District 73 school board candidates support pace of return to in-person learning
While some parents have been critical, candidates running for the Hawthorn Elementary District 73 school board say they support the pace at which schools are returning to in-person learning.
Four candidates are running for three, 4-year terms in the April 6 election. The only incumbent, Wesley Ann Polen, is seeking a second term. She is joined on the ballot by newcomers Michael Engle, a senior account manager with iPromo; Karl Borchers, who works in human resources for Abbott Laboratories; and Alma Miranda of Vernon Hills.
Miranda did not respond to the Daily Herald's candidate questionnaire or participate in an editorial board endorsement meeting.
In-person hybrid learning began Feb. 1 in District 73. Students who chose that option initially were in class two days a week and learning remotely the other three days. Available in-person time doubled Monday.
"Throughout this entire process the board chose science not politics to drive our decisions about how and when students would return into our buildings," Polen said.
"I believe our board has been very intentional and consistent about our plan," she added. "I think it's important to note we did not modify our plan when we were pressed from a very small, vocal minority."
Borchers, whose oldest child will begin kindergarten in District 73 next school year, said he's been listening and learning about the variety of experiences to consider going forward.
"We've leaned on the experts, we've leaned on the data and trusted science to make decisions and also empower Dr. (Superintendent Peter) Hannigan to make that call," he said.
He said the hybrid model is meeting the needs of parents who want their kids in school, while balancing the needs of those who want a choice.
Engle said while others pushed to open, District 73 has stayed with what was believed to be safest for students and staff.
"It may not have been the most popular route but sometimes that's not the right answer," he said.
"Do it safely, do it at the right time and do it for the right reasons, not just because it's a want," he added.
Polen said she wants students in classrooms five days a week in fall, with a remote option available. The district has invested in technology and training, constructed a new kindergarten building and is proceeding with other building improvements.
"Even in the pandemic, we're doing great things," she said.
Borchers said the district's use of technology has been a benefit and service to the community.
"It's been very stressful but there are things we learned," he said. "I'm very optimistic."
Engle said as more students return to school, the district will need to be aware of those who may need extra accommodation or are dealing with anxiety.
"I think it's going to be weird the first time you're around a group of people, even if it is in a classroom," he said. "We have to make sure we're comforting and talk about it."
Engle grew up in Vernon Hills and has kids entering the school system. He says the district served him well and he wants to be involved.
"It means something to me, it really does," he said. "I want to be part of that leadership, spend the time and do that with integrity."
Borchers worked to pass the district's successful building referendum in 2018 and has advocated for financial considerations in the pending redevelopment agreement of Hawthorn Mall.
"Taking this energy is what got me here and put me in a position where people look to me in the community (and say) 'I know him, I trust what he does, he has our best interests in mind.'"
He says he wants to "help with the issues of today and direction for tomorrow."
Polen said her consistency and experience are critical to the district's success, especially as it continues to face challenges involving COVID-19 and completing the building master plan.
"Knowing where we've been as a district, I believe makes it easier to see where we want to be," she said.