Rich Nagel: 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.
City: West Chicago
Civic Involvement: District 94 school board, D33 Foundation For Education Excellence, Gallery Theater
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 running for my 8th term as board member. I feel it is important to give back to the community with service, and influencing the quality of educational services provided to the young people of our community is a very relevant way to serve. There are so many issues involved in school leadership that it is hard to pin point one, but the delivery of a quality and well rounded educational experience for our students covers my motivation.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the board a C. Unfortunately, a lot could have been done differently in retrospect if the board and administration would have been less optimistic about how long and how hard the pandemic would affect the operation of the school. There has been contradictory guidance provided by the agencies that are tasked to give that guidance and that has caused problems in setting direction for the school instructional planning. It has been a moving target almost daily. As we are moving to a hybrid model, the administration and staff have shown creativity and resilience in meeting the challenges, but again, in retrospect, the board has not fully challenged the administration to look past some limitations in facilities and budget to overcome these obstacles. We are now looking at options that maybe could have been discussed sooner, had we anticipated the length of time this pandemic would be impacting us. In any event, our common goal is to provide the best solutions for our students while considering safety, consistency and delivery.
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: All of the above, none of these are mutually exclusive, and all have some positive result on the direction we have gone and will be going.
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: "Adequately serve" is very subjective, and based on results of the choice of families to stay with remote learning or return to in-class, it is about 50-50. We have been providing 100% remote learning, and expecting that some students would struggle with this, the administration and staff has been monitoring those who are struggling and offering additional support. On the other hand, within the established guidelines set by the county, the state and the CDC, we possibly could have offered in-class learning sooner to the families that would want that option. That would most likely have still been hybrid, meaning limited in-class time and attendance numbers. There hasn't been a playbook on how to deal with a situation like this and when it is all over, I'm sure there will be a lot of criticism and finger pointing from all sides in hindsight. All I think any of our leaders can do is follow their principles and do what they think is best in their specific situation based on assessing the information in front of them at the time, be willing to evaluate that and be flexible enough to acknowledge that changes may be called for. I hope that when this is all over, and it will be eventually, that there is an effort on a county, regional, state or national basis, to gather data and experiences to document how different organizations responded, what worked and what didn't and why, so if this happens again there is a playbook and some best practices to follow
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 administration plans to start their hybrid model within a few weeks. By following the guidelines, we expect that this will be done safely, but a lot also depends on outside influences including what is happening in the community and the appearance now of more contagious strains of the virus. How effective this will be instructionally will be monitored by feedback and grade results. I have confidence in the staff and administration that necessary adjustments will be made to improve effectiveness within the guidelines. To me, the important thing is that whatever we do, we do with consistency. I am against bouncing back and forth between full remote and hybrid as a way to try this or that without confidence that in-class will be sustainable. What we have learned from the fall is that remote is not an ideal way to teach, but what we have also seen from other districts that have done hybrid is that less than well designed hybrid models are not effective either. As we move to partially remote and partially hybrid, we will have an opportunity to compare and adjust. Instructional effectiveness is an important issue, but so is the social impact of in-class presence.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I defer to the IHSA. I am not qualified to make medical or social decisions on what sports are safe and what are not. I will support the administration on following the IHSA recommendations, or if the board as a majority chooses otherwise, I will support that as well.