Joan Sherrill: 2023 candidate for Township High School District 211 Board of Education
Age on Election Day: 54
Occupation: Small business owner
Previous offices held: I've never been political but I have been an engaged member in schools. I have served on two District 15 task forces, involved in PTA, been a mentor in the Fremd Business Incubator program and am on the D211 Communications task force.
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 am running because providing a quality education to our children is the key not only to their futures, but to the future health of our community. My family chose to live in this area because of the high-quality schools. I'm a mom of District 211 students, a successful small business owner, and a district homeowner. I also have extensive experience in various roles in the education industry. I want to ensure our schools continue to be a cornerstone of our community. I care deeply about education and feel I will bring unique skills and experience to the board. An issue that motivates me is the extent to which national politics is weaponizing school boards. I believe this is wrong. I realize that both sides of the aisle can feel they are being attacked. I'm particularly concerned about efforts to privatize public schools because they lead to a weakening of the quality in education, coherence of our community, and the maintenance of our property values.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The school board needs to understand the curriculum and how it is developed. It provides oversight over the educators and administrators who develop curriculum. The board must take into account the lens of the community in providing that oversight. As a board, we also need to ensure that the curriculum is evolving to meet the future needs of our students as they enter the workforce in a rapidly changing world.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: Probable upcoming Supreme Court rulings and AI like ChatGPT appear to be pushing many colleges and universities to change their admissions criteria, including making the SAT/ACT optional or potentially eliminating them entirely. It will be critical that District 211 reacts with agility to adapt curriculum to this new reality. We need to ensure our students will be accepted at higher education institutions of their choice. Our curriculum also needs to support students who do not pursue college degrees. Businesses are finding it difficult to hire qualified employees, and we need to help our students acquire marketable skills. Companies, like Google, now offer certificate programs, where upon completion they are considered on the same terms as job candidates with college degrees. D211 should investigate these 21st century job readiness paths along with more traditional vocational education. Another 21st century reality is the increasing availability of artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT that can write papers and complete assignments without students doing the work. As a district, we will need to develop guidelines that acknowledge the existence of AI tools, while ensuring that our students are actually learning.
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 move forward together as a community, but that doesn't mean that we will all agree on everything all the time. In my experience, good ideas can come from all sides. I pledge to listen to and hear everyone, not just the loudest. As a general rule, I believe that mandates from state and federal authorities should be followed; I am not qualified to determine things like pandemic risks. However, I firmly believe that the voices of the community must be heard and should be taken into account in key decisions. I will always be committed to doing what is best for the children that attend D211 schools.
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's remember how little we knew about pandemic management three years ago. It had been literally 100 years since the last one. We all know so much more now than we did then. We can use this experience to make better decisions on what is effective and how we keep everyone safe while ensuring our kids can stay full-time in-person at school. In order to do that, we need to continue to focus on proper ventilation and other mitigations that can maximize in-person learning while keeping our students, teachers and their families healthy and safe.
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: Over my career, I have had the opportunity to work with and manage teams in both corporate and educational environments, including at Harper and Oakton colleges. My overall style is collaborative, and I strive for consensus when possible. However, it is also important to set targets and timelines and then to meet them. I find that showing respect for all is critical in effective leadership. As part of the fact-finding and decision-making processes, I will listen to the diverse viewpoints of the public as well as those of district staff and my fellow board members. I will strive to work with my board colleagues in a collegial manner while firmly standing up for what I believe to be in the best interests of D211 students and our community.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I have extensive professional experience in the education sphere. I keep abreast of developing trends in education that other candidates may not be aware of or fully understand. I am also a business owner and therefore acutely aware of watching the bottom line and spending strategically and wisely. Because I'm a parent, homeowner, business owner, and professional in the learning industry, I have valuable insights into the perspectives of our district's various stakeholders. I am able to understand concerns on all sides and find balanced solutions to complex problems. My goal is to effectively communicate and build consensus on our board, in our schools and within our community.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: Project Based Learning (PBL). Project based learning is an instructional approach in which students develop knowledge and skills through engaging projects set around challenges and problems in the real world. It is proving to be an effective tool for increasing equity in schools and preparing students for real life. If college admissions requirements do change as expected, PBL may help students build a portfolio of their work which they can share with admissions. PBL isn't new per se, but a recent study showed that students in PBL AP classes outperformed those in traditional format and were more likely to earn a 3 or higher (on a scale of 1-5) on the year-end exam (often the qualifying score needed to count a college credit). PBL is a win-win because all students can benefit from it. It is worth exploring and expanding its use at D211.