Kathryn Veronica Talerico: 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.
Civic involvement: I am a pediatrician at a federally funded health clinic, serving mainly low-income patients. The medical and psychosocial needs of these children are very complex. I spend quite a bit of time advocating for them, through interactions with DCFS, school nurses, school psychologists, and mental health specialists; hence why I see this as civic involvement. Member of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, advocating for the safe reopening of schools during the COVID pandemic. Member of the District 70 (Libertyville elementary and middle schools) Reopening Advisory Committee, working with school administrators, teachers, and parents to successfully reopen schools during the COVID pandemic. School volunteer, specifically at District 128: Spirit Store, College Resource Center, dances, and at the district's annual cardiac screening event for students (performing EKG's). Various philanthropic activities though St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
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 am running for this office for the first time for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I have always wanted to give back in some way, what my high school gave to me. Growing up in a single parent household, my mom worked hard to provide for me and my sister, but financial struggles were the norm. Thankfully, I was fortunate to go to an amazing public high school that made up for financial barriers I faced. I credit my high school with helping me achieve my academic, extracurricular and (eventually) career goals. Without the guidance and encouragement of my high school coaches, teachers, college resource adviser, and counselor, I truly don't think I would have accomplished all that I have.
Since I have been practicing pediatrics for 16 years, I have a strong passion for and knowledge of children. Serving on the school board will allow me to use this unique skill set to hopefully help create opportunities for District 128 students similar to the ones that I was lucky to have, and thus give back to my own children's high school community, what my high school gave to me.
Finally, while not the main motivator, given that I am a physician who is working through the pandemic and who has substantial knowledge regarding COVID, I feel a strong pull to run NOW. If elected to the board, I feel I can assist the district with the very complicated job of managing issues that have arisen due to the pandemic.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the current school board a C (average) for their response to the pandemic. On a positive note, the plan they developed to get kids back to some form of in-person learning was a good one. However, it came too late. The current hybrid plan just started in mid January; it should have started much sooner. I also very much appreciated the board's effort: watching each board meeting revealed detailed thought processes and discussion, showing me that each member truly cared about and was trying to do the best thing for the community.
What's unfortunate, however, is that there was never (at least not to my knowledge) a medical expert that was assisting with the process. Board members probably relied on information they read in the mainstream media, or perhaps heard from others, to make decisions regarding when and how schools should open. What they might not have known, unfortunately, is that information that physicians and scientists who were working during the pandemic were privy to, might have been different from what they themselves were reading. I don't fault anyone on the board or at the school for not having this knowledge. However, I personally look to experts when decisions I am making fall outside my scope of expertise, and I would've expected those making decisions as important as school reopening during a pandemic, to do the same.
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: Since I am a pediatrician, with experience working during the pandemic, who has thoroughly researched data regarding what works and what doesn't regarding school reopening, and who has at her disposable many medical experts with whom to consult with, I feel without a doubt that my role is to provide leadership during this difficult time. At the same time, I understand that as an elected member of the school board, I will have certain duties, one of which is to listen to and voice constituents' concerns. I do believe it is important for me to also carry out that vital role. By doing both, I think I can help bring about solutions to COVID-related issues as well as other issues plaguing school districts that will not only be in the best interest of our children, but that will keep constituents happy as well.
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: In some ways, District 128 did adequately serve students during the pandemic. For example, those children who qualified for free or reduced fee lunches still received those meals, delivered to their homes by school staff. Also, a number of at-risk children were brought into the buildings for special services, such as occupational therapy services, among others. Finally, many teachers did a tremendous job creating online curricula that were quite impressive, especially considering they had little or no training or experience in doing so.
However, many "average or other" students -- those without 504 or IEP plans, struggled with remote learning. While I know teachers did their best to reach out to these students to offer help, there's only so much that can be done through a screen. Without face-to-face interactions, oftentimes little could be done to help these students. They struggled academically and emotionally (and continue to do so). Furthermore, there are a subset of students struggling whom the school isn't even aware of, because remote learning doesn't make identification of these students possible. Instituting the hybrid plan sooner would have helped these children; and, of course, currently offering them more in-person hours would assist as well.
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: School closures have been devastating to the health and well-being of our adolescents and their families. The problem with the fall learning plan at District 128 was that there weren't any in-person learning opportunities available, except for those children with 504's or IEP's. While our district did a great job of coming up with a hybrid plan for everyone that started this past January, my goal for this spring would be to offer more in-person learning hours for those who would like them. I think remote learning should still be a choice; many families still desire that, and having kids at home will obviously help lower numbers of kids in the buildings, facilitating social distancing. But our district has so many layers now of mitigation: masking, testing, vaccines for teachers, etc. Why have we spent so much money on these, to only continue with a subpar experience for many, when the medical literature says that's not necessary?
My concrete plan if elected would be to resurvey families, seeing how many now would like in-person versus remote learning, and also find out their reasons for why. Then, getting dimensions of classrooms, and measuring how many kids could reasonably fit in each room. I suspect that all of the kids who do desire to be in-person for more hours, will be able to be accommodated. If not, discussions need to be had as to how to make this happen, at the very least, for seniors. They have spent 25% of their high school careers at home; it would be great for these 12th graders to get a couple of months back in the buildings with their classmates, teachers, and friends, before they embark on their next journey.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: High school sports provide so much for children. Besides the obvious physical benefits, there are substantial social-emotional benefits as well. They are too, a way for kids to earn college scholarships, providing for many children much needed financial assistance to pay for higher education, while doing something they love and are good at. That's fantastic.
While full-time in-person learning trumps sports participation, throughout the pandemic, when it became clear that in -person learning wasn't happening, I very much supported a safe return to play for all athletes. If there were an option for in-person learning if sports participation were NOT allowed, I would have supported that. But, that was never the case.
At this point, with many high school sports back in action, and both published and unpublished data indicating that there is no significant transmission of COVID cases attributed to them, I'm happy to say that I not only support high school sports, but that both in -- person learning and sports participation can occur simultaneously: one does not preclude the other, as was originally thought toward the beginning of the pandemic. Care should be taken, of course, during activities (masking indoors for certain sports, distancing if possible). For more specifics, please see the guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding youth athletics, which I concur with: services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/covid-19-interim-guidance-return-to-sports.