’s residential placement for foster youth.
Prior to living in Oak Park, Kate served on her child’s PTO, parent equity team, and volunteered in the classroom. Kate also worked to connect her school, that did not have any school counselors/social workers, with the school psychology graduate students from the University of Washington to provide mental health supports. Since moving to Oak Park last year, Kate joined the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team at her child’s school.
Kate brings an understanding of how school systems and the humans within them function. She has helped students, parents, teachers, and school staff collaborate and problem solve to promote best student outcomes. Kate is skilled in facilitating inclusive and collaborative communication. She is experienced in implementing program evaluations, with a focus on equity, to inform data-driven decisions. More importantly though, Kate knows what it means to support children and adults recovering from traumatic events. She balances compassion and empathy, while still maintaining fair and clear judgement. Kate has served as an advocate through effectively navigating varying personalities and power differentials. Her unique experience and expertise are of particular benefit to the district considering the current issues facing D97 and its community.
Do you believe the district is adequately addressing the needs of its most marginalized students, particularly its Black and Brown students?
The district can be applauded for creating the equity policy and beginning its implementation. It’s too early to see how this policy and other efforts to increase equity and inclusion have performed, particularly with the most marginalized populations. However, from my discussions with both administration leaders in the Equity and MTSS departments, as well as families in the D97 community, the efforts seem to be rooted in strong, evidenced based interventions, as well as increasing some families’ sense of inclusion.
However, there is more current research coming out regarding how the implementation of culturally responsive instruction models (adapting the previous evidence-based models to more culturally diverse values and practices) is more effective. This research is showing that interventions aimed at increasing equity are only as effective as their implementation is grounded in culturally diverse delivery. In other words, if the efforts towards equity are still placing value on white/euro-centric structure, systems, traditions, and ways of judging success, then no improvement or progress will be made. As a board member, I would bring this knowledge of the most up-to-date practices, as this is the focus of both my professional and personal interests.
What are your expectations from the next superintendent who will succeed outgoing Supt. Carol Kelley?
The next superintendent needs to bring experience of successful implementation of effective equity policy. This is an important initiative to better the education of our students, so being able to demonstrate positive intervention and outcomes should be a pre-requisite to hire. Secondly, guiding the administration and school personnel to work within their means will help to relieve the hefty price tag that comes with getting an education in Oak Park.
The next superintendent should ensure that the district is using all its resources (human, technological, intellectual, community, etc.) in the most cost-effective ways. A superintendent with an eye for reducing superfluous spending will also positively impact community relations and improve equity. Lastly, the next superintendent must have a proven track record of making difficult decisions in an efficient and timely manner, that are informed both by data and in consideration of Oak Park’s unique community needs/desires.
What are your thoughts on the district’s hybrid learning model and its implementation?
The hybrid as is currently implemented is proving to be successful in providing an in-person learning model with very little-to no risk (as evidence by no outbreaks or evidence of COVID spread since implementation).
However, this model still has very limited in-person learning options, particularly for our middle school students. Students are receiving less robust valuable services (special education, ‘specials’ class time, positive non-academic peer interactions) due to the limit in-person time and that these services simply are not effectively replicated virtually. I believe this hybrid model should have been implemented in the fall at the beginning of the school year, proven that in-person learning can be safe, and at this point D97 should be offering a full-time, 5 days/week, in-person learning option.
What are your thoughts on the district’s policies regarding race and gender?
In the “Vision97 4All: 2017-2022 Plan for Accelerated Growth and Success for All Students” the BOE/district outlined 4 ‘elements’ that would address students/families in minority populations: Equity, Inclusivity, Whole-Child Centered, and Positive Learning Environment. This plan outlined its “professional practices for instructional effectiveness” which includes 4 pillars of strategic direction. The previous BOE seems to have addressed the role of clarifying the district’s purpose through this collaborative creation.
I suggest reviewing this plan to ensure it is flexible enough to still meet the district’s current climate, culture, and community identities. In part, I’d do this through connecting with the community through genuine townhalls and participation in community events; asking for invitation into the community to hear their experiences and concerns, and elevating community opportunities to engage directly in the school community.
To monitor performance, I’d ensure the specific ‘pillar’ of data-informed continuous improvement was being implemented. I’m skilled in defining a plan, engaging, and authentic understanding of others, and monitoring progress, as they are also core elements of being a psychologist.
What are your thoughts on the current teacher contract?
Contract negotiations for any type and scope of work should aim to reach a unified goal where all parties feel respected and valued. The level of complexity and nuance involved in building contracts for teachers (as well as teaching assistants and other support staff) is only something that I can imagine as I have not had the opportunity to be a part of this specific process.
Much of what seems to go into the contract negotiations happens in private and for this reason it is difficult for me to truly formulate an opinion. I can only venture guesses on how effective the contracts are based on observable/measurable data points like teacher retention/turnover and “360 degree” evaluations that include peers, students, parents, as well as supervisors.
However, if I were elected and involved in the negotiation process, I would hope it would be described similar to how the BOE and OPTA described their negotiations in 2018 as one that helped “strengthen the partnership and solidified the mutual respect that exists”. Ultimately, staying focused on a unified goal of providing the best educational opportunities to all the students should remain central to any teacher contract.
What do you understand to be the core functions of a school board member?
The core functions and responsibilities are laid out clearly to be: 1) Clarify the district’s purpose, 2) Connect with the community, 3) Employ a superintendent, 4) Delegate authority, 5) Monitor performance, and 6) Take responsibility for itself. To me, this encapsulates the board member’s focus should be on helping translate the community’s (D97 and Oak Park in general) needs and desires to school administration.
A board member who is well-versed in balancing many agendas and initiatives and hearing and considering varying opinions to provide a clear direction of purpose will serve the district well. Furthermore, I believe take responsibility for itself goes hand in hand with monitoring performance. The BOE should not just monitor the performance of the district, but also solicit feedback and in good faith respond to its constituents. It is after all, an elected position.