Katie Wagner: 2023 candidate for Villa Park-Lombard Elementary District 45 school board


Town: Villa Park

Age on Election Day: 35

Occupation: Director of outreach and engagement

Employer: State Rep. Diane Blair-Sherlock

Previous offices held: None


Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?

A: I am running for school board because I believe in the power of public education. All children should have access to high-quality education.

My family and I moved to Villa Park over five years ago. During that time, we felt accepted and welcomed.

By being on the board, I can give back to a community that has given so much to my family and me. I am also concerned about the mental health of administrators, teachers, and students. I want to work with the board and superintendent to create a better working environment for teachers and a better learning environment for students.

Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?

A: The school board should be in touch with the community they serve and be able to evaluate the curriculum accordingly. Based on the data, the board should be looking at trends to see if the curriculum is working over time.

I would also like to see non-traditional methods of evaluating curriculum. Sample groups of teachers and students could be gathered to give firsthand experiences on how the implementation of the curriculum is going on in the classroom.

Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?

A: As a former math and science middle school teacher, I would like to see science have equal time in the schedule. Math and science are all about problem-solving. I would like there to be an emphasis on how we could apply those problem-solving strategies to the real world.

Often students will say, "when will I use this in the real world" while teaching linear equations. I like to explain that at the end of the day, while it is not as important to know how to identify the x-intercept, instead it is important to know how to solve problems.

In the real world, students will see that it takes a variety of strategies to solve problems. Students should be able to practice how to struggle and overcome challenges in the safety of the classroom.

Q: How do you view your role in confronting policy or curriculum controversies: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents - even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?

A: I believe that if I am elected, then the Villa Park community trusts that I can make the best decision for the school district. Having sat through several contentious school board meetings, I believe that it is the board's role to listen to all concerns and comments, whether good or bad.

Listening is meaningful because that gives the board the background to empathize. If there is a difficult decision to make, it is good to have all the background. Board members have to rely on their morals to help guide their decisions and know that even if it is not possible they are ultimately doing what is best for the student.

Q: Concerns are growing regarding a new resurgence of the pandemic. If another massive outbreak of infectious disease occurs, what have we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that will guide your decision making?

A: I believe we as a society have leaned to manage life while in a pandemic. Parents and schools have learned to be more aware of how to monitor symptoms and know when to stay home. Keeping a student home will prevent them from spreading anything to the whole class or teacher. While my personal beliefs are to mask if there is an uptick in cases, most families have learned to do what is best for them.

Q: Describe your experience working in a group setting to determine policy. What is your style in such a setting to reach agreement and manage school district policy? Explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions of your school board.

A: I currently volunteer on two boards; a local daycare and a local baseball league. Both boards are packed with diverse groups of people. Volunteering on a board is a thankless job. Everyone is there because they ultimately want what's best for the children. On both boards, I worked to set up new systems. On the daycare board, I researched and selected insurance for the teachers. For the baseball board, I organized over 25 baseball and softball teams. I would describe my style as a problem solver. It can be easy to talk about problems and push them to next month's agenda, but I like to work to get things done.

Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?

A: I am the best candidate for the job because I am extremely passionate about public education. Having taught in the Chicago Public School system, I have first-hand knowledge of the success and struggles in the classroom. Until you work in a classroom, it is difficult to explain the work it takes to make a successful school day. Having an understanding of the challenges makes me want to do everything I can to make education better. If our teachers are at their best, then our students will get the best.

Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?

A: Teachers have been quitting the profession at a high rate. The expectations placed on teachers are substantial. Not only are they expected to teach data-driven lesson plans, but they are also expected to recognize signs of abuse, malnourishment, and homelessness and give their lives in the case of gun violence. In return, teachers are bashed online and questioned when trying to teach basic science and history skills.

The one thing no one is talking about is creating a better working environment for teachers. The school board and district office need to take some of the responsibilities off the administration and teachers so they can focus on the students. There are going to be factored in the outside world that the school board cannot change, but we can support and empower administrators and teachers in the building. Teachers need support, not in the form of pizza or jeans Friday, but in a change in ideology.

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