Katherine M. Doremus: 2021 candidate for West Chicago High School District 94 School Board
Six candidates are running for four seats on the West Chicago High School District 94 School Board in the April 6, 2021, election.
Occupation: Vice President/Mortgage Banking, Old Second National Bank
Civic Involvement: I have been involved in the community in many different roles for the 27 years I have lived here: National Association for Down Syndrome, Project Early Choices with D34, Illinois Mortgage Bankers Association, DuPage Home Ownership Center, Western DuPage Chamber of Commerce, Religious Education aide, Winfield Community Council -- along with the D94 Board of Education and SASED Board for 12 years. I have always felt that the best way to make change for the better is to take advantage of any opportunity to give back to the community.
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: The onset of the pandemic put schools in a devastating position and an opening on the D94 Board gave me an opportunity to return to D94 with 12 years of historical knowledge of the District specifically and challenges to education in general. I chose to run again because I care deeply about our schools, our children and staff and the D94 community and feel that in this time of crisis, I have both knowledge and a skill set that can help the district navigate through not only the current environment, but also prepare for post pandemic education. While District governance has been necessarily reactionary through the past year as a result of the pandemic, we will need to take these lessons and prepare for governance in the future. Our students and staff deserve strong and knowledgeable leadership with the ability to look to the future, overcome the damages left in the wake of the pandemic, and use lessons learned to plan wisely for challenges going forward.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges to schools and our Board has remained committed to keeping our students and staff safe, supporting our Administration in their efforts to educate and meet the needs of all students despite the varying directives, and confusing guidance and mandates of State leadership, and we continue to pivot in an ever-changing environment -- but the unified focus has been to bring students back within the school walls, safely and effectively as quickly as possible. The Board, along with all staff at D94 has worked diligently together with a shared end goal -- doing what is best for students and staff within the confines of a pandemic. I would give the Board an A for survival -- which is the best that any Board could have done in this situation with no precedent to follow.
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: I was appointed to the Board in October of 2020, well into the pandemic and the challenges the District was facing -- and my first meeting involved numerous students and families speaking about their desire to return to school. It has been heartbreaking that State and Federal guidance regarding the pandemic have made it almost impossible to achieve this goal but keeping student and staff safety as well as adhering to governing and legal directives must continue to be a priority while we head back to open classrooms. Our goal as a Board -- and my goal as an individual Board member -- has been and continues to be to bring the students back into the school as soon as feasible -- with safety of ALL -- students, staff and community -- in mind first and foremost. There are many valid perspectives from every stakeholder and I have respect for all of them -- there are no easy answers or shortcuts while COVID continues unabated -- my concern always is that we do what is best for our students and staff, using every viable tool available to keep them engaged, healthy, and learning despite the constraints of conflicting directives 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: I do not believe that any district has "adequately" served students during the disruptions of the pandemic -- but I do feel every district tried to do their absolute best in an unprecedented situation with no easy answers or "best practices" for guidance. I am certain some things could have been done better -- but hindsight to judge performance through a pandemic serves no beneficial purpose -- what we can and should be doing is continue to learn from this experience, modify and adjust our processes quickly and effectively as we search for ways to reach all students, and prepare for a future that may, once this current situation is resolved, look very different that what was considered "normal."
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: The District is and will continue to strive to bring our students back to school as quickly as we possible with processes in place to ensure safety for our students and staff -- our Administration, with the collaboration of the staff, is constantly modifying and updating the process and looking at ways to accommodate a return of our students to the school for Spring. What has been learned from the Fall semester is that the Pandemic can and will change without any warning and we must be ready to pivot accordingly. There are "no best practices" that have prepared anyone for what has occurred -- but sharing success stories and strategies from District to District and a constant search to initiate, innovate and address the varying challenges with the focus always being on best serving our students. Going forward, we will continue to need to be prepared for the unexpected, and create and implement fundamental processes and that can readily adapt to and withstand any situation -- from the everyday challenges to a pandemic -- with flexibility, common sense, and consistency.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Once again, there are varying thoughts and opinions on whether to return to sports programs, how to do it safely, what restrictions to implement, and the individual districts have been held hostage by the indecisiveness and/or directives of the entities that oversee sports and education. There are no easy answers at this point in time and each district must do their best to meet the needs of the students in a safe and caring way -- sports along with all other activities are critical to the school experience and an opportunity for a child to grow, achieve, set goals, compete, and form lifelong bonds. As in all things during this time, the Board, Administration school staff and families must be cognizant and respectful of the risks and make every effort to mitigate these risks while providing opportunity for our students.