Charles Cush: 2021 candidate for Naperville Unit District 203
Incumbent Charles Cush, 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: Healthcare marketing executive, Hollister, Inc.
Civic involvement: Current school board member, Naperville Unit District 203
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 seeking reelection to the school board for the same reason I ran the first time, and that is because I still believe I can make a difference. I have a passion for helping others achieve their full potential. I believe that District 203 has a responsibility to provide a learning environment where every student has the opportunity to maximize their potential; and I want to continue to be part of helping the district fulfill that responsibility.
I have two daughters who graduated from the district, and I have seen how their time as students in 203 has prepared them to be successful at the next level, and I want to provide that support to all students and their families. The ability to drive focus and meet customer needs is something that I have been successful doing throughout my career, and is experience that I have and will continue to apply as a member of the school board. These experiences combined with my passion and energy for developing people will help me to support the district's efforts to build upon our performance as the top community unit school district in the state and one of the top districts in the country.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: Given the number of variables and the volatility of the circumstances we faced as a district, I would say that any grade would have to be viewed as being "on a curve" vs. in absolute terms. That said, I would give us an A- in terms of our overall response. Our ability to quickly pivot to remote instruction is a point that cannot be taken for granted when evaluating our response. Many other districts had to rely on printed packets, because they lacked the technological infrastructure to deliver quality remote education. The quality of our teachers and staff and their flexibility and level of preparation is another point of strength when evaluating our response. This has been noted in many emails and public comments made at board meetings.
One area we can continue to evolve is communication. While the information has always been fully available to the public, I believe that this is an area where we can never do too much. We can increase our frequency and develop additional mechanisms to ensure that everyone in the community has the ability to access the information in a way that matches how they prefer to receive and process important information.
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 believe our role in confronting the pandemic is multifaceted. I think that it involves providing leadership, while giving a voice to all constituents. It requires balancing the breadth and variety of needs and situations that impact the families that make up our community when making decisions about how we will move forward. I think that we also need to listen to state and national authorities with respect to the data and understanding of the virus and what is and what is not recommended to maintain a safe environment. One thing that this situation has made very clear is that there is no singular "magic" answer that solves all needs, and that balancing the range of needs will require everyone to make some sacrifices and trade-offs so that we as a community can move forward. My role as a board member is to lean in, consider the facts and all voices, and to make decisions that, while not perfect, are best aligned with the District 203 mission.
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 would say yes given the circumstances. I think that the response to the pandemic actually started well before the pandemic. For example, the investment years ago to ensure that every student had a chrome book device was not a response to the pandemic, but was certainly instrumental in supporting our ability to pivot to remote learning more rapidly, and reduced the impact of the disruptions when compared to other districts.
Not only did our students already have devices, they were comfortable using them as a tool for learning. Additionally, given the limited availability of in-person instruction the staff worked to identify and prioritize students who critically needed that level of support. As we moved into the enhanced e-learning phase, we expanded the number of students who received additional support as well as those who were prioritized to receive interventional services including in-person instruction. These efforts were all focused on serving students and mitigating the disruptions caused by the pandemic
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: Yes. I think that the "Return to Learn" plan as presented and outlined by the district administration is well thought through and thorough. The plan, which can be found at www.naperville203.org/returntolearn is already being implemented as of Jan. 26. The fall semester this year really highlighted the importance of ensuring that we had the proper mitigations in place and the importance of closely monitoring an ever evolving situation. The fall also revealed the diverse range of challenges and issues that face members of the community, and that we need to plan for additional interventions and support services for our families. Part of the plan will be to quickly assess these needs, and there are already financial resources that have been set aside to enable the identification these specific needs and the development and delivery of these services. Similar to the fact that we built a digital infrastructure that prepared us to pivot when we were faced with the need to go fully remote. The district administration and the board are already anticipating the need to provide additional support and have acted to ensure the availability of resources to meet these needs.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I think that with the right mitigations, it is possible to continue sports during the pandemic. We have seen sports continue at the professional and collegiate levels after an initial pause as the information and knowledge about how to develop and implement protocols to contain the spread of the virus has increased. There are many lessons that can be gleaned from the successes (and failures) that have been observed as the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, and the NCAA have gone through their respective seasons. One thing that is clear is that there needs to be consistent monitoring and a disciplined approach to assessing and reassessing the situation, and making adjustments to scheduling, and even canceling games if necessary, to maintain the safety of the athletes. Given what has been learned, I support the continuation of sports as long as we have the right mitigations and protocols in place.