Joseph (Joe) Kozminski: 2023 candidate for Naperville Unit District 203 board


Town: Naperville

Age on Election Day: 45

Occupation: Professor and chair of physics

Employer: Lewis University

Previous offices held: District 203 board of education since 2019


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: It has been an honor to serve the Naperville District 203 community on the school board since 2019. Though we have faced some difficult challenges and decisions during the pandemic, District 203 has remained one of the top school districts in Illinois, and student achievement has bounced back strongly.

District 203 has been recognized for its social-emotional learning (SEL) program and its equity initiatives, including the rollout of a comprehensive equity plan. However, I am motivated to run for reelection because there is still work to do. I am motivated to continue working to close achievement gaps by providing a safe, welcoming learning environment for all students and providing the supports needed, whether academic, SEL, mental health, or other supports, to help them achieve success along the path that is right for them.

I am also motivated to make the district more environmentally sustainable and reduce energy expenses while continuing to be fiscally responsible.

Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?

A: The primary role of the board, as written into district policy, is high-level approval and monitoring of the curriculum. The district has curriculum experts who regularly review the curriculum and stay informed of any new curriculum requirements mandated by the Illinois School Code. Curriculum teams in the district can recommend changes to existing curricula or propose new courses or curricula.

By district policy, the superintendent must bring new curriculum or substantive changes to the curriculum to the board for approval before implementation.

At this point, the board reviews proposed changes and has the opportunity to ask questions and consider input from stakeholders. The board can also ask for data and updates on curriculum and does get annual updates on district performance.

Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?

A: I think that we need to continually monitor academic achievement and the outcomes of the social-emotional learning program, multitiered systems of support (MTSS), and other student support systems within the district to help identify areas where some curriculum or support system changes or improvements may be needed.

I am very interested to see updates on some district programs like the honors math/PI/PI+ programs, dual-language program, and special education programs and hear any recommendations for these programs based on analyses of the programs' outcomes.

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: There is often some combination of all three. There are instructional mandates set by the state with which the district must comply. Likewise, there are mandated policies encoded into state law.

In the oath of office, school board members agree to discharge their duties in accordance with federal and Illinois state laws. However, as long as the district is in compliance of the law, there remain many curriculum, instructional, and policy decisions that are made by experts in the district.

Some decisions we must make as school board members are controversial, and I listen carefully to constituents with diverse opinions in order to hear perspectives I may not have thought of myself.

As a scientist, I continually evaluate new data and new information when making decisions and let evidence inform my decisions. Of course, we often deal with complex, multifaceted issues and have to make the best decisions we can with the information available.

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: While disease outbreaks can behave very differently, many things learned during the pandemic could be adopted or adapted in a future outbreak. Three key considerations are keeping the school community as safe and healthy as possible, keeping students in school if possible, and clearly communicating with the community.

Monitoring an outbreak carefully and looking to public health experts for guidance is critical since they use most up-to-date information available on the science and community spread and infection rates in developing their guidance. While keeping students in school is best, we have the infrastructure and ability to transition to remote learning if the needed.

Moreover, building infrastructure like air flow and filtration was improved, and safety plans and mitigation strategies were developed and put in place during different phases of the pandemic. These position the district to respond rapidly to another outbreak and may allow for schools to safely remain open.

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: I have extensive experience working in groups to set and interpret policy. Besides my work on the school board, I have done policy work where I work and within a professional organization. At Lewis University, I was on the college academic affairs committee for 10 years, chairing it for 5 of those years. This faculty governance committee reviews, interprets, and proposes revisions to the college bylaws and policy.

Within the American Association of Physics Teachers, I led the writing of a set of recommendations for the undergraduate laboratory curriculum.

When working in such groups, I am a team player. Collegiality is important for having robust dialogue and coming to agreement. While I come to the discussions prepared and bring own ideas,

I also listen to others, ask questions respectfully, and thoughtfully consider my colleagues' points of view and ideas. The strongest and most equitable policies come from bringing together diverse voices. And in the end, I abide by the majority decision.

Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?

A: I am a father of three kids in the district, have a passion for education, and am an experienced and dedicated school board member. I have taught physics at Lewis University for 18 years, work with K-12 students through science outreach, and conduct research on climate vulnerability inputs like air quality.

Between my work on the District 203 school board, being chair of physics at Lewis for over a decade, and having held leadership roles in several professional organizations, I have significant leadership, policy, and budget experience.

I believe that a strong public school system plays an essential role in developing informed, responsible citizens able to critically evaluate information, ideas, and opinions and to contribute not only to our local community but also to a diverse, global society. I will continue working hard for the Naperville 203 community and will continue to use taxpayer dollars responsibly to provide a world-class education for ALL children in our community.

Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?

A: We have discussed some larger initiatives for reducing district's carbon footprint like trying to secure funding for an electric bus pilot and adding electric vehicles to the driver's ed fleet, and we were able to replace four driver's ed vehicles with electric vehicles this year.

However, we should also do a comprehensive energy audit and carefully consider sustainability and energy efficiency, which will help reduce energy expenses, especially in some of the district's older buildings, in the district's regular maintenance and updating of aging infrastructure to ensure buildings are secure and students have top quality learning spaces.

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