District 64 candidates address test scores, administrative departures

The eight candidates seeking four seats on the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board cited desires to improve test scores and staff stability among their reasons for running.

Six of the hopefuls in the April 4 election are competing for three seats with 4-year terms: incumbent Carolina Y. Sales and newcomers Rachel Georgakis, Monica Milligan, Monika Penksa-Rossi, Matthew Doubleday and Francine D'Amico.

A separate contest for a 2-year term drew two candidates: incumbent Denise Pearl and challenger Bryan Mercado.

The candidates discussed their motivations for running and other issues in questionnaires for the Daily Herald.

D'Amico, a Park Ridge resident who works in marketing, said the district's recent scores on statewide reading and math tests were lower than she expected. She wants to help kids do better.

"Reading and math are fundamental skills children need to achieve success in their academic journey," D'Amico said.

Doubleday, a marketing and business strategy consultant from Park Ridge, said two of his sons were District 64 students and a third is now. "I would like to give back to the organization that gave so much to them," he said.

Doubleday voiced concern about parents who have been critical of the district staff on a number of political issues. He believes they're chasing away talented educators and administrators.

Georgakis, a school counselor who lives in Park Ridge, is concerned about stability in the district, particularly in light of Superintendent Eric Olson's unexpected plan to resign this June following criticism from some members of the public.

"I am concerned about our ability to hire and retain exceptional educators," Georgakis said. "Our students and staff deserve a board that is professional and collaborative, puts special interests aside and works together toward achieving the goals in our strategic plan."

Milligan, a Park Ridge resident who is the chief program officer with a nonprofit group in the educational field, said she wants to help transform the board at a time when District 64 is dealing with teacher burnouts and leaders' departures.

"Our board desperately needs members (who) deeply understand the challenges that schools are facing, bring a wealth of relevant experience, and put all D64 students - not the interests of a small set of community members - at the center of every decision," Milligan said.

Penksa-Rossi, a chiropractor from Park Ridge, said she wants to provide "community leadership" in education and be an advocate for children.

Sales, an attorney from Park Ridge who was elected to the board in 2019, said she is concerned about the education and well-being of students and the financial health of the district. Improving special education services is especially important to Sales.

"The district ... should develop its continuum of services for students with special needs," she said.

Sales said she also wants to help the district complete the goals of its strategic plan, such as exploring program expansion and strengthening communication.

Like some of the other candidates, Mercado said he's concerned about the effect critics in the community are having on the district.

"I'm worried right now that the loudest voices win, and that's causing a pendulum swing that is dramatic and not representative of (the) majority of the district," said Mercado, a real estate broker from Park Ridge. "It's time to (end) the polarization and come to the table sincerely, with the best interest of the kids and the community."

Pearl, a university affiliate instructor from Park Ridge who joined the board in 2019, said the key points of her campaign are communication, collaboration and change.

Once again, that last tent pole is a response to Olson's early departure.

"Although I personally did not support this leadership change decision, I am experienced in navigating personal and professional changes," Pearl said, noting that her experience as a board member and as its president would be useful during the upcoming transition.

District 64 educates about 4,500 students at five elementary schools, two middle schools and an early childhood education center.

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Top from left, Francine D'Amico, Matthew Doubleday and Rachel Georgakis and, bottom from left, Monica Milligan, Monika Penksa-Rossi and Carolina Y. Sales are the candidates for three seats with 4-year terms on the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board.
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