1) What is the importance of Urbana School District to residents of the District.
The School Board, 7 members elected by Sub-District, is the statutorily recognized point where the citizens of the District intersect with the professional staff of the District, most importantly with the Superintendent. It is important to note that the breadth and limits of our role are delineated by State Statute. The Board hires and evaluates the Superintendent, who then is responsible for the day-to-day management of the District including hiring and evaluating all remaining staff. In addition, the Board works with the Superintendent to 1) adopt governing District policies; 2) set the District budget; 3) establish, monitor, and evaluate all District curriculum, priorities and actions; and 4) guide the completion of strategic initiatives. It is vital that all be primarily focused on the needs of our specific students. Our most important task, formalized in our Mission Statement, is to ensure that each student is properly prepared to achieve their Personal Greatness. This over-arching goal reflects Urbana’s cardinal principle that each student is an individual and every student can learn and achieve. It is our responsibility to ensure that our school communities are conducive to making that happen.
2) My qualifications
I have served on the Board for 34 years, as Vice President or President for most of those years. During that time, I have championed transparent and effective budgeting, rigorous academics, fine arts, highest quality curricular and co-curricular facilities, union/management collaboration culminating in productive contracts, student leadership, and comprehensive programming often only found in larger Districts. Beyond the District, I retired as CEO of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission after 40 years, with a career highlighted by returning Head Start to national prominence, re-establishing Community Action with a host of greatly needed social services, extensive housing rehabilitation throughout the County plus numerous other initiatives requiring close work with neighborhoods and community leaders from all sectors of the County. After retirement, for 4 years I served as CEO of the Economic Development Corporation, a public/private partnership charged with retaining and creating jobs in the county. I am a member of Urbana First Presbyterian Church and have been a local volunteer youth leader for 50 years. I earned an Urban Planning degree from the U of I, have lived in Urbana for 55 years, and been married for38 years. We are the proud parents of 2 graduates of UHS. Read more about John.
3) What is something you want to accomplish and how long will it take.
A visionary school board’s work is never done. I listen respectfully to fellow board members, staff, students, families, and community and bring the ability to carefully synthesize often opposing viewpoints into actionable steps. During this term, my priorities are:
1) Student representation at the board table. After years of false starts, I finally got strong administrative support to bring the national expert here for a 2-day seminar in the fall of 2019. Covid stopped everything. I want this initiative reinvigorated and partnered with annual student leadership seminars for all clubs and teams. Read more about amplifying the student voice and student leadership.
2) Thomas Paine and Wiley have patiently awaited updating. With architectural work nearing completion and financing available, it’s time to get the TP project done. Wiley’s low enrollment and central location dictates a transformation – maybe a District wide Academy of excellence. Begin with charging the Wiley community to examine all possibilities. Other capital projects include the UHS-UMS safety-driven campus master plan and updated music space. Read more about capital improvement projects.
3) Lessons of the Covid shutdown must lead to a re-examination of school as we know it. It is a given that students need to be physically back in school at the nearest safe opportunity. This is a huge opportunity for innovation. Read more about re-opening schools and supporting our students and staff.
4. Anything else
I am student focused, all students. The best way to be equity focused is to discard all stereotypes and view each student as a unique individual, with specific talents and needs. Every student is gifted in their own way and it is our challenge to celebrate and develop those gifts while providing the supports required to meet areas of need. For each student to reveal and self-realize their personal greatness, it takes a multi-cultural staff that matches our diverse student body. I was instrumental in revising our contractual salary schedule that allows us to raise starting salaries so we can better attract the teachers needed to support this goal.
Much is still needed to truly meet the needs of our constantly changing student body, but this is not the beginning of our equity journey. However, our reputation as a safe place for all students and staff slipped quite a bit in the last few years. To attract and retain a multi-cultural staff and have an environment where all students thrive and succeed, we have serious work to do to restore that sense of safety – the bedrock foundational prerequisite of everything else about school.
1. If elected, what single issue would you make priority No. 1 and what specifically would you try to do about it?
Safely re-opening our schools as soon as possible, with substantial support for our students and staff through the multi-year transition. Remote learning is not working for many of our students. Yet some aspects of remote learning have led to outstanding innovative instructional strategies created by our teachers and well-liked by students, especially at the secondary level. We have an opportunity to re-imagine school, using the strengths of both in-person and remote teaching. However, reopening will bring into focus intensified learning gaps between those who have thrived with remote learning and those for whom it has failed. I will support initiatives and financing for programs to help students recover, persist, and thrive academically, such as summer school, extended days, new curricula, and keeping class sizes small. Learn more.
2. What are three adjectives (just three words) to describe the kind of board member voters would get in you?
Knowledge, Experience, Leadership
3. What is the greatest problem facing the district that you could help impact as board member?
Among many critical issues, “capital needs” is where I can have the most direct impact. I have been consistently instrumental in guiding District building projects within existing revenues. We are now able to move forward on the long-awaited Thomas Paine project, with only final details remaining. Our needs include Wiley, the UHS/UMS safety-driven campus plan, expanded Band space at UHS, and STEM updates at UHS/UMS. Additionally, there is an urgent need to replace the undersized Burkholder Center due to roof failure, and COVID has raised new needs for ventilation improvements at many buildings. With my extensive financing and capital project management experience, I am well-prepared to strategically guide these projects to completion, with prudent use of District revenue, COVID relief grants, and innovative community partnerships.
4. What is the greatest opportunity facing the district that you could help impact as board member?
Amplify the student voice. This is too often missing from our discussions, much to our detriment. Immediately, I propose UHS and UMS Student Advisory Committees for our SRO programs. In this way, the student perspective (s) can be presented and heard. In 2018, I initiated informal conversations with student leaders, researched national trends on student board representation, and advocated to begin a process for formal student representation at Board meetings. In 2019, I requested a 2-day seminar for students, staff, and Board with the national expert on this topic. There was overwhelming support at all levels for this program, but COVID stopped everything. Because of my previous efforts, I can rebuild this initiative, which includes annual student leadership seminars for all clubs and teams. Learn more.
5. What prompted you to run for this position, at this time?
At this time, especially, we need board members who seek common ground towards mutual goals, even in our disagreement, and build consensus through respectful listening. That is a proven strength of mine. We are required to redistrict for elections in 2023 and I am knowledgeable in the use of GIS technology to manage that process objectively. I have been an agent for positive change, forward-thinking, and continuous improvement for the District and wish to apply these skills specifically to 1) the upcoming Thomas Paine project, 2) the evaluation of the SRO program, 3) the hiring of our next UHS principal, and 4) continued restoration of Urbana’s reputation as a safe place for staff to innovate and for each and every student to achieve “personal greatness.” Learn more.
6. What makes you the best candidate in the race?
State-wide, I teach legally mandated and certified school board leadership training. I am a consensus builder. Despite individual priorities, school board members must work as a team and always be ready for the unexpected. I listen intently, remain open-minded, and discern commonalities whereby we can develop actionable steps moving us forward. I have the breadth of experience, knowledge, and financial expertise to understand the context of different situations and I will continue to seek common ground on difficult topics with unwavering student-focused decision-making with an equity lens. I work hard to be an inclusive voice, advocating for equity across race, physical ability, gender identity, socioeconomic status, special education, and English Language Learners, preparing each student for college, apprenticeships, or immediate employment. Learn more about John.
1) Why are you running for USD 116 Board of Education?
I have been on the Board for over 33 years, and I have a few items to yet accomplish, some delayed due to COVID, before I conclude my service to Urbana. I serve on the Board out of a deep-seated sense of public service and a desire to see our student body thrive and succeed in the best environment possible. The overwhelming support of community members, Urbana families, staff, and administrators inspired and encouraged me to run one more time.
2) Define the roles of Building Administrators, Teachers, and Educational Support Professionals (ESPs)
Building administrators are team leaders for all aspects of each campus. They are the educational leaders, manage the day-to-day details of keeping the building in operation, and are a significant influence in setting the school’s climate. Teachers are the team members with the most direct relationships with our students. They have the primary role in making sure each student is engaged in learning, developing their talents and shoring up their opportunities for growth. ESP's provide such a wide variety of services in our District and are critical members of the educational team. Many times, they are the most important person to an individual student because they are often one-to- one. Combined, administrators, teachers, and ESP's create a team approach to our schools, establishing the "personality" of each school. That is why it is so important that all members of the team share a common vision and work collaboratively to achieve that vision.
3) What would you identify as the best aspects of how the school district currently serves students with special needs? What improvements would you advocate for?
I believe, under Todd Taylor's leadership, this District has a strong program for students with special needs, as detailed in IEPs. I also want to recognize and praise our special education staff for their proactive work with all students when sometimes a brief intervention can make a significant impact and diminish the need for an IEP. I am, and have always been, 100% supportive of the full inclusion model that makes the SPED staff full partners with the regular education teachers. This is a full-service District with nearly all students served on-site, made possible because of the breadth of professionalism and student focus exemplified by all our Urbana staff.
For improvements, in recent years, we have added many new social workers, family advocates, and clinical workers, focusing on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). I believe more work is needed to fully integrate these services into our systems. As the needs of our students continue to grow, we will have to continue to build that staff.
4) How will you commit to working with UEA to address the lack of racial equity confronting our students? What specific changes would you advocate for racial equity purposes?
I am student focused, all students and each student. The best way to be equity focused is to discard all racial stereotypes, challenge legacies, and view each student as a unique individual, with specific talents and needs. For each student to understand and develop their gifts -- their personal greatness -- it takes a diverse staff that matches our diverse student body. I am very proud to have been instrumental in working with the UEA to revise our salary schedule that allows us to raise starting salaries so we can better attract and retain the teachers needed to support this goal. In this time of teacher shortages, with a racially diverse student body that is 37% black, 31% white, 16% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 10% two or more, we have a lot of work to do. This new salary schedule is critical.
Beyond race, there are other measures of diversity such as special ed, ELL, socio-economic status, gender and sexual orientation. To properly meet all of these diverse student needs, we must make sure our teachers are well trained, and provided with the necessary support and resources to be positioned to meet those needs and serve all students.
As the District continues its equity journey, progress is only possible with a full partnership with the UEA. Our workplace culture impacts each student, and workplace culture is a collaborative ethos, requiring the best thinking and full participation by union and management. USD#116 started its equity journey long ago. Statements of intent, policies, and plans were brought forward and some steps taken, but what is needed now are more concrete actions and follow through.
As we gauge the effectiveness of our plans, additional needs will surface requiring new and different actions. The Superintendent's newly established Equity Committee -- with UEA, administrator, student, and community membership -- will evaluate current plans, determine priorities, and update our goals and objectives. I look forward to this grass roots, collaborative process rather than any type of top-down mandates.
5) Sometimes issues are brought before the BOE where parents, school employees, and community members are at odds. What would you do?
The latest example of this type of issue is the SRO. Most times, my inclination is to support our USD professional educators, especially the Superintendent. That being said, and especially when professionals disagree, one of my talents is to listen carefully, remain open minded, and discern common ground whereby we can develop actionable steps that move us forward. This often requires compromise on all sides. Even in our disagreement, I have often found that we share some mutual goals. No doubt, sometimes the Board -- after careful and thorough deliberation -- must make a decision, even on a split basis, and move forward. I am not afraid to make those decisions and stand by them. However, in any organization, constant evaluation is paramount to success. So, if evaluations and thorough analysis indicate the need to revisit decisions and alter course, I am also prepared for that happenstance. What can be more damaging than anything else is constant vacillation at the Board level resulting in confusion and uncertainty as staff tries to implement Board policy.
6) Describe your philosophy on discipline for students in the school setting?
I begin with no one is perfect, we are all human beings, prone to error and hopefully able to learn from those errors. In the school situation, we are used to academic errors and promote recovery from those errors all the time. As SEL becomes more of a focus, we must become equally sensitive to the same recovery from SEL error. Just as there are consequences from academic error (grades, re-submission, extra work), there are consequences from SEL error, from the "teachable moment" simple admonition to the rare expulsion. The consequence needs to be commensurate with the error. On this behavior side of the ledger, there is also much more nuanced context -- driven by cultural and maturity factors. Whenever possible, I believe in second chances unless the learning environment is significantly disrupted or if personal injury of another student or staff are involved. I strongly support the District's commitment to PBIS, restorative justice, and resolving issues at the lowest level possible. I am also pleased that, historically, the rate of students recommended for expulsion is significantly less than surrounding districts, normally less than 5 per year. In my 30 plus years on the Board, we have never put a student on the street, always offering alternative education at District expense when such placement is needed. We must never just give up on any student.
7. What do you see as the school board member’s role and responsibility in the effective administration of schools?
The Board sets policy and needs to stay at the policy level. The Board only hires and evaluates one employee, the Superintendent. The Board must rely on its professional staff, led by the Superintendent, to effectively administer the day-to-day operations of the District. Board members do need to keep their eyes and ears open and bring issues and concerns to the attention of the Superintendent. If effective administration of the schools is deficient, then it is time for the Board, after full deliberation, to change Superintendents. Working with 6 Superintendents across my 33 years of service, this has happened twice. What that says is that Urbana has had consistent, long tenured leaders, yet has not been afraid to change when needed.
8) What is your understanding of the collective bargaining process?
I have over 25 years of experience working directly with the UEA on contracts. A good bargaining process begins with each side listening carefully to the concerns of the other side. Often, the interests, if not the positions, of both sides are in general alignment --- we both are driven by student needs and success. But details matter. Bargaining does not mean either side "wins" or "loses." Rather, the District's students win when common ground is found and agreed upon. From a technical viewpoint, I favor interest-based bargaining for as long as possible, knowing that it becomes position-based bargaining as the process nears completion and details are center stage. In Urbana, we have had some remarkable mutual victories in bargaining during my time, victories that I celebrate and cherish --- remarkable in their era -- such as full day kindergarten, comprehensive arts curriculum, extended day, collaboration time, and most recently, a more equitable salary schedule that substantially raises pay for those at the beginning of their careers.
9. Vocational respect, academic freedom, and healthy working and learning conditions have historically been a hallmark in Urbana Schools. USD 116 continues to re-connect following a district-wide conflict which resulted in a lack of trust, lack of transparency and diminished professional respect that our experts on the front line deserve and need in order to be the best for their students. How will you join the effort to continue regrowing and rebuilding trusting, collaborative, and respectful partnerships between and among stakeholders?
This "District-wide conflict" was also devastating at the Board level, which we all are still working through. So, I share the need to rebuild our collective sense of "Urbana, Better Together." This need to rebuild our spirit of collaboration is the main reason why I was asked to run again by so many, and why I wanted to run for two more years. From the Board level, this process began with careful hiring of our exceptional Superintendent and then giving her the latitude to effect change, within the Board's policy directives. Open communication and transparency at all levels is now required more than ever. I have always been open and straightforward with my thinking, whether you agree with me or not. But before any such preparatory thinking leads to a vote, I am also committed to careful and respectful listening and willing to modify that thinking when careful listening demands a new look at issues and concerns. Listening is the single most important skill needed at the Board level during this rebuilding process. Hopefully, our stakeholders see that the Board and the Superintendent are modelling the trust, respect, and collaboration that we all are seeking, so that we are all heard and feel valued.
10) What do you see as the most pressing issues facing USD 116 at this time?
Beyond the general rebuilding process discussed in question 9, I offer the following: 1) Safely reopening school and taking advantage of this unique opportunity for innovation: identifying and integrating the effective and successful parts of remote learning and transforming our schools into the best educational environment that prepares our students for college, trade apprenticeships, or direct employment. 2) When students return, I am very concerned that we will have a growing achievement gap between those who are thriving with remote learning and those who are not. I am worried that the significant gains that we had been making in closing those gaps may have been completely lost. Always looking through an equity lens that sees the needs of all marginalized individuals, we must address these gaps and resume our priority of regarding each student as a unique person, capable of personal greatness. 3) We have some pressing capital improvement needs – Thomas Paine, Wiley, UHS/UMS campus, some specific UHS STEM and music/art classrooms, and the Burkholder Center -- that must be satisfied as quickly as possible, fully utilizing all potential revenue streams. 4) Related to question 9, COVID delayed the restoration of 116's corporate culture and sense of safety: safety to innovate, safety to express opinions, safety to simply come to work/school. The entire District must be actively involved in healing and restoring a sense of safety for staff and students. 5) It is time to complete the project of having regular UHS student representation at the Board table. The student voice is often missing from our deliberations, much to our detriment.