Before spring break writer's cramp sets in, we thought we would offer up our candidate endorsements as the election fast approaches on Tuesday, April 7. This election, more so than in years past, is crucial and a potential game changer for the district. In order for that to happen, parents must be well informed before going to the polls or submitting ballots through early voting. Make no mistake: every vote will count and will make a difference regarding the future direction of the district.
But before we launch into our endorsements, we would like to be very clear in our approach. Yes, we have opinions about the candidates and who should be elected. But our endorsements are also centered on fact. Let's compare this approach with the vapid, ill-informed editors of a local paper. Their recent endorsements of McCurry and Turek, we believe were mostly based on opinions, not on facts. Yes, that lack of journalistic integrity was front and center for all to see in their last edition. Remember, the editors do not have children in D181 schools, nor are they qualified to make claims that, for example, the Learning for All plan should continue, which seemed to form the basis for their endorsement of McCurry and Turek. This is irresponsible and unacceptable. So, we are approaching our endorsements with solid facts, track records, and experience because our kids have experienced the unfettered, unproven changes during the past several years that have caused great turmoil and frustration. We have a stake in this, and we want the best for all district children. At this point, we do not believe the D181 administration has the leadership and competence to move the district to a better place. It will take an engaged BOE to demand accountability, something that hasn't happened in several years.
We will be voting for the following candidates (listed in alphabetical order) and we hope you do too: Jennifer Burns, John Czerwiec, Richard Giltner and Leslie Gray.
These four candidates have the following practical things in common that we believe position them to best serve the district's students and taxpayers:
1. They are parents of current D181 students.
2. They do not have any conflicts of interest that could influence their votes on board decisions they will be asked to make in the next four years.
3. They have provided thoughtful, substantive answers to the many questions they have been asked by the press and during the debates that show that they have a working knowledge and understanding of the current D181 curriculum issues, facilities issues, financial and tax levy related issues. They are knowledgeable about pending legislation that could shift pension funding state funding to our district and the impact such a change might have on lowering available revenue.
4. The answers they have given have been raw, honest and thorough. They have not been afraid to identify areas of concern, explain why they are concerned and then address how they would like to see the BOE tackle the issues. They have not used buzz words to deflect away from critical issues that need both the administration's and the BOE's immediate attention. The thorough answers they have given, during the debates and in their newspaper interviews, actually sound like them; rather than carefully crafted answers that may or may not have been prepared by their supporters.
5. They have identified decisions and issues that the BOE has addressed that lacked supporting data, and have represented that they intend to make data-driven decisions; not simply rubber stamp administrative recommendations, especially in the area of curriculum. For nearly two years now we have been blogging about the lack of data, lack of accountability and negative impact the Learning for All Plan has had on our district's students. It will be a refreshing change to have board members who will want to make data-driven decisions and will not simply accept whatever recommendations the administration makes.
6. Similarly, they have made it clear that it is not their job to micromanage the district, but that what has been lacking is accountability for decisions that are made.
7. The answers they have given to financial questions have established that they will be fiscally conservative, not tax and spend board members.
8. Three of them -- Burns, Czerwiec and Gray -- have been visible and regularly attended D181 BOE meetings for several years. They did not just start attending the meetings after deciding to run for the school board. They have spoken respectfully during public comment as concerned parents and taxpayers on a variety of issues (which will be further elaborated below). While Giltner has not attended meetings for as long as Burns, Czerwiec and Gray have, he began regularly attending the BOE meetings well before deciding to run for the board and before going through the Caucus process. He has continued to attend the BOE meetings since receiving the Caucus endorsement. The answers he gave during the Clarendon Hills debate, in particular, evidence that he did not just show up at the meetings to be seen, rather, he carefully listened to the administrative presentations and BOE questions, especially on the Learning For All Plan, and has processed and understands the complexity of issues that the board is facing.
Next we want to highlight some of the individual characteristics and accomplishments that make these four candidates the most qualified to serve our community for the next four years. We are not simply going to list all of the things that they have done or identified during the debates or interviews. Instead, we will point out the things they said or did that mattered to us most.
As a parent in D181, Ms. Burns has already shown her commitment to our district through all of the multiple PTO, volunteer, and district-wide committees she has served on. During the debates, Ms. Burns emphasized the need for the BOE to have a strategic plan in place that will guide their decisions over the next four years. Her marketing, strategy and management background and experiences will enable her to participate and even take a leading role in the development of a meaningful strategic plan -- a road map showing where the district is now and where the BOE wants to take it -- not just an ever changing "process." Her financial background (MBA) will allow her to quickly grasp all of the financial issues the board will face and any tough financial decisions it might have to make.
Ms. Burns' temperament is calm, cool and collected. We believe her when she says she wants to work collaboratively with her fellow board members and the administration, build consensus for decisions while expecting accountability from the superintendent. We have listened to pod casts where Ms. Burns has made public comment, and she has been extremely respectful while presenting critical comments and concerns. Ms. Burns has recognized the need for each learner's needs to be met, but believes the current Learning For All Plan is lacking in supporting data and it is time for the administration to analyze and present student performance data to establish whether or not the plan is working. We couldn't agree with her more.
Mr. Czerwiec's passion for education, fiscal responsibility, transparency in government and accountability shine through all of the public comments he has made and answers he has given in interviews and during the debates. He is not afraid to tell it the way he sees it, and this is a much needed characteristic to have in a board member. As with the other three candidates, he has concerns about the Learning for All Plan and the lack of data to support what is currently happening in the classrooms; however, we have gleaned his position to be that he does not oppose more inclusive classrooms as long as they do not diminish the educational opportunities for any of our students. Mr. Czerwiec has been a teacher and understands the role of teachers as the front line soldiers educating our children. We believe that if elected, his educational background, honesty and open mindedness will allow him to work collaboratively with his fellow board members and administrators to insist that performance data be analyzed and presented to the BOE before any more phases of the Learning for All Plan are rolled out.
Mr. Czerwiec has presented his ideas and concerns on capital improvements relating to our schools to the BOE for over 5 years. Those who have followed the history of improvements at Hinsdale Middle School know that years ago, when the BOE was selecting a vendor to install central air conditioning at HMS, he correctly forecasted some of the structural issues the building could face if the job wasn't done correctly. Many of his concerns came to fruition last winter during "moldgate." His astuteness and desire to thoroughly vet all capital improvement options before taking anything to referendum is exactly the kind of fiscally conservative approach we want our board members to take.
We, the bloggers, have been attending or listening to BOE meetings for over a decade. We have become quite familiar with the parents who regularly attend them, make public comments, and keep parents who don't attend informed. Mr. Giltner "joined the party," so to speak, about six months ago. We have been extremely impressed with how quickly he has grasped the multitude of issues that have enveloped the Learning for All Plan roll out and his common sense approach to evaluating it. The answers Mr. Giltner gave during the debates convinced us that not only has he recognized, as the other candidates we are endorsing, the need for student performance data to be analyzed and the program's success be measured with concrete data, he has also recognized that we cannot lose sight of our student's next educational step -- high school. He has identified legitimate, real world realities, that our children will face the minute they get to high school, and are no longer taught with the integrated services model that is currently being rolled out in D181. Instead, he has pointed out that in high school, there are multiple tiers of classes, from regular grade level classes, honors and AP classes, just as there are multiple tiers for sports, and other activities our children are involved in. We look forward to a board member who will talk candidly about the "real world" and hopefully make this part of the discussion as the new BOE decides whether or not to continue the Learning For All Plan roll out as has recently been proposed.
Mr. Giltner's financial background will also serve our taxpayers well. He should have no learning curve in understand the district's budget, budgeting process or tax levy process, and we hope that he steps onto the finance committee as one of the two board committee members.
Ms. Gray has been an extremely active parent, PTO and district level volunteer during the eight years she has lived in D181. Time and again, she has shown her commitment toward improving the educational experiences for all of our children. We have seen and heard her speak during public comment at Board Meetings for over two years and she has always presented her comments in a calm, professional manner, backing them up with facts and asking -- not telling-- the BOE and Administration to please make data-driven and fiscally responsible decisions. She has asked for the district to consider implementing full-day kindergarten for our students, something that Dr. White has also now identified as an issue that should be explored. Ms. Gray successfully started a petition that led to smaller class sizes at Monroe School. As a concerned parent, she advocated for equitable distribution of differentiation specialists at our schools. In the past, each school had one gifted teacher assigned to it regardless of size, but when their role was converted to that of differentiation specialists, Ms. Gray advocated for a different approach to assigning the differentiation specialists at each school based upon actual student population and the specific student needs at each school.
Ms. Gray has had first hand knowledge of the impact on students of the Learning for All Plan. One of her children was in the 3rd grade class that was forced to participate in the math compacting and acceleration for all component of the Learning For All Plan. Ms. Gray not only presented her concerns during public comment about the negative impact the compacting was having on students who needed grade level math instruction, but she also worked behind the scenes, meeting collaboratively with the administration to bring back grade level instruction. Now, math compacting for all has been eliminated from the Learning For All Plan at the elementary level. Ms. Gray, however, has publicly stated that student performance data must be collected, analyzed and reported to the BOE in order for them to be able to assess the success of all aspects of the Learning For All Plan over the last three years. We agree.
Ms. Gray's legal training and experiences give her the necessary analytical skills to objectively evaluate issues and decisions the board will be asked to make in the next four years. Her past legal work on tax matters establishes that she has a working understanding of the tax laws and will be able to jump right into the budgeting and tax levy process without first having to educate herself on the how to's. The district is facing possible cuts in state funding and with a possible capital improvement referendum looming, Ms. Gray's answers to financial questions have established that she will not be a tax and spend board member. Rather she will show fiscal restraint and make the interests of all taxpayers one of her priorities, while balancing the need to improve the educational programs for our students.
Burns, Czerwiec, Giltner and Gray are the four candidates who will collectively bring to the board table over 30 years of active volunteer involvement in D181, advocacy for ALL of our children's educational needs and a stated intent to remain fiscally conservative and responsible to all taxpayers. If elected, we have no doubt that they will be responsible board members, who come prepared to all meetings, well versed in the agenda items and ready to have meaningful, open discussions that the public can hear.
In addition to all of the collective and individual reasons we have given above for why we will vote for these 4 candidates on April 7th, we saved the best for last:
All four candidates have publicly acknowledged that what has been sorely lacking in D181 is a proper forum for parents to present their concerns on educational and district matters that affect and impact all students and taxpayers. Some have stated that the community engagement sessions offered in the past did not provide a real opportunity for community members to engage in a back and forth exchange of ideas. It is no secret that public comments are one way exchanges and questions community members ask during public comment are almost never addressed by an administrator or board member. Nor is it a secret that only two board members, Heneghan and Garg, take the time to answer emails community members send to the board. Nor is it a secret that very few parents are selected to work on district wide committees. Finally, the "surveys" parents have been asked to complete on a variety of issues, have been very limited, and in our opinion skewed with questions that will lead to the answers the administration is seeking. What is needed is a regular open forum, such as a town hall meeting, for all interested community members, staff members and taxpayer to participate in an open exchange of ideas. More importantly, a forum where parents can feel empowered because others are in attendance and where there is no fear of repercussion for speaking openly. These four candidates have either publicly supported holding town hall meetings, or based upon the answers they have given in interviews and during the debates, we believe would agree to such a forum if elected. We fully support such an idea, and hey, wouldn't it be nice if open, town hall meetings, would obviate the need for this blog?
So, on April 7th, don't forget to vote. In fact, you can still cast an early vote before leaving for spring break. On April 7th, vote for the candidates that you believe have the best understanding of the issues, will not take one to two years to get up to speed (as one of the candidates has suggested is the usual time frame), will serve all of our community and students in a fiscally responsible manner with the end goal being (as it should be) providing excellence in educational programs for ALL OF OUR CHILDREN.
On April 7th we will cast our votes for Burns, Czerwiec, Giltner and Gray, and we hope you do too!