Amanda McMillen: 2021 candidate for Naperville Unit District 203
Challenger Amanda McMillen, one of nine candidates running for four, 4-year terms in Naperville Unit District 203, responds to the Daily Herald candidate questionnaire for the April 6, 2021, local elections.
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Occupation: Nonprofit management, Illinois Collaboration on Youth
Civic involvement: None prior
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: As a parent of three children, I felt compelled to run for school board because I saw gaps in areas of curriculum and representation that needed to be addressed to ensure they had the best educational experience possible. These include areas of safely returning to the in-person school environment, areas of equity that can meaningfully address the academic gaps within diverse communities, and ensuring fiscal resources are focusing on areas of academic, social emotional, and extracurricular needs. I am a social worker with over 15 years experience in nonprofit leadership and am part of an organization that supported a statewide effort to support youth-serving organizations to continue to provide mandatory and preventive services through the pandemic. My experience with collaborating with diverse groups and systems and understanding of the complex issues facing children and families will be an asset to the board.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the current school board a grade of B for their handling of the response to the pandemic. Since this is our first global pandemic in over 100 years, I appreciate how the board relied on the experts around health and safety and reviewed various metrics both at the community and district level to help make informed decisions to keep students and staff safe. Additionally, they had the resources to ensure that students were able to engage electronically almost immediately once the stay-at-home order was put in place.
Additionally, they did their best to listen to the community through emails and calls from constituents. They also worked to communicate the ever-evolving changes and reasons behind those decisions. However, as a parent it was a struggle to have my children at home for so long and I wonder how with nearly a year of at-home learning, what the longer-term effects will be on their academic and social development. Additionally, I wonder about how the support staff within the district were cared for during the pandemic and what retention may look like in the upcoming school year.
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 member of the board, it is important to be nonpartisan and to focus on the issues that impact everyone. This pandemic has forced each family to navigate the level of isolation or integration that they feel is best for their children. There is no right or wrong, because we are all experts in the needs of our family. I think it is important to collaborate and listen to all voices from families and the experts to take into consideration what is the safest and most innovative solution to move forward. The uniqueness of this position is that we work as a unit and no one voice, or person can decide for the whole board; however, we must govern in a way that elevates the voice and answers the concerns of the families and community served by the district.
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 think the district did as good as it could safely do to serve students during the pandemic. All students were provided with Chromebooks, and those with limited internet were given a free hot spot. I think the students that struggled the most were those with special needs, IEPs, and younger students K-3 as they are not developmentally equipped to engage for long periods via computer. I know the district opened a little earlier to serve some of the higher-risk and younger students; however, there are still limitations to their capacity to serve all students. I fear that the academic divide will be heightened by the pandemic and will take years to overcome.
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: The CDC just released guidelines for schools stating that wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing, and contact tracing are all the factors that need to be in place to reduce the spread of COVID. Although District 203 has all of these procedures in place, I don't think it is possible to go to full in-person in the spring and be able to maintain safe social distancing. I think maintaining a hybrid model of learning in the spring is the best option with the hope that we can return to full in-person in the fall. The reality is that COVID-19 continues to be a threat to the health and safety of everyone. Vaccines are still a way off from being readily available to the general public, and there is no current vaccine available to children. Until we can have more of a community control of this virus, it will not be safe to engage within schools as we were before the pandemic. I do think there are things schools can do to help more students transition back to in person by maximizing current building space.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: The power of choice and having the options available to students and families is important while minimizing risk to the community. I think this could be a viable option if additional safety measures are in place such as wearing masks, mandatory COVID testing before events for all players and coaches, contact tracing procedures enforced, and restricting audience observation, especially in indoor spaces. I also think that students should not be penalized for not being able to participate if they feel this would compromise their or their family's physical health.