*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
My wife and I moved to River Forest 6 years ago for the public schools, like many, making the “jump” when it was time to focus on our kids. I’m a product of public education through college. My education is everything. We love the unique community and small-town-feel of River Forest while being close to the city and our “downtowns” of Oak Park and Forest Park. We have a 1st and 3rd grader at Willard and have loved their experience in the school, both academically and social-emotionally. The teachers are amazing professionals – truly best in class. Our daughter was lucky enough to participate in the Inclusion Pre-School program which was literally life changing.
I have a BA in economics (Michigan), am a Chartered Financial Analyst and have an MBA in Finance (Univ. of Chicago). I am a Managing Director at Jefferies (an Investment Bank) in their Private Wealth Management group and bring more than 20 years of finance, business, banking and investment experience to the table as a candidate. My entire career has been spent analyzing and using “evidence-based” thinking to make optimal decisions; listening to my clients and using data and emotional intelligence to guide them to exceptional results. These skills will allow me to make fiscally responsible yet empathetic decisions at the Board table – I think that there is a need for this type of perspective more now than ever.
My goal as a Board member is simple: ask better questions. We have a collection of wonderful, dedicated Board members; but many of them gained their seats during an era when amicable appointments, unanimous voting and a certain conformity of thought was a point of pride for the Board. Only one seat has changed via election in the last ~8 years. I want to be a new, moderate voice and fresh perspective on the board. I want to bring an analytical and business mindset to the table to support our Administration on critical decisions. Importantly, while I have areas of focus or concern, I don’t have an agenda or idea to push. My role is to hear the community and gauge whether the Administration is doing an exemplary job in implementing excellence in education. Board members don’t “run” the school, but as your representatives, assure it’s being run optimally.
I want to see us regain our “Exemplary” state ranking and get back on trend in test scores and growth rates, which have declined since 2016/17. I want us to implement real changes around equity so that we close our achievement and opportunity gaps as early in the learning process as possible. And I want to see us use our financial resources more diligently so we can manage the unexpected costs, plan for growth, and pay for exceptional teachers and staff, all while avoiding too much debt and future tax-hikes at all costs. Residents of Illinois…Cook County…River Forest, simply do not have capacity or appetite for more property taxes and “assuming” a referendum “because it’s been a while” is bad policy.
I’ve supported our OPRF kids through my work as Treasurer for Kindness Creators Intergenerational Preschool in Oak Park, and through my consistent advocacy and leadership on the back-to-school issue. I will always put our kids first. I hope you’ll support my vision by voting for me on April 6.
Describe how your background and experiences will bring value to the District 90 school board.
My professional and educational experience is unique amongst current and campaigning Board members. I have a BA in economics (Michigan), am a Chartered Financial Analyst and have an MBA in Finance (Univ. of Chicago). I am a Managing Director at Jefferies (an Investment Bank) in their Private Wealth Management group and have more than 20 years of finance, business, banking and investment experience. My entire career has been spent analyzing and using “evidence-based” thinking to make optimal decisions. These skills make me well-suited for a Board role, and I think there is a need for this type of perspective more now than ever.
What motivated you to run for a position on the District 90 board of education?
Like many of our neighbors, we moved to River Forest from Chicago in large part because of the top-notch public schools. However, over the last decade and particularly the last 3 years, our D90 school rankings have fallen. Moreover, our test score growth rates are declining across all students but in particular, within certain sub-groups. The best educational research indicates growth rates are the best metric of school quality. By many recent reports, D90 is no longer in the top-decile of districts in the state. This is despite increased spending, new curriculum implementation, schedule changes, teacher development, infrastructure improvements, investments in equity and inclusion, etc. Something isn’t clicking.
I became more heavily involved with the Board and administration after our loss of “Exemplary” status in late 2019 and into the pandemic. As part of a member of the Remote Learning Action Team, I gained insight into the motivations/concerns of the various D90 stakeholders and processes around key decision-making.
I’m motivated to join the Board so I can ask the right questions, listen and report back to the community and implement changes as needed. I don’t have all the answers but I’m willing to put in the hard work to improve our schools for our kids.
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?
Public education should be an equalizer. Districts that lack comprehensive early childhood programs miss an opportunity to start all of our kids off on a level playing field. Tying into my response to the prior question, our lack of comprehensive early education, limited preschool and half-day kindergarten offerings create meaningful inequities for minority students, students with special needs, and socio-economically disadvantaged children. Some of the most compelling and reproducible research around equity, inclusion and achievement gap emphasizes the value of robust early education and intervention. It doesn’t matter the size of the minority group or other sub-group; without proper pre-K and full-day kindergarten, we are setting groups of our children behind the starting line just as they get going. As a Board member, I would continue to seek out the latest research on the interplay between early childhood development and equity issues, and would advocate for increased offerings that support our earliest learners and their families so that all of our kids can achieve their fullest potentials.
What do you see as the biggest challenges currently facing District 90?
1) A decline in academic achievement and overall excellence
2) Unsustainable fiscal policies and spending
3) Lack of success in delivering equity for all and closing the achievement gap
While there will always be competing priorities, I think it is possible to step back and recognize a natural guiding framework and to tackle these issues in a cohesive manner, not leaving one until the “end.” We need robust financials to invest and do the things we want – to hire top teachers; employ specialists; invest in professional development; offer outstanding training and programming; maintain facilities and technology; and update curricula and methods. In conjunction with strengthening these critical building blocks, we must achieve academic excellence and deliver exceptional outcomes for our kids. We must be prepared to assess that excellence and learn from our mistakes. All the while, via investigation and outreach, we will continue to uncover, understand, address and eradicate inequities in D90 and narrow achievement gaps. We can’t have one of these without the other(s). More frequent, more transparent, more digestible and more honest communication and collaboration with all stakeholders about our strengths and weaknesses is a key part of addressing these issues.
In your assessment, how effective do you feel District 90’s response was to the COVID 19 pandemic?
Overall, I think the Administration did a great job preparing us for a safe return to in person learning. This has been a complex, thorny, unprecedented issue to navigate for any school district. In fact, I think we were ready and well-positioned to return in the fall as was originally proposed in August 2020. School is essential, and data continue to indicate that the classroom may be the safest place kids can be during this pandemic. Our safety plan has only minimally changed since then given how sound it was, and we can have a safe environment for students, teachers and staff. I have been advocating this scientifically supported view since last summer.
Given this, my only fundamental criticism is that D90 could have acted more boldly, more creatively and with more urgency to return the kids sooner. Obviously, vaccines and increasing evidence make us more comfortable by the day. But valuable time was lost for no fundamental or scientific reason other than outsized influence from a few stakeholders. We are only now trying to get creative about spacing issues, lunch time, etc. As a small community flush with physical, financial and parent-volunteer resources, I think we could have done better sooner.
While the COVID pandemic is a unique event soon to pass into history, one of the main tenants of my campaign is simply more creativity, more criticality and more collaboration in solving challenges we face whether it be a health crisis or solving for full-day Kindergarten.
What do you see as the most urgent concerns in terms of student achievement in District 90?
As noted prior, we need to analyze, digest and attack our sub-group and Achievement Gap disparities in grades K-3 (and really showing up in grades 5-8). We cannot course correct the trajectory of our test score and growth rats without focusing on how to better support our learners who have been historically disadvantaged and making sure we have the right curricular tools in place. It’s critical for true equity and advancement.
More broadly, we need to reassess massive curricular changes made in the last 3-5 years. All were made with good objectives in mind but particularly in the areas of math and ELA, are we making progress? If we are not, why? Is it simply more time and implementation? Is it because we chose the wrong methodology? Again, I’m focused on questions and introspection. For example, if the State of Colorado conducts an audit of 20 English-Language Arts curriculums and does NOT support two that we use (esp. Lucy Calkins) that should be investigated thoroughly.
The last component is overall rigor in the curriculum and opportunities for children to engage in challenging, advanced work. Many stakeholders have different angles and views on this topic, but to me the teachers know best and too many of them complain of “dumbing-down” and having to go “off-script” to made the curriculum work in their classroom and for different learners. You would expect otherwise if we’ve made the optimal investment in curriculum and achievement.