Brad Paulsen: 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: Architect at Wight & Company
Civic involvement: I am nearing completion of my eighth year on the school board. I have served as board secretary, vice president, and for the past two plus years as president.
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. The survey relates only to pandemic response. The responsibility of the board is much broader. Seven board members will be seated as this school year is concluding. Any candidates running because they wanted schools open will have no impact this school year. I am seeking reelection because I know that road ahead requires experience, perspective, and deep understanding of our district. Once we get past this school year, the board will have major responsibility including contract renewals with our unions and Superintendent, prioritizing a plan to address the social-emotional wellness needs of students and staff, and bridging any learning gaps in a targeted manner as we go into next school year. We need to continue implementation of our Equity/Proactive Practices work plan and evolve our community engagement approach to help bring "healing" to the community following the disruptions and division caused by the pandemic -- and exacerbated on social media. Our Portrait of a Graduate initiative needs to be completed after being paused last spring. As always, the Board must continue strong financial stewardship while staying on track with our facility improvement program.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. I think the District has done a very good job. The Board's role is governance. We need to hear everyone, ask questions, provide feedback and speak to many different perspectives. It is impossible to be perfect in a situation that has never happened in our lifetimes. There was no road map for how to achieve this and the guidance from our state and various health departments has been frustrating. On Sept 16, the Daily Herald called District 200 "a bellwether for school reopening efforts in the pandemic." Our early childhood and elementary schools have been open five days per week from day one without a pause. Our secondary schools are back after a tough fall. We continue to create and implement ways to bring more students safely into the schools while working within the public health guidance provided to us by the medical experts. At the secondary level, we are providing four full days of instruction per week (two in person/two through livestream remote). Balancing the needs of students and the desires of teachers and parents has been a challenge. I am proud of what we have accomplished.
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. For over two years I have served as Board President. I understand the role and have personally felt the anger, frustration, and praise from community members. It has been a team effort and a good leader needs to recognize what we have achieved. My role has been to keep people together, remain focused on making sure all voices are heard, while assuring the operational decisions made by our leadership teams strike the right balance across all voices we have heard from. It is important to recognize that since this pandemic began the role of school district has expanded this year. We have played a role in assisting getting food to families in need, provided screening/testing of students and staff for COVID-19, been asked to coordinate vaccination of our teachers, and have had to become fluent in the science, data, and politics of a virus unknown barely 12 months ago. The role is not about picking sides and deciding who to listen to. It is about balancing the needs and concerns of all voices and health experts to keep moving the ball forward. That is what we have done this school year and I am proud of our team's efforts.
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. Adequate is viewed differently through the lens of each person. That is consistent through each school year. The year, we know there are people that do not feel the District has adequately served students, while others say we have done an outstanding job. I know that our peers and benchmark districts admire how we have handled this year and call us a model district. Specific examples of how we have adjusted include shifting to a livestream model at high school through a hybrid approach -- allowing us to abandon the high school virtual academy. This provided curriculum consistency, but also impacted flexibility of Wednesday asynchronous day. We also altered our middle school day for second semester to model our high school's "concurrent instruction" model. We have built out an entire virtual academy with dedicated school principals and teachers. We are currently exploring the possibility of expanding the in-person elementary day but are identifying several complications. We have established new attendance policies to expand our high school in person opportunities for students that need it and will be bring some student back for four days per week of in-person instruction.
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. District 200 is already safely conducting classes and beginning to implement ways to expand our in person model in March. Based on what we have learned, we have already shifted our middle school model for the second semester and recently modified the Wednesday asynchronous day for middle school students. If there was one area I wish we could enhance it would be our asynchronous day at the high schools. However, I recognize that there are good reasons and rational for the structure of that day as an important opportunity for teachers to connect with students that have opted for the fully remote option. The fact that we maintained the virtual academy at the middle school level and did not at the high school level complicates the situation. We also added optional surveillance testing of students and staff as an enhanced mitigation strategy to assure a safe learning environment and to prevent other students being removed from in-person learning due to a close contact definitions.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. The decision on high school sports is not a local decision. Certainly, I wish our student athletes did not have the rug pulled out from under them this fall and winter. I wish the state could have found a way. I am happy the sports season has started for our students. However, from my perspective, playing competitive sports would have also required other schools and conferences to make the same choice to play. So even if it were a local choice, competitive high school sports with other schools likely never could have happened until the IHSA acted. Equally important is the opportunity to relaunch co-curricular activities for our students. This is already underway, and more students are at the schools as a result. I think this decision also needs to be recognized as an important decision for students.