Kim Withycombe: 2021 candidate for Community Unit District 300 board
Newcomer Kim Withycombe is one of seven candidates vying for three, 4-year seats on the Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 board in the April 6, 2021 election. The other candidates are incumbents Emmanuel Thomas and David Scarpino, and newcomers Christine Birkett, Daniel P. Dale Jr., Holly Jarovsky and Kristina M. Paul.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates several questions on some of the most pressing issues facing the district. Kristina Paul did not respond to the questionnaire.
Below are Withycombe'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.
Occupation: Technical project/program manager, Allstate Insurance Company
Civic involvement: School volunteer, PTO member/president; volunteer work through my company
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 the board of education to be a voice for parents and provide choice and transparency into decisions made that impact our students.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the current board a grade of a C. They were up against something that had never been experienced before and they held their own. They tried to consider what families wanted for their children and they were ultimately put in a very difficult situation of not being able to make everyone happy. I think if they would have kept personal feelings out of their responses in meetings and stuck to facts, it would have been better for all concerned. A safe plan was created to get kids back in school by the superintendent but was disregarded by the board. The reasons behind the decisions were never truly made clear, even in the fall when the vote came up again for students to have in-person learning.
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: While I do not agree with how the current board reacted, I do acknowledge they were in a no-win situation. I would have liked to have seen more transparency into WHY and HOW the decisions were made, given that the decisions went against the majority of responses from a parent survey. I would still provide a choice as to either attend school in-person or remote, based on a family's own situation, but I would have taken into account that remote learning was not a viable solution for most students. The mental and social health of students needed to also be taken into consideration at the beginning. Be proactive in providing help to students and families rather than reactive.
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 want to believe that my district did the absolute best they could given the circumstances. We needed more technical experience to ensure the infrastructure and available bandwidth could adequately supply all the schools in the district each day. However, the one thing that did not sit right with me was the expectation of just how much focus was demanded of our children. Multiple hours of screen time each day, and in high school, classes were 75 minutes in length with only a 5-minute break in between. Most adults cannot focus in a 75-minute meeting let alone have to do so up to 5 times a day. It was too much, kids were getting headaches from looking at the screen, teachers could not tell if their students were truly paying attention. It was tough on everyone all around.
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 am happy to say that our district is leaning toward a safe return to more in-person school for those students/families who want it, provided the board approves. I agree with the daily screenings, safe distancing, masks and longer passing periods between classes to alleviate crowding. Given that we have seen schools are not the super-spreaders once thought to be, I believe we can get back to more in-person instruction in the spring and hopefully use these current and future learnings to be full-time in person to those students/families who want it, in the fall.
We consistently need to identify and review our lessons learned on a regular basis to ensure we do not repeat mistakes and continually move forward to provide a better foundation for our children's education.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: The pandemic is definitely not what it was 9 months ago. Today we understand the virus better and we have vaccines to keep people safe. With the use of daily screenings used for school, participation in high school sports should be allowed. From football to baseball and cheer to dance and everything in between should be allowed by those students who want to participate. Not letting them play in these sports is even more detrimental to their overall mental well-being.
Sports teach kids discipline and time management and give them something to work toward. These sports allow kids to showcase their personal and teamwork skills, constructively reduce stress and, in some instances, get scholarships for college -- which for some, could make the difference of attending or not attending college.