Thomas J. Mitoraj: 2021 candidate for Barrington Unit District 220 school board
11 candidates for four seats
Occupation: Engineer/Manager and Adjunct Professor
Civic involvement: 20+ years of military service (Retired Commander, United States Navy, Civil Engineer Corps); Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, and other roles within the Boy Scouts of America
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: The support and encouragement of family, friends, and teachers were the ultimate driving factors in my decision to run for the District 220 Board of Education. I am humbled that they believe I can bring value to the school board with my past experience and my collaborative approach to tackling challenges. I also think the role will help fill my personal need for service
to the community. There is no single particular issue that is motivating me to run. In fact, I think BOE members must not focus their efforts on any single issue at the expense of the many other issues facing our District. BOE members must take a balanced view of the numerous requirements that need to be addressed by the Board.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why? (200 word limit)
A: The BOE members in District 220 have faced an unprecedented challenges with COVID-19. Nothing in most of our lifetimes comes close to the negative impacts and uncertainty that we have experienced in the last year with the pandemic. I think the BOE did the right thing by reviewing the guidance of government experts and taking steps to protect students, teachers, staff, and others who would interact with these groups. I think they did their best to listen to stakeholders and modify the plan as everyone learned more. Although there still may be people who aren't completely satisfied with the current Hybrid 2.0 model, the Board has provided families a choice between distance learning and on-site classes. I anticipate that our recent improvement in statistics and the teacher's vaccinations may allow for more choice for more grade levels.
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 an elected BOE member, I would do my best to represent the interests of every stakeholder in the District. At the same time, it is impossible to agree with everyone, on every issue, all of the time. I think it is important to collect input from as many sources as possible and make an informed decision, even if it is unpopular or it doesn't satisfy everyone. In some cases, I would also be compelled to get expert advice on certain issues. The pandemic is one example of an issue that would require review of expert opinions and government directives, since I am neither a doctor nor any other kind of expert in infectious diseases.
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: I believe the district adequately served students, but there could be improvements. Luckily, students already had school-issued electronics before the pandemic. By providing the choice of distance learning or in-class learning, the teachers and students were able to personalize their education and learning process. I think they recognized that the pandemic has caused significant mental health concerns for students, teachers, and parents. The district put in considerable effort to address the mental well-being of the community. For example, Parent University has been offering events to help parents cope. There are also resources available to help the students through these challenging times.
I think communication could have been improved. One symptom of the problem could be the emergence of various Facebook groups. Parents have been seeking answers and support, but, at times, rumors have become "fact" or led to more confusion. If actual policies are difficult to find, parents have had to search for answers. Some people do read the policies and still don't understand the reasoning behind the policies or have detailed questions that aren't addressed. The District should have a Q&A webpage to provide a consolidated location for people to get official answers in a timely manner.
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 remote learning methodology was pretty thoroughly researched with a conclusion supporting the critical importance of allowing the elementary students that wished to attend in-person class the opportunity to have a daily interaction with their teacher. Hybrid 1.0, deployed in October, did not offer enough instruction to our youngest and most vulnerable learners but was budget-neutral. The Hybrid 2.0 plan represents a refinement of the plan that was instituted in the fall semester and did incur some additional cost to add the value of additional instruction. Barrington High School is already allowing the option for all four grades to attend all five days and the middle schools may well follow, depending on what trends develop with attendance and with COVID 19 metrics in our county. We have shown some recent forward progress with COVID statistics in our area and may soon open to five full days for more than just 9th through 12th grade students.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I think the decision regarding sports should be conducted on a case-by-case basis in consultation with IHSA. Each sport should be individually assessed to review the associated risk. Appropriate mitigations must then be identified and put in place in order to reduce chances of infection and further spread of the virus. The fall semester showed us that it was possible to safely conduct sports! The coaches and athletes took safety very seriously and enjoyed uninterrupted seasons as a result. While high schools sports may not look the same, the enjoyment the children regained from them showed us exactly why it is so important to prioritize safety and sustainability. This is why it is important to be creative, collaborative and flexible.