Aurora Austriaco: 2021 candidate for Maine Township High School District 207 school board
Five candidates for four open seats
City: Park Ridge
Occupation: Attorney at Valentine Austriaco and Bueschel, P.C.
Civic involvement: Current District 207 school board member; past commissioner Park Ridge Planning and Zoning Commission; past commissioner, Cook County Human Rights Commission; past president, Maine South Hawkettes Booster board; past president, Chicago Bar Association; president, National Conference of Bar Presidents; commissioner, Illinois Courts Commission; board member, Asian American Coalition of Chicago
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'm running for reelection to the board because I'm a strong advocate for public education and the importance of having access to all programs that District 207 has to offer to all students in an equitable and inclusive learning environment. I believe in giving back to the community through public service whether by serving on the District 207 school board, as past commissioner for the Park Ridge Planning and Zoning Commission or as past president of Maine South Hawkettes Booster Board. I've been a resident of Park Ridge for over 25 years and our two daughters graduated from Maine South. Through their education at our Maine schools, I've seen them grow up as young adults, well equipped to face their future and achieving at a high level. I'm also a taxpayer and fully understand the importance of being good stewards of the taxpayers' money and District 207 assets. It's important that our schools provide the tools/resources/skills/programs they need to do well in school but also prepare them for future. I hope to continue working on the various innovative programs/initiatives that we started and grow them for years to come.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I strongly believe that the current school board has a done a great job with its response to the pandemic considering the difficult circumstances we've all been faced with. The pandemic hit everyone like a brick and it wasn't just one pandemic but we got hit with COVID-19, the social injustice issues and the resulting financial crisis due to massive layoffs as a result of the business shutdowns. Even though schools shut down, our high schools have been open more than any other high school in the North Cook region for in person learning and this is so even though majority of our students opted for online learning. In addition, District 207 provided free meals seven days a week for all kids 18 and under; provided free internet or free Wi-Fi hot spots or low cost internet access to students who otherwise have limited or no access to assist in their virtual learning. Our district also provided counselors to students for emotional social support especially during the pandemic. So overall, I do believe that the current school board has done a great job with its response to the pandemic.
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: As mentioned earlier, this pandemic hit us all without any warning. As school board members, it's important that we listen to everyone, all the stakeholders -- the students, the staff, the teachers, the student's family and the community. It is equally important that we listen to science and to people who know about science which as we all know, is constantly evolving. By listening to all, we are giving a voice to our community. District 207 held many town hall meetings and listened to parents and students and we heard what they have to say but the practicality of it is that there's no one size fits all approach, there is not one solution. We developed a hybrid schedule to accommodate in-person learning and virtual learning. We increased the time to a two full day hybrid schedule with lunch and now we are offering a four day schedule for students who would like to go back in person but are also offering virtual learning to those who still choose to do so. There's no question that we would like to have the students back in school full time but in doing so, we'd like to make sure that we're doing so safely and in compliance with safety protocols.
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: Yes, it did. I mentioned earlier that District 207 provided free meals seven days a week for all kids 18 and under; provided free internet or free Wi-Fi hot spots or low cost internet access to students who otherwise have limited or no access to assist in their virtual learning; and our district provided counselors to students for emotional social support as we know mental health and well-being of students have suffered as a result of the isolation due to the pandemic.
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: District 207 is now increasing the number of students attending in-person but also offering the virtual option to those who prefer to do so. It started with a two day hybrid schedule with lunch being offered and is now offering students the option to come to school four days a week with lunch included provided safety protocols are followed. District 207 just sent an email to all parents and staff re revised public health guidance for schools from Illinois State Board of Education and the IDPH that District 207 will be following. It laid out mitigation strategies that are key to safely delivering in person instruction and mitigating COVID-19 transmission in schools which no doubt, District 207 will follow. It comes as no surprise that following the safety protocols makes a huge difference.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I think high school sports are also important for the mental, emotional and physical well-being of our students and we hope they are back soon. District 207 follows ISHA guidelines and will continue to do so during the pandemic.