Incumbents hang on in several Fox Valley school, college board races

  • Upper from left, Christine Birkett, Daniel Dale, Holly Jarovsky and lower from left, David Scarpino, Emmanuel Thomas and Kim Withycombe  are candidates for Community Unit School District 300 school board. Not pictured is candidate Kristina Paul.

    Upper from left, Christine Birkett, Daniel Dale, Holly Jarovsky and lower from left, David Scarpino, Emmanuel Thomas and Kim Withycombe are candidates for Community Unit School District 300 school board. Not pictured is candidate Kristina Paul.

 
 
Updated 4/7/2021 2:01 PM

With at least one notable exception, incumbents in several Fox Valley school board races held on to their seats Tuesday, signaling voters' general support for the way school leaders have handled remote learning and the return to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That issue alone galvanized many newcomers on ballots in school board races across the suburbs. It was the most divisive campaign topic in several contentious races, including Community Unit District 300, Huntley Community School District 158 and St. Charles Unit District 303. In the Huntley race, two of four incumbents lost their bids for re-election.

 

In many cases, challengers criticized incumbents and school administrators for not doing a better job with remote learning or not resuming full, in-person classes sooner. The issue also mobilized parents on both sides of that debate, prompting numerous protests since last fall, including in Algonquin, Burlington, and Crystal Lake, and heated exchanges at school board meetings.

Reopening schools for in-person classes has hinged on health and safety concerns, including COVID-19 community transmission rates and teachers being vaccinated.

St. Charles 303

In St. Charles Unit District 303, five candidates vying for three 4-year school board seats stressed their top priority is getting all students back into classrooms, but were divided on how to accomplish that.

Unofficial totals show incumbents Edward McNally, Heidi Jo Fairgrieve and Carolyn Waibel leading with 3,694 votes, 3,308 votes and 3,183 votes, respectively. It was a close fourth place with Katherine Bell receiving 3,103 to James Stombres' 3,100 votes.

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Many district parents have been upset because officials did not expand in-person learning to high schools sooner -- the school board struggled to figure out a way to allow that without exceeding building capacity. Meanwhile, students in prekindergarten through eighth grade are receiving in-person instruction.

District 303 middle school and high school students returned to in-person learning five days a week this week as a result of revised health guidance for schools.

District 300

In Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, it was a tight seven-way race for three open 4-year school board seats.

Incumbents David Scarpino, a retired school administrator from Hampshire, and Emmanuel Thomas, a postal worker from Algonquin appointed to the board in November, faced challengers Christine Birkett of West Dundee; Daniel Dale of West Dundee; Holly Jarovsky of Lake in the Hills, a Harper College instructor; Kristina Paul of East Dundee, a special education teacher in Elgin Area School District U-46; and Kim Withycombe of Algonquin.

Unofficial totals with precincts in DeKalb, Cook, Kane, and McHenry counties reporting show Birkett, Scarpino, Thomas and Paul leading in votes, but at least one of them will not be seated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

District 300 is among three Kane County school districts governed by the "congressional township" law, which mandates no more than three people from any one township can be on the school board. Current school board member Nancy Zettler is from Dundee Township and her term expires in 2023. With four candidates -- Birkett, Thomas, Paul and Dale -- from Dundee Township on the ballot, no matter how many votes each gets, only two of them could be seated on the board.

Roughly 70% of district families opted for in-person instruction for the second semester. Its more than 20,000 students have returned to school in staggered segments.

Huntley 158

Huntley Community School District 158 is among the most hotly contested in the suburbs with 10 candidates -- six newcomers and four incumbents -- vying for four spots on the board. Voters appear to have supported two incumbents and replaced two others.

The district's pandemic response motivated the large field of hopefuls and was among the top priorities in their campaigns. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students began full in-person learning five days a week on March 15.

Unofficial totals with precincts in Kane and McHenry counties reporting show the top vote getters are incumbents Lesli Melendy, 1,340, and Sean Cratty, 1,286, followed closely by newcomers Katherine "Kate" Policheri, 1,276, and Laura Murray, 1,244.

Incumbents Anthony "Tony" Quagliano, current board president, and board secretary Paul Troy failed to win re-election. Also running were newcomers Dana Dalton-Wiley, Tara Masino, Susan Hochmuth and Jennifer Sargent, the only write-in candidate.

All of the candidates emphasized the need to address learning gaps due to the pandemic's disruptions and several stressed supporting students' mental and social-emotional health going forward.

U-46

While several suburban school districts had two or three candidates vying for every seat, Elgin Area School District U-46 bucked the trend with four candidates vying for three 4-year terms. One of those openings was due to Trustee Donna Smith not seeking reelection after 20 years on the board.

With unofficial vote totals in Cook, Kane and Du­Page counties, incumbents Melissa Owens and Veronica Noland were leading by several hundred votes with challengers Dawn Martin coming in a close third and LeJewel Crigler trailing. Cook County votes had not been tallied as of 10:30 p.m.

Noland, 54, of Elgin, has served on the U-46 school board since 2013. She is the only Hispanic member, and the only Hispanic candidate, in a district whose student population is 55% Hispanic. Owens, 52, of Bartlett, was elected in 2017 after serving on the district's Citizens Advisory Council.

Martin has been an active sports volunteer with the district for years. She criticized the current board for being too conservative and unquestioning of the superintendent's approach to keep students in distance learning through fall. Crigler, who is Black, cited concerns about school culture after her first child's experience.

Community colleges

Incumbents Jeffrey Meyer and Donna Redmer had a lead by several hundred votes over Joyce Fountain, a former Elgin Area School District U-46 board member, and newcomer Adriana Barriga-Green in the Elgin Community College District 509 board race, according to unofficial vote totals. The winners will secure two, 6-year terms.

In the McHenry County College District 528 board race, newcomer Dale Morton, of Bull Valley, and incumbent Elizabeth Speros, of Crystal Lake, secured the most votes -- 8,819 and 6,333 respectively -- to lock in two 6-year terms. Sumish Parikh of Crystal Lake was trailing with 2,192 votes, unofficial results show.

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