Kevin Gentry: 2023 candidate for Huntley Unit District 158 school board, 2-year term
Age on Election Day: 53
Occupation: SVP -- Credit & Analytics
Employer: BankDirect Capital Finance
Previous offices held: Huntley Unit District 158 Board of Education for the last 16 years
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 believe that a strong, high performing school district is the foundation for a great community. Ultimately, I believe that over the last 16 years, we have been able to increase student performance, broaden program offerings, and continuously innovate instruction methodologies all while maintaining one of the lowest cost per student structures in the region as well as the state.
My motivation for running is to continue our strong trajectory as well as recapture the academic momentum of the district in our current post pandemic times. Recent history has created a higher level of divisiveness that has manifested in a number of behavioral and academic challenges within our schools, and I want to part of addressing these challenges while continuing to move our district forward.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The role of the school board when it comes to curriculum starts with a top-down review of tangible academic results to ensure that our student performance is strong and continues to grow.
Next, the board needs to ensure that there is cyclical framework in place where each curriculum area is thoughtfully reviewed on a regular ongoing basis to ensure that areas of need or changing compliance requirements are addressed. Finally, as curriculum materials or processes change, the board needs to critically review administration recommendations to ensure that their methodology is sound and aligned with targeted outcomes. An essential part of this critical review is to assess any concerns that may arise from community feedback.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: One area in need of attention is the math curriculum which was a recent review. In order to address performance concerns, the district went to a different method of instruction. This change requires training for teachers and adaptation from students. Given the nature of the change, the board needs to remain inquisitive and assertive in ensuring that expected performance improvements are ultimately realized.
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: Within, a large public school district there is always going to be some level of controversy or disagreement due to the many different perspectives people have and the high level of love and concern every parent has for their children. Given this, we, as board members, need to always be open and willing to listen to any and all feedback including criticism in order to ensure we incorporate all views possible when arriving at decisions. I have always been willing to listen to feedback and have always considered various perspectives when making decisions. All this being said, at the end of the day, we, as a board, are accountable to make the best decision possible considering the whole district, which by definition will result in disappointment for some. Regarding state authorities, I have always had a bias toward local control and believe that we can't simply defer judgment to the state unless legally bound to do so.
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: Biggest lesson coming out of the pandemic was that any type of in person learning is better than a fully remote experience. This is most true younger students. In addition, we experienced a big impact from overly onerous quarantine requirements within the in-person learning environment. If faced again with a similar pandemic, we will need to look for new and creative ways to minimize unneeded quarantines.
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: My main philosophy for decision making in a group setting is make sure that the right questions are asked and compelling others to offer their specific insights to those questions. My style has always been more collaborative as opposed to confrontational and I feel that because of this, I am more likely to elicit a robust discussion where everyone contributes. I also believe that my calm demeanor is helpful in making others feel comfortable expressing opposing views.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I am the best candidate for the job based on the proven track record of the district over the last 16 plus years of my involvement. We have established an environment of innovation with accomplishments of various academies including our Medical Academy; technology with blended learning; college readiness with dual degree programs and college and career pathways; specialized learning via project lead the way programs; and competency-based learning.
In addition, on the financial front we have maintained one of the lowest cost per student and one of the lowest tax rates in our area and have applied truly cutting-edge programs to save on energy and operational costs that have allowed us to reinvest savings into the classroom. On the employer front, we have been named as a top place to work in McHenry County.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: I believe that one of biggest issues we currently face is the behavioral trends in schools that have had an impact on the social emotional well-being of our students. Ultimately, we need to strive to have a more supportive community environment from the student base up where we instill pride and sense of accountability for each other amongst our students. The challenge (or the new idea in this case) is how do we as a board and more broadly as district define and measure success in creating a more nurturing culture.
While we have done a number of initiatives to address social emotional learning opportunities, measuring and understanding overall progress still seems less tangible than it perhaps it should be.