Carla R. Owen: 2021 candidate for Maine Township High School District 207 school board
Five candidates for four open seats
City: Park Ridge
Civic involvement: I volunteer as a guardian ad litem, representing minors in custody matters through Chicago Volunteer Legal Services
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 because I want to continue to support and monitor the district's leadership team, which has done an outstanding job providing students with an excellent education and opportunities in innovative and forward-thinking ways. I also want to follow through on initiatives and projects that began during the time I have served on the board, especially over the last several years. Some of these include the renovation projects at each of our schools, the new sustainability policy, and equity work across the district. I have been on the board for eight years, and was board president for three years. I have also chaired the Policy and Education committees. I think my experience puts me at an advantage to help the board follow through on these projects and initiatives, and as we continue to address all the issues arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I think the board has done a good job responding to unprecedented and complex issues during the pandemic. We evaluated the superintendent's recommendations and a lot of parents input. We asked questions, analyzed concerns, and listened carefully to many different perspectives. We approved plans to educate our students in a way that made the most sense while keeping them safe. There was no way to satisfy everyone. There was no getting around the fact that students were going to face difficulties academically and emotionally under the circumstances. But the board followed the most responsible path, insisting all along that adaptations be made as more information became available. And that is what has happened. A limited number of students attended school in-person starting in August. In the fall, the board agreed unanimously to a plan that safely and gradually increased the number of students who could attend school in-person. Starting this month, every student who wants to come to school can attend in-person classes four full days a week. Most students are still choosing to learn remotely at least some of the time, but the hope is that the situation will allow these numbers to grow.
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 think a board member has to do all of those things to some extent. It is important to listen to constituents and recognize that there can be strong arguments on both sides of an issue. For example, some parents believed there should have been much more in-person learning during the pandemic, citing mental health concerns. At the same time, others felt in-person school was irresponsible, believing it put the health of their family and the community at risk. The board has to consider how its decisions might impact all segments of our diverse district, not only those who are vocal advocates for a position, but also those who express their views less directly. The board also should respect the opinions and rules of state agencies, such as the Department of Public Health, whose job it is to protect and inform state residents, including all members of our community. At the end of the day, I think the most important role we have as board members is to evaluate all of the necessary information and provide leadership by making the often difficult decisions that we think best serve our students, the District and our community.
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. The district brought students back into school as soon as it could do so responsibly. Also, academic and emotional support, college and career counseling, and many extracurricular activities have continued during the pandemic. To help address academic challenges students face because of the pandemic, the district set aside one day a week for virtual learning with teachers to more flexibly address individual student needs. Mondays will remain virtual learning days even as students have the option to return to a four-day in-person class schedule to continue that additional support. Meal pick ups were provided to students and families who expressed a need, and the district raised about $100,000 to supplement that effort. On a more personal level, many of the district's caring teachers and staff, despite their own stresses, went above and beyond to reach out directly to students who they were concerned about, to check in and perhaps offer additional help. It is not possible to measure the amount or impact of these personal connections, but I think it reflects the culture of care that District 207 works hard to foster and which has been on clear display during 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: The district does have a plan, and it's based on all that the district has done and learned over this past year. Many students have been attending in-person classes four days a week, and all students will have the option to do so later this month. The fifth day is set aside as a virtual learning day to provide flexible and more individualized support. This schedule has been possible because the district has been able to responsibly modify social distancing and found ways to allow students to have lunch in school. This schedule should continue through the semester, but the district will respond to circumstances if they change.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Sports and other activities at school play an important role in the lives of many of our students, and many of them have been able to continue to participate in them during the pandemic, with appropriate modifications. The district must follow IHSA rules and guidelines of the department of public health in running sport activities and the district has done so. Spectators are also allowed at sporting events, but in very limited numbers. These limits are determined by state agencies, and we will adjust them if those agencies change the rules.