Cary Benjamin Weisgram: 2021 candidate for Lombard Elementary District 44 board
Five candidates are running for four, 4-year terms on the Lombard Elementary District 44 board of trustees in the April 6 election. They are incumbents Courtney Simek and James Edward Robinette, and challengers Sarah Novey, Daniel Tiltges and Cary Benjamin Weisgram.
Daniel Tiltges 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/.
Occupation: Learning systems administrator, Start Early (formerly The Ounce of Prevention Fund)
Civic involvements: Lombard Town Centre and the Helen Plum Library Foundation
Q. Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?
A: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have felt the pressure that our institutions have been put under by the unique demands of this crisis. I have seen frustrated parents put pressure on school boards and I have seen that pressure wear on good people. I also have watched District 44 take an approach unlike many of our neighboring districts, partnering with the faculty, and putting forward a plan that they have faith in executing.
I joined the race for a board seat because I want to pitch in too. I want to protect that spirit of collaboration. I want to help our community understand what kinds of great work is being done in District 44. I know that two board members have decided to end their participation in the board, and I would like to be one of the volunteers ready to jump in and continue the work.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic?
A: The current board met expectations. The best thing that a board can do in an emergency is rely on its professional staff to make sure that our kids are getting the best and safest education given the circumstances. In this area, the administrative staff of District 44 was admirable in collaborating with teachers and devising a plan to provide as much education time and safe in-person learning time as possible. They communicated their aims clearly and never wavered. The board was supportive of what turned out to be a solid plan that has given District 44 stability where many neighboring districts are being pressured to make arbitrary decisions about student safety.
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: There might be no exactly right answers when it comes to the pandemic. However, there are right and wrong ways to go about seeking those answers. As a parent of a child who definitely struggled a little bit during the first round of remote learning last year, I understand that patience is a hard thing to find and an even harder thing to preach. What could be more unpopular than telling parents who believe they are just providing opportunities for their kids that what they want is not possible? I see my role as making sure that the school district can execute detailed plans as they have been and share with the community how that process works and where their place is in it.
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: Early in the 2020-21 school year, my son was in his class when I heard his first-grade teacher explain to his class that she had met with her colleagues and they decided to move a few things around the schedule because they had learned together that it would help them learn. I was heartened by that. It is not likely that many of her students noticed, but she explained how the teachers at school had performed a little bit of action research and changed their practice to improve it.
That kind of collaboration does not exist in every school district and the way that it was communicated to students showed me that they cared enough about their work to explain it to students, even in such a subtle way. I see that kind of collaboration reflected up and down in District 44.
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: I believe that the district does have a plan. They recently announced that the youngest students would be allowed to learn in-person for two additional days a week and an additional hour a day. The district is gathering information about what students need the most and prioritizing thusly. As I said above, there are no exact right answers, but the methods that District 44 is using to meet the needs of students appears sound and I hope to help support that.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: As an elementary and middle school district, District 44 does not face the same amount of pressure as our friends in the high school districts do. I am however disturbed by the conflicting guidance from both the state and county health authorities, and the IHSA. Furthermore, every school district employs a nursing staff that is trained in public health.
I think that sports and practices should only be allowed insofar that our local public health experts can conclude that its reasonably safe. The number of qualifiers in that last sentence should be an indication of how cautious I think schools should be.