Katie Barr: 2021 candidate for Lake Zurich Community Unit District 95 school board
City: Lake Zurich
Occupation: Circulation, Ela Area Public Library
Civic involvement: PTO member, and Catechist at St. Francis de Sales
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A: I am thrilled to run for LZ95 School Board! We need a fresh, new perspective on the board. The board is composed of many different stakeholders, but not one is an educator. I have a BA in English Education from University of Iowa, an MA in Writing Pedagogy from DePaul University, an Illinois teaching certificate for secondary education in English and Language Arts, and several years experience in the classroom. I have taught in public schools as well as private, and currently teach religious education at St. Francis de Sales in Lake Zurich. Quality educators and support staff are essential to quality education. This pandemic has alienated and disheartened the education community, and I want to support and retain our fabulous teachers and staff. When we support and encourage our teachers and staff, our children and students reap the benefits. Beautiful buildings and top notch technology are nothing if we don't retain our top notch teachers and staff.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I feel that the current school board has a B+ on its response to the pandemic. Compared to other nearby school districts, District 95 has been very communicative, transparent, and proactive. Could the district be more communicative and transparent? Absolutely. Student and parent surveys have helped shape the direction of education, but we are missing an important member of the District 95 community: teachers. Teachers are in the classroom with our students; they know what is working in a hybrid classroom or in a remote classroom. They can tell us what needs to be reassessed or changed completely for next school year. Teachers and students work with the different learning platforms (SeeSaw, Canvas, Clever, etc.) and can assess how effective the technology works. We need to survey teachers and staff as well as our students and parents in order to have a complete picture about how teaching/learning is progressing in this pandemic atmosphere.
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: The role of a board member is to listen to the community and guide the district in a safe, responsible manner. This is even more important during this pandemic. I know that not everyone agrees with school board decisions, and that is bound to happen. Parents are looking out for their child, but the board needs to look out for all children in the district. This is a delicate balancing act. Recently, I was a member of the Redistricting Committee for LZ95, and this is not an easy or popular committee. We had to look at options that would disrupt our community and move students -- in the middle of a pandemic -- to new schools. Many members of the community were unhappy with moving, and I understand. No one wants to move their child from a beloved school, especially in this pandemic. My role in the committee would mirror a role on the school board; I researched the information, listened to the community, and made the best decision based on the data provided.
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: During this pandemic, social workers are ESSENTIAL. Anxiety levels are high for everyone: teachers, parents, and students. District 95 has sent students online surveys to get feedback on their emotional health during this pandemic, and the district set up an online form that parents can complete and submit if they want their child to work with a social worker. As wonderful as this sounds, I know that not all students are completing this survey, so there are many students who need help, but are slipping through the cracks. Also, the online form for parents is not easy to find. When my children needed to meet with a social worker, I contacted the social worker directly because I couldn't find the online form. Social workers are also overburdened; they make calls before and after school, meet with students during school, and host social lunch bunch meetings for students during their "break." Our social workers need support, too.
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: Our district has implemented hybrid and remote learning since the beginning of the school year. Classes have evolved and pivoted based on the Lake County Department of Health's recommendations as well as the CDC's suggestions. Dr. Gallt has followed our local COVID-19 numbers to evaluate our situation. Based on this information, freshman hybrid students have been invited to attend school every day, which is fantastic. Transition year students have been the most at-risk during this pandemic, so I would like to see our sixth grade hybrid students be invited back into school full time. Last month, the school board was presented with academic statistics that showed sixth graders were struggling the most out of all the grades. If it is safe, and transportation can be provided, sixth graders should be the next group to move to full in-person school.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Students are in desperate need of social, emotional, and physical outlets during this pandemic, and sports can provide that outlet. As long as the sports follow the Lake County Health Department and CDC's guidelines as well as the IHSA and IESA rules, all of the districts' students should be able to participate in sports. In fact, Middle School South has already begun some winter/spring sports, so I know that sports participation has already begun. However, not all students are interested in sports, and I would like to see outlets for those students. For example, my eldest child loves soccer, but also loves drawing. Under non-pandemic conditions, his school would offer an art club. I'd like to see more clubs and social offerings. If such clubs start as Zoom meetings, and then move in-person as weather and COVID-19 restrictions change, I would applaud such a move.