Angela Blatner: 2021 candidate for Wheaton Warrenville District 200 school board
Ten candidates are vying for four, 4-year terms on the Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 school board in the April 6, 2021, election.
Occupation: Pediatric physical therapist at Early Intervention
Civic involvement: CUSD200 parent volunteer; teach parent advocacy; help neighbors and community members
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 school board because I want to be sure that students are put first. I bring a passion for making sure that education is a great experience for every kid. I bring a knowledge of the special education system, as well as a knowledge of the needs of children from preschool through high school (including an understanding of neurologic development and the social/emotional needs of children). I value and listen to the insights of parents and community members. I believe in setting and meeting high standards to ensure excellent schools for our community, while also being mindful of fiscal responsibility.
I have thought about running for the school board in the past, and I am now in a position to be able to offer the commitment. I am grateful for the education my children have received and believe in setting high standards for our district. At this time, I am particularly motivated by the desire to get students back into the classroom -- to give students the choice to return to full-time, in-person learning as well as to offer a strong Virtual Academy for those who choose it.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. Despite good intentions, current results would put the grade in the poor range. It has been discouraging this year to watch meetings where board members are not questioning or demanding creative thinking and problem solving. The board is not guiding the administration toward coming up with a plan to address what parents are asking for. At this point (and long before this point), kids are not doing well. And no one is adequately addressing that. Students are not being put first. Parents are frustrated at not knowing how to get the current board to hear that kids are suffering.
Parents are speaking out, sending emails, calling, begging … and feel unheard. We are worried for the well-being of our children. We absolutely want teachers to be safe (and there are ways to ensure this). We want an excellent virtual academy for those who choose it. We also want our children -- all children -- safe from what this is doing to them. We desperately want our board to listen and be the heroes that our children need. The recovery going forward will be tough. We need leaders who will listen, collaborate, ask hard questions, try things, and demand excellence for students.
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 school board member, I would absolutely be willing to listen to every opinion, idea, and belief of my constituents. I know that perspectives can differ vastly, but a difference in thinking does not make a perspective invalid. I would not come to any discussion with preconceived notions. I will strive to learn and understand all sides. Importantly, the establishment of good two-way communication and solicitation of feedback from all constituents needs to be put in place and remain ongoing -- in both good and difficult times.
At the end of the day, my job as a school board member would be to make a decision only after sufficient communication, learning, collaboration, and discernment has occurred. Transparency and teamwork are vital to gain trust and be successful.
As an elected official, I would be required to give a voice to my constituents -- even ones with whom I may disagree. Giving a voice to constituents goes hand-in-hand with leading. We need a board that is going to ask tough questions, work together with its constituents, problem solve, and demand creative thinking. We have heard too much of the words "we can't" and not enough of the words "we will make it work."
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. Despite good intentions, our district has not adequately served all students. At this point, our students need the option to return to full-time, in-person learning. When do we recognize the impact this is having on the youngest members of our society? Impacts including: kids living in precarious conditions, kids suffering abuse, kids' mental health declining, gross inequities among student populations, and academic disengagement and loss? The effects will be numerous and incalculable -- for the rest of their lives.
At what point do we choose to protect students from the risk of trauma-influenced neurological development -- which impedes healthy development and increases the risk of adverse mental (and physical) health outcomes? Brain development has crucial stages and finite time frames. The notion of "be resilient, it's only a short blip of time" is not valid when talking about a brain that is still developing. Trauma, disruption, and isolation alter and impair brain development. As adults, we are not neurologically impacted by isolation, disruption, and uncertainty nearly to the extent that children are. We need to act quickly to put the needs of kids first.
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 fall semester had us watch students become disengaged, fail classes, suffer declining mental health, and academically fall behind. Further, we fear for those kids for whom school is a safe space. Studies have shown that COVID spread in schools is significantly lower than in the community. In effect, having kids in school has been shown to lower community spread. I have specific ideas for a plan to get kids back in school full-time this spring and would seek input from constituents.
Here is the brief version: (1.) open for full-time in-person learning; (2.) continue a virtual option with improvements based on parent feedback; (3.) provide protective equipment for teachers, including plexiglass partitions and work stations; (4.) engage a panel of doctors with expertise in infectious diseases, pediatrics, immunology, virology, and public health to provide continual advice and problem-solving to look at how things are working in our schools; (5.) provide 3-feet distancing for students -- with 6-feet distancing for teachers; (6.) consider portable classroom spaces, reconfiguration of spaces, and/or the hiring of a firm to analyze each individual building space and come up with solutions.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. High school sports should be allowed to continue with safety guidelines. The pandemic has highlighted that the importance of school extends beyond academics. Sports and extracurriculars are a large part of the lives of kids. Sports provide self-esteem and social interaction, as well as exercise necessary for growth and health. Playing sports during the pandemic can be a mental health game changer. I have heard of kids who were angry, mad, disengaged -- until sports were allowed again. Some students need the playing time and exposure for college scholarships. Without sports, kids are more likely to engage in risky behaviors to fill their time, including excess screen time, drug abuse, social interaction without required safety guidelines, etc. Let the kids play.