Elizabeth Nierman: 2023 candidate for Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25
Town: Arlington Heights
Age on Election Day: 46
Occupation: Educator, former high school teacher, current tutor and substitute
Employer: Self-employed/District 214
Previous offices held: Arlington Heights Council of PTAs president (2020-21), Arlington Heights Council of PTAs president elect (2019-20), Dryden Elementary PTA president (2019-20), Dryden Elementary PTA president elect (2019), Dryden Elementary PTA secretary (2018), First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights Preschool board member (2015-18).
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 because I am fully invested in the success of all students, staff, families, and our community. While it is important to have a wide scope of all of the issues the district is faced with, I'm focused on the overarching goal of inclusion for students, parents, staff and the community. When students feel included, they achieve at higher levels. When parents feel included in the educational process, their confidence in their child's education grows and anxiety settles. When staff feel included in decisions, their autonomy leads to creativity in our classrooms, and when community members feel included, they feel respected and connected to schools and proud of the school system they are supporting. When we all are a part of the process, we are engaged, and engaged communities are best equipped to support their students. As a lifetime Arlington Heights community member, educator, D25 alumnus, current parent, and community leader, it is my honor to represent all of these groups.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: District 25 has an amazing staff who are experts in their fields. While the board's governance framework ensures that the board provides feedback and sets the vision and direction, it is the staff's expertise that sets curriculum. When the board hires the next Superintendent, it will be crucial to employ someone who is student, staff, and community focused to guide the curriculum process. As a community representative member of the 2020 Strategic Plan Team, I worked hard alongside teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders to shape the goals of the district for the next five years. As a board member, I will be fully engaged, present, and aware of the clear guidelines, expectations, and vision in order to work with my colleagues and the Superintendent in monitoring the performance of the district.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: Our goal should be to best serve every individual student. The ways in which we differentiate instruction can be refined. I believe it is worthwhile to re-examine both our Special Education and our Advanced Learning programs. The answer doesn't lie alone with tasking our teachers with more work to create individualized plans for each student. The board and the administrators can provide the resources to better and more conveniently structure our supports to help teachers work smarter, not harder. We need to work with families to place their special needs children into their home schools, re-examine our threshold percentage and placement process for qualification of special services, and investigate and streamline our IEP process to cut down on wait times for families. These are not issues for staff to tackle alone -- I plan to work with our superintendent to research and look to other successful peer districts to determine best practices as we support our staff in implementing.
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: One of the SD25 Board of Education's goals is to," encourage collective decision making and diversity in viewpoints." When controversy arises, along with gathering research from organizations such as the Illinois State Board of Education, my role will be to listen to the community. I've been involved in diplomatic exchange for years in my roles on the First United Methodist Church's Preschool board and through PTA Leadership. Ideally, the gathering and considering of many diverse views plus collaboration with peers will result in compromise. The board should be a voice for the community -- we cannot voice solely our own opinions. But there are votes to be cast, and the decisions behind those votes need to be informed. This happens through research and listening to all community members. When compromise does not come easily, careful consideration of public input, available research and adherence to the district's strategic plan will drive my decision making.
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: The emotional toll the pandemic took on all, especially students, has been immense and long lasting. I recognized this in my own home as well as in our community. As president of the Arlington Heights Council of PTAs, I provided presentations with a mental health professional to help parents to support their children and themselves during remote learning. If another outbreak occurs, I feel we need to prioritize not only the physical health, but also the social-emotional health of our students and teachers. We have learned that science is ever changing, but a constant is the need to tend to our social well-being. We need to be flexible and willing to change our paths when new information arises from IDPH, ISBE, and IESA but also to consider what is best for our local community and our students, with a keener eye and immediate focus on mental health.
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 roles in local, districtwide, and regional PTA leadership, I worked with my teams to refine and refresh our goals, pre, during, and after the pandemic. During COVID we had the opportunity to change the ways we advocated for and connected with families. I acted as the liaison between local units, IL PTA, and Regional PTA and the superintendent and principals to work on streamlining the district guidelines for activities for the schools. Not everyone is comfortable with change, and much of managing changing organizational policy is truly listening to stakeholders to best understand and represent their reservations, perspectives and interests. Bringing these perspectives to my fellow board members is the next step. My history as a parent advocate and community builder will help me to be a part of a team that will be effective in making decisions that keep the interests of our students firsthand.
Q: As the district prepares to roll out full-day kindergarten, are there other programs the district should be pursuing in the future?
A: As a parent of a fourth- and fifth-grader, I see the impact of technology on the social wellness of students. Our children are part of an ever-changing digital world, and keeping up can be overwhelming. D25 is in an excellent position to provide a comprehensive Digital Citizenship education program for students and families. One similar to the RULER social emotional learning program, with a graduated approach of lessons and activities for all grades and resources for parents and teachers, would help us all work together to keep students safe online and guide them to create positive digital footprints. Collaboration between community supports, such as the Arlington Heights Police Department, local mental health experts and our schools, can help us to create a multifaceted approach to internet safety. In the nearer future, the board will play an important role in responsibly overseeing the full-day kindergarten rollout, keeping careful eye on cost efficiency and judicious allocation of funds.
Q: Amid construction of school building additions for full-day kindergarten and planned upgrades to the physical plant, are there other capital improvements the district should be preparing for, especially considering future enrollment changes?
A: The 2022 enrollment projections study presented many factors that actual enrollment through 2031 will depend on: new housing developments, turnover, and family migration, and our schools had varied projections. It will be important to repeat this study and keep an eye on numbers as we move forward. The plans for building additions account for the current projected changes, but it will be the board's responsibility to continue to reevaluate as time goes on. As for specific capital improvements, the construction of the buildings offers us an opportunity to make our schools as safe as possible from intruders through access control measures, strategic safety decisions, and updated door locks where needed. We can utilize new knowledge about the connection between HVAC systems and wellness to build healthy environments. The board should always aim to employ responsible, well-informed fiscal decisions with an eye toward the future needs of our community and district, with a focus on safety.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: We deserve a board that will be truly engaged in its responsibility to our students and community. As a lifelong community member, former teacher, current D25 parent and avid volunteer, I am fully invested in our district and our town. I have spent time volunteering in the buildings and connecting with parents and staff. On the Strategic Plan team, I worked alongside teachers, admin., and other community members to map out D25's goals and mission. As Council PTA president, I added the first DEI chair to the board to aid our PTAs in supporting the district's goal of equity. I have worked with our administrators to advocate for children and families. I understand the drive and heart of this district, and my efforts and heart truly lie with serving our students and community. My experiences have reinforced the importance of leaders who listen. You can count on me to be an effective, enthusiastic, receptive and responsible board member -- I will work with you for the good of our community.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: When schools are the focal point and heart of a community, they are safe and welcome spaces. Through the years, our family has participated in activities with outside organizations that foster this focus, such as caroling at the Moorings with the Kindness Club and PTA's World of Work. These interactions are meaningful and create connections, but they are one-time events. A consistent service outreach program would lead us to our goal. I would love to explore fostering multigenerational relationships between our students and the community. Service projects will heighten community buy in and spur giving back, reconnecting us after the challenges of the past few years. We all have one common goal: the good of our students. We can come together and heal with this goal in mind. Organized, steady programs will launch a love of service in our students and enrich our community. D25's motto is, "Together Today to Transform Tomorrow." Working together will guide us to transformative changes.