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Article updated: 3/7/2013 6:26 PM

U-46 school board candidates bring big ideas to the race

By Tara García Mathewson

An independent ombudsman office to resolve complaints in Elgin Area School District U-46; required multicultural training for administrators, teachers and students; more local control in education.

Candidates running for the U-46 school board have big ideas for the future of the second largest district in the state. The race brings five challengers and one incumbent to fill three open seats.

The ombudsman office idea is Veronica Noland's. Noland is a first time school board candidate but her involvement in the district is broad. She serves as the PTO vice president at Channing Elementary School, a member of the U-46 Citizens Advisory Council on the special education and finance committees and she is a graduate of the U-46 Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute.

Noland said the ombudsman would be an independent official, trained in mediation, who could provide a place to turn for parents who feel their complaints have fallen on deaf ears within the district.

"We spend too much on litigation and we need to spend more on resolution," Noland said.

An idea for multicultural training comes from Linda Campos-Moreira, an admissions coordinator at Elgin Community College. She said the training would help students interact with each other and help teachers understand and reach their students. It would also equip administrators to deal with any issues that arise among their staffs, Campos-Moreira said.

Frank Napolitano, a Bartlett trustee running for school board instead of another term on the village board, said the district needs to claim more local control of the education process from the state and federal governments.

"We need to see a change where we are willing to say no if it doesn't make sense in U-46," Napolitano said.

Gary Percy, a member of the U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council and three-time school board candidate, said the district is leaning too far left. He said overall U-46 is heading in the wrong direction and he wants to be on the board to better shape its future. Percy also wants to improve communication between parents, the community and the district -- a goal of Noland and Napolitano as well.

Andrew Giggey, a senior at South Elgin High School, wants to give students more representation on the school board. He thinks the biggest threat to students in U-46 high schools is drug use rather than violence. Giggey said his perspective will provide valuable insight beyond what student members give during one-year terms.

Donna Smith, incumbent board president, thinks the district is on the right track, moving in a direction she helped set and would like to stay involved with.

"I've always looked at the big picture, I've always focused on students," Smith said. "I'm going to continue to focus on students and staff and making progress."

The candidates will face off in their first of several debates during the Citizens Advisory Council meeting at 7 p.m. March 14 in the Elgin High School library, 1200 Maroon Drive.

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