Andrew Binkowski: 2021 candidate for Naperville Unit District 203
Challenger Andrew Binkowski, 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.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is now available at DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
For more election coverage, visit dailyherald.com.
Occupation: Professor of computer science at The University of Chicago
Civic involvement: District 203 volunteer, youth sports coach, Cub Scout den leader, Ss. Peter and Paul parishioner and volunteer
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 four District 203 students, I have been frustrated by this school year. I am concerned about academic performance and saddened about the social and emotional scars that our children will bear. I am genuinely hopeful that a bright future exists for the District and its students. However, it depends on where we go from here. Everyone wants what is best for our students, but there is an impassioned division on what that means. Some will be happy to have everything return back to the way it was. For the rest of us, we want it to be better. An opportunity is present now to reshape priorities, re-imagine the school day, redefine what excellence in education looks like, and reclaim our District's leadership role. I am a teacher who has been thrust into the world of remote learning and a scientist who has spent over a decade studying proteins and infectious diseases, but more importantly, I am a father who dedicates my life to my children. I have an obligation to them, and our community, to raise my voice to ensure that being a student in District 203 is once again an asset and not a liability.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: Based on the current grading scale of District 203, I would give the board's response to the pandemic an "IE" (insufficient evidence). On Aug. 17, 2020, the board approved a resolution that gave complete authority to the Superintendent to plan and execute the District's "Return to Learn" plan. Section 2:20 Powers and Duties of the School Board identifies on the board's power and duty to "Directing, through policy, the Superintendent, in his or her charge of the District's administration." By transferring policy decisions to the Superintendent, the board relinquished their authority and violated a primary directive during the most critical point in the District's history. They forfeited the community voice that they were elected to champion.
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 school board, I would fulfill my obligation to represent my community and direct the superintendent's administration of the District. I would work with my colleagues on the board to gather information, ask questions, solicit guidance from experts, and take feedback from the community. I will strive to balance the benefits and risks in all decision-making based on the best information available. As a father, a teacher, and a scientist, my voice has the expertise, authority, and objectivity needed to act in the best interest of our student's safety, social-emotional health, and educational goals.
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: As a father of four students across three schools, I have witnessed a wide range of failures and a few limited successes of District 203's service during the pandemic. Beginning with a delayed start to the school year, families were inundated with the uncertainties of flip-flopping learning models, midnight emails, A/B groups, and AM/PM schedules. We were anxiously dreading board meetings to learn how our lives would be upended the following week. The only consistency this year was uncertainty. Compounded with a lack of transparency and accountability, the District has been ineffective at meeting its mission.
Families were forced to adapt and adjust, the District did not. While some older students are able to navigate the uncertainty to varying degrees, universally, our youngest learners have been hit the hardest. Not only are they struggling now but the impact of a diluted curriculum and social-emotional isolation will be felt forever. The enormous strain placed on parents is forcing previously unthinkable decisions about the future of our children.
With all that said, the District did find a way to address some important community needs, such as providing food security for families.
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 superintendent has indicated a commitment to hybrid learning for the remainder of the school year. This model of schooling has proven effective at minimizing exposure to the virus, however it has also minimized the academic rigor in District 203. The newly elected board's top priorities should be to mitigate learning loss and ensure a safe 2021-22 school year.
The District should not require any family to take on more risk than they are comfortable with or have to convince them what is safe and effective for their students. The District should provide a rigorous academic curriculum and proven pedagogy in all educational models. Remote, Hybrid, and In-Person options should be offered to meet the needs of all students. Social-emotional learning goals should be adapted to meet the needs of each model. The district will need to recommit to equitable education for students of all levels, all abilities, and all educational delivery models.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I was grateful that the students were able to participate in limited high school sports for their heath and social-emotional well-being. However, I feel that if students were able to go to school to practice and play sports then they should have been able to go to school to learn.
Also, the opportunity for extracurricular activity and student interaction was not equitable. Non-student athletes did not get the same access to resources and support from the school during this time.