Debbie Walsh: 2023 Candidate for Lake Villa District 41 School Board
Town: Round Lake Beach
Age on Election Day: 55
Occupation: Stay at home mom
Previous offices held: School Board Member
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 have been on the board since 2015 following the redistricting that occurred due to the closure of Pleviak Elementary School. My family learned the hard way that it is not enough to be active in your child's school or classroom, you need to be paying attention to what is happening at the district level. Since becoming a board member, I have been given the district level view. That view has expanded my understanding of how our state legislature affects how our school district is run. As school board members, we create policy to make sure the students in our school district get the best education for them, whether they need to overcome challenges or to be challenged. Parents and teachers working together to support their students is a key component to the success of our students. Since 2015, our district has made great strides in engaging stakeholders from across the community, but there is more work to be done and I believe I can help.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The board approves the curriculum, including text books and computer resources, that the Curriculum Committee recommends implementing based on state education requirements. The committee includes stakeholders from across the district, enabling the board to hear the voices of our community. It includes teachers, administrators, resource teachers, instructional coaches, and students and their parent or guardian, as well as a board member.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: During this time of very divisive politics, it is extremely important for the board and administration to work together to avoid curriculum that would create division in our community. Specifically, CRT does not have a place in our schools. Nor should we be teaching sex education to children in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade. We need to be mindful and respectful of our students' family's beliefs and when developing our curricula. We also need to be mindful and respectful of all the members of our community and not give preference to one group over another. Being inclusive does not assign everyone a label. Being inclusive is accepting people as they are, for what we all are, human beings.
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 believe it is my role as a board member to represent my constituents to the best of my ability and to make difficult, if unpopular decisions. We Illinoisans are proud of the diversity across our state. That said, local control is the only way we can serve our communities effectively. We, not only as board members, but also community members, need to have a dialog with our Representatives and State Senators in Springfield. When they cut school funding, pass unfunded mandates, or take away our ability to chose our curriculum, they need to hear from us, as a school board and as community members, how that affects our individual school districts.
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 it's safe to say we learned that a one size fits all approach does not work for the diversity across the communities of Lake County, let alone Illinois. We learned human beings are not meant to be isolated from each other and learning delays are the least of the problems facing our students after our response to the pandemic. A host of mental illnesses and social anxieties riddle our young people. In the unlikely event of a resurgence of the pandemic, I would do everything in my power to keep our schools open in anyway possible. Remote learning is a wonderful tool for snow/cold weather days, but not for long term instruction. And our students are not the only ones who suffer. Our teachers and staff must try to keep students engaged and learning while teaching from a distance. We have a teacher shortage in Illinois and remote learning certainly didn't help that situation. I think we learned it is not wise for the legislature to abdicate their power to one person.
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: I have been on the Policy Committee since my election to the board in 2015. I have learned a lot about policy and how it informs the administration on how our school district operates. As I prepare for our meetings, I read through the policies we are reviewing and evaluate them as to how well I believe the policies fit our administrative procedures. During the meeting we discuss the policies and the administration gives input to how well the policies fit the district's procedures. We have respectful discussion as to what, if any changes need to be made and how this will keep the district in compliance with our policies. Being an active listener and understanding how the policy affects the day-to-day operations of the school district produces effective actions and decisions of our school board.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: As the board worked to create a new mission statement a few years ago, we were thinking about what we really wanted our students to achieve. Beyond grades and test scores, we want them to be the best people they can be, not just while they are in our district, but as they grow to be adults. This is our mission statement: To achieve excellence by empowering and inspiring students to learn, lead, and serve. I have a desire to see every student succeed, to be met where they are at, and to be challenged to achieve more. I believe parents and community members are part of that equation. I'm not afraid to make an unpopular decision if I believe it will serve my community's best interest. I'm willing to vote the way I believe that truly represents my constituents. Being on the school board is a way for me to serve my community. I am the board liaison to the PTO, I volunteer at some of their fund raisers and in the schools. Being an active volunteer in our schools is important to me.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: I believe we need to foster and encourage students whose talents and skills are more suited for vocational or trade schools to pursue those career paths instead of pushing them towards college. Currently, school districts in Illinois are tasked with getting children ready for college instead of getting children ready for life as adults. This focus has led to many questionable state mandated policies including over-testing and a focus on academics only. Instead, I'd like to see K-12 schools be designed to prepare students to be well functioning adults whether that be in a college, a trade school, as an entrepreneur, or whatever the person chooses to be. So, while we continue to focus on academics, we should also be teaching the children how to get to know themselves and learn how to be the best people they can be in as many situations as we can give them so they are ready to continue to grow when they leave our district for high school and beyond.