Heidi Jo Fairgrieve, 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 Fairgrieve'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
Occupation: Credit Director
Civic Involvement: St. Charles District 303 school board member, 2017-2021
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 a passion for education. I have a BS in Accounting, a MBA, and business certifications. I believe that education is the backbone that supports positive contributions to our neighborhoods and communities. I am a working professional with 33 years in the corporate environment; 29 of those in leadership roles with increasing responsibility. Most of my experience rests in banking. Through my leadership roles, I have coached others to achieve significant business results. I have the skillset and experiences to bring value to the board. Diverse perspectives are important for balanced decision-making and to ensure all constituents are represented. Throughout my career, I have led March of Dimes and United Way campaigns. I have mentored high school girls under a Chicago Big Sisters Program and served as a Junior Achievement teacher in elementary schools. I am active in my neighborhood school community and serve as the PTO Scholarship Chair. Being engaged in my communities is important to me.
I am running for reelection with these values:
-- Quality of education is critical to the individual, the community, our state, and our nation.
-- Diverse perspective and strong, varied skill sets create value.
-- Engagement in the community is important.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: When the pandemic was identified in March, 2020, required action had to be taken quickly. There was no school district across the country that was prepared for what was needed to ensure students continued to learn. In our district, electronic devices were quickly dispensed to students and our educators adapted instructional plans and practices. There were certainly areas of opportunity; specifically related to high school events and milestones. Overall and as it relates to continued learning, I think it was a measured response given the information and guidelines available.
For this school year, the School Board and District strived to ensure every student family had the choice to either attend school in-person or remotely while adhering to State and ISBE guidelines. Educators were provided professional development opportunities related to technology and remote learning. I think the Elementary and Middle School launches to in-person/remote environments went well. From a high school standpoint, there was opportunity for improvement. High School scheduling and logistics are complicated. However, it took too long to get the high school students back into the school buildings. Today, there is continued focus on how to improve the education experience of all of our students, and particularly high school.
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 answer to this question is not an either-or. I view the role of a school board member as requiring all of these items -- and not just in a pandemic environment. A school board member should always consider the voice of all constituents. It should be a constant goal to separate personal views and to listen to what key stakeholders are saying -- giving consideration in all discussions. Likewise, we are a public school district. It is incumbent on a school board member to listen and attempt to understand state authority guidance. It is then the school board's responsibility to ensure that the guidance is applied appropriately and in consideration of the dynamics of its school district. Finally, leadership should be demonstrated at all times with the consistent goal being to drive toward achievement of the district vision and objectives.
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: In a pandemic environment that no one has previously experienced, I think D303 continues to do a good job serving student community needs and meeting individual students' needs at specific moments in time. For example, breakfast/lunch meals are provided to all students throughout the school community in an effort to address food insecurity. Electronic devices are provided to all students and hot spots are provided to those students without sufficient internet capabilities to reduce learning disruptions. And finally, prior to the implementation of in-person learning at the high school level, high school students with specific academic needs were identified and resources provided in an in-person setting.
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 303 is already safely conducting classes during its second semester. Student families were given another opportunity to select a preferred education method for the second semester: in-person or remote learning. I have had the opportunity to observe in-person classes at Norton Creek Elementary School, Wredling Middle School, and St. Charles East High School. Classes were managed thoughtfully and safely with no confusion surrounding expectations. The safety protocols were respected.
As I have stated previously, there is always room for improvement and the District is focused on this. For example, science labs and band/choir experiences are being evaluated with the goal to increase the rigor in these subjects.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I am in full support of allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic, with the appropriate mitigants put in place, as guided by scientific research, and a consistent monitoring of the environmental data for the communities. Many universities successfully continued with sports activities through Fall and Winter. Many high schools continued with sports activities as well. Learnings and best practices could be leveraged from these experiences. For student-athletes, sport participation is a critical component to mental and physical wellness. Furthermore, participation can play a significant role in the student-athlete's college choices and/or ability to attend college.