Steven E. Gross: 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: Project Manager at PowerSchool (I would recuse myself from any vote where my employer is a potential vendor.)
Civic involvement: Three years as a classroom teacher in Iowa and New York. Have run a STEM/STEAM club within CUSD200 for the past seven years.
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 CUSD200 school board for the first time. I have spent 20+ years in K-12 education. I believe the school board should include members who have experience in K-12 education to better understand the issues they are voting on. I founded a STEM/STEAM program within CUSD200.
If I were elected I would push CUSD200 to have a greater K-8 STEM/STEAM focus. Additionally CUSD200 needs to have a true Digital Citizenship curriculum with milestones for each grade level, K-12.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. I would give CUSD200 a B- on its response to the pandemic. CUSD200 has been behind the curve on technology integration compared to surrounding districts for the last decade. Our district had to play catch-up with allocating 1:1 devices, Learning Management System implementation, and remote learning professional development.
CUSD200 did not plan for enough contingencies for the 2020-21 school year. Middle and high schools should have had very clear laid-out plans for in-person, hybrid, and full remote models. The schedules for all types of learning should have been easily found online for parents.
Instead, the district has had to switch calendars and plans on a regular basis, leaving parents and students to ask each other for the most up-to-date information instead of having a clear single place to find information.
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 lead by example. Last summer I wondered how we would get back to school. I decided to do something to help at my local elementary school. I created and contributed to a go-fund-me campaign. I raised $1,700 and asked the local elementary school what they wanted for outdoor space. They asked for a large tent. I purchased one for them. The tent did not solve problems, but it helped.
Everyone has the right to voice an opinion, but they must do so from a helping mentality. If anyone has a different idea, what can they do to help put that idea into place for CUSD200. I believe the "roll up your sleeves" approach I personally take in matters like the pandemic is something everyone can respect. We can build relationships if we have respect. I do believe we have to listen to the federal state and local guidelines for the pandemic 100%. We need to listen to the experts.
This is why I believe we need to have many contingency plans ready for the 2021-22 school year. We don't know what the ISBE guidance will be, but we must be prepared to abide by whatever it is.
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. One of my two children attends the Virtual Academy within CUSD200. I have heard from other VA parents that VA has been a blessing for many students. Many students have blossomed at VA in ways traditional schools have not. I also am aware that VA has not been able to find substitute teachers, and include the additional class aids often found in physical CUSD200 schools. I also am aware that at least some of our in person elementary schools are full and unable to take students who wish to return from VA to their home school. For the 2021-22 school year, I believe VA should continue in some form.
I also believe we need to plan to allow every VA student who wants to return to an in person school to do so. This means looking at unorthodox spaces, empty classrooms at different schools, and maybe even multi-age group classrooms. We need to plan extensively for the 2021-22 school year. Our students were not prepared with the digital citizenship skills needed to work in an online capacity. Our district needs to greatly expand our digital citizenship curriculum to prepare our students for the modern world.
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. The new school board will begin serving in May. We won't have an impact on this spring, but we will have an impact on 21-22. We need to proactively prepare for the fall of 21-22. CUSD200 will need to continue to follow ISBE and health department guidance. It is possible those guidelines will still include social distancing. We have successfully socially distanced at the elementary school level because about 20% of students signed up for the virtual academy. One of my children is a VA student, and there are some great success stories at VA. I think we should keep a VA option open next year.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Both of my children have continued with their athletics during the pandemic. Social distancing and mask wearing have been mandated. Both of my children's athletics have made alterations to safely allow children to participate including small groups, and alternative forms of competition. High school sports should introduce consistent surveillance testing and follow Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines about resuming safe athletic activities.