Laurel Schrementi: 2021 candidate for Elmhurst Unit District 205 board
Six candidates are running for three, 4-year terms on the Elmhurst Unit District 205 board of trustees in the April 6 election. They are challengers Athena Arvanitis, T. Marie Gall, Laurel Schrementi and Gordon Snyder; and incumbents Kara Caforio and Jim Collins.
The Daily Herald asked each candidate about issues facing the district and how they would contribute to its progress.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is now available at the DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
Occupation: Learning designer at Wiley Education Services
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 have young children who will attend school in this district for the next 14 years. And it's important to me to have a voice in ensuring that the school experience I want for my own children is something we can achieve for all children in Elmhurst. I am a former elementary school teacher and I currently work in educational technology.
My background and experience makes me a great candidate to communicate openly with our amazing teachers and school staff and support them in communication with the board. Lastly, I'm passionate about social justice and want to bring a voice to the board to prioritize equity and inclusion, social emotional learning, and environmental sustainability.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: This has been an unprecedented time and I know our board has worked hard to collaborate with the administration in response to the pandemic. However, there is always room for improvement and I'd like to see the board focus on improving three things related to their pandemic response. 1.) Communication (making sure that families understand what is happening with enough time to prepare and make decisions). 2.) Exploring creative options suggested by parents and teachers (a number of community members have shared creative options including block scheduling, outdoor learning, alternative scheduling, etc. and it's not always been clear from the board and administration why these haven't been considered or promoted). 3.) Supporting teachers who are simultaneously teaching in person and remotely (this method should be a temporary stopgap, not the way we continue with the remote learning option for the foreseeable future).
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 board needs to do a mix of all of those things. I view the board as a group that represents the values of the community to the school administration and therefore the board needs to do all it can to make sure that many voices are heard and respected. However, we've seen in this pandemic year that there is not a universal consensus in the community, so the board and administration work together to provide leadership that serves most children in the best way possible. And certainly state authorities play a huge role in setting the parameters of our school and, as stewards of public schools, the board is expected to comply with state regulations.
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: We have learned a lot over the past year and the district has worked hard to pivot as new data supports that. For example, in August, the district set out COVID metrics for when in-person learning would be available based on DuPage County data. As the community offered input, the metrics were adjusted to include data from just the ZIP codes that are served by the D205 District.
And now, as additional guidance and studies have been published, the district is adopting surveillance testing to improve mitigation efforts and allow more students to receive in-person learning. I understand that, for many people, this transition hasn't happened fast enough, while others feel differently. I do think one thing that could have been done better was to clearly communicate to families and teachers why metrics were changing and what data supported those changes.
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: District 205 has a detailed plan to phase students back into in-person learning at all grade levels. I support the effort to get the youngest learners in person first, as younger children have lower rates of documented spread and require more assistance with remote learning. Since the fall, we have learned that spread within schools where there is universal masking and other mitigation efforts is lower than general community spread. Armed with that knowledge, many families feel comfortable phasing in in-person learning.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: One of the toughest things about the pandemic is the loss of certain aspects of school that give students a sense of joy and pride. Sports, theater, choir, band, field trips -- all things that rely on in-person connections have been deeply impacted by the pandemic and that has been very hard on our kids. Joy is such a source of motivation for learning and is therefore a critical element in schools. As we move forward, I want to prioritize opportunities for play and joy for our students. On the specific question of high school sports: the Illinois High School Association gives specific guidance on the continuation of high school athletics during the pandemic, depending on the level of community spread. Because we are currently in phase 4, most sports are able to continue in some capacity, which is a huge accomplishment and source of joy and pride for our students.