Beata Swacha: 2021 candidate for Lake Park District 108 school board
Seven candidates are running for four, 4-year terms on the Lake Park High School District 108 board. Anthony Gironda, Christoher Casaccio and Thomas Rofrano did not complete a questionnaire.
Occupation: Chief Financial Officer
Employer: Appraisal Institute
Civic involvement: St. Walter's Church, Roselle, volunteer catechist/group leader; St. Ladislaus Church, Roselle, volunteer catechist, capital campaign coordinator, reader
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 believe in the concepts of "the more you give, the more you receive in return" and that we have been given talents that need to be utilized to their full extent. With those in mind, I decided to run because of my concern for kid's long-term well-being, the critical role schools play in development of our children, and that I have something to contribute to the challenges posed by the pandemic. I believe that the goal of schools is to help shape our children into successful adults. This does involve a challenging curriculum. However, just as important are the social and emotional lessons our children learn while attending school, interacting with others in-person, playing sports and participating in extracurricular activities. The pandemic and the decisions made by the school board have greatly diminished these critical aspects of becoming successful members of society. Though the health and safety of our children is important and cannot be diminished, the long-term effects from limited face-to-face interaction are posing severe negative impacts to our children and society. My two decades of working with nonprofits, educational institutions, boards and serving in senior leadership positions provide me the experience necessary to address this community challenge.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. Performance assessment must be done against stated goals. The goal of schools is to provide a wholistic academic and social/emotional education. The current school board has taken tremendous steps in preventing the spread of COVID. However, this was done at the expense of minimized curriculum standards and limited social growth, both of which will have worse long-term impacts. Children must be provided the opportunity to be back in school to continue their growth and prevent bad habits developed over the last year from becoming ingrained personality traits. In my three children who would be attending Lake Park during my tenure on the board, I see firsthand the shortcomings of the current response to the pandemic. They know how to talk to their phones rather than a human. In a virtual environment, children loose focus and don't absorb as much of the content. Teachers are asked to teach to their cameras and students in their classroom at the same time -- this can't be done successfully!
This doesn't mean that families who are uncomfortable should be forced to attend in-person school. Rather, students who can, should be provided the opportunity while accommodations are provided to those who need to remain home.
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. Life is rarely about absolutes; thus, every situation should be assessed based on known facts and stated goals. I am committed to ensuring that Lake Park High School supports our children's wholistic development into successful adults via a challenging curriculum and social interactions.
I disagree with the notion that providing leadership means that it will be unpopular with the constituents. True leadership is taking into consideration all available information, points of view, short-term vs long-term impacts, pros/cons and making the best possible decision in light of all those facts. Then once a decision is made, clearly articulating the reason for the decision so all involved parties understand -- some may not be happy, but they should understand the reason why it is the best decision.
I will be a representative of the community meaning that I will strive to voice the interests and opinions of the constituents and vote on behalf of the best overall interests of the Lake Park High School community -- children, parents, teachers, and administrators -- all while keeping the goal of developing our children into successful adults at the forefront of every decision.
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. The district has certainly put in many new programs to help students during this pandemic including tutoring, mental-health days, free meals, additional assistance, checkup calls, opportunities to improve grades and revised grading system for the first semester. However, despite the best intentions, these programs fell flat. Availability and effectiveness of tutoring was dependent on the teacher's desire to offer it, mental-health days provided more time for kids to be bored and become more secluded from society, free meals had minimal nutritional value and the revised grading system for Ds and Fs discourage accountability and responsibility. Many of these actions would not have been necessary if children were attending school in-person. With significantly fewer resources, private schools have been successful in safely bringing students back to in-person learning environment this academic year. And yet our community who funds Lake Park High School through tax dollars, must cope with lower academic standards, social challenges and inability for parents to return to work. Families must be provided the option for their children to be back at school so that parents feel comfortable returning to work and society can begin taking steps to some level of normalcy.
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. According to the CDC, in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission of COVID. Private schools have also demonstrated that with consistent implementation of mitigation strategies such as wearing masks, frequent cleaning of spaces, contact tracing, and quarantines a safe in-person learning environment can exist. Private school students have been back in school since the Fall and they are excelling academically and socially while our public-school students are falling behind. Thus, my plan is to provide every family the opportunity for their students to be in-person, implement and enforce safety measures, and provide families who are unable or uncomfortable attending in-person classes focused teacher instruction in a virtual setting. Academic standards must return to pre-pandemic levels so that our community is not settling for good-enough but instead striving for the excellence we expect.
Q. What is your position on allowing school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A. Sports and extracurricular activities are critical aspects of the social and emotional growth for our children. They help to develop collaboration, coordination, fairness, dealing with winning/loosing, and provide real-life experiences that prepare young adults for future careers. Sitting in a classroom (or at home) will never provide the same type of experience. Elimination of many sports activities may have prevented the spread of the virus, though this action has caused other health problems: kids being out of shape, gaining weight, or developing other health issues. Moreover, the state and board action likely has had a negative impact on student's futures, especially those who were counting on a sport scholarship to pay for college, without which chances of attending the desired college may have been minimized. The current rules will cause greater and more widespread long-term challenges. Thus, I believe that sports must reopen for students. Although public schools have canceled many sport activities, local organizations have continued to provide this critical need in a safe manner. Thus again, there are plenty of examples within our own community where sports have continued, and our high school needs to once again fulfill this responsibility for which it is receiving our tax dollars.