Gerri Songer: Candidate Profile
College Of Lake County 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.
City: Hawthorn Woods
Family: Jamie Burke (daughter)
Damian Burke (son-in-law)
Brayden Burke (grandson)
Education: Concordia University"“MA, Curriculum & Instruction
National-Louis University"“CAS, Educational Leadership
National-Louis University"“MA, Special Education: LBS I
Lake Forest College"“BA, English
Illinois State Administrative Certificate: Number 2157203; Type 75; Valid for: K-12; Endorsements: General Administrative
Illinois State Teaching Certificate: Number 1840765; Type10; Valid for: Special Education K-12; Endorsements: Learning Behavior Specialist I, Learning Disabilities and Social/Emotional Disorders
Illinois State Teaching Certificate: Number 1840764; Type 09; Valid for: High School 6- 12; Endorsements: English and Language Arts
HIGHLY QUALIFIED SUBJECT AREAS
English (9-12), English as a Second Language, Journalism (9-12), Language Arts (grades 1-8), Reading, Speech (9-12), Title I Remedial Reading
Civic involvement: District 214 Education Association, Education Chair
Sierra Club Member and Speaker
Livable Lake County Volunteer
Co-Curricular Sponsor, Students 4 Democracy
Instructor, St. Mary's Church of Buffalo Grove (evening program)
Youth Ministry Volunteer, The Chapel - Mundelein and Grayslake
Elected offices held: District 214 Education Association - Education Chair
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?
Community colleges are our last avenue to affordable education. With the continuing shortfall from declining State and Federal support, maintaining accessibility to higher education is of significant concern.
I'm employed at a high school in Cook County that serves students from four trailer parks, and I know first hand how important community colleges are to both my students and their families. Many of the students I work with will be the first generation in their family to attend college, and they take a great deal of pride in this. We need to make sure the doors to post-secondary education remain open for all students. Providing such educational opportunities can strengthen our workforce, boost our economy, and improve our quality of life.
A new initiative at College of Lake County is the CLC Promise program. The Harper Promise was implemented in my district two years ago. Because of my work as Education Chair of the District 214 Education Association, I'm familiar with its challenges, and I'm a good fit in terms of articulation with feeder districts.
I'm also an advocate for fiscal responsibility, quality educational programming, and meeting the educational, financial, and emotional needs of a diverse population of students.
In tough economic times, many students (and working professionals) turn to a community college for its educational value. How do you ensure that a person's financial sacrifice results in an educational benefit?
What makes a community college different than other modes of higher education is its local accessibility and versatility. CLC is in a unique position that allows educators to align curriculum and programming at all levels "“ primary, secondary, post-secondary, and school-to-work transition. CLC offers training, independent coursework, 2-year degrees, certificates, and courses that transfer to 4-year programs.
Identifying avenues for community outreach, providing solid educational programming, anticipating career skills in a rapidly changing job market, and targeting areas of employment deficit are instrumental components that maximize educational value.
Far too often, and despite an improving economy, college graduates face limited and competitive employment opportunities. Community colleges such as CLC are able to offer post-secondary education and training uniquely designed to meet the needs of both the community and local employers. For instance, CLC's Employer Partnership Program helps students transition from school to work through partnerships with more than 250 Lake County employers. It's important we maintain this personal connection between the community, school, and potential employers.
There is no measure available to accurately weigh potential future "educational benefit" against a student's perceived "financial sacrifice". I will work to ensure quality programming, accessible education, and fiscally responsible spending.
From the college's point of view, 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?
CLC is moving forward on construction aligned with its Sustainable Campus Master Plan, which began in 2012. Planning was later put on hold due to state funding deficits, and these financial issues will likely continue to negatively impact CLC in the future.
Moving all future funding for public education from the state to the local level is currently under consideration. If legislators move in this direction, school boards will be hard pressed to find ways to cover expenses.
Conservative spending and identifying opportunities to accommodate the instability of State and Federal funding are critical. Ongoing internal review and monthly monitoring reports for each project help target areas where operational costs can be reduced. Course enrollment should also be analyzed regularly to identify options for consolidation.
Alternative sources of revenue such as private donations and scholarships should be pursued. For example, corporations in Lake County have received subsidies, including reductions in sales and property tax. Perhaps some of these corporations might be willing to give something back to the community. Other fundraising options to aggressively pursue are alumni support, foundations, online campaigns, crowdfunding, investment-based models, non-cash gifts, and faith-based partnerships. Grants are another funding source that should consistently be explored.
Lake County residents pay the highest property taxes in the state and among the highest in the nation. I would only consider a tax increase as a means of last resort. Governor Rauner's Turnaround Agenda calls for a freeze on property taxes; therefore, increasing them may not be a future option.
Community colleges provide many services to a diverse population. Is there a service your college should be providing that it is not, or reaching a segment of the population that it is not?
Continued outreach and recruitment efforts to students, faculty, and staff are needed to ensure minority percentages are representative compared to populations residing in Lake County. Students of Latino, African American, Asian, and South Asian ethnicity, for example, need to be equitably represented. CLC has made efforts to identify whether or not all population segments are being served, and I expect filling positions with quality faculty and staff that are characteristic of our county's demographic will be an ongoing goal.
CLC increased assistance to students provided by academic coaches and staff from its Multicultural Student Center and encouraged student involvement in organizations such as Men of Vision and Sister 2 Sister. This helped to improve course success and the retention of African American students.
Continued emphasis should be given to closing achievement gaps and improving the completion rates of minorities. Consideration should also be given to expanding initiatives for specific populations including veterans, low-income students, ELL students, students with special needs, returning adults, and single parents.
If you are a newcomer, what prompted you to run for the community college board? If you're an incumbent, list your accomplishments or key initiatives in which you played a leadership role.
I decided to run for CLC Trustee because it's important that people with good intentions step up and give something back to their community.
Betsy DeVos' Confirmation Hearing highlighted the immediacy of this need. I'm disheartened to hear a presidential nominee for Secretary of Education refuse to agree, "People should NOT get rich off of public schools," and commit to "implementing existing accountability measures."
Public school educators who have been the target of much criticism are stunned to learn Charter schools are found making millions of dollars in profit. During the hearing, Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy stated a "For Profit" Charter known as K-12 receives 80% of its funding from the public, yet paid its CEO over $1M in its first year of operation.
Public schools must disclose financial information; this is not a requirement for private schools using public tax dollars.
In the past, candidates running for school boards were generally those with a vested interest in maintaining the quality of educational programs. They may have been parents, educators, and perhaps former administrators. Currently, I see people running who don't fit the norm.
Judging by what's been described as, "the largest school election in county history," it's important Lake County voters do their homework and question motives. Our students should be provided the highest quality education possible, and our educators need support in order to be successful in the classroom. It's to everyone's advantage that we as a community make sure this happens.
What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
Increasing completion rates is an issue that warrants attention. One reason graduation rates are low among community colleges is because they don't exclude poorly prepared students; therefore, they need to work harder at moving these students towards graduation.
Implementing CLC's new College Readiness curriculum in feeder districts will help bridge the skills gap for incoming students. The Accelerating Your College Success bridge program encourages students to enter a program of study as soon as possible and complete the required coursework. Students who enter a program of study in the first year after admissions perform substantially better.
While it's impressive CLC has increased its graduation and transfer rates for each class of students entering since 2010 in addition to its retention and employment rates, continued effort is needed in these areas. Programs such as Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) have demonstrated promising results by promoting full-time attendance and providing wraparound services. Research shows one of the biggest obstacles we need to overcome in education is poverty.
Please name one current leader who most inspires you.
In the field of education, I find former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, most inspiring. On average, she contributes 300 education-related posts a month.
What is the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?
As the last generation of baby boomers, I hold on to the value that it's our duty to, "Leave "˜it' better than we found it."
If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?
I'd take regular assessments for VOCs. My well water contains methane that my daughter drank when pregnant and in which my grandson's bottles were washed.
What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?
My favorite class was English. Later, I pursued a career teaching this subject. I find little more rewarding than helping students learn to read.
If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Do unto others as you'd have done unto you."
"You're your brothers' keeper."
"To save but a life is as to save lives of all.