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updated: 2/22/2013 6:05 PM

Donna Smith: Candidate Profile

Elgin-Area Unit 46 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.

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BioKey IssuesQ&A

 

Bio

City: Hanover Park

Website: Candidate did not respond.

Office sought: Elgin-Area Unit 46 School Board (4-year Terms)

Age: 55

Family: Married, three children, one grandchild

Occupation: Operations Manager - Trucking Industry

Education: Candidate did not respond.

Civic involvement: Candidate did not respond.

Elected offices held: Board of Education 2001-2013

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

Student Achievement Our goals of Destination 2015 help us to see how we are doing on Student Achievement. This document includes goals such as % of students reading at certain grade levels, career readiness, attendance, graduation rates, and others. We are seeing very good progress in some areas, and not so much in others. By monitoring this data we have a clear picture of the progress we are making and know where we may need to focus our attention. To meet those goals we must continue to look at our curriculum to insure that it will help us meet those goals. Instructional Council is an ongoing committee that advises and makes recommendations on major instructional and curricular initiatives. Professional Development for teachers is another very important part. Time is always the challenge with this. We have programs after school, in the summer, non-attendance days, and we have even had release days in the past. It is also very important that we continue to provide students with opportunities & supports to insure their success as a student. Some examples of this from the past year alone are: Due to increased interest, we now have 16 sites (up from 7) that provide the 2-Way Dual Language Program Increased number of students and class offerings for AP which has resulted in many more students qualifying for college credits We have 200 more students in our Pre-K program which helps them to be better prepared when entering Kindergarten The expansion of the AVID program is now able to serve students in Grades 7-12, this gives those students the extra support they may need to take and succeed in higher level classes.

Key Issue 2

Collaboration We have many committees in place that include representation of many groups of our school community. One example would be CAC. CAC is a committee that includes parents & community members who provide us with input and make recommendations in many areas. A second example would be our Transformation Task Force which is charged with the Task of looking at the school day to provide a more effective and efficient day for teaching and learning. Another would be our Health Insurance Committee. This committee insures that we as a district can provide the best possible coverage for our employees while also keeping costs reasonable. Once recommendations come to the Board from one of these committees, Board Members must take into account the needs & desires of multiple groups. It is the role of a Board Member to weigh and consider the various and sometimes conflicting views of multiple groups, along with their own knowledge and views, to insure the highest quality of education for the community. I first ran for the Board with this in mind. I believed then and continue to believe now that it is very important to work with all groups, administration, teachers, parents, support staff, students, and the community to obtain the best results for our students.

Key Issue 3

Finances Although there are many things that I would like to see happen, for example, lower class sizes, we must balance that with our finances. We struggle with this constantly. Several years ago when funding was reduced and the economy was taking a downward turn, we were forced to make deep cuts to balance our budget. We tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. However, when over 85% of our budget is personnel, every cut affects our students and staff in some way. We are slowly, as finances permit, trying to rebuild what worked and add what is needed. We are working very hard to do more with less. In the past year we have successfully negotiated 5 contracts with our unions that I believe are fair to our employees and also allow us to continue to improve our services for students. Contracts include pay increases that are in line with the district's revenues. The Teacher's Contract includes teacher collaboration time and in the Transportation Contract we will be packaging routes more efficiently which will reduce costs. Our Health Insurance committee has continued to keep our costs for coverage at a reasonable amount while providing the best coverage possible. Although we are in difficult financial times, we have continued to keep our students needs as our priority while at the same time having a balanced budget.

Questions & Answers

With the racial discrimination lawsuit set to wrap up as early as February, do you think the district needs to do anything differently when it comes to addressing diversity in and among the schools?

As a sitting Board Member who is involved in this lawsuit I do not believe that this will bewrapping up? as early as February. Our attorneys are projecting that it may be more like mid-summer. We, the Board, have said throughout the lawsuit that we will continue to make our decisions based upon the best interests of all students and not let the lawsuit keep us from doing what is right for them. Our focus has beenAcademic Success for All? and by ALL we do mean ALL.

What do you think about the district's response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School? How is the district on safety, more generally?

I believe our response to Sandy Hook was appropriate. Our District Safety Coordinator, John Heiderscheidt, was aware of and following this very closely, keeping in mind procedures we have in place and if any additional security could have prevented or lessened the tragedy of that day. He was also in contact with our buildings in case any extra support may have been needed. Dr. Torres also set out e-mails to help to keep a sense of calm in the mist of this tragedy. Safety is of such high importance in U-46 that we do have a position, District Safety Coordinator, which focuses solely on the safety and security of our students and staff. I was a part of the Board that in 2005/2006 had serious discussions which ultimately resulted in the creation of this position. Before then we did have an administrator in charge of school safety along with other duties. Each school was responsible for their own Safety & Security Plans. Principles worked with their local emergency responders and there were only some efforts coordinated between the district and the schools. We were one of the first districts to put this position in place and we continue to be in the forefront in our efforts. Since then other districts are following our lead. This cannot be done by us alone. Mr. Heiderscheidt works with U-46 Employees, Police Departments, Fire Departments, community members, governmental leaders, social service networks, parents, and students to insure that schools are safe & secure. *Safety and security standards and crisis response plans have been developed and implemented and are continually reviewed. *Our employees are being trained on an ongoing basis in CPI to calmly handle situations which could potentially escalate to a more serious situation. *We have Reciprocal Reporting Agreements in place with all of our Police Departments and we are notified by them if there are offences in the community that may impact the safety in our schools. I could go on and on with the initiatives we have put in place. Please visit the U-46 website @ www.u-46.org, District Information, School Safety to see all of the reports and initiatives we have developed to keep our schools safe.

What do you think about the district's progress in getting more students to take AP classes and succeed on AP exams? Do you think it's a good strategy to urge more students into those types of classes?

The progress we have made in getting more students to take AP Classes and succeed on the AP Tests is excellent. I believe that it is a good strategy to urge more students to take these classes. These classes may be challenging for many students, however if they are willing to work hard, they could not only benefit from what they learn in these classes, they can also qualify for college credits. I believe that the only way a student will ever reach their full potential in anything is for them to challenge themselves. AP Classes is one example of an opportunity students have to do that.

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, although a mandate, it does give us common standards to discuss and evaluate our curriculum and instruction on. Common Core Standards are designed so that the knowledge and skills that a student should have and when they have them are consistent from state to state and even with other countries. The role of the board should not be to develop or set the curriculum. We have teachers and administrators working together on this implementation. We have representation from many of the committees we already have in place in the room. For example, there is representation from Instructional Council, Special Ed Council, Transformation Task Force, Staff Development, and others. As a Board Member, I believe, my role is to understand what Common Core is, how we are progressing in meeting the goals and benchmarks of the Standards, and ask questions to insure our curriculum and instruction are aligned to the Standards.

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 am somewhat satisfied that we are preparing students for the next stages of their lives. That being said, I believe that we are doing a very good job of offering opportunities to students whose next stage is college, trade school, and even full-time employment. Some examples would be, our High School Academies, Career and Technology Education, SWAS, AP Classes, AVID, and 2-Way Dual Language. Where I believe we are struggling is with students who fall behind or come to us behind grade level. We do have many types of supports in place and we are identifying those students and giving them the extra support that they may need. We have also increased our Pre-K program in order to help better prepare our students for Kindergarten. We are making great progress at some levels and not as much at others. We need to focus on the areas which need addressing while also keeping the momentum going in the areas we are doing well in.

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