Nicole Grimes: 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.
Occupation: CPA/Accountant, H.D. Roseth & Associates
Civic involvement: This is my first foray into civic involvement but I am a past board member for Lincolnshire Community Nursery School, The Village Club (formerly Lincolnshire Village Club) and St. Patrick's Women's Group
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 because the SHS Board is urgently in need of fresh and diverse perspectives. All students and taxpayers will benefit from the free exchange of new ideas. For years it has felt as though Stevenson operates as its own independent entity with little input from stakeholders. Then, amid its largest crisis ever, the Board would not engage its stakeholders nor gather input while almost every other peer High School spent their summer engaging their communities to develop pandemic response solutions. This was shocking to me and our community. And it provoked reasonable and responsible questions. Unfortunately, I could not find the answers I sought because the Board does not publish background materials for their Board meetings, or minutes from Finance or Site & Facilities Board meetings. As I investigated further, it became clear that this Board has been operating without representative best practices for decades. My children have attended SHS for 13 years, with one child still in attendance. I believe this experience qualifies me to be a voice for our community. If elected, I will work to ensure the Board operates as it should, with transparency and as true representatives that serve in trust for the community.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the current Board a B-/C+. From the onset of the pandemic the Board has been slow to respond to the needs of the students. They failed to start planning from the beginning and have been playing catch-up ever since. Starting in the summer, community members requested on countless occasions to have visibility and input into the decision-making process but we were denied at every turn. Our community is literally one of the most talented groups of people one could hope to assemble to solve a problem. We have everything from scientists, community leaders, educators, engineers, logistic leaders to people working at leading pharmaceutical companies doing cutting edge research to help bring us out of the crisis -- and Stevenson would not engage a single one of them for reasons unknown. Yet community focus groups and committees were almost universally used in our surrounding districts. Coming up with a plan for this crisis was too much for a small group of people, so what we wound up with is what you would expect -- a mediocre plan -- zooming part-time from the classroom.
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: Along with the different stages of this pandemic there have been different roles required to manage the health and safety of the students. Naturally, at the beginning of the pandemic, when there were so many unknowns, the primary focus needed to be on stopping the spread of the disease and keeping everyone safe. It was necessary at that time to transition to a remote learning environment no matter how unpopular the decision. We are now almost one year out and we have much more information and data than we did at the onset. It is time to start being a voice to the constituents. Maybe the majority of parents still want their kids to continue in remote learning but we don't know because parents have never been asked. It is during difficult times like these that Board members must follow their obligation to serve in trust for the community. I believe wholeheartedly that had the community and school worked together during this time that we could have had a robust learning environment with a choice for in-person that would have been safe and could have been used as a model for other schools.
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 district failed to start planning for any type of return during the pandemic and they were the first area high school to announce in July that students would not return for the Fall. During this time, they should have been developing a plan and exploring all options for some type of hybrid return. This way they could have been able to implement a hybrid program in the fall when it was recommended by the Lake County Health Department. Instead, they were not prepared and quite steadfast there would not be a hybrid plan even when it was recommended by the Lake County Department of Health. Some of our students are thriving in the remote environment but others are suffering socially and emotionally. Those children are still hurting today almost an entire year after the start of the pandemic. We still don't know the full extent of the education and emotional damage that has been caused. There are real risks associated with the deterioration of the mental welfare of these students and we are not fulfilling our obligation to them if we continue to ignore the damage that has been caused to so many of them during this last 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: Even though we are behind we now have the benefit of experience. There is still time to implement a better more robust plan that keeps a successful remote program but also provides authentic in person learning for those that need it. We can engage the resources of the community and leverage the plans of other similar schools that have been successfully open. I believe that we will learn from surveys and from talking to parents in live conversations. Stevenson is the largest school campus in Lake County at 944,000 square feet. If there was ever a need to use that to our advantage it is now! We should be utilizing every free space such as the gymnasiums, libraries and field house to divide into multiple 50 person spaces using floor to ceiling room dividers. With proper ingress and egress for each space we can have students return for full days all while maintaining social distance even at lunch and free periods. Combine this with immunized teachers, population testing and nine mitigations factors Stevenson is in a much better position to have students return in comparison to some of our neighboring schools that have more opportunities for in-person instruction for far more students than SHS such as New Trier, Glenbrook, Libertyville and Lake Zurich High School.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Along with the current administration, I believe that sports and co-curricular activities are an important part of a student's high school experience. IHSA has been quick to respond to the changing mitigation levels and to proactively develop plans and guidelines for participation. Additionally, local club teams for many sports including baseball, basketball, and volleyball ran complete seasons for the majority of the year with no adverse consequences. Stevenson also allows remote students the option to return to school for athletics and I feel that is important. Students need an outlet from their screens, and they need to be engaged with their peers.