Todd Witherow: 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.
City: Arlington Heights
Occupation: Product Director
Employer: Northrop Grumman
Civic involvement: District 214 Foundation board of directors, District 214 Foundation Career Pathways Committee Chair, Northrop Grumman Executive Sponsor for Employee Resource Groups, D214 Foundation Start Up Sponsor, Association of Old Crows, Sigma Chi
Q. Why are you running for this office? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. Coming from a family of career educators, I believe strongly in the importance of education and that schools are the foundation of good communities. I have had the pleasure of leading large businesses in my career and volunteering time as a board member with the D214 Foundation. I am running for D25 School Board of Education because I want to give back to our schools and community. There are many issues that motivate me to run. At the end of the next school year the district will be faced with two big action items -- Superintendent contract expiration and ATA Union agreement expiration. Further issues that motivate me are offering more opportunities to all students such as full day kindergarten, gifted and talented education, special education, and expanded ESL programs. Balancing the ability to offer these services with minimizing, or stopping, tax increases will be a focus for me on the Board.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. I am not in a position to grade the current school board because I have not been able to see, hear and have access to the same information they have during the pandemic. What I will offer is that the school board should have been more active in soliciting input and engaging the community to hear their desires during the pandemic. The school board cannot assume only those emailing and speaking represent the community. More active two-way communication could have led to better governance and direction from the board during the pandemic. The pandemic response is beyond what any board of education or district should be expected to immediately solve alone. Seeking professional input could have increased effectiveness of 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. My role on the board, not just with the pandemic, is to represent our constituents. It should be the obligation of the board to actively solicit input from the community. Once received, my role would be to ask questions, challenge assumptions and provide alternative solutions to ensure the administration, teachers and staff in the district have assessed the challenges and opportunities fully and are making a well-informed decision, reflective of the communities desire.
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. Without access to all the information our district received from teachers, staff, families, health departments and others it is hard to fairly answer this question. The teachers in our district went above and beyond their normal job responsibilities. Teachers had significant disruption throughout the year -- teaching continuously over two methods, ensuring student well-being was maintained, working with students remotely, covering for other teachers out sick. What our D25 teachers have done has been truly exceptional.
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. I do not believe it is the board's role to have a plan. The plan should be left to the experts -- the administration, teachers and staff. What I do believe is that in the spring, we need to offer all families a choice, but balance the workload of our teachers. Before the election on April 6, I hope there already is a plan for the spring, if not we are too late. The district should plan to continue to offer a choice for all families, but implement the model more efficiently. I would push for the district to establish a Remote Academy across the district lines, not school boundaries, to support families and teachers who need to be remote in the spring. This would then enable full five day in person to return for those families and teachers who desire that choice. I would encourage the district to empower our school principals to lead decisions, execution and communication in their schools. We need to return to the practice of allowing our school leaders to lead.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. I do not have a position on allowing high school sports to continue. I view the topic as one of choice. Leaders in the IHSA, schools, medical profession and community can apply what we know about the virus to create mitigations and measures to prevent transmission. Once that is defined, it should be clearly communicated. Then parents and families can choose if they believe the benefit of participation outweighs the risk. I trust that our families are able to make the best decision for their individual circumstances when informed.
Q. What other issues need to be addressed?
A. Rather than issues, I prefer to look at the opportunities we have moving forward. The pandemic has given us some unique opportunities to apply moving forward. First, the level of community awareness and inclusion in our school district has likely never been higher. We must harness this interest to generate new meaningful ways for our community to be part of our district. Second, the technology gap in districts nationwide has closed this year. We should look to use technology to find new ways for bringing diverse perspectives into our schools. Let's find partner schools and partner districts that we can "zoom" with weekly to have meaningful discussions with diverse schools. Third, the increased application of technology in our schools provides us with a better opportunity to partner with D214 on preparing our students for high school and even transitioning their technology with them to D214. These are a few of many opportunities the district can look to realize in the near future.