Kristin Fitzgerald: 2021 candidate for Naperville Unit District 203
Incumbent Kristin Fitzgerald, 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.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is now available at DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
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Occupation: Education and health policy adviser/consultant and community volunteer
Employer: Not currently working
Civic involvement: Legislative Education Network of DuPage, co-chair 2020-present; Naperville Neighbors United, Planning Team 2019-present; Jefferson Junior High School Family Community Partnership, co-chair 2014-present; SUCCESS Family Organization, JJHS Parent Lead 2017-present; Mill Street Elementary School Family Community Partnership, co-chair 2012-18; Debbie's Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer, Corporate Advisory Council 2012-18; and Naper Settlement Museum board, 2013-16
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 education of our children is the most important job we have as a community. When I ran for the board in 2013, my goals were championing the success of every student, establishing a strong partnership with our community and using our budget resources responsibly. As a board member, I have dedicated myself to advocating for all students to achieve our District 203 mission, and we have made outstanding strides. Our work to close achievement gaps, establish inclusive and equitable school communities, strengthen social and emotional learning and serve more students in early childhood and summer school has resulted in the highest number of exemplary schools for a unit district in Illinois. Through responsible budgeting, we have saved taxpayers over $32 million.
Though the pandemic has added to our challenges, I am committed to ensuring safe in-person learning and supporting our students' academic and social and emotional needs. I am running for reelection because I believe my life's work in policy and advocacy together with my years of board leadership have uniquely prepared me for the leadership necessary to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and continue our work to ensure that all students achieve the District 203 mission.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: During this unprecedented situation, I would give our school district positive marks for prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff, implementing the continuously changing health guidance regarding COVID-19, returning to learn in person safely this January and working tirelessly to provide the academic and social and emotional supports students need, whether they are learning remotely or in person. Parents, educators, administrators and board members have dedicated themselves to navigating these challenges and supporting students together. And, as we have returned to in-person learning, we are immediately assessing students' academic and social and emotional needs and providing additional support.
However, we have had difficulty clearly communicating with our community during this challenging time of social isolation. These communication challenges along with community division regarding pandemic learning have impacted our community partnership. We are working to restore this by increasing effective communication and opportunities for our community to share their questions and concerns with the district and board. We are also conducting community forums to support parents, students and staff in building resiliency and connectivity during these challenging times. I am committed to overcoming these challenges together with our community. Our strong partnership is essential to our school district.
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 board leader I have sought to listen to and understand the deep concerns of all in our community, lead with empathy, implement state and local education and health guidance, and make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of students and staff based on the best data and research information available.
One challenge of this unprecedented situation is that relatively little data existed at the outset. Health and education guidance was slow, at times conflicting, and challenging to implement.
School districts must implement state guidance and protocols, however as scientific research continues to progress, we must also monitor new data and updated guidance and adjust our course when it is safe to do so. As additional research and data have become available regarding the safety of returning to learn in person, we have been able to add mitigations which allow for safer learning conditions. I believe this is the correct course of action moving forward.
We must also remember that our efforts to conduct dialogue respectfully, listen to all individuals and solve problems together, set an essential example for our students in how to collectively overcome the challenges faced by our schools and communities.
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: From the beginning, our district goal was to return to in-person learning as soon as it could be done safely. Remote learning poses academic and social and emotional challenges for many students. As students encountered these challenges this fall, we immediately worked to support their needs.
By carefully monitoring our fall student data, we saw an emerging trend of higher-than-average D and F grades in our high schools. Our teams of teachers, counselors, and administrators immediately worked to remedy this by supporting students academically, socially and emotionally. These team efforts were effective and by semester's end, student grades reflected the grade patterns of an average semester.
To meet the needs of students with special needs and students who were not attaining standards, we served these students in person as much as possible, even during times of 100% remote learning.
These are examples of our absolute commitment to support student needs, and to address challenges immediately so that students are successful. Similarly, we are developing additional student support programming for this summer and next school year to ensure that students recover any lost growth due to the pandemic and are supported during the coming year.
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: Naperville Unit District 203 students were given the choice to begin hybrid learning in person at all levels on Jan. 26. As we returned this winter, there was a growing body of research showing that conducting school in person could be done safely even during times of more significant COVID-19 transmission by implementing additional mitigations and continuing to meet all safety guidance.
Knowing this, as we returned to school in person, we added COVID-19 surveillance testing as an additional safety mitigation. This additional mitigation, combined with research, as well as our own data regarding our ability to deliver in-person instruction safely, gave us confidence that we could ensure the safety of our students and staff.
We will continue to follow health guidance and research and utilize data from our own experiences as we work to increase in-person education safely. We will also continue our efforts to support students who are struggling remotely with teams who address their individual needs. These efforts proved successful this fall and will be continued this spring. In addition, as we determine areas where remote learning is challenging our students, we are crafting unique supports to help students overcome these obstacles.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Our students are continuing with sports as allowed by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), in conjunction with the Illinois High School Association. By following the IDPH COVID-19 mitigations and protocols, fall sports allowed by the IDPH/IHSA were completed successfully without significant disruption. These sports and other clubs and activities provided valuable social and emotional connections and experiences for students.
We are following the health guidance and timeline set out by IDPH/IHSA for winter and spring sports. Though this adjusted time frame has shortened seasons with fewer cumulative state series opportunities, it allows student athletes the ability to have a season this year. In addition, efforts are underway to allow a form of state series for some sports if this can be done safely in compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
I support the IDPH/IHSA joint effort to create a modified season for each sport while following safety protocols, to organize state series if it can be done safely and to ensure all sports are conducted in a way that keeps student athletes safe.