Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why I'm Running

As you may have heard or seen, I am running for District 150 School Board, for the 3rd District seat that Mary Spangler is vacating. I don't promise this post will be elegant, but I wanted to lay out some of the reasons that I've chosen to make a run for school board.

On a personal level, there are probably two driving factors: First, I really like this community. I like living here. I like Peorians. Second, I believe in service to the community. I liked what Bob Manning said recently: "Step up to the plate when it’s your turn, do the job to the best of your abilities, remember who you represent, and don’t stay too long."

The most crucial thing that I would like to focus on, if elected to the school board, is student achievement. That's a broad topic, and an easy thing to say, but it's clearly at the heart of what we all want for the students of District 150, and it's the purpose of the system. It's why we pay the taxes into the system. The District isn't a babysitting service. It isn't a jobs program for administrative cronies. It isn't a feeding trough for consultants. Its purpose is to educate, and District 150 should be a first choice, not a last resort. We have excellent students -- I teach some of them at ICC. We have excellent teachers. These students can achieve if we can only create the environment for them to do it.

I am talking and listening to everyone who's got something to say about this and is willing to talk to me about it -- local teachers, District 150 students and grads, 150 retirees, support staff, parents, local professors, board members in 150 and in other districts, even my mother, a junior high teacher in Des Plaines (District 62). Some of the policies I would pursue include:

Free teachers to teach, as much as possible. Miring teachers down in red tape or forcing them to spend more time administering discipline than teaching is not a recipe for achievement. Obviously, there are constraints that neither the schools nor the district can change -- NCLB, for example. But within those constraints, the Board should do everything possible to create an environment where teachers can teach with a minimum of interruption and distraction and a maximum of support from principals, administration, and the Board.

Create an alternative school for disruptive students. I was frankly somewhat appalled when I discovered Peoria doesn't have one. The small number of students who create real disruptions and discipline problems should not be allowed to continue disrupting the learning of those around them. At the same time, explusion is an unattractive option, as it leaves students who are most in need of education and direction without resources to improve their lives. An alternative school -- a good alternative school, whose focus is to reintegrate the student into the mainstream and provide an excellent education until that's possible -- is necessary. Removing these seriously problematic students from the classroom will allow them to get the focused attention they need, and the other students to focus on their studies in a safe environment conducive to learning.

Focus on "the next step" after high school. I've heard a lot of enthusiasm from current and retired teachers about improving both college prep and vocational education opportunities. A lot of these programs sound very interesting, and very workable.

However, we need to commit to programs and stick with them -- District 150 has done quite a bit of "we'll try this, no wait, now that," picking up programs and discarding them before they have a chance to work. There is no perfect program, and there are probably a variety of methods that will work to improve student achievement. But none of them will work if they're implemented for a year and then dropped; this creates confusion and waste.

A second set of issues, and ones that the Board is probably able to influence more directly, revolve around governance and communication. In recent years, there hasn't been a great deal of openness and communication from the School Board or the administration about various decisions. Stories change constantly -- "A longer school day is good for students, except when it isn't." I don't think anyone in Peoria is under any illusions about the financial status of the District, and that that constrains the District's options. It's up to the School Board to be open and honest about that, to set priorities, and to say, "Yes, that would be nice, but we can't afford it." It's up to the Board to be a voice for taxpayers and to demand accountability from the administration -- and that includes justification for expenses such as four superintendants and various consulting fees.

This closed culture has created an atmosphere of distrust. (I've written about it previously, here. And there is no situation in which taxpayers should have to FOIA obviously public documents.) There are issues where the Board and District are legitimately constrained from public discussion -- issues that fall under FERPA, or various personnel matters that are legally private -- but this constant refusal to openly discuss issues that are open has created a situation where Peorians are no longer willing to believe the District when it says, "Trust us."

While one vote on the School Board can't change District policy alone, one person on the Board CAN communicate directly and honestly with constituents, and that would be one of my primary aims.

If you're interested in helping out my campaign, or if you want to talk to me about your concerns, you can contact me at the link on the top left. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sarah's Blogtastic Adventures said...

Awesome! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Isn't this:


an alternative school?

What about the Peoria County Safe School?

Eyebrows McGee said...

PAHS is aimed at chronic truants and students at high risk of dropping out before finishing high school, such as pregnant teens. It's not aimed at students with serious disciplinary problems.

Although I suppose I may need to find a different word than "alternative." :)

Anonymous said...

There's also:


Which is the Safe School in Peoria County.

Diane Vespa said...

Laura, Great points! You will do great! I'm with you 100%. Let's get to work ;)

Jen F said...

Greely (at least during my tenure w/150) was for kids w/IEPs. It's a very specialized program for emotionally/behaviorally disturbed students.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. Anyway, this superintendent thing is way off base. Most districts, especially large ones have several people with "superintendent" in their title. Only one person is the superintendent. Years back, there was such a shortage of superintendents that doctoral programs started making candidates get their superintendent certification as a requirement. Anyway, people with it want to use it. Naperville has like 8 people with superintendent and DesPlaines has at least 5 (from website). District 150 should have all directors with the certification use it in their title as well. They only have one assistant now. I think they let the public get to them, instead of educating people. Some states require superintendt be in a title for anyone authorizing a document. The fact that district have many people with superintendent in their title just reflects the education and certification level of the administrators. Some may say it is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

"An alternative school -- a good alternative school, whose focus is to reintegrate the student into the mainstream and provide an excellent education until that's possible -- is necessary. Removing these seriously problematic students from the classroom will allow them to get the focused attention they need, and the other students to focus on their studies in a safe environment conducive to learning."

This is the purpose of the Safe School.

shay said...

I live very close to new EB school site. These are exciting times. We owe these young men and women our best efforts. Thanks for your offer of service & Best Wishes to you during this special time :)