Michael Evans: 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: Executive Recruiter at Group928
Civic involvement: No
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. D200 exists to provide students with exceptional educational experience and yet the topic of exceptional education experience is falling lower on the agenda each passing year. The pandemic accelerated the trend. The voices of students, parents and members of the community who want the best for students are increasingly drowned out by other interests and priorities. It's time to put D200 kids and education excellence back at the top of every board meeting.
I am running for school board to put kids and parents at the top of the agenda. Additionally, we need more positive leadership focused on how we can do new things instead of hand-wringing about why we cannot do new things. We need a board that leads instead of rolling over and letting outside advisory bodies, special interests or political ideology dictate what is best for our D200 students.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. Poor. It's true, there is no playbook for what we are experiencing. None. The same is true for all institutions and businesses. Pre-pandemic leaders may be great but great leaders are rarely great in all situations. In my work, I have observed over the past year that there are two main responses to pandemic-related challenges. 1.) Leaders retreat to the tried-and-true and stay-in-the-lanes or they double down on what they are good at and if that happens to be process, process is what happens. 2.) Other leaders step up and try new things, knowing some things will work and some will not.
Our board has responded with the former approach and demonstrated how they approach the unknown and guess what, there are many unknowns that lie in the wake of the pandemic. The transparency is abysmal. The confidence is lacking. The innovation is nonexistent. The focus on exceptional educational experience is gone. The voices of students are not heard. The current board has turned the academic well-being of our students over to the CDC and IDPH and there is absolutely nothing that requires them to do this.
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 am aware it's easy to critique board performance from afar. There is a lot of fact-finding to do; there are many questions to ask. Nothing is as simple as it seems. My role is to come in with a hypothesis, collect facts, state an opinion, and communicate it authentically. I'm willing to admit when I am wrong. The key is that student experience tops the agenda and if all stakeholders agree on that, we can work through differences. If I can cut through the drama and fear, there is hopefully a shared commitment to excellent student experience. To see if this is the case, I'll be listening much, much more than talking.
As for the state; there are laws and advisories. With laws there is little latitude. Most of what we are seeing from the state are advising -- guidelines. There is room for interpretation and innovation instead of retreat to dogmatic interpretation and bizarre and opaque risk analysis. The D200 Board represents students in our community. If state interests work against the interests of our kids, I will be fearless advocate for our kids instead of rolling over to often arbitrary and arcane state-issued guidelines.
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 was hopeful and the start of the school year. D200 had a good plan. When the state issued additional guidelines at the eleventh hour before the school year began, the hope evaporated. It was clear at that point that the district was going to play victim. There were still some bright spots. The Virtual Academy is a good example however, it still reduces the learning time our students have. It needs to offer learning time. The option for students and teachers who want to work together in person is poor. The hybrid model also has potential but again, learning time in the current model is reduced by 20%.
I asked teachers in parent-teacher conferences about the curriculum being cut so I could get an idea of where to help my kid fill in the gaps. Without fail I was told nothing is being cut. If parents knew what their kids were missing, they may not feel great but at least they would know the challenge they need to tackle versus guessing. If class format is not optimal, let's at least get all the hours in and offer ideas for making up lost time.
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. There is enough evidence, data, and precedent to demonstrate that schools can open safely in the spring. We simply need to visit the success stories to get firsthand perspective. Teachers and students who want to need to be in class for full days five days per week need to be and those who want or need to engage in virtual learning need an equally robust option. We have the tools and knowledge to accommodate both. Let's try it.
It will not be perfect, but we need to stop overthinking and adding to the list of preconditions. Let's just get going and course correct as we go. The Fall experience demonstrated the problem of caving into each new bit of guidance. The guidance that sent us into a tailspin in Fall, incidentally, was later recanted by IDPH. Fall taught us that we need to look down the road and focus on where we want to be instead of keeping our eyes right in front of us trying to avoid every pothole. Kids need continuity. Parents need continuity and so do teachers.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Kids need to play. Period. Yes, there need to be common sense precautions but again (e.g., masks on the sidelines or in the dugouts), is the case with opening schools, the evidence show that playing sports can be done with an acceptable level of safety. If there is risk, it seems to be in the social gatherings that occur outside of events and practices. The National Federation of State High School Associations has recommended that the tiered system, like the one we have in Illinois, can be abandoned. Again, what we are dealing with here is a lot of data, from multiple sources.
It is the job of D200 leaders to look at guidance as guidance and not fact or law and make decisions based on a realistic risk analysis.