Cara Benjamin: 2021 candidate for District 128 school board
10 candidates are vying for four seats (4-year term) in the 2021 Libertyville-Vernon Hills District 128 race.
City: Vernon Hills
Occupation: High school English teacher on hiatus, Private ACT/SAT tutor at Simon Test Prep
Civic involvement: Volunteer at Hawthorn Elementary North, Bernie's Book Bank, Feed My Starving Children, HFS Scholars (regular donor and scholarship recipient selection team), regular donor to Vernon Township Food Pantry and Greater Chicago Food Depository. I also contribute to various organizations that support the work of social justice, voter rights, and environmental causes.
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: There is no particular issue that motivates me to run other than the opportunity to serve the community that has given me so much. I have lived within District 128 for nearly my entire life and am a graduate of District 128 schools. It would be an honor to serve the community in which I was raised and now have the opportunity to raise my own children.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I regularly work with district students and know many families with students who attend VHHS and LHS. Based on the affected people I have spoken with, the response to the Pandemic by the school board has been excellent, considering these unprecedented circumstances. The school board cooperatively partnered with educators, administrators, teachers, and families to deliver robust remote instruction. And now, with proper testing and mitigation efforts available, plus our faculty being able to receive vaccines, we are able to provide a hybrid model that allows families the option to be fully remote or partially in person. Our Board has worked tirelessly to safely navigate COVID and has kept the students' and faculty's health and safety our priorities. I am very proud of our district response.
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 think high quality board member leadership in response to the Pandemic looks like a balance of all of these things. A responsible Board member considers the data, the needs of the community, and listens to experts when unprecedented events like a Pandemic occur. Not everyone is going to be happy with the details of every decision. As a member of the board, it would be best to consider all of those contributing factors and ultimately arrive at a balanced solution that effectively serves the safety and educational needs of students and families while also keeping the safety and health of the community-at-large at the forefront of 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: Absolutely. District 128 was and has been able to provide high quality remote instruction to students throughout the duration of the Pandemic. Students maintained a rigorous regiment of coursework through both synchronous and asynchronous education, as well as maintained participation in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. Teachers were inventive in making education work for their students, social-emotional support staff provided the same quality supports and interventions for students in need, and administrators fielded and responded to feedback from the school community. And perhaps most notably, our students were mostly adaptable and open-minded due to the support of their teachers and administrators. Getting into a rhythm with remote learning took some time, as it did with every local learning community, but ultimately, the district has implemented an effective plan and made adjustments along to fine tune the plan. By and large, though not ideal, remote learning has been a resounding success in District 128.
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 Fall semester confirmed that COVID can spread in a school setting without proper mitigations. As compared to the Fall, we now have vaccinations available to our faculty and some of our students. These developments will hopefully allow our district to welcome more students back in person. My plan to safely and effectively conduct in-person classes in the Spring includes continued testing, masking, social distancing, vaccinations, and contact-tracing while COVID is still prevalent in our community. Additionally, the hybrid structure must be maintained in order to manage these mitigation efforts with efficacy. I do think more broad and stringent testing of hybrid students would provide a more successful return to school, overall. Unfortunately, there is a significant percentage of families who have opted out of weekly testing but still send their students to school. It is well known that asymptomatic infection and spread is common in this age group, thus, it makes the most sense to keep and expand testing. The district needed to take serious precautions in the Fall as there was significant uncertainty regarding the virus. Serious precautions are still needed to avoid Spring surges as we await more vaccination availability.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Involvement in sports is a large part of so many of our students' lives and this year has been challenging in allowing sports to happen in some capacity. I am in favor of allowing sports to continue throughout the pandemic so long as it can be done safely. Outdoor sports should absolutely be allowed to continue with reasonable safety measures in place. Sporting events that allow for adequate distancing certainly lend themselves to safe play, such as tennis, track and field, cross country, lacrosse, football, baseball, softball, and others. Indoor and close or high contact sports should be rescheduled rather than canceled altogether. The shifting of the fall and winter sports seasons is a great example of how to adapt sporting practice and competition to unfold in a safe way. Other considerations for sports to run safely and effectively are safe spectatorship and balancing the incremental costs associated with safely bringing sports back to our students.