Edward J. McNally, 2021 candidate for St. Charles Unit 303 board

 
Updated 2/24/2021 11:37 AM

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 McNally'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.


Bio

 

Age: 58

City: St. Charles

Occupation: High school science teacher, Proviso Township High School District 209

Civic Involvement: Two terms on St. Charles District 303 School Board

Q&A

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 reelection. I have three children who attend school here and I am a taxpayer in the district. Also, an interest in all of the aspects of running a school district is an outgrowth of my professional life.

I have noted the manner in which decisions are made, and I am concerned that sometimes we don't give adequate attention to input from all stakeholders. I try to bring the interests of all to the table as we discuss items of impact in a manner that is respectful to all concerned.

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Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?

A: I would give the current board a B+. I think that attempts were made to address the needs of many while staying within parameters imposed by larger units of government. Clearly, the response was imperfect, evidenced by some very vocal expressions of dissatisfaction. However, I don't believe any school district had an irreproachable formula for this because of the uniqueness of the situation. Some schools are still fully remote, with discussions about bringing students and faculty together in person just taking place now. In-person instruction is, of course, the best situation, and one I am in favor of as a parent and as a teacher. There are, of course, exceptional situations that bear consideration, such as individuals at particular risk.

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 have always been in favor of constituents having a say in the decisions of the various levels of government, and have, where possible, tried to incorporate their needs in decisions made at our level. Unfortunately, deference to the mandates of higher authorities is often incumbent in order to protect the larger needs of the district. In such cases, I have encouraged constituents, from the board table, to contact their representatives in that larger layer of government in order to better facilitate our ability to make decisions.

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 don't believe any district served their students optimally during this situation, though not necessarily through their own fault. For the circumstances presented, I think D-303 fared better than most in an attempt to provide education in a manner that fundamentally differed from what is known to be superior to computer-based learning.

A decision was made to give authority to the superintendent to make decisions regarding changes to the education plan. While this generated some controversy, it was done with an eye toward allowing for decisions to be made in an efficient manner by the person most closely attuned to the mandates coming from the state. The board was still informed, and still provided oversight, but this gave the opportunity to move toward greater student contact without the necessity of convening multiple special meetings to address the changes that were occurring on a daily basis. As a result of this flexibility, D-303 leadership was able to act in some innovative ways that were not utilized by other districts. For example, elementary grades went to school fully in-person with a day shortened by less than 1- hours, Middle and High Schools were able to move to hybrid, and Special Ed populations, with their more significant needs, were able to meet in person. Teachers, support personnel and maintenance all stepped up and went above and beyond what would normally be expected to make subpar conditions the best experience they could be.

An area where there could have been improvement is in the delivery of education. Multiple avenues were followed in order to update technology, and not all were as successful as hoped. More important, though, is the chance to utilize the experience of many teachers across multiple grade levels, as they navigate the new educational landscape. This is an opportunity I hope the district takes to heart. Decisions are best made by those closest to a situation, because that is where effectiveness and efficiencies are most likely found. No one is closer to the delivery of education in this situation than the teachers. Their experience should be mined in order to determine the most productive methods because, although we should ultimately return to in-person learning, it is likely that remote learning will play some role in education moving forward, even if just as a way to supplant emergency days.

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: Because restrictions are being eased, especially in light of the availability of vaccinations, this is an evolving question. Currently we are operating in a hybrid situation for Middle and High Schools, and, while better than being fully remote, it is less than ideal. For in-person instruction, long-term mask usage and distancing, for example, might prove difficult to manage throughout an entire school day, requiring reevaluation or modification in the future. Closely monitoring eased restrictions to allow greater flexibility for in-person instruction, while still following concurrent directives, provides the best path to returning to the most productive setting.

We have to always remember that there are trade-offs as well. Attempts to provide protection from physical illness has manifested some unwanted results in the form of social and mental health concerns. We have learned that, throughout the country, there has been an increase in suicide, suicidal ideation and other psychological issues. Movement to an environment that would best alleviate these issues is not simply desirable; it is imperative.

Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.

A: Sports should return to the greatest extent allowed by the governing bodies and agencies such as the IHSA. Waivers are currently signed for participation, and these are completely voluntary activities. My view on this matter extends as well to all activities and clubs, as these afford students the opportunity to return to normalcy, and to socialize with similarly-interested classmates. Physical activity, and intellectual or recreational activity directed in a personally meaningful way is an important aspect of school, where friendships are forged and strengthened, often into lifelong bonds. To deny this to students is to further risk damage to their mental health.

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