Jessica McGee: 2023 candidate for Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89 board, 4-year term
Age on Election Day: 42
Occupation: School psychologist
Employer: West Aurora Unit District 129
Previous offices held: N/A
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: I'm running for school board in District 89 because as a parent in this district for 8 years, I have been impressed by the education our children are provided, and by what the current board has done to ensure that decision making is centered around benefiting all students.
Every student matters and has a place at District 89 and I want to help carry forward the great work. I have been a school psychologist for the past 16 years, analyzing schoolwide and individual student data, and helping grade level teams and individual teachers determine the appropriate interventions that will support academic and social/emotional growth and success.
I would like to be able to use these same skills to ensure academic and social/emotional success throughout our community as a member of the D89 board.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: I believe the school board should be involved throughout the curriculum selection and implementation process.
Typically, administrators, teachers and other staff utilize their expertise in education and child development to research, pilot and select a curriculum that they feel would best support the students within the school district. The school board's role is to ensure that the district has gone through a vigorous and detailed process to choose the curriculum that is the best fit.
From the beginning of the process, members of the board should ask the questions needed to be well-informed about the possible choices of curriculum, how data regarding success of the curriculum will be collected and how all the various stakeholders will be able to give feedback on the curriculum.
This will ensure that the board has all the data needed to make an informed decision regarding the adoption of the curriculum.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: When the district recently adopted a new ELA curriculum, parents had questions about whether the curriculum supported the science of reading and I raised those questions to the board.
I think it's so important for parents to share their concerns and I will continue to flag not only my own concerns but also the questions from other families, especially if any of the data presented to the board indicates lack of progress or success.
The district does a great job engaging social workers in the classrooms monthly to provide social and emotional instruction.
However, the pandemic has had a negative impact on social skills and I feel that the district can do more in terms of providing more social and emotional learning opportunities for students. As a board member, as we discuss student success, I will continuously ask what the district plan is to increase social emotional learning opportunities.
Q: How do you view your role in confronting policy or curriculum controversies: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?
A: I think that all of these three actions are important when confronting policy and curriculum, whether controversial or not. It is the job of school board members to be a leader regardless of the topic at hand, and regardless of personal preferences.
Hearing the voices of our community, referencing research and data regarding student benefit, and following state policy, procedures and mandates are critical to productive discussions and informed decisions that best meet the needs of all of our students.
Q: Concerns are growing regarding a new resurgence of the pandemic. If another massive outbreak of infectious disease occurs, what have we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that will guide your decision making?
A: Let me start by applauding our educators for their flexibility in creating learning environments that ensured safety while navigating the new norm of instruction and learning activities during the height of the pandemic.
A great deal of time and planning went into ensuring the safety of our students as outlined by experts in the health field. It was such a new experience, and the flexibility and tenacity of our schools made it possible for our students to learn and grow.
The guidance from those that have the expertise in health provided a data-based plan for returning safely to in person learning and I will always rely on the data to guide my decision making.
Q: Describe your experience working in a group setting to determine policy. What is your style in such a setting to reach agreement and manage school district policy? Explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions of your school board.
A: In my role as a school psychologist, I continuously work with individuals and teams in order to revise existing classroom and schoolwide policies or create new ones in order to increase the success of our students.
The most important tool to use during these planning sessions is data. By utilizing data, you take the opinion out of the decision making in order to make the most informed and unbiased decision possible.
A majority of the time, when the data is referenced an agreement is reached more quickly and in a more organized manner. Data helps the focus of a planning meeting. Utilizing data based decision making will help maintain a productive school board discussion, so that we can focus on what will benefit the students rather than on issues that data indicates is not an issue within the district.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I believe that any team benefits from members with different knowledge and experiences. A well-rounded team can pull from their different knowledge base in order to ask the right questions to obtain the information needed to make well-informed decisions.
As an educator, I know what resources are needed and have been successful with students. I have extensive knowledge about the various systems, teams and data within a school district. This knowledge allows me the ability to ask the questions needed to provide the rest of the board with the information they need to come to an informed decision. Most importantly, I am a huge advocate for inclusivity and making sure that every student counts. Our school board needs to be student focused; if not, then what are we doing there?
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: I believe that implementing a universal social emotional learning curriculum is necessary to help increase self awareness, self management, academic achievement and positive behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These are skills that are not inherent, they need to be taught.
Although the school social workers are doing a great job teaching these skills monthly, the students need more. Analyzing behavior and social emotional data to determine the need for additional social workers, psychologists and/or counselors in order to support these needs within our schools is important.
Giving teachers the tools and resources to implement social emotional learning throughout the school day is essential to students feeling safe and supported in school and will lead to positive educational outcomes.