Sarah Dzak: 2023 candidate for Community Consolidated School District 59 school board
Town: Elk Grove Village
Age on Election Day: 36
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom and former teacher
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 want to serve on the board of education in CCSD59 because my life's mission is to help people, especially children. I spent seven years as an English teacher at Minooka Community High School and absolutely loved my job, especially working with my college-bound junior students. I provided compositional instruction, trained them for SAT/ACT, wrote letters of recommendation, and served on selection committees for scholarships. It was incredibly fulfilling to guide my students in their postsecondary pursuits and watch them succeed. Although I am taking a break from teaching to be home with my own children, I view board service as just another way to help kids and serve my community. I am particularly interested in getting a reliable, evidencebased curriculum into teachers' hands and providing increased academic interventions for struggling students.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum is to make sure that any core curricula are vetted and evidence-based. Although it can be fun to explore new, cutting-edge materials, most of our district's schools are elementary; these kids need to acquire basic skills through time-tested methods and some direct instruction, with individual opportunities for classroom enrichment. Members of the board must also listen to teachers and parents who can provide anecdotal evidence regarding curriculum, which board members can pair with quantitative data to make decisions.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: Yes, there are curriculum issues within the district that need board attention. The most pressing issue is that many teachers still have an incomplete English/Language Arts writing curriculum and are currently spending their own time and money supplementing in order to serve their students. As a former composition teacher, this is especially disconcerting to me, as students will need these basic writing skills throughout the rest of their K-12 education and beyond. Our dual-language teachers have also been left to supplement and even translate most of their materials. Because of this irresponsible curricular experimentation, many of our students are now three or more grade levels behind and are in dire need of support. We also need a scaffolded, Tier 1, vertically-aligned Social-Emotional Learning curriculum.
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: This depends on the issue. Board members are representatives of the community, so they should always consider the opinions of their constituents first. They must balance this with their own personal ethics. Above all, board members must keep students at the heart of all of their decision-making.
Q: Did you support Superintendent Terri Bresnahan's equity plan that would have paired schools up into grade level centers, redistricted some areas, and repurposed Ridge into a preschool?
Q: Did you support Superintendent Terri Bresnahan's equity plan that would have paired schools up into grade level centers, redistricted some areas, and repurposed Ridge into a preschool? Why or why not? And now that the plan has been rejected, how should the district address some of the areas of improvement that were identified during this process?
A: No, I was vocally opposed to this plan. It was inexplicably rushed and fraught with complications. Although I believe in equity and value diversity, I don't think that the plan would have provided either on a long-term basis and would have sent the district into upheaval when many of our students are still recovering from the trauma and learning loss of the pandemic. The best thing that came out of the pairings debate was the data regarding which schools and students need the most help. Our job now is to allocate resources to these students, provide support through academic interventions/tutoring, and implement an alternative metric to MTSS for students to qualify for Tier 2 and 3 services.
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 hope that doesn't happen! However, I think one of the lessons we've learned from COVID-19 is that exclusively remote learning is challenging and disproportionately affects students with special needs and children from low-income families. Although I believe that the pandemic was unprecedented and people made the best decisions they could with limited information, we must explore all of our options before going fully remote again. This includes hybrid models, staggered scheduling, and special dispensation for kids with exceptionalities. If things got so bad that students and teachers had to be fully remote, the upside is that we have done it once before and have systems in place to make it go a little more smoothly this time.
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 high school teacher, I participated regularly in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with other teachers to make important curricular and assessment decisions. Although there were sometimes disagreements about how to accomplish our goals, we always came to a consensus, especially if we remembered to prioritize our students' needs. I would hope that board service would work in a similar fashion.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I'm the best candidate for the job because I would approach it from three angles: community member, former teacher, and current parent. As a community member, I plan to listen to the experiences of my friends and neighbors to make decisions. As a former teacher, I have practical experience working in a school with students, staff, and administrators. And as a current parent, I bring a passion to board service. The decisions that I make will directly affect the quality of my son's education and that of his peers. These three facets of my identity and my related experiences make me an excellent candidate.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: Hiring support staff! I know this seems obvious, but this year, the district received 13.4 million dollars in federal emergency relief funding to combat pandemic learning loss; none of it was spent on hiring staff, even on a temporary basis. The district's teachers and students need help. Let's provide tutors, academic interventionists, ESL aides, behavioral therapists, social workers, school psychologists, and paraprofessionals. Updated facilities and new technology are nice, but as a district, we need to start investing in people. We never waste money hiring good teachers and staff.