Lalit Jagtap: 2021 candidate for Stevenson High School District 125 board
Six candidates are vying for three four-year seats on the Stevenson High School District 125 board.
City: Buffalo Grove
Occupation: Technology entrepreneur and investor in digital and real assets
Civic involvement: In the USA I have served the community by participating as a volunteer, in the blood donation drive, bone marrow donation drive, volunteering with Chicago cares during my corporate job. In my spare time, I have taught coding to African-American and Latino high school kids. I learned that we need to help all kids to succeed like I was helped growing up in the inner city of Mumbai, India. My first life-changing experience serving the community was in the 1993 earthquake relief in Latur, India.
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: As a Stevenson district tax payer for 20+ years and as a technology entrepreneur and investor in real estate, I am not sure that our leadership has prioritized the correct capital improvement projects. For example reserve funds have been spent toward the green wall, the cafeteria, and now major remodel of the indoor field. Whereas instead those funds could have had more long term sustainable impact by investing in maker labs to introduce high tech manufacturing, green house and community garden, solar lab to help grow awareness of climate and invest for better future.
Mental health and being fiscally responsible are two most important issues to me.
Mental wellness is critical to all. The pandemic has accelerated demand for more concrete actions by educators and community.
As a parent, I learned about a Stevenson student's tragedy in 2019. It touched my heart as a meditator. It raised questions in my mind, is our community and school doing enough to help our youth? The knowledge about mental wellness is free, and is becoming increasingly available with the help of technology.
I believe we need to spread more love, respect, and help to reduce ignorance and hatred. Also we all need to contribute to bring our community together in a diverse, inclusive and equal manner. I am running for this office to grow my contribution in our community and the lives of our children, and to set an example for other community members to encourage them to do the same.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would grade the school board response as good, especially given so much uncertainty and chaos due to the pandemic across our whole nation. In my view, the board acted cautiously and carefully, by believing in science and also understanding experiences and data from other neighboring high-school districts.
Given our weak public health infrastructure, remote learning was definitely a better approach than hybrid learning. The remote learning model definitely caused disruption to lots of families, especially to those who might have had difficult conditions to change and adapt to having kids at home. But I think remote learning was the most appropriate approach to protect our students, teachers and support teams.
Now our board has the tools and processes and has a playbook in place, so in the future we can quickly adapt to another similar situation in a more effective and efficient way.
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 think we need to create more awareness about the negative role or contribution of social media. During the pandemic, lots of material floating around on the internet was not accurate.
Don't believe everything written on social media. Facebook, or Search engines do not always guarantee what is shown is truth or accurate.
The state authorities can provide guidance, but sometimes it may not completely apply to our situation. During such a scenario, as a board we need to stand united, and do what's best in the interest of our students, teachers, support teams at our high school. As a board member, I will encourage more transparency and open communication with the community. We all as one team need to come together, and do the best for our community and figure out a way to support those who need help.
I would like to make the board more accessible to the community members. For example the board can have a zoom session with the parents or community members, monthly newsletter from the board to the d125 tax payers, not just parents of students currently in school.
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 am glad that our board quickly decided to shift to remote learning and instead of a hybrid learning model. Some of the high schools in the area initially planned to open during the fall and later adapted to remote learning, few high schools even suffered infections due to athletic or sport events. Our school helped our students get used to remote learning, and also made sure physical workouts are completed by students even in remote learning.
Going forward I believe it can be more effective, if we can find a better and more efficient approach to distribute materials to students. Instead of creating long lines of cars on the campus, and exposing the school staff to manage distribution of study materials, the high school could have used the digital means and available delivery services, which could have eliminated some of these not so great experiences in 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: Now that we have access to vaccines for seniors, health workers and hopefully soon to educators, the committed practice of social distancing and wearing masks (preferably double masks) provides reasonable protection.
Simple test, detect and isolate procedures should be followed on the campus for everyone every day. The hybrid learning model has to be encouraged, by communicating with parents and students.
The students are used to stepping in the remote class by getting out of bed. Now it will be a big change the youth has to adapt to, including my freshman son who will love to continue to remote learning because there is no need to prepare and take the school bus.
I hope families which are in less challenging situations, will encourage their kids to consider in person learning by login to high school. I am also encouraging my freshman son to get ready to start attending class soon.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I believe sports are an integral part of the high school experience for so many students, and we should find a way for students to continue participating in them safely. As long as the sports are conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines, and the students and coaches feel safe, I believe it's safe to continue.
As part of being more fiscally responsible, we can direct some funds toward providing better masks for sports participants which are designed by sports companies.