Michael J. Conway: 2023 Candidate for Lake Villa District 41 School Board
Town: Lake Villa
Age on Election Day: 57
Employer: Michael J. Conway, Attorney at Law
Previous offices held: Lake Villa District 41 School Board Member since 2007
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 Lake Villa District 41 School Board since 2007 and believe that our district is headed in a very positive direction. We are currently in the process of transitioning to a new Superintendent at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year for the district and I feel that maintaining the continuity of our board is extremely important to make that transition as seamless and smooth as possible for the benefit of our students and teaching staff.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The school board has an important role in establishing and monitoring curriculum. We do have two board members that participate on the curriculum committee along with administrators and teachers. There is also opportunity for input from parents and students in this regard. The committee will review different curriculum options for a specific subject area. Often times this may include piloting a particular resource to determine the effectiveness and viability of the curriculum before officially adopting and purchasing the curriculum for use throughout the district. Once the staff, administration and curriculum committee has had a full opportunity to vet a particular curriculum, a recommendation will be presented to the board for approving the purchase of the resource. Once implemented, the administration, staff and committee will continue to monitor the effectiveness and report any findings to the board.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: During the leadership of our current Superintendent, Dr. Lynette Zimmer, our district has always been transparent when determining the direction for our curriculum. We have a calendar cycle to determine when each curriculum will be reviewed by subject area, however if a particular area needs to be addressed before that curriculum is scheduled to be reviewed, our administration and curriculum committee will address any areas of need accordingly. I do not feel there are any glaring issues to address in the curriculum at this point, however there is always the possibility that issues of concern can arise when legislation is passed creating an unfunded mandate for school districts to implement certain curriculum that may not have been contemplated in the curriculum cycle calendar review.
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: We have a community that is very engaged and concerned about the direction and success of our district. When the board is addressing any issue that pertains to our students, staff and parents, we must be well informed regarding the particular topic and use all reliable information to direct us in making decisions that impact our community. As board members, we owe a fiduciary obligation to make the best possible decision for the entirety of our district as a whole. It is very important for board members to take the time to reflect and thoroughly consider all relevant viewpoints. With that in mind, every school board member should welcome well-reasoned points of view from all of our constituents. When the school board, parents and community can share opinions respectfully, we set an excellent example for the students of our district about what it truly means to Learn, Lead and Serve.
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: We definitely have access to significantly more information now than we did in March of 2020 when the COVID 19 arrived. We also know that there has been learning loss due to the extended remote learning that has been implemented due to the pandemic. We are at a very different point now, with almost 3 years of medical and scientific research and the wide availability of vaccines and boosters to address COVID 19. I do, however, believe all school districts should be planning for ways to improve effectiveness in a remote learning environment should a completely new and seriously dangerous infectious disease arise. As I previously mentioned, any decisions made by the board, on this or any other topic, should be based on all relevant and reliable information and what is most important for the safety and educational well-being of our students, staff and community.
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: In Lake Villa District 41, we have a policy committee with two board members assigned to review proposed policies along with members of the administration. We do access recommended policies through Press Plus and review those policies to determine how they should be implemented in our district. After the committee has reviewed the policies, any suggested changes or additions to our policies are brought before the board at a regularly scheduled meeting for first consideration by the board as a whole. Often times, there may be suggestions to amend the proposed policy before the board would be requested to adopt the policy. In that situation, the proposed revision would be brought back to the board at the next meeting for a second reading and further discussion. Ultimately, all of the policies that are being added or amended will be up for approval at an open board meeting. This process is an excellent example of school board work and what it means to be an informed board member.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I have been on the Lake Villa School Board since 2007 and I have been board president since 2012. During that time our board has navigated difficult issues to address declining enrollment, closing a school, redrawing school attendance boundaries and financial issues when the State of Illinois froze General State Aid to all districts. I have experience with legal issues regarding contracts and leases with vendors entered by the district. We also entered an agreement with the Village of Lake Villa regarding their implementation of a TIF District while still preserving funding for our district. I have participated in five successful contract negotiations with our teaching staff. Additionally, our board recently successfully passed a referendum with the support of our community. I have experience doing board work during a pandemic. I have participated in the hiring of two superintendents. Most importantly, I still enjoy serving my community and look forward to continuing that service.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: An area of concern for school districts everywhere is an overall shortage of available teachers. I think there needs to be more collaboration anmong all school districts to promote the teaching profession as an attractive career opportunity. I do think districts in Lake County should also work with the College of Lake County and the University Center to provide incentives for students attending their programs with the opportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program at a local school. This not only could help address teaching staff shortages, but it also may help create a way to alleviate the substitute teacher shortages throughout the area and state.