Barbara A. Velez: 2023 Candidate for Township High School District 211 Board of Education
Town: Hanover Park
Age on Election Day: 50
Occupation: Secretary and translator. Position: Welcome and Assessment Center Liaison
Employer: Schaumburg School District 54
Previous offices held: None
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 decided to run for SD211 board member because this is a key time in which we need leadership that can understand the support systems and structures needed to serve parents and students. Our academic growth and career readiness has been significantly impacted due to the pandemic. Our students are coping with new stressors and guidance and support from counselors students lacking and perhaps nonexistent. One of the common concerns I hear from parents and students is about the lack of opportunities to meet with counselors. These meetings should not be occasionally or just to select courses, on the contrary they should be constant and strategic to help students (and parents) navigate the complexities of their high school career.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The school board is responsible to consider administration recommendations and decide if the adoption of the recommended curriculum is appropriate or not. Right now the board reviews the recommendations of the curriculum committee three times a year. After reading the reports and recommendations and asking for clarification or discussion, the board members should recommend approval of items and or request removal of any items not deemed appropriate. Board votes and approves the curriculum.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: The adoption of the NSES: The new critical learning standards consolidate some topics related to health, fitness and mental health to make space for Gender Identity & Expression and Sexual Orientation and Identity. No samples of instructional materials were provided and it is unclear how the instruction will be conducted in a straightforward, balanced and unbiased way. These new standards are optional therefore the board could have directed the administration to come up with other options. Ex .Instead of students and parents having the choice of opting out, let's have an opt-in option by creating a ½ semester class or path that addresses topics related to comprehensive sex education. As board members we are to pause and listen and not rush the decision whenever there is a heavy concern within the community. We are also to provide direction to the administration which means that we could have requested more information and /or pushed the topic for discussion at a later date.
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: We need to hear from all sides and consider what is best and appropriate for the students and the community. The board serves the interest of the community, not special interests groups or agendas within the community. Decisions where there is controversy and division within the community are hard but as board members we must provide direction in an equitable and balanced way and consider all sides. At the end of the day we must ask ourselves this question; is the adoption of a curriculum or policy truly serving all the students in the community? If it's not, we must push the administration to think outside the box and provide a different path of implementation.
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: At the stage we are in the game there should be no circumstances in which we close the schools again due to COVID. Even if it's something else other than COVID, I truly believe students learn best and are better supported when they are in the classroom and we must find ways to keep our schools 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 an empathetic style that allows me to look at different angles or perspectives. I ask questions and seek clarification so I can make an informed decision. I seek to listen and like to be informed to the best of my ability about the issues at hand. When making a decision I weigh all possible options and try to provide a balanced solution. Whenever possible and without compromising my values I try to reach across the aisle to find middle ground so we can move forward together. I believe that when considering policy we must try to listen, be open minded and think outside the box so we can serve our community appropriately. Every decision should be student centered, unbiased and transparent. Especially not clouded by an agenda.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: Born and raised in Puerto Rico, I bring a different perspective, fresh eyes and ideas that can contribute to this district. I have a BA in operations management. I currently work in SD54 and understand the operations and systems required for daily operations of an educational institution. I have more than 10 years of experience working with multilingual families. Being one of the Spanish translators for the district, allows me to help families, students, multidisciplinary teams and educators, by providing resources but also connecting them with information. At SHS I am actively involved with the Band Boosters. I also participate and regularly attend the Parent Academy and the Principal Advisory group. At the district level I'm a current member of the D211 Communications Committee and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Member of the D211 Strategic Plan Steering Committee. I supported the community focus groups in both English and Spanish.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: Community Involvement: "Connect" group for parents. This group can be composed of experienced parents, alumni and community members that can attend meetings and events to help support new parents as they understand "How things work" in the school. In partnership student services this group can attend freshman orientation night, curriculum night and other parent meetings and to share testimonies and offer guidance to parents and students. Accessibility to the board. 1.) Board Advisory Committee where the stakeholders can meet with the board two-three times a year to dialogue about the issues outside the public comment. 2.) Report regarding public comment. This report should indicate how the public comments requesting a response, during the previous board meeting, were addressed or resolved. This will promote transparency and response toward the needs of the community members while providing information regarding issues in a timely manner.