Carolyn Marie Waibel, 2021 candidate for St. Charles Unit District 303 board
Five candidates are vying for four seats on the St. Charles Unit District 303 board in the April 6 election. Incumbents Heidi Jo Fairgrieve and Edward McNally are facing newcomers Katherine Bell, an entrepreneur; James Stombres, retired teacher; and Carolyn Marie Waibel, former 708 Mental Health Board chair. They are all St. Charles residents.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions about issues facing the district.
Below are Waibel's responses.
In-person early voting begins March 10 only at the Kane County Clerk's Office, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Bldg. B, in Geneva and the Aurora satellite office, 5 E. Downer Place, Suite F. In-person early voting at locations throughout the county begins March 22. Learn more at www.kanecountyclerk.org/Elections.
City: St. Charles
Civic Involvement: I have volunteered in the community for the past eight years. I have served as the Ferson Creek Elementary PTO President, helped in the Lincoln PTO; City of St. Charles Housing Commission, Youth Commission; Mid Valley Mental Health Partnership, Adviser for Kane County Mental Health Advisory Committee. I still volunteer for the 708 Mental Health Board, Chair and now Vice Chair for the City of St. Charles; Kane County Behavioral Council, Kane County Opioid Committee and launched the Kane County Vape Task Force. I also sit on the State Rep. Karina Villa Mental Health Advisory Committee / State Sen. Karina Villa Mental Health Advisory Committee.
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 been honored to sit on the D303 board for the last four years, exhibiting my passion to make decisions based on what is best for students, staff, parents and community. It is a delicate balance that is more challenged day by day. As a member, Vice-President and President, I have worked closely with all stakeholders. There is continued room for improvement in communication and the relationships between district admin. and board and stakeholders: groups of students, staff, parents and community. This, coupled with the interest to see through the facility plan and help bring the district out of the COVID crisis, is why I am looking to run again. We have a legal and moral responsibility to increase the academic achievement of all socio-economic demographics and continue to support the social emotional growth of all of our students. I will continue to make decisions on behalf of the students with the stakeholders in mind. My long-standing history in St. Charles and my desire to be a public servant in helping others, coupled with my business and communication background, lends itself to be a successful combination with all parties.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: (B-) I believe managing a district through a historic pandemic certainly brought challenges and small successes. As we worked through unprecedented times, early on, I was proud of our district team of teachers, administrators, parents and students and how we came together to create a comprehensive remote learning plan in very little time. We learned we should have been better prepared for such circumstances with a remote learning plan and need to continue to hold administration accountable for a strategic plan, including proactive remote planning. In regards to our preparedness for fall 2020, we were one of the first LUDA districts to have everyday in-person K-8 options, despite the constantly changing parameters from ISBE, IDPH, and KCHD. Due to the high percentage of students that want to attend in person, the HS created more challenges due to the 6 foot spacing rule and high enrollment. Our area for improvement is in communication of expectations to the teachers, community and the parent and student community. We continue to "grade low" in explaining the reality of the situation, timeline of rollout, and expectations of changes. The lack of clarity and frequency of information produces unnecessary confusion and anxiety in the community.
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: My approach has always been a solution oriented, communicative and direct response style. Both in my votes, public comments and questions at board meetings, I vet all aspects of an issue to see the problems and concerns from all angles, both subjective and objective. I am not afraid to talk about the taboo sides of a topic. Often I have been the sole voice on the board that speaks on the "elephant in the room," or unpopular topics. I respect all viewpoints and often put myself in the shoes of constituents with concerns, sometimes taking criticism for it. It is important that we talk about what the national, state, and county parameters are in the aspects of social distancing, primary curriculum requirements, IHSA regulations, face coverings, etc. I have instituted coffees for the board members, recommended town halls, and instituted alternate communication systems that brought Let's Talk and Across the Board. Also we pushed for a communication audit that will bring more solutions for communication goals that will help clarify and multiply messages to the public. I have requested, specific to leadership, that we reach out to our legislators and collaborate with them to repeal restrictions in Springfield.
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 addressed much of this above. However I would add that we certainly need to help the social emotional needs of high school students during the COVID academic disruptions. I do believe the high schools could have done a better job engaging remote students in the first semester in activities to help them feel connected to other students and teachers. Also in regards to the HS students again, I asked for the (D) F report after 1st quarter, as I was concerned about the student, teacher, parent communication loop. As we saw with data presented in January, there was a great disconnect. While the teachers, students and parents worked in earnest in December and early January to change the grades for the positive. The district administration and staff, absolutely should have been more on top of monitoring the section of students, 9-12, that had been working remotely from the first day in August. D303 needs to do better.
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 current program for K-5 safely and effectively conducts classes in the current structure. The district has been able to accommodate students safely in the spaces we have and still abide by the parameters given by the state. We have asked stakeholders regarding extending the hours for K-5 and the feedback has been overwhelming the same, that a longer day of mask wearing, would be difficult for the "littles." Middle school hours would remain the same also however, I would increase the virtual opportunities for clubs, sports and involvement for students, so they feel more involved. Also coordinating virtual study groups would help students in certain subjects and socialization. Lastly in HS, I have already recommended at a board meeting, that we evaluate attendance. Currently 77% of students stated they wanted to attend in-person, but not all attend. The principals are in the process of getting an accurate number, most likely lower. Then, I would like to extend a 5 day a week attendance to IEP, 504, EL, low income, minority and any student with a D or F. Also adding cases with students who are struggling in SEL (Social Emotional Learning).
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: As a parent of an athletic student who would have played his 14th season in Fall soccer and has played competitive travel soccer for years. I have seen first hand the restrictions imposed by IDPH, IHSA, ISBE and the Governor's office and how it impacts our children's well-being. While I respect the parameters, it has been a difficult year. Student health and safety is my first priority. That said, I am incredibly grateful Illinois has finally come to the same level of play as our surrounding states. It makes competitive sports very difficult for students when they are the only remaining state holding out on play.