Anisha Patel: 2021 candidate for District 25 school board
Eight candidates are running for four, 4-year terms on the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board.
Town: Arlington Heights
Occupation: Educator, Organizational Change and Leadership
Civic involvement: School Board Member, Arlington Heights District 25 (2017-present), Board Representative, D25 Strategic Planning Committee (Oct. 2020-Feb. 2021), District 25 Board Liaison, ED-RED (2017-present), Member, ED-RED Equity Ad Hoc Committee (2020-present); Director-at-Large, Illinois Association of School Boards, North Cook Division (2019-present); Board of Trustees, High School District 214 Education Foundation Board (2019-present), Vice Chair, board of trustees (2020-present), Chair, Next Generation Pathways Committee; Co-Founder & National Adviser, WomenED U.S. (2017-present); Founding Board Member, Viator House of Hospitality (2017-present); Member, League of Women Voters; PTA Member
Q. Why are you running for this office? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. I am running for reelection, so that I can continue to advance the vision of educational excellence for our Arlington Heights D25 students and community. The pandemic has impacted everyone, and as an educator and mother, I've seen firsthand how hard this past year has been for families. With more than 25 years of experience in education and organizational leadership, I will work to keep students' socio-emotional and academic needs at the top of the district's priority list. That means making sure health guidelines are followed so schools can continue to maximize in-person learning opportunities. Effective board governance also requires comprehensive leadership. We must continue to be solution-focused to overcome the stark challenges we face from COVID-19; additionally, we must work diligently to expand services so that all our students can excel. By focusing solely on a single issue, we risk losing sight of the many variables that enable us to improve the quality education that each student deserves. Emerging stronger from today's challenges will continue to take thoughtful stewardship in all areas of school board governance including fiscal responsibility, driving the district's mission and goals, and holding the superintendent and ourselves as a board accountable.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. As a current board member, I believe communication, transparency and accountability are critical to successful organizational leadership and governance. The pandemic requires crisis management with an emphasis on listening to the needs of our district community. When we consider intent versus impact, it is clear that as a board our goal was to best serve our students, and every board member worked toward this outcome. However, in some cases we overstepped our responsibility when we ventured into operational discussions; the impact of which led to some poor decision making. We are now working to restore effective board governance. I have formally requested that the D25 Board Governance Framework be revised to include an annual board review and evaluation; a process that has already started. I am grateful to District 25 families for their incredible civic engagement and input as we navigate this crisis together. I know families struggled with remote learning (mine included), and many feel that they weren't heard when some of these decisions were made. The pandemic presented impossible choices for our schools: We can always do better, and a school board must continue to listen to all voices in the community to make informed decisions.
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. As a school board member, it is my responsibility to represent the entire Arlington Heights District 25 community. I put principles before personalities, meaning that I listen to all perspectives by engaging with our district stakeholders, including parents, board colleagues, superintendent, staff, and I especially appreciate the input received from our students. I am presented with multiple points of views, and balance these with the science provided by public health organizations, including the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The pandemic has heightened the polarization in our community, and as a school board member, I take seriously my ethical and moral responsibility to represent every student and family in District 25. I read and reflect on each conversation and email, bringing these perspectives into board discussions to guide our decisions. I view empathetic leadership as key to understanding the needs of my fellow District 25 families. During a crisis, collaboration is even more important, and I strive to maintain these two-way conversations with both constituents and fellow board members. Every district stakeholder wants safe, nurturing, and effective schools. Through listening to each other, we can rebuild our community to move forward.
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. D25 staff dedicated themselves to supporting students right from the start of the pandemic. Despite unprecedented challenges, they remained agile as the situation evolved. In March, 2020, when schools had to cancel in-person learning, D25 was ready on Day 1 to transition to remote instruction. The drastic shift in learning style was challenging for everyone, especially younger grades, students with special needs, and English language learners. In response, D25 in collaboration with our hardworking PTA's organized drive-through community boosting events. Social-emotional checks were put in place. Before the new school year, outdoor social distanced teacher-student gatherings were organized. D25 adjusted lesson planning by training teachers to facilitate technology-based remote learning. Every student was provided a device. In October, when we transitioned to hybrid learning, teachers worked diligently to support in-person and remote learners concurrently. Since the pandemic began, the Food Service Department has distributed 709,000 free meals and counting. Every difficult situation comes with challenging decisions due to the consequences they hold. Given the circumstances of the unprecedented contagious virus, the district stepped up to the plate and proved their commitment to students. My goal is to guide our district to implement lessons learned and consistently work toward excellence.
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. Meticulous and proactive planning with diverse stakeholder input will be critical as we continue to meet the needs of students during this ongoing pandemic. To be solutions-driven, thinking outside the box will be required. Knowing more about the virus, and it's fluid nature, we have to be ready with strategies to overcome different scenarios. For instance, during warmer temperatures, outdoor stations could provide learning and much needed social emotional connections in nature. For the new school year, a robust remote academy should also be explored.
District 25 increased in-person learning opportunities during the winter months. On January 21, families were able to choose full in-person or remote. As we plan for the spring, parents will continue to have this choice. Our staff has done an exceptional job implementing mitigation strategies within schools. The board approved the hiring of a contact tracer for each school to assist the building nurse in completing this essential task in collaboration with the local health department. Our district was also one of the first in the area to provide vaccinations to the entire staff ensuring their safety to conduct classes. It is imperative that we continue to make decisions based on evolving health guidelines.
Q. What is your position on allowing school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. I support allowing sports to continue, as long as proper mitigation measures are followed. Athletic experiences promote social emotional learning and character development. So many students benefit immeasurably from playing team sports with their peers. After the emotional challenges this pandemic has put on our students, it is critical that we bring back sports safely. Students need to be able to jump back into their favorite activities, and move closer to post-pandemic normalcy. I am glad to see that sports are beginning again in D25 in accordance with the guidelines set by the Illinois Elementary School Association and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Q. What other issues need to be addressed?
A. As a board member, I adhere to the oath I took for this role, that "I shall serve as education's key advocate on behalf of students and our community's schools to advance the vision for Arlington Heights District 25." For the last four years, I have listened to my constituents. I have also served as the board representative on the D25 Strategic Planning Team, collaborating with diverse stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, residents and community leaders. The key issues I heard include: Expanding our continuum of services to better meet the needs of all students, including our marginalized populations, students with special needs and advanced learners. Reduce performance gaps, and maximize learning potential. We must also address the growing socio-emotional needs. A sense of belonging and mutual understanding must be fostered by cultivating diversity, equity and inclusion. The pandemic has brought to light a focus on healing external and internal relationships through even greater transparency and communication. Finally, we must continue to demonstrate financial stewardship in response to the changing nature of school funding and prepare for future budget projections for high-quality programs. To that end, I am requesting the reexploration for the possibility of offering full-day kindergarten.