Robert Bruno: 2021 candidate for Glen Ellyn District 41 school board
Eight candidates are vying for four seats (four-year term) in the 2021 Glen Ellyn District 41 school board race.
City: Glen Ellyn
Occupation: University Professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Civic involvement: League of Women Voters; Glen Ellyn Library Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Project; Rotary Club, Community Outreach, former Sunday school teacher
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'm interested in running for re-election to the District 41 Board of Education because the work I have done over the past four years to support our schools has affirmed my belief in the transformational power of childhood learning. As a Professor at the University of Illinois for a quarter of a century, I have witnessed the lifelong positive contribution of a quality K-12 education. In the past four years I have been given a window into the foundation of a meaningful life. I have never wavered in my governance role as a board member to provide the institutional architecture that allows our students to learn to think critically, to behave kindly toward others and grow to become active citizens. I am interested in continuing to serve on the D41 Board because in a world of contingency, interdependency and constant change, public education is a sacred refuge for community formation and personal discovery. I cannot imagine a higher purpose in life than helping a young person become the unique person that they innately already are.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. The board has worked effectively with the district to balance the health and welfare of its students and staff, as well as oversee the building and delivering of a robust in-person and remote learning model. The board has fully supported the material, emotional and educational needs of its' students. It was one of the first DuPage school boards to adopt a testing protocol, and to work with an epidemiologist and CLIA certified nurse to keep its students, staff and school's safe. The board invested in extensive student wellness efforts and adopted policies to address COVID inflicted trauma. It also approved the use of resources to implement three learning models while maintaining cooperative relationships with its administration and school employees. After the schools closed in March of 2020 the board directed the administration to assess community need and to build a learning model that maximized in-person learning and minimized health risk. The board's work was evidence of why it was recognized in the fall by the Illinois Association of School Boards for "School Board Governance Excellence." The board has continuously upheld its governing role.
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 as the school board president during the pandemic has been to help the district respond to the needs of students, staff and families. It requires aligning the talents of the board and the district to provide the support and oversight needed for the district to make smart decisions that don't risk the health or educational development of its learning community. My work during the pandemic requires building an informed relationship with other board members, parents, PTAs, employee associations, public health experts, regulatory officials, state and federal legislators, and educational professionals. All of my efforts have to be attentive to constantly changing state mandates and regulatory guidance, while at all times considering what is in the best interest of students. I have a moral obligation to make decisions, no matter their popularity, that advance the care of the whole child. As the board president, I share the responsibility of caring for 3,600 students and over 400 employees. Decisions that I make must take into account the best available evidence. A school board member's constituents, according to our oath of office, are the community's children.
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. Beginning with the spring 2020 state shutdown of schools, the district immediately began to distribute laptops to all families so that all children could participate in remote learning. It continued and ramped up its distribution of 3 meals a day to any family who requested support. The district developed an elaborate system of daily wellness check on all students. It developed an in-person learning module that brought students into school five days a week in order to "put eyes" on children. Additionally, a fully remote program was developed for parents preferring remote learning. It held daily school-level meetings with teachers, coaches and interventionists to discuss student needs. The district has gone to great lengths to sustain innovative and popular programming and held a virtual graduation for its 8th graders. It adopted a voluntary COVID testing program for students and staff to identify potentially asymptomatic cases. The district also provided a synchronous remote learning option to students who were out of school due to a quarantine. And the school board read student poetry during board meetings to acknowledge and celebrate the emotional impact of a school closure.
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. Along with our COVID regimen, the district is utilizing its hybrid and remote options for the spring semester and developing plans to fully reopen in fall 2021. The model has kept kids in school five days a week without district wide interruption. While learning has been truncated for the past 11 months, the district has found that the learning models have served students well under extraordinary conditions. The district has also participated in vaccination clinics for our staff. It has learned the value of relying on its social workers to coordinate support with district affiliated social service bodies to provide family support. Space shortages in our buildings as well as a commitment to provide a full academic schedule and not destabilize a child's learning has encouraged the district to continue its model.The fall semester taught in part that there is value in small classes, daily wellness checks, longer blocs of learning, accentuated student-level parent engagement, and a stable schedule. The district is also leading a DuPage-wide initiative to develop and administer a summer extended learning program to address students who have experienced a regression in their learning.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. We are a PreK-8 grade district. We have added some voluntary after school activities that require COVID testing and other safety mitigations. Physical activities are valuable and where done safely should be provided.