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Some thoughts on the D97 school board race...

Even as an active, informed citizen, last night's school board candidate forum was like watching paint dry. But I'm glad I went! I wasn't there to support anybody since I've never met any of them--just listen to the viewpoints and decide who I want to vote for in April. With 10 candidates to choose from and only 4 open slots, it was tough to sit and listen to all the various positions on the 4 questions that were asked. Each person got 2 minutes to briefly answer each pre-selected question. So the whole thing took nearly 2 hours. I would have liked to ask my own questions, but with so many candidates it was impossible to decide at the end who I wanted to corner for a chat. (There are more forums before the election.)

I had my mind changed about a couple of people. And, even if I didn't really get my most-pressing topics addressed, I did get a nice overview of who is capable of doing the job. The good news is you could almost randomly pick a name in the voting booth. All 10 candidates are smart, know the issues, and would bring something to the board table. I'm sure none of them anticipated being in such a contested race considering that the race for village trustee is uncontested. Given the amount of our taxes controlled by the schools here, I suppose it's not so surprising that there is the level of interest. Better than the alternative.

I'm not really sure why anybody would want to have the District 97 school board position. Both it and the high school district come with serious challenges. Not the least of which is the state's budget crisis that may change how districts are awarded funding. The first task for the new D97 board members will be to hire a superintendent. Plus, in 2017 we're going to need another referendum in front of voters--sure to be controversial. Such is the state of affairs in the schools these days. All the candidates mentioned an interest in using data to make decisions and I'm a huge fan of data myself. But I wanted to ask them their opinion of the new opt-out bill (which I favor) in the state legislature that would allow parents to pull their kids from some assessments. Certainly throws off some of the data love. As much as I'm pro-technology and usually pro-"quant," I maybe have some reservations about reducing our children and school system to numbers. Educating children is about more than just what the data says. Evidence-based policy is great...until it isn't holistic enough.

Anyway, our schools need air conditioning and upgrades, the use of technology like iPads is a hotly contested idea, we have an achievement gap where income is tied to school performance, etc.. The nice thing to hear was that several of the candidates specifically mentioned Early Intervention, early childhood education, and special education...topics important to our family, obviously, with a next-year kindergarten student who has gone from delayed to having no need for help in just a couple of years. And nearly everyone emphasized communication skills and the need to listen to multiple opinions in the future. Making tough decisions without alienating half your population is something we're struggling with as a nation, but when we're talking about our children people get especially touchy.

Then there are the teachers. They make up most of the operating costs. They need more support. They need more respect. They need to be the source of new ideas and the base for everything done in the district. They're the ones in the classroom with the students each day and they're most in touch with families. They're also the ones given the task of implementing board/admin policy...good or bad.

We live in a diverse community and one of the things I was most happy to see last night was our diversity reflected in the candidates themselves. Different races, a mix of men and women, a mix of professions, and a mix of new and longtime residents. About the only diversity missing, maybe, is I'd like to see some younger people.

As I sat and listened, it was a tough decision. I selected the 4 people I'm leaning towards in my head, but it was really a process of eliminating. A few candidates I liked "most-but-not-all" of what they were saying. Or someone would say something that really hit home for me but they were less articulate on other matters. It was pointed out that we're blessed as a village to have this kind of election campaign and we really are. When you're able to nitpick among a variety of well-informed and intelligent people for who will best represent you, that's democracy working at its best.

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