Dale J. Sherman: 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.
Occupation: Corporate Executive/Attorney
Civic involvement: Over the years, I have given back to the community by donating my time as an emcee at charity and school events, including the most recent Red Tie Gala for the SuperJake foundation, raising funds to combat pediatric cancer. I hosted Bingo Night and many Spring Fun Fairs at Copeland school. I served three years as Secretary of the Libertyville Boys Club (LBC) Executive Board and a year running their Flag Football program, in a non-Board leadership role. At the time, LBC served over 400 children from the District 128 area. I also spent many seasons coaching youth sports teams.
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 have wanted to give back more for quite a while, but because of job-related travel, I have not been able to commit to the required time for Board of Education service. I no longer travel for work, so this is the first election cycle where I have the time to commit. I have life and work experiences that make me uniquely qualified to serve our students and community, including successful service on multiple for-profit and not-for-profit corporate advisory or governing boards. The chief catalyst for my run was the mishandling of COVID-19 response. I am not a single issue candidate, but that mishandling is representative of a larger loss of focus by the Board from its main mission: promoting the interests of the students. Our kids should have been back in school, full-time, in-person in August. Other schools in the area, and throughout the country, figured it out and were back in-person by mid-August; a district with our resources was both able, and obligated, to do the same. Our students have been placed at a significant competitive disadvantage to those in fully open schools.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: F. That grade is not intended to be harsh or indict everything the Board does; however, simply stated, the Board's pandemic response failed our students, resulting in irreparable harm. The Board had months to work with the administration to prepare and execute a plan. We were told in meeting after meeting "everyone on the Board wants to get back to in-person learning." After over 11 months, that rings increasingly hollow. Look no further than Carmel High School, which is one mile from Libertyville High School, for an example of a school that figured out how to safely return to in-person learning -- six months ago. The current Board can be commended for many achievements, but the pandemic response is not among them.
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: Serve the best interests of the students. Period. "Remote learning" does not serve those interests. There is no law or regulation prohibiting in-person learning, nor was there any such law in August. Government is not stopping District 128 students from full-time learning in school. I plan to do what is right, regardless of its popularity. In the case of the pandemic, the right thing is to open our schools safely, completely and immediately. The American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for open schools for a long time; I agree with them. To be a strong leader, one needs to balance humility and confidence. None of us has all the answers. I research issues and listen more than I speak. Once reaching what I believe is the right solution, I confidently lead and persuade others to follow. That is what I intend to continue to do on the pandemic response.
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: No. To me, anything short of full-time, in-person schooling is a disservice to our students. They have been away from in-person learning for over 11 months. There is no doubt our students are at a competitive disadvantage to their peers who have been enjoying in-person, full-time learning since August. That disadvantage will be hard to overcome. For some students, this is the last year of school, so they may never make up what was lost. Our kids deserve so much better than they are getting. I think our Board thinks the only issue with the pandemic is the safety of the children and teachers in the building. A safe environment could have been accomplished long ago. What the Board misses is the collateral damage of denying children access to in-person learning. Beyond the obvious academic deficits, the kids are experiencing depression, suicidal ideation, increased substance abuse, poor posture, vision problems, muscle atrophy and amotivational syndrome, just to name a few adverse consequences. It will take a long time to get back to "normal," in any true sense of that word. That is not entirely the fault of the Board, but their inaction has exacerbated an already-bad situation.
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: Yes. Open the schools -- safely, completely and immediately. Use reasonable safety mitigation, to include: masks, district-funded vaccinations and PPE for teachers, optional testing for asymptomatic students (already in place), and contact tracing for confirmed positive cases. I support reasonable distancing, but not a hard, fast six-foot rule (per the American Academy of Pediatrics, six feet between children is not critical). When one compares the incidence of community spread to school spread, the inescapable conclusion is that students and teachers are safer at school than in the community at-large. We learned from the fall semester that there is an upper limit to the efficacy of "remote learning"; we reached it long ago. Hybrid is a bridge, not a destination. Anecdotally, one hears that homework and test cheating are rampant; this is supported by lower in-person attendance rates on test days vs. non-test days in the same classes. Instructional periods end early with great frequency. "Asynchronous" learning falls woefully short of what is necessary to motivate and inspire high school students. Our students' time is inefficiently used as well; some days have up to four hour breaks in them. Hybrid is not working.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I support allowing sports to continue but it does create the odd result that many sports are fully "open," yet our schools are not. That should be reconciled by fully opening the schools, not stopping the sports. Ultimately, the sports question is not for me (or the Board) to decide; it is up to the state government and the IHSA. My position is that any IHSA-approved sport should be open to full participation by District 128 students. I note that students are being denied the privilege of far more than just sports. Student actors, debaters, musicians, dancers, and participants in a host of other activities and clubs are having their dreams slowly crushed. For many, this year will be their last chance to meaningfully participate in such activities. Other states have found a way; ours can, too.