Kevin Michael: 2023 candidate for Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25
Town: Arlington Heights
Age on Election Day: 44
Occupation: Instructional technology coach
Employer: Park Ridge-Niles School District 64
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'm motivated by doing what's best for all families and children in District 25, including my own children at Thomas and Ivy Hill. All children in the community deserve opportunities to succeed, equitable access to resources, and excellent teachers. As an educator in neighboring districts for nearly 25 years, I know the impact that schools have on a community and its future. I'm passionate about public education and about strengthening relationships between our district and our community. I plan to increase transparency and community involvement from the board of education. I wish to leverage my successful experience working with teachers, parents, and administrators in my district of employment to be a unifying voice on the board and in our community. My family has benefited tremendously from the education our children have received, and I'm eager to give back through service on the board of education.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: School boards focus on the big picture of governing the district. Are we meeting the needs of students and staff, addressing the concerns of parents, and responsibly utilizing public funds? Those are the questions to ask when making decisions around curriculum. Additionally, school boards are obligated to adhere to requirements set by ISBE and state law. Ultimately, board members rely on the knowledge and expertise of the professional educators they employ. Hiring a new superintendent when Dr. Bein retires will have a tremendous impact on decisions around curriculum. I've served on hiring teams in my school and district, and have experience in selecting the best candidate for the job. The board should focus on continuing the work of the strategic plan, and ensuring that all students' needs are met: academically, socially, and emotionally. Hiring an experienced leader who will develop positive relationships with all stakeholders is an essential component to achieve these goals.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: In my conversations with families, a common concern is the disparity of opportunities and support for students with special needs and IEPs, English language learners, and students who need social and emotional interventions. With different support programs housed at specific schools, some students don't receive the appropriate levels of differentiation without leaving their home schools. I'm also aware that parents and teachers connected to these programs feel strongly that they are effective and successful at their current designated schools. District 25 is awaiting the results of an audit of special education services, and I look forward to learning the results this spring. This data will give the board insight to how we can better meet the needs of our diverse population of learners. District 25 can best address this through continued dialogue between the board, administration, parents, students, and staff. Input from parents, in particular, will be vital to meeting learners' needs.
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: The first question I'll ask in making these decisions will be, "How will this impact students?" If the board follows this guiding principle -- doing what's best for students -- then we can say we've made the best decisions. Policies and curricular decisions should improve academic achievement, increase safety, and promote social and emotional well-being. While I may not agree with the views of all board or community members, I will listen to all perspectives and keep an open mind. There are also guidelines set by ISBE and state law that public school districts must follow. In such cases, I will ask informed questions and rely on the expertise of the district's legal counsel. I'll seek and consider community perspectives, but popular opinion will not be the sole factor in my decisions. On the recent topic of school libraries, I oppose censorship. I trust professional educators to curate appropriate collections, and I applaud the district's strategic plan goal to meet the needs of all learners.
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: As a community we've learned a great deal. The district has learned that planning for multiple contingencies, communicating openly and frequently with parents, and following legal guidelines are necessary to navigating a public health crisis. Teachers have learned how to creatively navigate and leverage technology. Science has taught us enough that we now have the knowledge, resources, and strategies to safely keep schools open moving forward while protecting the health and safety of students, teachers, and families. While we should remain cautious, I believe that the worst is behind us and that we can move forward as a community to protect our collective physical and mental health without compromising academic achievement. The district must also continue to support students recovering from academic and emotional issues that have resulted from the pandemic, by providing access to instructional interventions and social work or counseling as needed.
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: We learn and grow by collaborating with others whose viewpoints and lived experience differ from our own. I've served on many committees in neighboring districts, including committees to evaluate new curriculum resources; my school's crisis, data, and quality improvement teams; and a current position evaluating new technology resources requested by teachers. The technology team examines the instructional impact, cost, and ease of use for students and teachers. We discuss pros and cons with administration, department chairs, and teachers as we evaluate resources, and determine whether the technology in question meets legal requirements for student online privacy. If requests are declined, I communicate the reasons clearly to teachers and offer my support seeking alternate solutions. This experience working with people in multiple roles and with differing perspectives will prove invaluable when discussing important issues with other board members and working to build consensus and unity.
Q: As the district prepares to roll out full-day kindergarten, are there other programs the district
should be pursuing in the future?
A: The district's focus should remain on the successful implementation of full-day Kindergarten. The referendum passed narrowly, and taxpayers will watch closely as we work to responsibly fund and launch this initiative without further increasing property taxes. In these challenging economic times for families, I will be a careful steward of these funds to have maximum impact on academic success with minimum impact on people's savings. The board will need to monitor enrollment data for the program and should seek feedback from parents, teachers, and administrators through the coming years to evaluate its success. Aside from that, it's important to continue the strategic plan goal to "address the growing social, emotional, and mental health needs of our students," who are still recovering from the past few years academically and in terms of mental health. We must continue to support them with help from social workers, instructional specialists, and qualified teachers.
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: It's always best to plan for the long term rather than only addressing immediate needs. Enrollment spiked unexpectedly less than a decade ago, which led to expensive construction projects across the district. While enrollment is projected to decline in the future, there's also the potential for growth given the possibility of the Bears purchasing the Arlington Park property. In either case, retaining and maintaining all District 25 properties is vital. In addition to life safety requirements and maintaining the physical plant, the district should focus on creating flexible learning spaces and making facilities future-ready in terms of infrastructure (fiber optic broadband, improved air quality, and green energy solutions come to mind). I've worked with administrators in my own district to design and furnish flexible spaces for learning resource centers and an elementary makerspace/media lab, and would love to see similar spaces made available to District 25 students and teachers.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: My passion for public education, my concern for the quality of teaching and learning for all our children, and my experience teaching both children and adult learners, qualify me well for the role of member of the board of education. I'm well-versed in K-8 learning standards, best practices for instruction, and the needs of a diverse population of learners. I ask probing questions, I'm thoughtful and empathetic when considering different perspectives, I think critically, and I am open and honest about my decisions. The District 25 community needs to feel heard and understood by members of the board, and the board has a responsibility to demonstrate that we as a community are all in this together, for our kids, our community, and our future.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: I carefully read the feedback that parents provided in the Thought Exchange shared last fall by Dr. Bein. A common theme was a desire for consideration for working parents' schedules when planning the district calendar and school events. I've had to miss many daytime concerts over the years, and my wife and I have had to adjust our schedules when students are off multiple days for parent conferences. Moving more events to evenings and holding more parent-teacher conferences after school would make a big difference to busy parents. Additionally, our schools and PTOs host wonderful events for the community. I'd love to see more districtwide events like those sponsored by ABC/25 that give families the opportunity to meet neighbors from across town as well as across the street. These changes would increase family involvement, achieving the family and community goal of the district's strategic plan: "enhance external relationships, trust, respect, commitment, engagement and satisfaction."