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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Website: http://www.vasavichakka.com (should be available shortly)
Office sought: Indian Prairie Unit District 204 School Board (4-year Terms)
Family: Married to Sudhakar for 26 years 2 children, daughter Siri(23), and son Prahith(18)
Occupation: Sr. IT Project Manager at ATOS/Siemens IT Solutions
Education: Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Master of Arts in Literature from India. Professional development in Computer Information Systems from New York State University, Leadership and Business Management from University of Houston, PMP certification from PMI.
Civic involvement: PTSA President at Neuqua Valley High School (2011-2012) IPPC Reflections Chair at Neuqua Valley High School Volunteer at many School/PTA/PTSA events.(i.e Neuqua Band concerts/Mother and Son Brunch/Teachers&Staff Appreciation lunch) Volunteer at local community technical and cultural events. Volunteer teacher at Chinmaya Mission School of Vedantic Studies (an International Spiritual Educational institute) to help young children build character and leadership skills. (2005-present) Conducted several youth leadership and empowerment talks in different countries in 3 continents. Taught Junior Achievement programs in middle schools, bringing real life work experiences to students. Project manager for Chinmaya Mission Chicago National Summer Youth Camp 2009. Volunteer at Feed My Hungry children. Committee Member and core volunteer at PanIIT 2009 Global Conference. Volunteer, ThinkGlobal Arts Foundation's Celebrations of Peace.2009-2011. Advocate of Parents Diversity Advisory Council. Supporter of Susan G. Komen for cure Breast Cancer research. Volunteer at STEM group events in D204. Volunteer at MATHCOUNTS programs in D204. Science Fair Judge in D204 since 2006-Present. Facilitated talk on Business Innovation and 21st Century skills at NEUQUA. Supporter of Social and Emotional learning programs.
Elected offices held: Neuqua Valley High school PTSA President.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Strengthen the Academics and narrow the achievement gap of every child in District 204: We must maintain the great strides our District 204 already made in academic achievement in the areas of English and Math. In parallel, we must continue to maintain our focus on improvements in Science, Technology, and Innovation which will help our children with the must-to-have 21st century skills by further strengthening our academics, and narrowing the achievement gap for all our children. We must ensure that our students are equipped with the essential tools to develop 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and technology. It needs teamwork, dedication and great communication efforts. I am not only a leader but also a team player and a good listener, and always prefer to be part of a solution to help betterment of our children's education because Education Matters in order to secure our kids? future and drive them to succeed on global platform.
Key Issue 2
District 204 current financial health and fiscal Responsibility: I am concerned about our District 204 current financial health, and about the continuously increasing fiscal Responsibility on the Board as well. When it comes to investing in our children's education the School Board Members should be responsible stewards to our taxpayers in the community. As the budget crisis continues, the State continues to shift the financial burden to the school Districts. Our need to meet the state mandates and our investments in technology will increase the financial burden on the District as well. So far the 204 District has done a phenomenal job by diligently making cuts only to the areas which do not affect the children's learning by trying to stay as far away from the classroom as possible. In order to prevent any possible future impact on our children's education we must come up with innovative solutions to address our fiscal issues. We can engage and tap our local businesses and the private sector within our community to partner with our school district to help provide innovative ideas and practical solutions. My 18+ years of business and operational process improvement experience prove my value to the board in identifying and leveraging these opportunities.
Key Issue 3
Community partnership: We must engage the Community. Active partnership with community presents many opportunities for improvement. Our district currently has about 29,000 students. About 80,000 active voters live in the District 204 area. Ironically, only a small fraction of this community attend the school board meetings. The upcoming educational reforms will be challenging to students, teachers, parents, administration, and the School Board. For the new standard curriculum and assessment measure to be implemented successfully the community needs to be educated and it is only possible through proactive partnership. District 204 community has a highly diverse population. It is a tremendous challenge for the 7 school board members to anticipate many of the issues that parents are concerned about. In order to represent the vast interests of such a diverse community, having an active communication strategy through various parental organizations (PTA, PTSA, PDAC, BDAC and IPPC) is absolutely essential. I will work towards this goal to strengthen the partnership with the community to the next level.
What do you think about the shift to the common core standards? How big a role do you think the board of education should play in setting the curriculum for students and what ideas do you have for changes to the current curriculum?
I think any education reform such as a positive shift to the common core standards which will greatly benefit our children and community in the aspect of global competitiveness is essential to our nation. The common core standards(for English and Math)are aligned with international standards from the highest achieving countries. This means these standards offer 21st century skills for 21st century jobs so our students will be well prepared to compete both nationally and internationally. When implemented efficiently, these will prepare each student for success in college, work, and community. There will be some challenges for students and for teachers as the transition is completed, but it's ultimately where our students nationwide must go to be competitive in the 21st century global marketplace. The role of school boards is to support the design and implementation process for the common core standards in their district. The Board must establish structure and discipline to develop and adopt policies to accomplish goals for transitioning to the new curriculum. They must set budget priorities necessary to assist in the transition to common core standards, with aligned curriculum, appropriate instructional materials, and professional development. The Board must ensure accountability of district plans by monitoring and assisting to drive progress toward successful implementation of the new standards. It is important for the Board to evaluate the effectiveness of its own policies and other operational efforts to achieve strategic goals and success indicators related to common core standards implementation. As envoys within the community, the Board needs to work hand-in-hand as partners with district, parent, and school leaders. School board members are key contributors to the success of common core implementation. Shifts in common core standards will also be influencing other subjects like social studies, science, and technology. However, the now stressed skills of critical thinking and creative problem solving in English and mathematics serve a unique lateral increase in learning potential for all subjects. Therefore, we must identify the existing strengths in our current curriculum and future needs, and try to apply the best practices from the common core standards to these subjects in order to make these more effective.
How satisfied are you that your district is preparing students for the next stage in their lives, whether it be from elementary into high school or high school into college or full-time employment? What changes, if any, do you think need to be made?
I can only speak from my own experience. Since moving to Naperville in 2004, my husband Sudhakar and I have had the privilege of seeing our daughter Siri (?07) and son Prahith (?12) graduate from Neuqua Valley High School and go on to successful college and professional careers. With the solid schooling offered to them, they both developed great communication and collaborative skills. They lead their everyday life by example demonstrating their leadership serving community. My daughter mentors young adults, and my son tutors math and mentors school children. This has only been possible because of the strong foundation our school system provided them. We did, however, face some challenges in order to provide these learning opportunities, specifically in math, science and technology. I would like to see the same growth and academic achievement for every child in this community. Since then D204 has adopted many good practices to help children achieve their fullest potential. However these practices need to be sustained and also must be competitive enough for the children to compete in the global workforce. D204 took a quantum leap by adopting new common core standards to provide our children a practical way to prepare for the challenges of a constantly changing world to enable learning step-by-step, the real-world skills they need for careers and college. As I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, the common core standards offer 21st century skills (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) for 21st century jobs so our students will be well prepared to compete both nationally and internationally. The area which I believe the district has the biggest opportunity to improve is preparation for the PSAT. While many east coast students are thoroughly prepped on the importance of the PSAT exam, many district 204 high school students do not know the importance of this particular, optional standardized exam. While teaching at the high school level should not be geared primarily towards standardized tests, we must acknowledge that the PSAT exam allows for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships that IPSD students are missing out on. Current preparation for the stressed optional exam consists merely of a practice test with answers. The PSAT exam is based on a similar structure to the SAT and not the ACT, thus many Illinois students tend to display lower averages than other parts of the country. District 204 can take advantage of this lower threshold and enable our children to get more scholarships.
What budget issues will your district have to confront and what measures do you support to address them? If you believe cuts are necessary, what programs and expenses should be reduced or eliminated? On the income side, do you support any tax increases?
The past several years have seen nearly $1 billion in state cuts to the K-12 education budget; these are cuts that have challenged the education board's fundamental mission to ensure every child is prepared to succeed in college and the workforce. As a result of this, District 204 had to cut $39 million from the operating budget in order to maintain a balanced budget. This had been done with maximum efforts to minimize the impact to our students. The budget crisis still continues as Illinois has continued to shift the financial burdens on districts. The state owed funding of $5 million are still pending. Our need to meet state mandates and investments in technology will increase the financial burden on the district as well. So far the 204 district has done a phenomenal job by diligently making cuts only to the areas which do not affect the children's learning by trying to stay as far away from the classroom as possible. The district had forecasted on operational funds for FY2013-2015. The total projected expenditure is expected to be between $286.6 M -$300.6M, and in FY 2014, the projected expenditure may surpass the forecasted revenues of $293.7M by $1.2M. According to this estimate the district might be looking at some minimal budget cuts to balance operating funds for FY2013-2015. However the district is still waiting on ISBE budget recommendations and the state budget. Subsequently, based on district administration's recommended fund balancing options, the school board may have to make some difficult decisions. When making budget cuts we must keep the best interest of our children's education in mind. Hence the 204 administrators and the board need to continue to work hard to come up with innovative ways to use cost effective methods. We need to be creative when we have to do more with less. Because of the size of this deficit, I believe the best solution is to eliminate waste from various budgets. In Neuqua Valley High School, a group of students performed an energy audit and found thousands of dollars in savings from our energy bill alone. We should never underestimate the power of our students. Additional cuts in teachers would only hurt students exponentially. Additionally, we can tap our local businesses and the private sector within our community to partner with the school district to provide innovative ideas and practical solutions. My 18+ years of business and operational process improvement experience prove my value to the board in identifying and leveraging these opportunities. If we implement more effective cost efficiency practices, then we may able to manage our financials with the existing tax rates.
As contract talks come up with various school employee groups, do you believe the district should ask for concessions from its employees, expect employee costs to stay about the same as they are now or provide increases in pay or benefits?
District 204 has amazing teachers, whose dedication and hard work enabled us to see significant growth in academic achievement. However due to budget crisis in the nation and more specifically the state, there were cost reductions that created challenges to the teaching staff and the administration including increased class sizes, elimination of numerous certified positions, and frozen staff salaries and stipends. Administrators had to contribute towards their benefits. Even under tough times like these, the Board, the administration, and the teaching staff have all been working collaboratively as one team to secure our children's academic achievement. This partnership will only survive through mutual respect and trust. Keeping this in mind, it should be in the decision makers? best interest to try to retain experienced and talented staff, and also attract and maintain the best teachers by cultivating a proactive culture and collaborative working environment. This requires continuous training, competitive pay and benefits, and performance incentives. At the same time, District 204 should also continue to work towards an industry standard teacher evaluation system to maintain the skilled staff. If the school board and Administrators dedicate enough time and energy into eliminating waste from the budget, there should be no talk about reducing staff and benefits. If all these best practices are implemented effectively the staff will be motivated to go the extra mile.
If your district had a superintendent or other administrator nearing retirement, would you support a substantial increase in his or her pay to help boost pension benefits? Why or why not?
I believe in recognizing and rewarding performance that is measurable. I would support merit increases that are based on outstanding performance but within the means of the District. I do not support any automatic merit increases which are not related to performance or significant achievement.