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Article updated: 3/11/2013 10:23 AM

Wheeling Dist. 21 candidates say budget, technology among top priorities

By Jessica Cilella

The five candidates running for four open spots on the Wheeling District 21 school board agree that fiscal responsibility and technology are among their top priorities.

During a recent endorsement interview with the Daily Herald, some candidates also stressed the importance of good communication with parents and maintaining good relationships with teachers.

Kelly Beerheide, 39, is the only candidate without any political experience. She has two children who currently attend District 21 schools, with one more starting this fall. Beerheide said she wants to be part of the board so she can give back to the community.

Her top priority is to see more technology in the classroom. She would like to see students have more computer lab time and thinks the time in the lab could be used differently.

"Just handing somebody a tablet is not the solution. What are we doing about keyboarding? How are we physically teaching them how to use the equipment appropriately in the classroom so they can be well prepared? How do you research on it?" she said.

"I think it's also the education of the teachers, how to best use this technology,"

Beerheide is also concerned about ensuring funding for the district and keeping class sizes reasonable.

Arlen Gould, 67, was first elected to the board in 1993 and has served as board president in the past.

His top priority is making sure all students -- whether they are gifted or have special needs or limited English proficiency -- are being challenged appropriately. He also is mindful of keeping a balanced budget and maintaining collaborative relations with teachers.

"We're partners in this," he said, referring to upcoming teacher contract negotiations in June.

Gould added that he wants to continue "the exceptional level of respect that board members have had for each other" during his time on the board.

"There's never been a time when, unlike other public bodies in the area that will remain unnamed, where there's been degradation of individuals at board meetings," he said. "It's not our culture."

Phil Pritzker, 59, has been on the board since 1989, making him the longest-serving board member in district history. He is a past board president and currently serves as vice president. In addition, he represents northern Cook County on the board of directors for the Illinois Association of School Boards.

Pritzker said one of the main reasons he decided to run for a seventh term is to help new Superintendent Kate Hyland.

"I think it's helpful for a new person -- even though she's been in the district for almost 10 years -- to have experience at the board level to help in that transition," he said.

Pritzker said maintaining a sound fiscal status and making sure programs are accomplishing what they were intended to do are among his other top priorities.

Bill Harrison, 53, is in his 12th year on the board. He agrees that the district needs to continue containing expenditures, especially with continuing decreases in state funding.

"We have financial constraints. The state, as you know, has been doing everything it can to tie our hands behind our back while demanding we do more at the same time. I enjoy working on those problems, whether it's at the committee level, whether it's at the state level," he said, adding he was recently downstate talking to lawmakers about pension issues.

Harrison's other top priorities include improving the bilingual program and technology use, and providing better communication with parents and the community.

Debbi McAtee, 49, was appointed to the board last year after regularly attending meetings for more than six years. She believes the most important issue is making sure information gets out to residents.

"Too many people just don't know what is happening at their school for their children, what they can do to get involved," she said.

McAtee's other top priorities are fiscal responsibility and technology. She added that it will be important for Common Core standards currently being introduced to be better implemented than No Child Left Behind, which she said was conceptually wonderful but not executed the right way.

"If Common Core is implemented properly, it could be very good for us," she said. "But until we see that we can't really make a judgment on exactly how good or bad it will be."

District 21 comprises 12 elementary and middle schools and an early learning center that serve students from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Northbrook, Prospect Heights and Wheeling.

Ÿ To see complete coverage of all the suburban races, including candidate profiles, endorsements and news analysis, go to www.dailyherald.com/news/politics/election/.

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