Donna E. Wandke: 2021 candidate for Naperville Unit District 203
Incumbent Donna Wandke, 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: Chief of staff for Rep. Janet Yang Rohr
Employer: State of Illinois
Civic involvement: Former educator and assistant athletic trainer at Naperville North High School; chaired or participated on 10 Home & School committees; Scouting (numerous roles including committee chair); coached soccer, chess and cross country; president of Hobson School Parent board; current vice president of District 203 school board and member since 2013
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: My passions all revolve around education and serving my community including in District 203 for the last 29 years. My dedication to District 203 began in 1992 when I was hired to teach mathematics and serve as the assistant athletic trainer at Naperville North High School. As I had children of my own, I transitioned my time into volunteering countless hours in numerous roles across all grade levels. I have been honored to serve on the board of education for eight years and have been vice president during the last four years. During those years, I have represented our community by expressing their concerns at board meetings, while always prioritizing what is best for the education of all students. Many new initiatives have been implemented while I have served on the board but at the same time we were able to save taxpayers $32.7 million. I have been honored to be recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education as a "Those Who Excel" School Board Member. It is my hope to continue to serve through this pandemic as transition during times of crisis is difficult. I am offering my dedication, experience and commitment to continue to serve our district.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: We made the best of an extremely difficult situation where guidance from the CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health and DuPage County Health Department changed on a regular basis. Even as we planned to move into hybrid learning in October, the DCHD sent out guidance to move into fully remote learning. We communicated with the community as quickly as possible but the changes were for the next day which was understandably difficult for many families. I have continued to advocate for more communication and have listened to the concerns of our community members. We are hearing concerns from many community members on all sides of every issue. As a board member, our decisions are rarely black and white. We have to find the area of compromise where the needs of all students can be met. Any time there is compromise the situation is not necessarily ideal for everyone but meets the needs of most. My goal is to provide the best education possible while not compromising the health and safety of our students and staff.
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 current board of education member, my role encompasses all of the answers you provided. The leadership we have provided has been based on science and following the local and state metrics, which for some community members has been unpopular. We have given a voice to constituents in many ways including reading their emails, reading their public comment, hearing their public comment and having focus groups of parent leaders from each school. Their voice has been heard and adjustments to the "Return to Learn" plan have occurred.
Having input does not always mean that changes will be made to address a concern exactly as one person feels it will work best for their family. We have to take into consideration all concerns and find the solution that meets the needs of all students. Lastly, when it comes to a pandemic, as a school district we are not the experts on understanding everything about infectious diseases so we rely on the CDC, IDPH and DCHD to provide that expertise and guidance to us. So I would not say we defer, but rather rely on these experts to guide us as we create an environment of learning without compromising safety.
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: The Digital Learning Initiative, which began years before the pandemic, was a dedication of resources from the board of education to ensure that each student had a device for digital learning. This planning placed the district in a position to move into remote learning with much more fluidity than many other school districts. Many times at board of education meetings I have asked questions about the professional development that we are providing for staff to ensure they are equipped to teach in a variety of platforms. Remote learning works well for some and for others it is difficult. So being fully remote during the first semester was a struggle for many students and families. I believe the administration and the board of education worked together to provide the best possible remote and hybrid learning options while ensuring that the health and safety of our students and staff were not compromised.
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 "Return to Learn" plan is comprehensive and includes four stages of learning that adapt to the level of mitigations set by the experts at the DCHD and IDPH. We are currently in stage 3, hybrid learning, where students and families have a choice of either in-person learning or remote learning depending on the needs of their family. As our District 203 community adapts to hybrid learning, we will continue to evaluate and adjust to meet the needs of students. Every step of the way, we have made changes based on feedback from staff, students and community members. I anticipate that we will continue in hybrid learning as the number of students wanting in-person learning exceeds our ability to maintain social distancing within our buildings and classrooms for a full five-day schedule. As vaccines become more readily available we will be able to shift into stage 4, full in-person learning.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: In Illinois as a member of the IHSA, we are governed by their guidelines, which are in alignment with the IDPH. As a volunteer cross country coach, I worked within these guidelines on a daily basis during summer camp and the fall season. As a coaching staff we adhered to the guidelines including daily symptom check-ins, enforcing social distancing and mask wearing for every athlete. Sports are clearly important to our students and help them with their physical, social and emotional health. As a district, I would encourage us to follow the IHSA regulations and provide students with as many experiences in athletics as is possible. I know our athletic directors are working diligently to provide as many opportunities as we can for our students and I support them in their efforts. Clearly as a coach, athletics is something that I highly value and support for our students.