Past controversies reverberate in District 59 school board race
The Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 school board race isn't marked by the reopening debate seen in other districts or as contentious as a crowded electoral contest two years ago.
But there are still reverberations from past controversies in this year's election, pitting the sitting board president and her recruited slate of candidates against one of the longest-serving school board members in the Northwest suburbs. Five candidates are seeking four available 4-year terms on the board.
Board President Janice Krinsky — who took heat from residents, parents and teachers at board meetings in recent years for Superintendent Art Fessler's controversial curriculum changes — is running with a group of parents: fellow incumbent Robert Mancilla, who was appointed to the panel a year ago; Daisy Espino, a PTO co-president; and Joseph Sagerer, a university lecturer.
Running an independent campaign is Mardell Schumacher, who joined the board in 1988.
The District 59 Education Association, representing teachers and support staffers, has publicly endorsed all candidates but Krinsky.
During a forum with the Daily Herald Editorial Board, the candidates offered up their strategies for governing the K-8 district as it emerges from the pandemic, and as a new superintendent, Terri Bresnahan, comes on board in July.
While Krinsky has previously praised Fessler as a visionary and change agent, she's also acknowledged the difficulties that came with that change during his eight-year tenure. She expressed confidence in Bresnahan, whom the board hired in January, to work on curriculum and instruction, and do better assessments to help students who are struggling.
“We have had some very difficult process changes in the last eight years where things have been pretty chaotic,” said Krinsky, an Arlington Heights resident who has been on the board for a decade. “... We really need to have a way in which we are planful, we approach problems and issues thoroughly and carefully, we hear from teachers, and then when we roll things out, we have to make sure we do it in a logical way that is manageable to staff or whoever it's being rolled out to.”
Schumacher, of Elk Grove Village, said she's running again to help the new superintendent with historical knowledge of the district and wants to work with her on a curriculum that stimulates growth and improves the district's test scores.
But Schumacher also praised district officials for strides they've made to help students, such as implementing full-day kindergarten and opening a preschool. And despite initial concerns with virtual learning last spring, she said improvements were made, and the district has done a good job handling the pandemic.
“The administrators, the superintendent, the union, the teachers — everybody's been working together on this,” Schumacher said. “And I think as a board we just have to give our approval and hope that all goes well, and that's all we can really do at this point.”
Mancilla, of Arlington Heights, said one of his main priorities is to get students up to speed for fall instruction, amid learning loss during remote and hybrid instruction this school year.
“Our schools should be that equalizer where all the kids should have the same resources and the same opportunities to succeed no matter what that income level is at home,” Mancilla said. “And the only way we can get there is if we listen to our students and if we can identify which students need the help.”
Espino, of Mount Prospect, said communication must improve, from the administration on down to the families. But she is pleased overall with the district, saying her daughters in the dual language program have gotten the support they need. She also emphasized the district's diversity of cultures as a strength.
Sagerer, of Elk Grove Village, said it would be a long-term project for the board and new superintendent to assess learning losses, and that data must guide their work as they try to improve the curriculum.
“I'd like to be another voice who really loves looking at data, and I think if we can bring that culture into the district and make good use of assessment data that we can be stronger for it,” Sagerer said.