Abigail Emerson: 2021 candidate for Glen Ellyn District 41 school board
Eight candidates are vying for four seats (four-year term) in the 2021 Glen Ellyn District 41 school board race.
City: Glen Ellyn
Occupation: VP Strategy at CNXT Digital/SchoolCNXT
Civic involvement: Middle 4 Community Voice survey contributor, church and related programs volunteer, Livkindly, Humane Society
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'm a working mother of three young daughters. I'm deeply concerned about the Board's singularly-focused priorities and stances and the long-term effect it will have on D41 students and the health and prosperity of this community. In my role working for a school software company that provides equity-driven family engagement solutions to schools, I work with administrators and teachers, and the stories I've heard around school closures are heartbreaking. I am deeply motivated to do something great for this community and its kids, and to help preserve (and help improve upon) the excellence of this wonderful community.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. D+ Although the Board was put in a difficult position, our students' education and well-being were rarely discussed in meetings. The Board shifted its focus exclusively to community transmission (not its job), while actively ignoring pleas and feedback from families whom their decisions impacted the most. To give a grade, you need bench marks and basis for comparison. The "D+" grade is due to a below average handling as we've seen other neighboring district Boards that have surveyed their community, gathered data and learning loss information, changed policy based on evolving data, and implemented creative solutions throughout the year to maximize in-person learning for their students. Unfortunately, D41 has done none of these things.
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. It's never been more important for this community to have a voice, and it's a main reason I'm running. I pride myself in my ability to consider multiple angles and perspectives (and voices!) when solving problems. And although passionate, I believe most people have the best intentions, so it allows me to open myself -- and sometimes others -- to new or different voices.
Many of these voices have gone unheard during the pandemic so in absence of any surveys from D41, I recently helped launch an initiative (community survey) to ask our parents and community members questions that would help bring clarity to the overall needs and priorities of this community. In 24 hours we received about 200 responses and truly compelling data. What one family deems unsafe, another deems critical for the mental, social, and educational well-being of their child -- or simply for their family to function. State guidance is helpful to ensure we are doing what we can to take precautions, but the IDPH allows each district to use and interpret these guidelines in the best interest of its community and kids. And you can't find out those priorities unless you ask.
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. Every facet of our district's hybrid model has remained unchanged since July. That has offered some benefits around consistency, but the negatives outweigh the positives. On the one hand, when the district decided to hold adaptive pauses, the student schedules stayed the same so there was very little confusion. On the other hand, around 2 hours of core instruction -- especially remote -- is not sufficient, especially for elementary school children learning foundational concepts. We were remote for a huge portion of the year. There were no adjustments made throughout the entire year. I believe that with surveys and community input, we could have been actively planning for and working toward more in-person options, prioritizing special needs students and early learners. In-person learning as a governance directive.
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 have a few plans that depend on community priorities and needs, and we hope to get a better idea of that as more survey results come in. But based on those results, it would entail a combination of 3 feet between desks, pods or groups 6 feet apart to minimize quarantine impact, additional plexiglass protection for our most vulnerable students, and a focus on effective masking as it has been proven the most effective mitigation measure. We had many issues with the 3-5th grade literacy and math program this fall -- students did not get math and literacy every day. It rotated in blocks of 5 days which was ineffective and unacceptable, so I would reevaluate that. Additionally, livestreaming was not an option for quarantined students and I know many individual teachers that wish that their revised contracts allowed it. I would take a closer look at that option to prevent students falling even further behind.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Our district is elementary and middle school.