Emily Shultz: 2021 candidate for Villa Park Elementary District 45 board
Eight candidates are running for four, 4-year terms on the Villa Park Elementary District 45 board of trustees in the April 6 election.
They are incumbents Judith C. Degnan and Navreet Kaur Heneghan, and challengers West Conway Marinier, Allen Legutki, Kelli P. May, John E. Naughton III, Kathryn Padberg, and Emily Shultz.
John E. Naughton III has dropped out of the race and is no longer actively campaigning. Kelli P. May did not respond to the questionnaire.
The Daily Herald asked each candidate about issues facing the district and how they would contribute to its progress.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is now available at the DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
Civic involvement: I am involved in DuPage for Progress, a local group founded on the common goals of diversity and inclusion, stewardship, collaboration and sustainability.
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 product of the Illinois school system -- elementary through law school -- I value the importance of local educational decision-making. Since leaving law, I have focused my time and energy on our local family business and, most importantly, my three children. As a small-business owner, my husband and I know and benefit from community engagement and as a mother, particularly of a neurologically diverse child, I have come to learn the invaluable role our neighborhood schools play in promoting community connection and supporting local families. I have been disheartened by the division that has seemingly impacted our ability to make thoughtful, data-driven decisions over the last year. Although this former attorney welcomes the opportunity to unpack and explore opposing viewpoints, I look forward to serving on a board that is unified in serving all students and all families, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or disability needs, as we navigate current struggles and plan for future successes.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I have observed, firsthand, the ingenuity of classroom teachers and support staff as our community and world have navigated the pandemic. They, like the board, were operating with ever-evolving information and expectations but where our "boots on the ground" outperformed our board was in their ability to think creatively and respond with flexibility.
Prioritized school-return plans for high-need students including our special education and Section 504 students as well as any homeless or at-risk students, explicit plans for timely teacher and staff vaccinations, introduction of population testing to track local case rates, and more transparent communication regarding the impact of returning to in-person learning are all examples of creative strategies utilized by other districts.
These proactive responses would have helped the board avoid confusion or disappointment as was experienced, for example, when the loss of synchronized minutes for remote students was realized by the community. It is the job of the board to think at least as creatively as our teachers so that they can get back to the business of teaching our students.
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: The job of any elected official is to first listen to and then advocate on behalf of his/her/their constituents. This pandemic has shined a stark and startling light on inequity across both racial and socioeconomic lines -- I view it as my obligation to advocate for those who have not been offered a seat at the table and, in the case of the pandemic, to do so with the guidance of health and science experts at the local and state levels.
The issue of the pandemic is one of school safety and security -- physical safety, social-emotional safety, and the security of an education that provides all of our students with the tools to navigate the modern world. So yes, the board's role is to serve as a leader was we confront the pandemic -- or any future challenge or community encounters.
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: As the parent of a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the tireless work of our special educators and related service providers to adapt and coordinate the continued provision of special education services is the clearest example of how our school district worked to support our children throughout school closures.
The coordinated distribution of meals for our food-insecure families as well as the provision of supplies and technology tools, and the needed internet access, for all students also highlighted the district's commitment to keeping our students connected. Although virtual learning has proven challenging for the majority of families, these coordinated efforts lessened the burden for many of us.
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: Learning from the successes -- and the mistakes -- of comparable communities with comparable financial resources, can afford us with a framework for how to approach in-person learning both now and in the future. Emulating staggered scheduling, population testing procedures, and mask-wearing/social distancing practices that have yielded successful outcomes elsewhere as well as integrating our own currently implemented hybrid practices in a more inclusive capacity, will permit us to move toward continued increases in student attendance and in-person learning opportunities.
Flexibility and adaptability remain the name of the game as does adhering to the guidance of recommendations from local and national health organizations but there is room for creativity in our decision-making and I look forward to being a part of that.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Not applicable. The high schools are a different district.