Rob Hanlon: 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: President & CEO at Cyber Banque/Cyber Money Inc.
Civic involvement: Current school board member
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 not a single-issue board member focused on political narratives that dominate our attention today. I care about kids; especially the students who are struggling silently, who need connection, advocacy and support. We can all agree that video-based remote learning is not a replacement for in-person learning. We are beginning to identify and address student needs for learning acceleration resulting from pandemic experience.
The social emotional focus on our students, specifically student connectedness, must remain a priority long after we are past this pandemic. Social emotional learning is much more than a pandemic response; it's a framework for education that is additive to academic mastery that will impact our communities long into the future. Our continued focus should be on social emotional learning, keeping students at the center of our efforts, not politics.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. Early in the pandemic, our building leaders moved into action to assess impacts on our students. Our superintendent was very responsive to implement mitigation processes and infrastructure keeping our students, staff and teachers safe. The board authorized over one million dollars, from financial savings to prioritize mitigation efforts, a new virtual learning capability, dedicated personnel to Virtual Academy and hiring support personnel.
The board also authorized expansion of technology infrastructure with new equipment for classrooms, providing every student a Chromebook and internet to families with need. Elementary students have been in the classroom 5 days a week since the fall. Middle school and high school students are currently operating in a hybrid in person model.
We continue to evolve our procedures aligned to guidance from Illinois health and education governing bodies.
We monitor opens seats in classrooms for students who need and seek additional in person learning. School board members have been in classrooms, engaged with teachers and in virtual academy sessions, to directly experience our new learning environment.
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. The board is accountable for the safety of ALL students, teachers and staff. Opinions divide our community across a continuum of choices for learning. First, a leader must empathize by listening to all points of view regardless of personal opinion. Next, acknowledge that students are experiencing stress due to isolation and lack of connection to peers and teachers.
We need to acknowledge that our juniors and seniors are missing milestone experiences including, sports, activities, prom, homecoming and graduation. We need to recognize that many of our families have high-risk members and fear an attack from the virus.
We need to understand that every home isn't the same and may not have the resources to support remote learning. We need to empathize that many are stressed and all deserve a voice. In addition, the board interprets guidance from medical professionals and guardrails established by our governing bodies over schools.
The board needs to ensure superintendents and administrative teams have procedures that keep our schools safe. Lastly, the board needs to make decisions in the best interest of all and communicate clearly the rationale for decisions.
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. Everyone agrees that full-time online learning is not a replacement for in-person instruction for K-12 students. Our district acted early, frequently engaging with the broad array of resources impacting student learning. Engagement with medical professionals, governing bodies, benchmark school districts and state level groups focused on large unit districts has been a priority of the district.
The administration collaborates with our teachers and their bargaining leaders to ensure their point of view is considered. We engage with parents to understand the learning preferences for their children and listen to feedback, making adjustments to our model. We continue to adjust our processes as new guidance is established and creative ideas shared.
In addition to virtual academy for online learning, we established video capabilities at our high schools and middle schools for students in quarantine or other mitigating factors that keep them out of the classroom. We have had two days this year that would typically close schools: a snow day and a water main break. In both cases, students and teachers pivoted to remote learning using video streaming and Google Classroom.
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. Our district is already safely and effectively conducing classes at all levels of our district including early childhood education and special needs learners. We are actively working to increase the number of hours students spend in the classroom for all levels in the spring, while maintaining safety and guidance from medical professionals and governing bodies.
Our school district has set a goal to return to full-time, in-person learning in time for the start of the school year in the fall. We are currently working with the same groups as we did when the pandemic started to ensure we are doing everything possible to meet that objective.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Sports are receiving a lot of attention with recent IHSA announcements. Additionally, many sports are already operating safely. While sports are receiving the attention, all activities are equally important. These activities create experiences and connectedness vital to students. Regardless of competitive environment or meeting place, we must ensure our students, staff and coaches are safe. Additionally, schools have protocols to keep students in school without disruption.
We have implemented voluntary surveillance testing in our district for 6th to 12th grade students, staff and teachers which can help with activities outside of the classroom. Additionally, the board has directed athletic directors to develop procedures and protocols for the safety of our student athletes. I strongly support the expansion of all activities keeping students, teachers, staff and administrators safe, continuously in school without quarantine disruption, within the guidance provided by medical professionals and governing bodies over education in our state.