Pamela (Pam) Ahlmann: 2021 candidate for Lisle Unit District 202 board
Five candidates are squaring off for four, 4-year seats on the Lisle Unit District 202 board in the April 6 election. They are incumbents Pamela (Pam) Ahlmann, Eunice B. McConville, and Randee C. Sims, and newcomers Steven Lesniak and Gregory T. Nagler.
They responded to a Daily Herald questionnaire seeking their thoughts on some of the most pressing issues facing the district.
Below are Ahlmann's responses.
In-person early voting with paper ballots begins Feb. 25 at DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
Five candidates for four, 4-year terms
Employer: Retired in 2020 after a 46-year career with the Social Security Administration
Education: Bachelor of Science, Psychology and Sociology, University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse
Civic involvement: Lisle Unit District 202 board (2004-present); Trinity Bridge Ministry Team; Lisle Education Foundation (2005-present); LEND (Legislative Education Network of DuPage County) (2007 to present); Friends Feeding Families (F3) (2018-present); and previous: Partners for Parks Scarecrow Scramble (2006-2018); Lisle Community Reader; Lisle Eyes to the Skies; DuPage County Barriers Taskforce; Trinity Lutheran Church Sunday school teacher and confirmation assistant; and DuPage Pads.
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: It has been my honor to serve on the Lisle Unit 202 Board of Education since 2004. I have always been student focused, fiscally responsible, and community minded. I care about promoting Lisle and advocating for continuous improvement in our schools to meet the needs and success of students. My decisions are based on what is best for all students, while balancing the needs of the district, and the interest of our stakeholders. Serving as the board's vice president since 2017, board president from 2010-2017, policy committee chair since 2018, and our equity committee chair since 2020, I value the importance of collaboration and good governance.
I am running for reelection to further the board work in progress. I am committed to supporting the personal well-being of students and their academic success, identifying barriers to equity in students' learning, and completing the facilities master plan. With each election there have been important issues to address, but none as challenging and formative as identifying the impact of the pandemic on our learning community. I hope to help in this transition.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the board a B based on staying focused, following facts, incorporating feedback and remaining flexible. The core belief of our "Return to School Plan" is that in-person instruction is the most effective way to support student learning. Our focus is on providing consistent and effective learning in a safe and healthy environment.
We have followed the state and county guidelines to mitigate transmission. Safety measures are in place and the district monitors levels within the immediate community and each school. A dashboard with the county, community, and school transmission levels is on our website.
We listened to feedback from parents, staff, and students, made adjustments, provided learning options, required teachers to teach remotely from the classroom, ensured priority attention to students with Individualized Education Programs and special needs, supported additional substitute staff and a new program to help assess learning gaps, and reduced the financial burden on families by providing free lunches, abating taxes and waving school, parking and athletic fees.
We made ongoing modifications in instruction and established a return to remote plan to reduce the risk of transmission after the holidays. We continue to stay flexible and work to increase learning opportunities, support, and rigor.
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: Board members need to be informed, hear and understand constituents' desires, make sure that information is communicated, and advocate for improvement. It has been especially important during the pandemic that we continue dialogues and respond to constituent's concerns when raised.
We know this is an extremely challenging time and even more so for working parents and parents with young children at home. Along with administration, the board reviews changing conditions and state and county public health guidance as it becomes available. We all want to see students return full time to the classroom, but we also need to consider our staff, families, and the Lisle community along with the guidance of the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education in the Restore Illinois Plan. We sit in trust for the entire community and should represent the broad public good rather than being overly influenced by special interests. It is our role during the pandemic to determine the district's priorities and direction, monitor changes, and support a plan that focuses on all students and is conducive to consistent and effective learning in a safe and healthy environment.
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: Yes, our district continued to effectively serve students. We have experienced both successes and challenges in the virtual setting, but our students and staff have created a sense of "community" in new ways. Our teachers are committed to making remote learning the best it can be. Since the fall, they teach from the classroom so students see a consistent classroom environment, and teachers and substitutes are accessible to resources, interventions, collaboration and technological support.
Understanding the unique challenges students with Individualized Education Programs and special needs face, priority attention was given to those learners and their return to in-person learning. Staff continues to look for additional ways to better serve students and ensure our learning environments support growth and provide rigor. Lisle High School developed Study Tables to provide extra help for specific groups of students struggling in one or more classes. Our other schools developed similar support systems and recently adopted a new program to help assess learning gaps.
The district has also provided support by distributing free meals to all children 18 and under and waiving 2020-2021 school fees for all Lisle 202 families, as well as parking and winter athletic fees for all high school students.
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: Families have the option for their children learning fully online through the year. Other students are currently in school under a hybrid and concurrent model with approximately half of the students attending in-person each day. The protocols in place have been effective in virus mitigation but limit the number of students who can participate in learning within the school. We are monitoring guidance from public health officials to determine when the 6 feet of social distancing can be safely reduced and investigating additional ways to increase the number of instructional minutes and the number of students who can attend in-person within the guidance provided from the health department.
We increased support and instructional time, since the beginning of the school year, and welcome suggestions from parents, based on their experience to add learning opportunities for students. We recognize that parents want more communication, consistent schedules, and changes communicated in advance. The high school recently sent out a survey to parents and students in order to obtain feedback regarding progress in meeting the remote learning guidelines highlighted at the beginning of the school year. That feedback will be used to evaluate future changes.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I fully support high school sports continuing if we follow the DuPage County and Illinois High School Association mitigation guidance. I believe the pandemic presents athletic teams with challenges, but overcoming challenges is an important result of extracurricular programs.
Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Public Health moved DuPage County from Tier 1 mitigation status to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan. Although in Tier 1 mitigation, sports considered "high risk" were unable to play any competitive games, our basketball teams, as well as our cheerleading and dance teams held practices aligned with the IDPH guidelines and IDPH All-Sport Policy.
With the move to Phase 4, all winter athletes, are now allowed to compete in a shortened, conference-only season. The Illinois Central Eight Conference principals and athletic directors approved schedules and mitigation guidelines that are being used consistently throughout the conference for the rest of this season. Because of the anticipated shortened season (e.g. basketball will have about one-third the games of a normal season) and the unpredictability of each sports, if we move to Tier 1 again, our board approved waiver of student athletic fees for the second semester.