Travis McGhee: 2021 candidate for Libertyville District 70 board
Seven candidates for four four-year seats
Occupation: Senior Executive, Chief Commercial Officer at IG North America
Civic involvement: Libertyville Little League Board Member; 25-year St. Joseph Church Parishioner; former member of Green Oak Board of Appeals; former member of Park City, Utah, Board of Adjustment
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. For 20+ years running, D70 has been the "gold standard" for Illinois Elementary/Middle School districts. Unfortunately, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic dealt schools across the country a very difficult environment to navigate. Nothing unique to Libertyville. However, as a parent and a taxpayer, I am concerned D70 is currently behind the curve in 1) returning our kids to in-person learning and as a result have little to no confidence that the district 2) has a plan for the negative financial impact their past/current decisions will have on D70 in the future.
Q. How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A. Their response receives a failing grade. An "F." As mentioned earlier, Libertyville has been dealt with the same set of circumstances as school districts across the country, yet we failed to get our kids back to in-person learning until November. Even when 1) the data supported in-person learning in August and 2) there are other schools (both private and public) within 5 miles who have been back in-person, 5 days a week, all year. The Board failed to properly challenge, question, and ultimately drive the administration to find creative solutions. As one current Board Member (who is seeking reelection) so eloquently described it during the Feb 22 meeting, it's a "throwaway year."
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. Our role is to ensure D70 provides all children and its staff a safe and vibrant learning environment. The pandemic is simply a challenge in front of that. It's therefore our role to provide direction to the administration to ensure both of those requirements (safe and vibrant) are met, and to do so with a sense of urgency using all available data and surrounding schools to support decisions. The mindset of the current board is "there's a pandemic, remote learning suffices, let's see how all of this plays out before we open the doors." When it should be "in-person learning is what we qualify as a vibrant and essential learning environment, how do we think outside the box to get kids and teachers back to in-person, safely, and as quickly as possible using surrounding data (in addition to national data) to support the decision."
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. It continued to serve a percentage of students with access to education. However, let's be clear, remote learning is not an adequate solution for K-8. These are formative years. Kids need face-to-face instruction, socialization, and dedicated learning space. Remote learning during the onset of the pandemic (March 2020) made sense. There were too many unknowns. However, after 6 months there was ample data to suggest in-person learning (with proper mitigations) is safe. I.e. St. Joseph Catholic School and Oak Grove School (inside Libertyville and bordering Libertyville, respectively). The Board and Administration should have been working around the clock the day after the first "remote" decision was made to find a solution for in-person learning, and to put an action plan in place. They failed on both fronts.
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. As mentioned above, it is not the Board's role to draft a plan. The Board is meant to provide direction and to hold the administration accountable. The Board should challenge assumptions, and ensure the administration is doing everything humanely possible to deliver a safe and vibrant educational environment. That said, there are thousands of schools across the nation (and globe) that have kids back to in-person learning in a safe way. Not to mention a K-8 school that is inside of 2 miles of all D70 schools. Therefore "plans" are plentiful. What I, along with most others, have learned from the fall is that kids should be back to full-day in-person learning and that we are now 9 months behind the curve.
Q. What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.