Kate Policheri: 2021 candidate for Huntley District 158 school board
10 candidates are running for four, 4-year seats on the Huntley School District 158 board. Tara Masino did not complete a questionnaire.
Civic involvement: District 158 Special Education Advisory Committee, Vaccinator for MDPH (recently participated in the teachers vaccination event, but plan to volunteer more for McHenry County in the future), coach for Huntley Park District boys recreational basketball, served as secretary and team manager for Heat United Soccer club
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. This is my first time running for office. I have many ideas that I feel would benefit our students. Supporting our teachers is a large part of that. When we support our teachers, our students directly benefit. Our teachers need as much access to resources and technology as possible, to teach our students during this pandemic, hybrid learning model as well as when all students return to school. Bringing more technology into the classroom allows for unique learning experiences.
I am passionate about special education. My oldest son has high-functioning autism. He has been very fortunate to have educators and support staff that genuinely want to help him be the best version of himself. Remote learning has challenged educators and support staff to think outside of the box. There have been success stories, but there have also been challenges. We need to address those challenges and make improvements, for both learning remotely and in-person. I have been talking to our Department of Special Services to bring The Nora Project to District 158. This is an amazing opportunity to utilize a program that teaches empathy, inclusion, and diversity.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. I assign the current school board and administration a letter grade of B. First of all, I have the luxury of being a critic. I am not in the board or administration's shoes as they make decisions that ultimately affect every single student and teacher in our district. No one could have prepared for a global pandemic. However, I do believe there could have been better planning over the summer for the current school year on behalf of the district. A task force was formed that included administration and some teachers. I think it would have been beneficial to include parents, those who are parents and teachers in the district, parents of students with special needs, and some of our high school students. Each with a voice at the table providing ideas and feedback. I would have liked to see more transparency. Prior to the January 11th, 2021 Board Meeting, an email was sent saying what would be discussed in regards to the Return to Learn Plan. In my opinion, the district should have released the plan prior to the meeting, allowed parents to digest it and submit questions. The district then could have formulated a response to frequently asked questions and addressed parent concerns.
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 would consider my role to provide both leadership and give a voice to constituents. I want to provide a balance of both roles. On one hand, I need to support the decision-makers, our administration, and be an example to our community. Sometimes, there will be those that disagree with decisions made, but a leader would help explain why a particular decision was made. We simply will not make everyone happy. On the other hand, I believe the decision-makers need to hear from those who are impacted by their decisions. I will say that is one thing that frustrates me about politics. We elect people that have their own agendas. They do not represent the people who elected them to office. Those elected to the school board need to speak for everyone and respect their thoughts and views. I am capable of speaking my mind as well as expressing the thoughts of others, whether I agree with them or not. Their voices deserve to be heard, too.
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 have told my boys that they are fortunate to have the technology that allows them to continue to "attend" school. If we experienced a pandemic when I was their age, we would have been at home with no possibility of learning. However, the technology provided to teachers could have been better. My middle son has math that is taught exclusively with videos. He has 35 seconds of math with his teacher when he logs into class. Videos where his teacher stands by a SMART Board that he cannot read because the glare is bad and the writing is not dark and crisp. However, my oldest has all live classes. Live math! Shared screens and use of iPads. I am curious what technology the teachers were provided with, what technology they purchased themselves (I have heard this has happened) and if there was any evaluation of our students' learning experiences. Did we survey teachers, parents, and even students, about what experience students were provided and how technology was used? Our students deserve to be provided with every available opportunity to improve their learning experiences. Our teachers deserved to be provided with every available resource and technology to provide that learning experience. I feel the district fell short.
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. One thing that I do not want to see in the Spring that occurred often in the Fall, are so many schedule changes. With that being said, I would like to see the hybrid model modified one last time after Spring Break. After Spring Break, another pause will be necessary due to travel. I would like to see the high school and middle school students full time for four days a week, with Wednesday remaining remote for a day of disinfecting the schools. Only 54% of high school and approximately 65% middle school students returned to in-person learning. So only roughly only half the student body is in-person. Our K-5 students had a much higher percentage return to in-person learning, just over 75%. For our K-5 students, we can expand the time by 25-30 minutes for in-person students by using the transition time, students will have an additional 125-150 minutes each week of in-person learning. Remote learners currently have an additional hour of learning time each day, so they may not need to be adjusted. I would like this hybrid model to continue through the end of the year.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. I believe that athletes who want to play and follow the guidelines put in place, should be allowed to do so. This includes cheerleader and dance teams. Parents and athletes need to understand there is a possibility of transmitting COVID, despite masks and proper disinfecting procedures. Athletes need to do their part to protect themselves and teammates by avoiding large gatherings during their sports seasons and not putting themselves at risk to transmit the virus.
During sports activities, masks should be worn by athletes and coaching staff during play and on the sidelines, if mandated by IDPH. Equipment should be disinfected throughout practices and games. Extra equipment should be available to switch out, so time is not lost in the disinfection process. If an athlete or member of the coaching staff has any symptoms of COVID at any point in the season, a negative test COVID test would be necessary in order to return to practice and games. As far as spectators, allow families of the athletes (including cheerleaders and dance team members) to attend, sit together and sit six feet away from other families.