Gordon Snyder: 2021 candidate for Elmhurst Unit District 205 board
Six candidates are running for three, 4-year terms on the Elmhurst Unit District 205 board of trustees in the April 6 election. They are incumbents Kara Caforio and Jim Collins, and challengers Athena Arvanitis, T. Marie Gall, Laurel Schrementi and Gordon Snyder.
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/.
Age: Didn't answer
Occupation: Engineer at Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick, Inc.
Civic involvement: Current member of D205 Finance Committee Former football, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse coach -- various Elmhurst organizations. Former Emerson PTA treasurer. Served on multiple committees at Emerson and Churchville PTAs.
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 ran for a seat on the District 205 Board of Education in 2019, for the same reason I am running today. The district is undertaking $168.5M in building, remodeling, and facility improvement projects over the next few years. My engineering and construction experience are unique to any of the existing board member or candidates. We need a subject matter expert on the board who can provide strong guidance. These are facilities that are going to stand in our city for decades. I want to ensure that they are designed and built for the needs of today as well as flexibility for the future. With an annual operating budget of ±$120M, there are numerous other financial decisions. As an engineer, I routinely make decisions on construction projects where cost is always factor. This position requires an understanding of how budgets are generated and how to manage and adjust them based on unforeseen changes in spending throughout the year.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: The pandemic has brought about one of the greatest challenging for our education system. There was and continues to be, constantly changing information and guidance from the CDC and IDPH. I think the current board has done the best they could at the time. I would give them a "B-". With so much uncertainty early on, I believe the board acted correctly in implementing the remote learning model. But even after the early technological challenges were fixed, there was (and remains) a dramatically reduced number of minutes students attend class daily which make it impossible to teach the entire course/curriculum. This will be a long-term problem as we move forward to the next school year. With hindsight, students could probably have returned to in-person learning sooner.
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 it's a combination of at least two. Strong leadership is important. As a roadway construction engineer, I'm accustomed to being unpopular. Motorists routinely yell opinions and "encouragement" out their window as they drive past. I will vote to do what I believe is the best course of action based on the information available regardless of popularity.
I also believe it's important to listen to various viewpoints and opinions to be able to navigate to actionable decisions. Given the choice, I'd prefer not to differ to state authorities, but they can be a source of information.
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 worked hard to serve students via a combination of remote, hybrid and in-person learning scenarios throughout the pandemic. District 205 was one of the first public school systems to fully transition to remote learning last spring -- as well as being one of the first to get students back in to school this fall during at least some portion of the week. The district showed that it could pivot in and out of different learning scenarios. Space and distancing requirements made it difficult -- especially at Sandburg and Bryan middle schools where the A-B rotation could not be implemented.
I believe we could have transitioned back to in-person learning sooner last semester and would like to see more in-person learning now. With the teachers becoming fully vaccinated over the coming weeks, I believe we can return fully to in-person learning with everyone wearing masks.
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: Vaccinations and masks work. They're especially effective when all individuals are masked. As we transition to more in-person learning, this needs to be a part of our practice long term. The vaccine rollout will also provide an immense barrier to mitigating transmission, but the timeline for when everyone can receive doses is likely delayed. And studies on younger populations are still ongoing. Currently it's unclear when/if the recommendation for children under 12 will be determined. It has been found that with mask usage, the social distance spacing can be reduced. Three-feet or separation, and even less, have shown to be acceptable -- when everyone is masked.
This revised spacing parameter will allow for more students in classrooms and common spaces. Finally, we have seen in the fall that some kids work well under online learning environments, but most are very challenged by this method. We need to make sure we're providing adequate support to those students who are seeing developmental or learning gaps -- and step up interventions to address gaps in learning.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Much like I answered in the question about safely resuming in-classroom activities during the second semester -- I believe we can support athletic practices and competitions using similar measures. Our students have not only missed out on learning, they've missed out on the fun, energy, passion, and joy that extracurriculars bring to a student's life. We need to commit to bring our students back to their gyms, tracks, courts, and fields with the same level of urgency as we are to transitioning them back to the classroom full-time.