Neil Samuels: Candidate Profile
Naperville Unit District 203 School Board (4-year Terms)
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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.
Office sought: Naperville Unit District 203 School Board (4-year Terms)
Family: Married to my wife Jill, for 25 years One son, Lex, a Senior at NNHS
Occupation: President of Profound Conversations, Inc. a consulting company specializing in organizational change and leadership development.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Geology, Ohio University, 1976 Master of Science in Geology, University of Cincinnati, 1979 Master of Science in Organization Development, Pepperdine University, 1999
Civic involvement: District 203 Outstanding Volunteer, 2009 Volunteer Parent Mentor, Project HELP, 2011-Current Member of the Naperville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors: Congregation Beth Shalom, 2007-2009
Elected offices held: None
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Increase the school board's engagement with the community: The board and district administrative staff could be more effective by increasing their level of engagement and transparency with the community. In 203, we have a broad group of stakeholders including students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents, businesses, retirees, etc., all of whom matter. These groups sometimes have conflicting wants and needs. The key to success is finding new ways to more fully engage with everyone early and often so that people know that their voices were heard, their perspectives valued, and their input considered. I know this works because I have developed such approaches during my twenty-three years consulting on organizational change with businesses, non-profits and education.
Key Issue 2
Effective and efficient use of resources: We must maintain our district's strong financial position so that we can continue to provide the high value education for which we are known. A recent article in the Tribune cited one of our high schools among the top performing in the State. Of the 15 schools noted, we had the lowest spend per pupil. That is only one measure but still a clear indication of efficient spending. That should be welcome news for those of us with children in school. And for the approximately 60% of our community without children currently in school, who know that our schools are a big driver of housing prices AND want to keep their taxes reasonable, we must continue wisely managing all of our resources.
Key Issue 3
Successfully implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): I believe that successfully implementing CCSS will affect every student in our schools, every family in our community and nearly every aspect of our operations. Kathy Birkett, Superintendent of District 204 got my attention when she said; "CCSS is the biggest change in education in my 34 years in education- on par with the invention of the printing press." As someone who has spent over twenty years helping organizations deal with transformation, I know what it will take for us to successfully manage this complex change; engage broadly with our community, build on our strengths, and act quickly and adapt.
The school board has struggled with major issues such as boundary changes and implementing all-day kindergarten. How can the board improve its process of addressing such major undertakings and how will you specifically help it succeed?
I believe that the board can greatly improve its process of addressing significant issues by expanding its (and the administration?s) engagement with our community. It is important to create more frequent and innovative opportunities for true dialogue with all stakeholders including students, teachers, staff, parents, retirees, etc. before decisions are made. When this is done well, people feel the process is fair. They know that their voices were heard, their perspectives valued, and their input considered. Bringing people along through the entire process leads to smoother and faster implementation after decisions are made. As an example, at Naperville North High School, I consulted as a volunteer on a project with the Student Services department in which Principal Pobst wanted student involvement. At the culmination of that work, we engaged over 100 students, staff, teachers and parents in a one-day, highly energetic and innovative session on Creating the Guidance Office of the Future. This highly inclusive meeting set the stage for significant positive change in the department. I was awarded the District 203 Outstanding Volunteer Award for this work.
What in-the-classroom change would you like the district to make?
Teachers and students are the most knowledgeable stakeholders when talking about in-the-classroom change. Therefore, any changes should be made only with their input. One big change we will see is a new teacher evaluation system as required by state legislation. I would like to see the district research how we could incorporate student input into this system. As a seasoned professional in organizational and personal development, including evaluation systems, I know the impact that high-quality feedback can have when it comes from those most knowledgeable of performance. Test scores can and will continue to play a significant role in evaluating teachers. However, Test scores can reveal when kids are not learning; they can't reveal why. They might make teachers relax or despair?but they can't help teachers improve.? (Amanda Ripley, Why Kids Should Grade Teachers; The Atlantic; October, 2012) Student input, via a survey tool, could provide this necessary piece. Ripley tells a compelling story of the evolution of such a tool over the past decade to its effective use in a number of school districts around the country. This is NOT a measure of popularity or ease in getting anA?; it does not ask; Do you like your teacher? Or Is your teacher nice? But instead focuses on how students experienced the classroom every day. Before jumping on the student survey bandwagon, we must ensure that the system is fair, transparent and rigorous. But getting robust, valid and timely data from the core group of stakeholders in our education system, our students, seems like an idea worth pursuing.
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 believe that successfully implementing CCSS will affect every student in our schools, every family in our community and nearly every aspect of our operations. As someone who has spent over twenty years helping organizations deal with transformation, I know what it will take for us to be successful. As to the board's role, CCSS presents our District with an incredible opportunity to build on our foundation of strengths. We, and the administration, should be engaging broadly with the community helping them understand what is changing and why. We can help others see the possibilities CCSS creates for our students and get everyone actively committed to its success. We can also ensure that we leverage the work of others outside Illinois to save development time and cost. In addition, we can support the creation of pilot programs and prototypes so that we can learn quickly and adjust rapidly. As for curriculum, the board clearly has a role to play, but at a high level. That is, ensuring that the recommended changes demonstrably support our mission more effectively than what they are replacing.
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 believe our district does an outstanding job of helping students manage transitions and with implementation of the new Common Core, it has the potential to get even better. My son's move from Mill Street to Jefferson and then to NNHS was exceptionally easy and other parents have shared similar sentiments. The guided visits to the next level school were great anxiety reducers (for all of us). And the incredible range of activities offered at our high schools ensure all students can find at least one group of like-minded kids with which to start the year. Our district is fortunate to be able to offer such a variety of sponsored activities. Of course, it is incumbent on the students (and their parents) to get involved. I was even more impressed with the support for the college transition. Between the teachers, guidance counselor, public forums, and on-line resources, our son (and we) felt very well prepared. We will have to wait to see how well he actually makes the transition to University but we are confident it will go smoothly. Successful implementation of the CCSS should make the transitions even smoother not only for our college-bound students, but also for our non-traditional learners and our students going directly into careers. Because the CCSS (with 45 states participating) is a de facto national standard, we will have valid data with which to measure ourselves against true benchmarks and more quickly adjust to ensure we maintain our high performance in getting our kids college ready. The increased use of technology in creative ways will be an aid for those non-traditional learners who often struggle most at transition points. Embedding new technology into the curriculum will also make it easier for those who go directly into the full-time employment, as they will have already been exposed to much of what is expected in the work place.
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 district faces three significant financial issues: 1) uncertain state funding of education; 2) phasing in the forward costs for teacher's pensions into school districts budgets; and 3) providing value to our tax payers. We must be prepared to deal with all three so that we maintain our district's strong financial position allowing us to continue providing the high value education for which we are known. It is difficult to predict the future of state funding and the decision on pension reform, but we can be prepared. Continued fiscal responsibility and scenario planning will be critical. Scenario planning would involve the Board reviewing a number of different possible futures that would be created with diverse input (legislators, lobbyists, etc.) withbest guess? likelihoods for each. In addition, we would discuss the signs, milestones, or signals that we should watch for that would indicate which scenario seems to be playing out. This would let us anticipate changes and guide us in making the most responsible decision possible at the time. A more immediate issue is the decision on the levy increase. The Citizen's Finance Committee has recommended the board consider increasing the levy 2% of the 3% allowed. Until I have a fuller understanding of all of the potential demands for funding over the next 3-5 years, and can see those in the context of different scenarios as described above, it is difficult to make an informed decision. If that work and the robust discussion of it indicate that we can do everything we deem necessary to fulfill our mission with a 2% levy, I am all in favor of it. Like most people in out community, I want to keep as much of my money as possible AND keep our schools a benchmark in the state.
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