Mary Yeboah: 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: Director of Graduate Student Life at Wheaton College
Civic involvement: CUSD200 Citizens Advisory Committee and Equity Task Force, ISBE Diverse and Learner Ready Teacher Network, McNeil Scholars Advisory Board, SankofaNow Advisory Board, EDEN Community Library
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 running for the CUSD200 School Board because I am committed to quality education for all children, I believe public education is central to strengthening a healthy democracy, and I enjoy serving my local community by supporting our schools. While there are several issues that motivate me, my vision for board governance is rather a moral obligation to represent the interests of the entire community and move student learning and organizational effectiveness forward. As a parent and community member, persistent achievement gaps deeply concern me and I support diversity, equity, and inclusion a lens for decision making that is necessary for achieving quality education for all. While particular issues often motivate candidates to get involved, it's important to understand that board service requires attending to a broad range of critical issues. Some issues and priorities shift and change based on the current context, as we have seen during COVID-19. At present, I am particularly motivated to elect a board that models effective team work and relationship building, open and honest communication, and thoughtful, data-informed decision making.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. I grade the current school board satisfactorily on its response to the pandemic. Despite many unknowns, the board supported several decisions from day one that prepared the district to open PreK, elementary, and our transitional program five days a week and implement middle and high school hybrid learning options. As a former teacher and school principal, I know that effective teaching and learning requires planning ahead for learning modalities, instructional delivery, classroom resources, and district-wide logistics and support. Last summer, the board acted early regarding fall hybrid learning, but had to shift multiple times based on state and local health guidance. Improvements to teaching and learning from spring 2020 to fall 2020 were noted in several board meetings and teachers have continued to modify and strengthen classroom and livestreamed instruction in the spring 2021 semester. School re-opening is subject to significant criticism and debate, but as a whole the board has been thoughtful and diligent in prioritizing metrics and mitigation strategies that provided a healthy educational environment at a time when the extent and scope of the pandemic was not fully known.
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. My role in confronting the pandemic or any critical issue facing public education is to give a voice to constituents-even ones with whom I disagree, provide leadership even if unpopular, and consider the guidance of state authorities, all at the same time. Learning how to navigate these tensions with grace and resolve is part of what it means to be a good leader. Rarely will any decision solicit unanimous community approval. Our communities are far too diverse for that. It's our different perspectives, when navigated thoughtfully and with the best interest of students in mind, that make us stronger. I believe each board member should be an independent, open-minded, respectful, critical thinker who considers a wide range of viewpoints, works as a team, and prioritizes student learning. Divergent perspectives are necessary for addressing complex problems, but division stifles movement and exposes students to increased risks as children watch and emulate the adults in their lives. Working together across disagreement is an attribute to be modeled, especially if we are to consider it a key component of what we envision to be a "Portrait of a District 200 Graduate."
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 suspect that no district in the United States or abroad continued to adequately serve students during the disruptions caused by the pandemic. In times of global crisis, what counts as adequate shifts. Disruptions required pivoting and maneuvering over 14,000 people with little notice to new and unfamiliar constraints. However, the district successfully adjusted to continue providing services in several important ways, including distributing Chromebooks and internet access to students, preparing remote and hybrid learning models, adopting new instructional technologies, offering the Virtual Academy option, adhering to mitigation strategies, providing saliva testing, mobilizing volunteers for food distribution, offering increased in-person learning for students who need it, implementing targeted support for student wellness, prioritizing students with greatest learning needs while promoting fair access to healthy educational environments for students and staff, and maintaining an equity lens recognizing that the pandemic has hit each student and family differently. None of these adjustments would have been possible without the relentless dedication and flexibility of our teachers.
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. Safely and effectively conducting classes in the spring includes strengthening the district's current plans while preparing district-wide operations for full in-person instruction. Guidance indicates that schools should reopen when we reach a positivity rate of below 5% and fewer than 50 cases per 100 thousand. An effective reopen plan could collapse the middle and high school cohorts together and facilitate in-classroom lunch at all levels while noting that lowering physical distancing to 3 ft will result in increased quarantining following a positive case. Planning ahead will allow the district to launch the next phase of reopen plans when the key metrics are met while avoiding abrupt shifts as new guidance emerges. Key lessons include:
• Increased attention to the social-emotional learning need of students.
• Increased commitments to meet the needs of our most disadvantaged students.
• Ongoing focus on operational strategies that create pathways to reopen schools .
• Recognizing that unsupervised learning time is not utilized well by students.
• Recognizing that virtual learning, no matter how well implemented, is not an adequate replacement for the embodied learning experience.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. I affirm allowing high school sports such as dance, basketball, badminton, cheerleading, swimming and diving and others to resume in accordance with ISHA and IDPH guidance. Coaches are working together with student athletes to provide innovative and creative implementation of these opportunities at the highest levels within the current constraints. High contact sports such as wrestling should be phased in as guidance allows while maintaining COVID-19 protocols. While the CDC guidance thus far has prioritized in-person schooling options over sports, I recognize the significance of competitive sports for many students' wellbeing and educational experiences. As a parent of an athlete, I am very eager to see the full return of all of our high school sports programs. Curricular and co-curricular programming, including strong athletics and competitive sports programs, are essential to educating the whole child, developing leaders, and nurturing talent. Ongoing decision-making on high school sports and other programs should be based on the best-available evidence at the time in order to maintain a healthy precedent for future board governance in relation to state guidance.