Gregory Scapillato: 2021 candidate for District 25 school board
Eight candidates are running for four, 4-year terms on the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board.
City: Arlington Heights
Employer: Northbrook School District 28
Civic involvement: Coordinator, Northbrook Veterans Day Ceremony (2011-present); ILMEA District 7 Junior Band Representative (Illinois Music Education Association; Jan, 2020-present); District 28 Health & Safety Task Force, summer 2020; NBJH Safety Task Force, summer 2020; District 28 Teacher Evaluation Committee (2012-2016), Compensation Committee (2006-2009) and Buildings & Grounds Commission (2003-2005)
Q. Why are you running for this office? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. My decision to run for office is rooted in what I've done daily in my twenty-year career as an arts educator: serving students. I've seen the power of high-performing schools in creating pride and common purpose in a community. I am driven to serve a purpose larger than myself, investing time and energy for the benefit of our students.
Witnessing the division in our community, and learning more about the challenges that face our district, I am resolved to restore trust in our schools and find creative solutions to meet our needs. There are many issues demanding attention: guaranteeing equity for all students, rebuilding our community's trust, addressing aging facilities, maintaining high-quality staff, ensuring fiscal discipline -- all through policies that reflect our collective vision.
Across my career, I've developed leadership skills working on decision-making teams that value consensus-building. I've built programs that execute on a long-term vision, and rally support from all stakeholders.
My motivation comes not from one specific issue; I find inspiration from the call to represent the entire community. I look forward to the challenge of setting high expectations for our schools while remaining fiscally-responsible to our taxpayers.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. First, I wish to acknowledge the challenging responsibility placed on the Board during this pandemic. Unfortunately, we did not see the Board drive the sense of urgency in the district's planning/implementation for the fall. We only noticed an uptick in the number of Board meetings once it was clear our community was not satisfied.
Second, the Board chose to step out of it's governance role, annexing responsibilities belonging to the superintendent. This resulted in many extraordinarily long meetings that devolved into minute details of metrics and operations, distracting the Board it's role making policy. This confused governance paved the way to division among the community, while slowing the ability of the district to respond appropriately to fluctuating conditions.
Finally, we saw a Board that became divided like the community, essentially choosing sides and pursuing actions reflecting those choices. The Board proved unable to navigate this delicate situation as a cohesive body. That failure left voices in the middle unrepresented, and blinded the Board to creative solutions to address the needs of the entire community. A Board has to make tough decisions; these should be made clear-eyed, evenhanded, and with great attention to equity issues.
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?
A. As a Board, our role is to provide leadership and move forward with a sense of urgency. The superintendent develops and executes a pandemic plan; the Board holds her/him accountable. The Board sets bench marks for action, and ensures the needs of the community are met.
In determining needs, a Board should be open to feedback from all voices. This is not easy, especially when issues of student safety and concerns about mental well-being are forefront in parents' minds. It also requires special care that the most strident voices do not crowd out marginalized populations.
Guidance from state authorities is central to decision-making. Agencies such as IDPH and ISBE provide a broad perspective and expert advice to inform our Board actions. The ultimate shape of our response to the pandemic is a local decision; we are beholden to our community to ensure the safety of our children, staff, and wider population.
I will not limit my actions to whether or not I agree with constituents; our community deserves to be heard and recognized, regardless of my personal preference. Board actions (or not) depend on balancing community feedback, aligning with our strategic plan, and weighing guidance from state authorities.
Q. Did your district continue to adequately serve students during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. The district's response to the pandemic was a mix of successes and misses. Notable successes include the tremendous service in providing meals to families, and the flexibility, ingenuity, and dedication of the teaching staff. In both cases, these groups went above and beyond for our students, pouring their time and energy into their service.
Looking back at the fall, we can now see a number of decisions hampered the district's response this year. Though families were surveyed midsummer to their learning preference, the district chose not establish "remote academy" for families that preferred the remote option. This complicated instruction for teachers once hybrid learning began (and subsequently, in-person), requiring them to attend to both remote and in-person learners simultaneously. This choice also exacerbated the shortage of substitutes, requiring an in-person sub even when a teacher could still teach remotely due to quarantine. Additionally, there does not seem to be a unified plan to create/enhance outdoor teaching spaces to relieve potentially overcrowded indoor spaces, weather permitting. This could include large open-air tents to provide shade, and securing picnic tables for teacher's to use as a base when delivering instruction outdoors.
Q. Do you have a plan on how to safely and effectively conduct classes in the spring? What have you learned from the fall semester that you would change in the spring?
A. In many ways, we are living with decisions made in the late summer/early fall that are difficult to unwind during the school year. However, there are a number of steps we can take to enhance our schools' safety profile for this spring and beyond.
We can develop a unified strategy to provide outdoor learning spaces across all our schools. These can be used for instruction and outdoor lunch spaces. We can achieve this by securing large outdoor tents, and purchasing or partnering with the park district to acquire picnic benches for use by teachers.
For indoor spaces, we can enhance the air quality through the addition of HEPA air purifiers in spaces that regularly house more than one class, or students eating lunch indoors.
Finally, we can be proactive in planning for fall, establishing a "remote academy" if the state of the pandemic dictates this necessity. This creates better learning environments for both in-person and remote learners, and allows teachers to focus their efforts more efficiently.
Our district has done an exemplary job with many of the mitigations. The suggestions I am sharing here are based around emerging science regarding aerosols and the spread of COVID-19.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Like all decisions on returning to "normal" activities, the question of sports is challenging to address. I believe our guiding organizations of IDPH, IHSA, and IESA (for elementary schools) are striving to strike a balance between safety and restoring student activities that will contribute to the health and well-being of our kids.
Reviewing the guidance, the restart of scholastic sports is not one-size-fits-all. The success will -- similar to opening schools safely -- depend entirely on mitigations applied. Social distancing when possible, masks, and other strategies based on the amount of community spread where the school is located.
As an arts educator, I am interested in seeing the same energy and attention given to safely restoring drama, choir, band, orchestra, and other performing arts. Additionally, clubs and activities enrich our students' educational experience. Scholastic sports, fine arts, and extracurriculars are essential activities to address the mental health of our children. There is now expert guidance on how to safely engage in all of these areas. In fact, District 25 has now started volleyball and basketball, along with instrumental music. I know we will be watching closely, with a great deal of hope for their success.
Q. What other issues need to be addressed?
A. There are a range of issues facing District 25. I look forward to meeting these proactively, focusing on students, and honoring all parts of our community.
Putting our focus as a Board on people -- students, parents, teachers, administrators -- will reframe our efforts and guide our actions more effectively. For our students, we need to address equity for all our learners. This includes inclusivity of special education services in neighborhood elementary schools. For teachers, we need to adopt a salary schedule that is market-competitive, fiscally-responsible, attracting and retaining the best educators. Our administrators should be afforded respect while holding them to high accountability standards.
How the Board conducts its work is in need of attention. Restoring the proper relationship with the superintendent, establishing Finance, Facilities, and Policy committees, and rebuilding the community's trust are primary concerns.
Our aging facilities are an ongoing concern, and require long-term financial planning to address appropriately. The Board was alerted to this need in 2018, choosing to spend down fund balances for needed maintenance and improvements. This works only in the near term.
Finally, the district is finalizing a new strategic plan. Board policy should be reviewed to ensure alignment with these goals.