Rita Balgeman: 2023 candidate for West Chicago Elementary District 33 board


Town: West Chicago

Age on Election Day: 41

Occupation: Senior research manager

Employer: InMoment

Previous offices held: West Chicago District 33 board member since 2019


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 passionate about our school district and I want to be part of the work to drive change and bring about success. If you look at our district report card, you can see that academic achievement is woefully low.

While we often grow our kids more than one grade level in a year, it is not enough to bring them up to grade level, and COVID put us even farther behind.

Over the last few years, we have put in place many elements that I am hoping will bring about greater academic achievement, including lower class sizes for the primary grades, more adults to help kids one-on-one or in small groups, etc.

At the same time, we can't focus only on those who are below grade level. Every student deserves to be challenged to do their best, and I am dedicated to ensuring we have differentiated learning that meets everyone's needs.

As a board member, I would like to continue to monitor our academics and ensure that we are growing every student.

Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?

A: The school board approves curriculum. Before I joined the school board, it approved the American Reading Co. as the literacy curriculum and Eureka as the math curriculum.

For several years, I was the board member representative on our Academic Leadership Council, which is a representative group of teachers and administrators that reviews all decisions regarding curriculum before it comes to the board.

I think it's important to note that curriculum decisions are constrained by state law that mandates what must be taught and the Illinois State Board that sets standards for each grade.

Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?

A: I think that we need to work on our science and social studies curriculum which has not seen the same investment as our literacy and math curriculums.

I also would like to see more alignment between schools in understanding what the standards are, what resources we have, and best practices on how to teach those standards. We have teachers doing amazing things, and I want to see those shared across the district.

I also want to be sure parents are comfortable and understand the curriculum. At Curriculum Night this year, I know that documents describing the various curriculums were available for parents. They are also all posted online. It's important that parents know how to get that information.

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: I don't believe those are exclusive options.

It is incredibly important to listen to everyone in the community, across all opinions. Fundamentally, school districts are created to educate our kids as our community wants; the school board represents our community in setting the vision of our district and monitoring progress to goals.

I try to listen through informal conversations, being accessible at school events, and by being part of many advisory committees.

I believe in data-driven decision-making. Our administration are experts in education and provide us with data to make the most informed decision possible. I ask LOTS of questions to look at every aspect of the situation and have the information to make the best decision.

Finally, we are required to follow the law. While I prefer to have as much as possible under local control, if we don't follow state law, we open our school district to legal liability and financial risk, which is not a good use of our limited resources.

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: I think everyone agrees that COVID-19 had a huge impact on students, not just academically but also socially, emotionally, and mentally.

I think we need to do as much as possible to keep schools open and keep everyone safe. Remote learning was ineffective and should be kept to a minimum while keeping everyone safe and 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: First and foremost, I believe our school board centers all decisions around what is best for the student. This focus helps clarify many situations.

At the same time, I fully believe in shared leadership. Everyone on the school board brings their own perspective, strengths, and knowledge of what people in our community are thinking or feeling about the direction of the district. It is important to listen to each board member and try to truly understand each other's perspective. Ultimately, the goal of the school board is to speak with one voice and to come to a consensus regarding how we want our community's children to be educated. By engaging in honest conversation and listening to each other, we can come to consensus. There are no politics played at this board table; there are no warring groups.

Does everyone agree all of the time? No. But because we are focused on students and we listen to each other, we can continue to move forward and be effective at decision-making.

Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?

A: I am dedicated. I spend a considerable amount of my "free" time on work for the school district. I am on many committees that help me listen and gather perspectives from across our community as well as drive forward our vision - Citizens Advisory, Faculty Advisory, Student Advisory, GATE Parent Advisory, Technology Steering.

I volunteer to participate in activities in schools across the district. I take my role as a board member very seriously.

I am invested. Not only am I a community member, but I have four kids in this school district and will have at least one for the next 8 years. How we move forward matters to me both philosophically and personally.

Plus, I am in the schools on a regular basis. I volunteer with our PTOs. I attend events.

I listen. Hearing from our community is really important to me. I work hard to listen to as many people as possible because everyone should have a voice in our district. I am present, engaged, visible and accessible.

Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?

A: I'd like to see our relationship with D94 grow, to increase coordination between the districts.

Specifically, I'd like us to (1.) examine our curriculum to improve alignment and ensure students are prepared for high school, and (2.) review our transition procedures to ensure a smooth transition and uninterrupted support for kids and families.

I'd like to increase parent involvement in the advisory committees. These committees can have a significant impact on district decisions and should represent as many perspectives as possible. One way to do this is for principals or staff to specifically invite parents to join. Personal invitations are often effective at bringing in people who do not respond to a general call for help.

I would like to see more cross-school coordination for after school activities. We currently offer band and orchestra for the elementary kids at the middle school. Could we offer some other activities at Leman that we bring the kids together for?

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