Don Carmichael: 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: Retired teacher
Civic involvement: D128 school board member
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 made the decision to run in this election two years ago when I ran for the 2 year unexpired term. I suspected then and have confirmed over the last 2 years that it takes time to acclimate. I am running because I want to give back to the community that my family has been a part of since 1990. Being a board member is not glamorous. It is a serious responsibility that takes time and effort for no pay. The reward is in knowing that you are helping to make things better for others. I no longer have kids in the district and waited to run until they had graduated. A balanced board has some members with children in school and some who do not.
I am not motivated by a single issue but rather a broader desire to continue on the path of good decision making that has made our district one of the best in the nation. School boards need a variety of voices and as a former educator I have experience that is useful for advancing the goals of our district. The current board is glad to have a teacher's perspective.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: Throughout the pandemic there is one thing everyone can agree on. It would be great if there were no pandemic. The vast majority of us would agree the best place for students to learn is in-person with their teachers and their classmates. The current board, administration and teachers all want our children to be in school. It simply is not possible to behave normally during a pandemic and the board took action to maintain the health and safety of our community by teaching remotely. In order to get our kids back in school, the board sought out and approved testing for every in-school student and we increased our contact tracing staff.
I think the board did a good job. It could have been better. I would have preferred to make the decision to stay fully remote through the end of the first semester much earlier. It was very difficult for our students and teachers to get their hopes up to going back to school only to delay opening. We spent too much time looking week after week at recommendations, metrics, and polls and should have concentrated our energy on finding ways to make remote work better for everyone.
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: This question is much bigger than just the pandemic. It should be asked regarding all decisions that the board faces. The pandemic will go away and we will return to normal, but the question will remain. How do you view your role?
The role of every board member is to weigh evidence and vote in accordance with what is right from their perspective. I gave voice to my constituents who reached out to me represent their opinions during this pandemic. I agreed with some and disagreed with others. During this pandemic this board led us to safety. It was unpopular with some of our constituents and yet we led.
As far a deferring to state authorities, there are some things we just cannot do. For example, we cannot have more than 50 athletes and 50 spectators in a competition space at any one time. Because we must adhere to strict guidelines for distancing we have limited availability to have spectators. We want parents to be able to see their children during games or meets, but if we were to allow all parents and fans to attend games we could open our district to liability suits, which would be irresponsible.
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: Our district is doing a great job. Students have been learning. We have reviewed data that shows grade distributions along with comparisons to previous years. Every time I talk to teachers I ask these questions: Are your students learning? They all say yes. And then I ask, "How do you know?" There are a variety of answers that follow, but all teachers can provide evidence of learning.
Our district was already a technology leader prior to the pandemic. Each of our students have a Chromebook that allows for remote learning to occur. Teachers were provided training and time to redesign lessons and assessments. For those students who did not have reliable internet access, hot spots were purchased and distributed. While remote learning is adequate, it isn't for everyone. Some students are terribly isolated or may feel no motivation to learn. While we have always worked to address these problems they are much more pronounce now. We need to continue to help those who are struggling and continue to identify students who require emotional support.
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: Our plan is currently in operation. Students who wish to be in the building for in-person instruction are attending classes daily. Our community asked for choice and for those students wishing to learn remotely, they can attend class from home. Our schedule is posted on the D128 Web page for anyone wishing to examine it further. Students self check before getting on the bus or being dropped off at school. There are temperature sensors at the entryways, hallway dividers, appropriate distancing in each classroom and improved ventilation. Students eat lunch at home. All students and staff are required to correctly wear masks any time they are in the buildings.
We had remote days last fall where students were in class for all periods through the entire day. That turned out to be problematic and the administration adjusted those days. We also discovered that students needed expanded office hours so teachers could meet with them outside of class for extra help. We learned that students need breaks during the day so they are not on screens all of the time, a problem the hybrid model addresses.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I strongly support allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic. I coached my entire career and know the value of both training and competition for athletes. My friends who are coaches felt that the risk mitigations were successful. While some mitigations are cumbersome the effort is worth the reward. Athletics is great for the body, mind and spirit. When safe, it is appropriate to allow students to get out, get exercise, and see their teammates.
I have been announcing and scoring diving meets this season. I can tell you first hand how relieved these athletes are for the opportunity to compete. Many of these athletes have worked for years to get to the top of their game only to lose out on their season. Last spring was devastating for so many who had trained for state level competitions only to see their season evaporate. If we hope to have our highest risk sports get their chance this year we must remain vigilant to slow the spread. Continued frequent testing, mask wearing and distancing are key.