Kevin B. Huber: 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 Pension Fund Executive at Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund
Civic involvement: Chairman of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (2011-current); Board Member District 128 (2017-current); Board Member, Retired Teacher's Association of Chicago (2016-current); Former Board Member, Illinois Board of Higher Education; coach of various youth 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: As a lifelong public servant, I ran for school board in 2017 and am seeking reelection in 2021, because I believe in giving back to the community. Born and raised in Libertyville, I am a proud graduate of Libertyville High School, and my wife and I returned to the community to raise our family. As the retired CEO of the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund, I understand the role of a Board and when I was elected in 2017, brought a moderate, independent, and thoughtful perspective to decision making. I am running in 2021 to help maintain a measured, reasonable, and thoughtful perspective on the board. Three major issues are significant for D128: working with the new superintendent to help her become acclimated to our district, reuniting the community which has fractured during the pandemic, and overseeing how D128 manages its financial resources especially with the upcoming teacher contract negotiations.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: The pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, and the Board upheld its duties and governed responsibly during the pandemic responding in a transparent, open, and appropriate manner. While the issues confronting the community were divisive, the current Board explored available options, worked well with the teacher's union to establish an exemplary remote education model, and pivoted to a hybrid model when it determined that kids could return safely based upon metrics (January). While I was often a lone voice from July -- October advocating for parents who wanted their children to return to schools, the Board respected my point of view and changed and adapted over time. The Board made sure that school facilities were prepared for the return of students (August), and COVID testing was put in place (January), and families had three strong, viable options for students -- remote, hybrid, and full return. While many in the community were not satisfied with the Board's decisions, it was not for a lack of governance or transparency.
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 have always viewed my role as to serve as a moderate voice for the community, and this has been my approach to the pandemic as well. Early on, I challenged the administration and Board members who did not see a path to opening schools safely during the pandemic. I was on record in July and remain on record today that people should be given a choice and schools should be opened safely. This was based upon the overwhelming survey results from students, staff and parents combine with scientific data derived from other countries school openings, and it has recently been backed up by additional CDC guidance. Current data has continued, in my opinion, to validate opening schools safely in some form. For the majority that wanted a return of in person learning, I was their advocate. For those who preferred remote, I worked extremely hard to ensure that D128 had the classroom resources and agreements in place with teachers to ensure those learning remotely were not at a disadvantage. As a Board member, I asked tough questions, respectfully debated, and worked with Springfield in the best interest of our students.
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: D128 has consistently been recognized as one of the top districts during my term and I believe we did an excellent job serving students and balancing needs during the pandemic. There is no absolute in the decisions we made -- but we worked to makes sure that our students and parents had options, and our teachers were protected. We provided the teachers with two weeks of professional development to learn a new educational delivery model to start the year (remote) and provided another week when the decision was made to pivot to hybrid in January. These weeks allowed the teachers to exceed expectations in delivery. Few other districts were this generous with providing teachers this time. We also completely redid the daily schedules as remote and hybrid teaching is better performed in a block format. Finally, it was clear that we needed to implement schoolwide COVID testing of staff and students in order to migrate toward a return to full in person education. The District had no issues with incurring this expense to make the teachers, community and students feel safe.
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 buildings are ready, our staff is ready, and we have testing in place to return to a more robust in person education after spring break. Our students moved to hybrid on January 19, our staff started vaccinations in January with expected full vaccination completed in March, and we continue to work with our Springfield legislators to loosen the restrictions put in place this past summer. These guidelines make it challenging to return to a full-time educational environment and will be our greatest hurdle. So, while I am confident saying that D128 is prepared for a full return to classes in April, we need legislative support to make this a reality. A full-time return at our Vernon Hills campus is more likely because low in-person attendance (25%) allows for physical distancing. In Libertyville, 75% of students want to return to campus, so distancing is more difficult. Our major learning point this fall was that buildings are far more than educational structures. Students need mental and emotional support schools are the safest, most controlled and best equipped space for this.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: High School sports, as well as other extracurricular activities are vital to the mental and emotional health of our students. I fully support the continuation of sports and extracurriculars during the pandemic -- following appropriate guidance and safety measures. It has become clear that because of the structure and safety measures in place, High Schools are the best place for all events, school and otherwise, to occur. Safety measures have been established and the kids should be allowed to participate. Testing has also been established that provides valuable feedback about COVID occurrences during extracurriculars. Based upon testing and contract tracing, the evidence overwhelming suggests COVID found in students is from outside the school building and playing fields.