Tom Cofsky

District 200 School Board Candidate

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*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies

I have learned quite a bit during my eight years serving on the D200 School Board; about the systemic inequities that exist for students of color in a system designed for white people, about the complexities of school finance and about the many challenges of educating in a century old building. I am running for reelection because I want to ensure that the advances made in fiscal discipline and bold steps taken to begin addressing racial equity are sustained.

People often come to Oak Park and River Forest because of the strong schools and they leave because of the taxes. I believe we must keep our high school strong, supporting the needs of ALL our students, while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers. This requires both balance and a long-term focus. We must balance the needs of our students with the means of our community. We must learn from history, while having vision for the future. 

During my time on the D200 School Board, we have taken some important initial steps in removing barriers and addressing the biases that exist for our students of color. These have existed for generations, resulting in an opportunity gap that should not exist in 21st century America. An equity policy was developed and adopted, with procedures continuing to be put in place. Discipline practices that had unfavorable biases towards students of color and which kept students out of the classroom have been modified and replaced with more restorative practices. The curriculum is also being standardized while providing equal access to all students. I believe we must continue to take bold action in eliminating these barriers, so that ALL students can achieve excellence.

I have worked tirelessly to achieve fiscal discipline. We have shifted away from a “tax to the max” mentality, leaving $60 Million in potential tax revenue in our taxpayers’ pockets. We have moved to an annual balanced budget. We made the first structural changes to the teacher’s contract in decades. After many years of debate and challenge, a long-term facilities plan was created, and we began the first major renovation in over 50 years to modernize our facilities to support 21st century education. We are a well-resourced district, but we must ensure that our resources are being used wisely and in alignment with the long-term strategic plan. 

I am committed to continue the work that began during my tenure on the D200 Board and would greatly appreciate your support.


Do you believe the district is adequately addressing the needs of its most marginalized students, particularly Black and Brown students? 

I do not believe these needs are being adequately met. Our goal of not having race, socioeconomic status, and other social factors as a predictor of student outcomes is still far from being realized. Issues outlined in the District’s 2003 report, looking back as far as the 1970s, remain today. Barriers and biases continue to negatively impact our students of color. There remain significant gaps in data on discipline and student outcomes when looked at through the lens of race.  The recent data gathered as part of our Superintendent search showed all stakeholders rating the district’s effectiveness in meeting the needs of traditionally underrepresented students at the bottom.

With that said, I am pleased that the current administration and BOE has taken initial bold action, putting in place a racial equity policy, modifying student discipline procedures, and taking initial steps to reduce barriers of access as part of  curriculum restructuring. Facilities enhancements have also been prioritized in areas with equity in mind. 

What are your expectations from the next superintendent who will succeed outgoing Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams? 

When Dr. Pruitt-Adams was hired, as well as with her predecessor, the desire was for a change in leadership style. With Dr. Pruitt-Adams we have seen strong leadership and a willingness to drive needed change while bringing others along. I share her views, and hope we can continue in the direction she blazed. We need to build upon the strengths she brought forth.

Our next Superintendent must be a student centric leader, owning and continuing to drive the long term strategic plan while recognizing there will always be vocal resistance on individual topics. The Superintendent must know their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with talent that is complimentary. They must use metrics and data and be accountable to drive the District towards achievement of exemplary status, which will require making measurable advances in areas currently disportionately impacting our students of color. I expect a straight-forward communicator, able to alert the Board of Education on issues and challenges as well as successes.    

What are your thoughts on the district’s hybrid learning model and its implementation? 

With both the fully remote and the hybrid model, the District chose a specific path and put all its focus to executing that path as best it could (versus other districts that changed models multiple times). This minimized change, which is important to students, teachers, and parents. However, when conditions began changing rapidly, we were less able to adjust accordingly. Any in person schooling, even in an environment that does not look like school as we know it, is a positive step forward for our students. Use of saliva testing was a necessary step to help assure safety, and this was supported by a positivity rate of 0.04%. Getting into the building on two of every eight school days is a challenge for both our students and their families, but I believe it is a good step in the right direction.

In the same vein, I am disappointed that the percentage of students of color opting out of in person learning is as high as it is and would like to see actions that could help address this. At this point the actual feedback on the hybrid model has been limited with some communication that classes are populated below the capacity planned for hybrid. I would like to see adjustments made to increase the number of students allowed in the building safely, including allowing those that opted out a second chance to opt in, while also looking at expanding the number of students in each cohort.

Will you support the district’s plans for freshmen curriculum restructuring? Please explain your reasoning. 

Curriculum restructuring includes the standardization of freshmen and entry level courses, combined with open access for all students. As a parent of five former Huskies, I have seen great disparity across the same courses. As such,  I strongly support standardization, in line with global and national standards. Students come from different feeder schools and are placed in honors classes based on a variety of inputs, including standardized test scores, teacher input and parent advocacy. These do not always reflect a student’s true potential and often lead to a disproportionate number of students of color placed in lower tracks.

  With this restructure, all students will be in a class with a teacher who will work with each student to help maximize their potential while getting a fair assessment of the students desires and capabilities. Differentiated teaching will be needed in these classes. We have excellent teachers and must support them with professional development. Then during sophomore year, students can then move to a class that best fits their desire and capabilities as assessed by a common teacher. 

So, I support standardizing our curriculum while allowing each student to show his/ her potential in freshman year for placement in second year classes. This should assure all students have access to the same level of academic rigor.

What are your thoughts on the current teacher contract? 

The teacher contract addresses working conditions as well as compensation that accounts for over 40% of total district expenses. We must continue to evaluate this contract to assure the following are met: 1. We have compensation that will allow us to attract and retain excellent teachers 2. Our working conditions support excellence for our students and 3. our resources are aligned with strategic plan outcomes and evidence-based standards. 

 I was involved in the negotiations that resulted in the current teacher contract. It was the first time that structural changes to the compensation structure were addressed. The biggest change was moving off the traditional step and lane structure that included a non-negotiated increase of ~3% annually. The current structure provides a fully negotiated, transparent salary change. This contract also covers health care benefits for all district employees, which represents the district’s second largest expense. We need to assure these benefits are competitive with other employers in the area and be willing to make adjustments where we are out of line, as was done in the recent negotiation.

There are often small changes made each time a contract is negotiated. It is important that there be continuity on the Board’s end from one negotiation to the next, as there is on the faculty side, to ensure that long term improvements in the interests of our students and community are sustained. 

What do you understand to be the core functions of a school board member? 

To ensure that ALL students have an equal opportunity and equitable education through establishment of policy. To employ a superintendent to function as CEO of the district and delegate operation of the district to the superintendent, directing them through policy and strategic plan implementation. It is also a school board member’s job to approve the annual budget, tax levy, and other major financial expenditures of the district. As such, we must serve as a faithful protector of taxpayer resources.

In addition, it is a school board member’s job to negotiate collective bargaining contracts with the Faculty Senate that are in the shared best interests of students, faculty and community. We must ensure that well-maintained, adequate facilities exist to support educational needs and interface with the community on district related matters. It is also my strong feeling that collaboration is important and the school board must work in harmony with other government organizations. 

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