Anjali Bharadwa: 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: Project Manager for Engineering Consulting Firm DMC, Inc.
Civic involvement: Creator of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Parent Council for District 200 (DEI200); started and run a local chapter of Kids for Peace; co-president of the Chicago Chapter of Women in Technology (WIT); serve on WWPTA Council and district's Equity Task Force
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 to provide a fresh perspective and diversity in thought for District 200 School Board. The School Board is supposed to be a reflection of the community it serves. I feel that there are many gaps in our representation that I could fill. I have children at every level of the district including elementary, I am a woman with a career in technology, and I am a racial and religious minority.
School boards benefit from a variety of perspectives; having access to these various viewpoints is valuable when considering the important decisions that the school board may make regarding educational and policy issues. We have great schools but I always push for excellence and never settle for status quo. I am running to help make CUSD 200 be the best schools they can be.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. I would grade the district a B for their response to the pandemic. District 200 was successful in putting the safety and health of our students and teachers as our priority. 200 has successfully avoided community spread while implementing the virtual option for those who want it. Our district recognized the importance of a 5 day in-person option for elementary students even when all other districts around us decided to go remote. We struggled with the complexity of schedules and capacity constraints for middle and high school students have but successfully had students in person in some form before other districts. Though school closing is not the driver for my candidacy, I do believe there is room for improvement.
Student's mental health is often referred to but not accompanied with plans to address the issues. Inconsistency in scheduling has also been a pain point. Engaging the community is a part of the board's responsibilities and while ideas may have been evaluated, the community only heard reasons why we couldn't be in person instead of proposing solutions. This perception has resulted in a divided community even though we all want what is best for our kids.
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. I view my role as a uniter. Every board member, administrator, teacher, and parent want what is best for our students. Not everyone disagrees because they do not believe in science but because they are worried about their children and students. Each person in our community is dealing with unique circumstances, therefore I believe we need to give a voice to our constituents. Our community and especially our children are suffering. We need to hear from everyone to determine what is most important to us and what makes the most sense for our community.
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. Elementary was the biggest success as they have been in person all year for half days. By providing 1-1 technology and equipment to allow for livestreaming classes, our district was able to continue providing services for secondary students when no alternative option was available based on IDPH guidelines. Academically, at no fault of the teachers, our students have received a less comprehensive education as students struggle to learn behind screens and with less class time. For a student, asynchronous learning is equivalent to homework and sometimes busy work that some students just skip. Middle school started off with more than half their week asynchronous but rightfully corrected course. Part of the in personal school experience is relationships and socialization which has been stripped away for our older students.
Therefore, many high schoolers were not showing up for their in-person day. We have recently added some enjoyment back in with sports and extracurricular activities which is a step in the right direction. While I am grateful for the effort put forth by the district, we always must strive to do better as our kids are depending on us.
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. We learned in the fall that school is not a source of community spread, masks work, and schools are one of the safest public places with strict mitigation strategies in place and staff enforcement. I would poll the community to receive buy in on mandatory testing with a promise of 5 days in person full time with slightly reduced distancing for students while maintaining 6 feet for teachers. We must retain the virtual academy as well while we are still in a pandemic. We prioritize scheduling teacher vaccines as needed. Additionally, we can reduce contacts in a day for purposes of contact tracing using block scheduling. Middle school schedules could be staggered to avoid congestion in hallways.
Alternative options could be a complete overhaul of the schedule to allow for class cohorts or even renting space if needed. If there is absolutely nothing we can do to get them in person, switch off cohorts for Wednesdays for in person learning, perform the deep clean after school, and try to improve the in person experience so that children still can enjoy going school.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Sports conducted with the use of mitigation strategies such as masks and testing should be allowed but not at the detriment of school being in person. With sports starting up in recent weeks, without distancing but with masks, we have not seen community spread and therefore should be allowed to continue as such. Students not being able to play have health consequences as seen around the country due to inactivity. Students also need an outlet so without these opportunities they get together without mitigation strategies and contribute more to community spread. Indoor sports allow for 2 spectators passes with masks required, outdoor sports can allow more flexibility with masks recommended and social distancing required.