*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I am originally from Hingham, Massachusetts and attended Boston College graduating with a degree in Political Science. Following college, I worked in Washington DC for EMILY’s List, a political action committee that works to elect women to national, state, and local office. My husband, Steve, and I met working on a political campaign in Chicago in 2004. Following that experience, we started a non-profit together that worked in Latino neighborhoods in Chicago to increase voter registration and participation. While he attended law school, I worked in the development department at Development Services Center, a Champaign-based non-profit that supports individuals with Developmental Disabilities.
For the past nine years, I have been the administrator for the Community of Congregations, a local interfaith organization that works in Oak Park, River Forest, Austin, and Maywood. Through the years, I have also done short term fundraising projects for a variety of local organizations – most recently AgeOptions in Oak Park. I have three children, Manolo, Lissie, and Mimi – and recently adopted a pandemic pup named Bennie.
Describe how your background and experiences will bring value to the District 90 school board.
Since moving to River Forest in 2014, I have been an active volunteer at both Lincoln and Roosevelt. I served as the PTO-Board Liaison and was the co-chair of Fall Fun Fest at Roosevelt for three years. I supervised Heartworks, volunteered in the classroom and regularly serve fun lunch, served as a member of the Lincoln Auction Committee, and helped out with a variety of events such as the Book Fair, Science Fair, Pancake 5K Race, and RMS Cultural Extravaganza. Through these experiences, I have gotten to know the culture of our schools, come to appreciate the dedication and talent of our teachers, and have a keen sense of what is going well and where we can improve.
I have the privilege of being the mother of three children with very different learning profiles. I have a child who receives special education services, a child who would typically be described as a high achiever, and a child who is a hands-on learner. Raising children with very different needs allows me to understand the experiences of a broad range of children and families in our district. Over the last two years serving on the D90 Board, I have learned about the responsibilities of being a board member and have built the necessary relationships to work collaboratively. I have made decisions across a wide range of matters – asking questions, considering multiple perspectives, seeking solutions, and at times, making difficult choices. Consistency in leadership is critical during these uncertain times.
My voice and experience remain valuable at the decision-making table as we continue to maneuver through the pandemic as well as address the impact of the on-going systemic racism in our country. We must consider the effect on our kids in terms of their mental health and academic needs. We are at a point in time when we face many challenges but also tremendous opportunities. I hope to re-elected so I can continue to work towards District 90’s mission to inspire and empower all learners to achieve their personal best.
What motivated you to run for a position on the District 90 board of education?
I am running for re-election because I remain excited about the direction of our schools as we work to best prepare our kids for their future while fostering a love of learning and creating a sense of belonging. I participated in the most recent strategic planning process to develop our 2020-2025 plan. After that experience, I want to continue my work at the leadership level to help reach the goals outlined in that process and want to work towards our mission to inspire and empower all learners to achieve their personal best.
I am also running out of a sense of duty to guide the district through these challenging times. Consistency in leadership is very important as we maneuver through the pandemic and continue our work to address systemic racism in educational systems. We are at a point in time when we face many challenges but also tremendous opportunities. I believe my involvement over the last two years as a board member along with my experience in the district as a parent of children with different learning needs is even more important as we work to recover from this past year.
Equity has been a focus of District 90, with both the Inclusiveness Advisory Board and the Equity Committee addressing different aspects of equity relating to public schools in River Forest. How effective do you think these groups have been? What are the most important areas that need to be addressed by the district moving forward?
The formation of the IAB and the Equity Committee are part of the foundational work that orients our district in our efforts to promote equity and inclusiveness. Both have played an important role in elevating the discussion. Some of the specifics that have come out of the work of these committees include:
- Changing hiring practices to increase diversity of staff
- Promoting growth mindset among our students and staff
- Initiating partnership with National Equity Project
- Instituting implicit bias training
- Adopting Universal Design for Learning which recognizes that we all learn differently and allows kids to show what they know in different ways
- Increasing student voice and adopting rigorous curricula that are engaging and reduce barriers to academic success
- Utilizing Easter Seals to evaluate special education instructional settings and implementing changes based on recommendations
- Updating classroom reading materials and school libraries to be culturally responsive and reflective of our student body
- Utilizing Power Scholars program in partnership with the West Cook YMCA
- Developing and implementing a new gender inclusiveness policy
As a district, we have taken steps to remove barriers to access and opportunity but it is not enough. Efforts around equity and inclusiveness are not something to check off a list but instead we must live the work on a daily basis. In considering next steps, it is important to continue our partnership with the National Equity Project and evaluate the potential need for a more programmatic approach to addressing the achievement/opportunity gap. Additionally, we should consider expanding the inclusive preschool program to include other risk factors that impact long term academic success – such as English language learners, premature birth, parent with chronic health or mental health concerns, parent’s education levels, family income, behavioral/social-emotional concerns, among others.
A focus on equity and inclusiveness is the work of undoing years of systemic racism, classism, sexism, and ableism. It is not a zero-sum game and does need mean that we as a district are reducing rigor in curricula or that we are taking away opportunities from high achieving students. It is about removing barriers and ensuring that every child is getting what they need to be successful. As we continue the work, me must focus on building community and a sense of belonging – valuing student voice and choice while considering the skills needed for success in the modern economy.
What do you see as the biggest challenges currently facing District 90?
Currently the biggest challenge is helping our school community recover from this past year as it relates to academic and social emotional needs. The board is already supporting efforts to determine areas of academic need and employing a variety of strategies including but not limited to: exploring the potential for additional hours of in-person learning, expanding summer school offerings, expanding our Power Scholars program in partnership with the West Cook YMCA, adding supports and services such as small-group reading intervention for some of our younger students. As a board we will continue to support efforts to assess our students, offer the necessary interventions, and provide any needed professional development to teachers.
Although we have been working on ways to support mental health needs through the pandemic, the district is convening a Social Emotional Advisory Panel made up of teachers, social workers, parents, students, representatives from local mental health organizations, and mental health professionals.
I am the board representative to the committee and look forward to the forthcoming recommendations that will help shape the district’s plans for addressing short- and long-term mental health impacts. Teachers have also recently received professional development for trauma informed care from CASEL, an organization that supports educators in learning about social emotional learning. We have all (teachers, parents, students, administrators, and community members) lived through so much over the past year and we must focus on how we recover as a community and transition to our new normal and eventual post-pandemic.
Our mission is to inspire and empower each student to achieve their personal best. In order to do so, a student must have proper social emotional supports, feel valued as a member of the class, and be engaged in the process of learning through voice and choice. We can have the best teachers and the best curricula but if students do not feel connected, valued, and supported then their personal best is not possible. As a board we have set this as a priority and will continue to hold district accountable to develop and implement plans to best support our students’ recovery.
In your assessment, how effective do you feel District 90’s response was to the COVID-19 pandemic?
District 90 was thoughtful, deliberate, and responsive in our approach to the pandemic. Throughout the previous year, we made the best decisions possible with the information we had at the time and were willing to adapt as necessary. Thinking back to the early days, our district was able to quickly pivot to remote only because of our early planning and our commitment to being a one-to-one district. We are grateful to our dedicated teachers who worked hard to meet the needs of our students during the extraordinary early days of the pandemic.
Through the summer, our district convened the Remote Learning Action Team and the first iteration of our Covid Safety Committee, involving key-stakeholders including teachers, parents, students, district staff members, administrators, and board members. During the summer the board approved the purchase of Swivl technology recognizing the potential need for hybrid instruction during the 2020-2021 school year and supported professional development focused on remote only and hybrid instruction.
Recognizing that there was no clear path forward because of the unprecedented nature and that all options had significant challenges, the district worked to find consensus around, at times, competing concerns. The district took seriously the risks associated with COVID and the ISBE directive to prioritize in-person instruction provided that certain safety protocols and precautions can be met. At times there were circumstances beyond our control that made it difficult to move forward as we had intended, specifically in the summer the lack of timeliness of guidance from local health departments.
Given these challenges, the district created the Covid Advisory Panel which included local medical professionals, district staff, teachers, administrators, students, and parents. The district also partnered with professionals from the Rush Infectious Disease Department to assist in evaluating our in-person plan and hosted a Town Hall meeting with our teachers. By following our Covid Advisory Panel recommendations, our district hired a contact tracer, has provided onsite testing for symptomatic students and staff, and worked in partnership with Jewel to help secure vaccine appointments for teachers.
Because of the hard work by many in our D90 community, we have been able to return our kids to school in-person and are currently looking to expand to full day instruction. In addition, we are focused on addressing the academic and social emotional needs associated resulting from the pandemic.
This past year has been an immense effort by everyone: students, teachers, parents, administrators. It has been a stressful year that has strained some relationships and I hope that as we as a community we can work to rebuild and recover.
What do you see as the most urgent concerns in terms of student achievement in District 90?
It important to first begin with defining achievement. For me, achievement is not simply about standardized test scores but instead taking into consideration the whole child and how they are progressing in terms of classroom performance and student growth as well as social emotional well-being and student engagement. Standardized tests provide information about a specific moment in time and also frequently measure if a student is good at taking such tests rather than actual capacity for learning and achieving. While they do serve a purpose in identifying trends or areas for growth, they are not the sole measure of achievement.
The most urgent concern is to ensure that each child is getting what they need to achieve their personal best. In light of recovery from pandemic, that means assessing students to determining areas that may need additional support. In terms of the existing achievement/opportunity gap, that means continuing to reduce barriers and offer support as necessary. For high achievers, that means continuing to provide opportunities for challenge and for struggling learners, that means appropriate scaffolding. The district’s decision to pursue standards-based grading has been an important step to ensure student achievement because it allows for a better understanding of student’s individual progress towards state standards and provides clearer communication between teacher and student as well as teacher and parent.
Equally important to the question of achievement is considering district culture and classroom environment. Are children engaged in the material, is there joy in the learning process, do teachers feel valued, are kids learning key skills like critical thinking and problem solving. Being a parent of three kids with different learning needs and also now having a child in high school, it gives me a perspective about what we want for our kids as they leave District 90 – and for me it is much more than achievement on standardized test scores but instead thinking about what we are doing to prepare our kids for their future rather than our past as well as creating life long learners.