Maria Zeller Brauer: 2023 candidate for Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25
Town: Arlington Heights
Age on Election Day: 49
Occupation: Nonprofit management consultant
Employer: Self employed
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: My husband and I moved to Arlington Heights nine years ago because we knew we wanted to raise our family in this community. We are grateful for the education that our daughter receives and I am running for AHSD 25 Board of Education because I believe that all children in our district deserve that same level of excellence. We need leaders who will listen to concerns with empathy and compassion and act in the best interest of our students, especially those who are underrepresented. As an AHSD 25 Board of Education member, I will advocate for policies that provide equitable resources for all children, regardless of their level of ability, background, or identity. As the "City of Good Neighbors," the Arlington Heights community welcomes children and families from all backgrounds. As a member of the AHSD 25 Board of Education, I would be committed to ensuring that our schools reflect that ideology in curriculum, policies and practices.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The role of the board is to ensure the curriculum reflects the district's goals and to advocate for the highest level of education to be available to all students. It is the job of the staff to research and implement curriculums that meet state standards and align with the vision of the board. As experts in education, our administrators and teachers should be empowered by the board to research and present the specific curriculums that are results-based and then, once approved, be allowed to teach that curriculum with the board's support. Next year, the board will have the important role of interviewing and hiring a new superintendent, determining the future direction of our district. As a member of the board, I will advocate for a strong leader, who will represent the diverse needs of the community and work in harmony with the board. Additionally, I will support a candidate that supports our staff so they can continue to provide the best education to our children.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: As I hear from parents, one issue that often comes up is the district's special needs programs. Some parents of these students feel left out and unheard. Having had a sibling with a learning disability, I understand the important role parents and teachers play in the education of children with special needs and how proper resources can ensure success even beyond the classroom. Another issue I would address as a board member are the students who have fallen behind since the COVID19 pandemic. Students who were already struggling or who did not have proper access to online learning, fell behind and many remain behind. As a board, working closely with administrators and teachers, we need to investigate and implement creative ways to assist these students academically. As a board member, I will want to hear from all parents, with both positive and negative feedback about student needs. Most importantly, we will work together to find ways to support our students and their teachers.
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: As a community leader, it is my responsibility to hear from all members of the community. We may not agree on every issue, but we should have one thing that unites us: supporting our schools, our students and our teachers. With that as a starting point, as a board member, I will welcome feedback from all members of the community with compassion, respect and an open mind. Board members are responsible for doing what is best for the district as a whole and for leading with the vision of the board. This may mean that decisions need to be made that are unpopular. As a board member, I will take all sides into consideration when researching and making decisions. Most importantly, I will communicate with our parents and teachers with honesty, respect and transparency.
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 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years were unprecedented. I respect the decisions that the board and administrators made during that challenging time to keep our children and teachers safe. With hindsight and scientific evidence to support our future decisions, we can continue to make informed choices should there be a significant resurgence. We have seen deficits to both social-emotional and academic learning as a result of having to close down the schools and we should do whatever is needed to ensure that doesn't happen again, doing everything possible to keep students and teachers safe while in schools. Keeping schools open may mean that we take other measures outlined by the scientific community to ensure everyone's health and safety. This may include increased ventilation in the classrooms, masking, and staying home when symptomatic. As a board member, I will make a commitment to balance the need to keep students in school while keeping them, and their teachers, healthy.
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: As a nonprofit professional for more than 20 years, I have had the privilege of working with people of influence in many areas including education, health care and social services. When there is a common vision, the only way to succeed is to respect our different life experiences and ideologies. I have worked successfully with leaders from all backgrounds, beliefs, and identities. Most recently, as the development director for Shelter, Inc., a child welfare agency located here in Arlington Heights, I gathered community support in order to gain a special use permit for a facility to be relocated within our community. After many months of outreach, receiving both positive and negative feedback, the permit was unanimously approved by the Arlington Heights Village Board. This initiative would not have
been successful if we had not had people with different perspectives coming together for a common goal. As a board member, I will use this experience to guide my work and decision making.
Q: As the district prepares to roll out full-day kindergarten, are there other programs the district should be pursuing in the future?
A: Studies show that one in four children experienced distress during the pandemic, leading to depression, anxiety, behavior and attention issues. Not addressing these issues can lead to lower test scores, absenteeism and behavioral challenges. As a board member, I will encourage and support programs that address student mental health, increased teacher resources, and positive parental involvement. As we welcome new families into our district, the demographics of our students are changing. Students from varying backgrounds, ethnicities and identities are moving to our community with differing needs and potential challenges. In addition to making all families feel welcome, I believe that the district should expand its initiatives to diversify its staff and resources, with an intentional focus on making all students feel included, safe and successful. As a board member, I will make it a priority to support programs that actively nurture the growing diversity in our community.
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: As we have learned through the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping children and teachers safe and healthy while in school should be a priority. As the district embarks on the expansion of some of our schools to accommodate full-day kindergarten and modernize our facilities, we always need to be thinking ahead of how our buildings can be maintained on a regular basis so larger capital initiatives are spread out over time and don't affect taxpayers all at once. The district currently reviews budgets and capital projects with a five year outlook. Specific to the current capital projects, the district has been identifying areas where construction work can be done that makes future projects and upgrades more cost effective. As a board member, I will advocate for the continued support of proactive building projects and maintenance, making sure that our community's investment is well spent.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: Growing up with a parent educator and a sibling with a learning disability, my family instilled in me a passion for education and service. This led me to pursue a master's degree in speech and language pathology and after working briefly in a local school district, I began my career in nonprofit fundraising and management. My experience makes me uniquely qualified for a position on the AHSD25 Board. My background in special education taught me compassion and the power of equity. My experience in nonprofits taught me to work with limited funding, provide financial transparency to stakeholders, and collaborate with community leaders with varying ideologies toward a common goal. Author Margaret J. Wheatley stated, "There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about." As a member of the AHSD Board, I will engage with our community, affect change through compassion and honesty, and empower our students and teachers to achieve academic success.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: AHSD 25 has been recognized for the past 29 years with the Association of School Business Officials International's Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting Award. Additionally, the district is one of only 91 districts in the United States that are Triple A Bond rating and have consistently operated with a balanced budget year after year. However, our community seems disconnected from the district's spending and budgeting process, as evident by the fact that the most recent referendum only passed with a 50 vote margin. I believe that the district should invest resources into marketing and educating the community about the budget and the budgeting process as it affects the taxpayers in our community. This will lead to greater transparency, accountability and, eventually, greater trust and partnership with our parents, teachers and broader community.