John Frendreis: Candidate Profile
Grass Lake District 36 School Board
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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Family: Married to Laura Vertz for 35 years, with two children, Scott (29) and Ian (23).
Occupation: Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago
Education: PhD in Political Science from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1981; MS in Government from Florida State University, 1976; BA in Political Science and Mathematics and Statistics, Marquette University, 1975.
Civic involvement: *Member of the Skokie District 68 School Board, 2005-2009; Board President 2007-2009.
*Member of the Niles North Athletic Booster Club, 2013-2016; Booster Club President, 2015-2016
*Headed parent/community committee which successfully sought construction of a new aquatics facility by Niles HS District 219 in 2015-16
*USA Swimming Official for 15 years (retired)
*Served as Treasurer for the Evanston YWCA Flying Fish Swim Club for many years
Elected offices held: Member of Skokie District 68 School Board, 2005-09, President 2007-09
Why are you running for this office, whether for re-election or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
The Grass Lake School District is underperforming, despite spending a large amount of money per pupil. I feel my experience as an educator, university administrator, and former school board member can contribute to the creation of a more effective board that serves as a good steward of the taxes levied on property owners and establishes high expectations with district leaders concerning student success.
What do you think about the process for measuring student success in your district? Is it adequate? What changes, if any, do you propose?
I am satisfied with the current process for measuring student success, but not with the district's results. Districts should employ multiple measures of student success, addressing different needs for teachers, students, and administrators. Standardized testing allows student performance for the district to be assessed against recognized benchmarks and similarly situated districts. At the same time, teachers need to employ assessments as diagnostic and instructional tools, so that students receive the individualized instruction then need to succeed.
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?
The primary responsibility for setting curriculum lies with teachers and the district administration. In general, I think the Board should provide oversight and approval of this process, but should not substitute its judgment for the professional judgments of the district's educators. I do not feel I have a detailed enough understanding of the current curriculum at this time to offer suggested changes.
What budget issues will your district have to confront and what measures do you support to address them? If you believe cuts are necessary, what programs and expenses should be reduced or eliminated? On the income side, do you support any tax or fee increases?
Our district has the highest EAV per student in our area, but also has the highest tax rate. As a result, we generate over $25,000 per student in revenue, one of the highest district figures in the state. This has caused the district to amass a surplus that is several times the annual budget of the district. I feel that this is not appropriate, and I suspect that adequate scrutiny has not been given to district expenses. I believe the entire budget - every line item - should be carefully reviewed in the next budget cycle to make absolutely sure that every dollar being spent is directed toward student success. The District does not need additional tax or fee increases at this time.
What role can and should school choice play in your district? If Congress or the state approves a voucher system or other means giving students broader choices among public and private schools, how will that affect your district? What is the appropriate response for the board of education of a public school system?
Our district is very small, enrolling about 170 students in pre-K through 8th grade. School choice is not needed in this setting.
What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
The Board needs to be more transparent in its decisions and accountable to all stakeholders within the district, including the taxpayers who do not have children in the schools but represent the overwhelming proportion of the district's residents. A recent bond issue to build an entirely new school failed, with 85% of the voters voting no. The response of the district administration and current board has been to move forward with a costly renovation project that is being finalized in advance of the upcoming election. This may be necessary, but the need for this has not been explained to the majority of the district's residents. Given the discontent represented by the referendum results, a greater effort to engage the broader public should have been undertaken.
Please name one current leader who most inspires you.
What is the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?
Always look out for those who are less fortunate.
If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?
I would propose marriage to my wife a year earlier!
What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?
I always enjoyed history, especially an American History class where we debated important issues. This has helped me understand issues often have two sides.
If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Take chances. You learn more from the things that do not go as planned than things that are easy.