GEL ELECTION PROFILE: Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board - Questions and Responses 1-5

Question 1: What motivated you to seek a seat on the District 41 Board of Education?

Terra Costa Howard: Four years ago when I ran, I felt the district was not heading in a positive direction. There were issues of leadership and transparency as well as facility concerns that needed to be addressed. During my tenure on the board we have addressed these and many other issues.

The district developed a long range plan to meet the needs of our students and community. All aspects of the district are included in this plan as well as a two year action plan to accomplish the tasks. The long range plan includes curriculum cycles, as well as addressing Hadley New Horizons, finances, capital needs, technology, communication and continuous improvement.

The district has addressed the issue of transparency in many ways. The e-news and e-blasts providing parents and community members with updates of board meetings, highlights in the district as well as emergency information that allow us to stay connected. The website contains greater information, for example all board agendas include attachments of information for discussion as well as the opportunity to listen to our board meetings. We have engaged the community in various stakeholder groups to gain better understanding of the community’s values and aid in planning for the future.

Our facility issues continue to evolve. The failure of the 2007 referendum required the district to step back, refocus and continue to engage our community in a solution. The master facility group will be presenting a recommendation to the Board of Education on March 16. The recommendation will address not only a long term solution but provide ideas on ways to address needs in the short and mid-term as well. The approach is more than a bricks and mortar solution. It focuses on how efficiently we use our buildings while addressing the need to create more flexible space for our students to work in groups, meet as individuals with staff and alter learning environments as needed.

The district is moving in a positive direction for our students, staff and community. We have traveled a long distance from four years ago when I began as a board member. We still have a way to travel but I believe my experience and desire to support change will help us get there.

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Drew Ellis: Having a history of volunteerism, I have a commitment to give back to the community that I grew up in and to the school District where I completed my early years of schooling. I believe that my 25 years of banking experience and strong financial background will allow me to contribute and be a valuable asset to the school Board. I feel that the Board should be open to change while embracing the traditional values that have helped to make this community what it is today.

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Jack Kahler: I am running for the Board of Education because, as a parent and member of the community, I am committed to improving the quality of our schools. After several years of active involvement in D41, I’ve gained some insights on many of the issues we face. I believe my knowledge, skills and experience will help guide the District, improve our children’s education, and better manage the resources that will sustain our school system into the future.

I believe the Board of Education must set a higher standard and a clear direction for academic excellence, transparency and sound management of community resources. The Board must challenge the administration to focus on delivering maximum value for our educational dollar, manage as well as they educate, and eliminate diversions from their academic mission. I will always strive to represent the District's best interests by promoting this standard.

D41 depends on all of us for leadership and guidance. It’s up to the community to conscientiously choose Board Members that reflect its values and priorities, and it’s our responsibility as citizens to step up if we think we can serve the community. If the people of District 41 select me to serve as their representative, it will be my great honor and privilege to assume this trust.

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Dan Smith: There are a couple of things that motivated me to seek a seat on the board.

First of all, as my child has enrolled in the district, I have become aware of the challenges they face in district 41. I’d like to use my talents to help the district meet the needs of the community.

Second, I am an engineer at heart and have a keen interest in seeing our children develop an interest in math and science. The seeds for this interest are best planted at the elementary level. The number of scientists and engineers our country is generating needs to grow so we can stay competitive at a global level.

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Question 2: How do you view the role of a school board member?

Terra Costa Howard: The role of a board member is oversight. We are involved in various committees such as finance, board policy, learning leadership team and continuous improvement, within the district that provide us information to help make decisions for our district. The board sets policy and direction and administration supports policy with procedures and action plans. Our desire for information and need to understand daily operations is balanced by our role in policy development as well as committee involvement.

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Drew Ellis: I believe that the role of a school board member is as a liaison between the members of the community and the school district administration. I feel that I can be an enhancement to the existing Board team both as an ambassador of the Districts policies and programs, and continue to build a trust level between the District and the community as friends and neighbors.

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Jack Kahler: The Board of Education sets the direction and agenda for the school district, and makes sure the District stays on course. Serving a governance role, the Board assures through the Administration that the district delivers high-quality education, makes the best use of public money and resources, and reflects the community’s priorities. The Board assures that the district employs the right people to fulfill its mission, and that each student has access, and that facilities are adequate, safe and efficient. Board Members also act as “ombudsmen” for the district, maintaining a constructive dialog with teachers and administrators, students, parents and other constituents.

To meet all these responsibilities in the real world, each Board Member should do their best to become reasonably knowledgeable district operations and finances, and on how the various issues facing the school district will impact our community. Since everyone brings unique knowledge and skills to the Board, the Members should suggest and encourage improvements to the Administration. Board Members must maintain their objectivity when considering points of view. And, especially in this intelligent and outspoken community, the Board Member must be willing to take independent, well-reasoned positions and publicly defend them.

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Question 3: How many District 41 Board meetings have you attended, and when?

Terra Costa Howard: As a current board member I have attended numerous board meetings as well as committee meetings. During my four years of board service, I have missed three board meetings. The first was in November 2005 when my family was on a vacation that was scheduled prior to my board election. The second was this summer during the last visioning session. We had an unexpected family commitment. The third meeting was October, 2008 when I attended my grandfather’s funeral.

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Drew Ellis: I have attended various school Board meetings throughout the years. Those meetings, dating back to the late 90’s, involved issues being discussed that many residents were concerned with. Issues like year round schooling and various taxing referendums warranted my interest and attendance.

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Jack Kahler: I’ve attended many Board meetings, though none recently. This is mostly because I’ve been serving on one D41 committee or another for the last several years. I am familiar with their process for conducting business, and I’ve followed their proceedings in the published minutes.

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Question 4: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), where would you place the community’s current approval rating of District 41? If your assessment were low, what steps would you take as a school board member to improve it?

Drew Ellis: I would place the rating at a 7 or, just above average. I feel that the current Board shares my belief that all children in the district are entitled to the best possible academic exposure and “build positive collaborative relationships to enable all children to thrive in a changing and increasing global society”. However, I further believe that in any organization there is room for improvement and growth. I feel that, in the past, a few of our local taxing bodies including District 41 have not done the best job listening to their residents. Right or wrong this perception still exists today. Despite all of the Districts hard work in broad reaching areas of enhancement and development, without the communities’ perceived trust the District remains in a state of disconnection. I would respectfully suggest further community outreach and encourage that all are heard and that we consider ideas and suggestions brought before the Board. Approaching issues in this fashion would give the Board greater possibility of increased buy-in on District issues. It is my belief that it was a good step to audio tape meetings and make these tapes available for publics review, but I feel that we should televise the meetings, so that people have access to issues as they are being discussed.

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Jack Kahler: I’d guess the District’s approval rating is floating somewhere around 5 or 6. I think overall, parents are pretty happy with their children’s classroom experience. However, the District is more than just classrooms. A couple of years ago, the community voted 79-21 to defeat the Hadley referendum even after the District ran a full-court press to sell it. That amounted to a no-confidence vote, and it reflected the community’s repudiation of the district’s leadership and direction. The problem is the management – the administration and the Board.

The District can’t operate for very long without community confidence before something changes. The question is, what must change? I’ve talked to many people before and since that vote, and the issues list can be summarized as wasteful spending and arrogance.

As a Board Member, I would attack wasteful spending by building efficiency objectives into the annual performance goals for the Superintendent and key administration personnel. I would drive the administration to budget every dollar and adhere to the budget, review spending from the bottom up, eliminate waste, and focus on efficiently providing the best possible education for our tax dollars. This is my profession, so facilitating these cost-saving efforts would be relatively straightforward. And when, not if, we have a surplus, we will rebate it to the community instead of creating new ways to spend it.

The bigger problem is arrogance, where certain Board Members have apparently forgotten who they serve and thereby undermined community trust. Nobody expects the Board to always be right, but we absolutely expect them to work in good faith to be right. Arrogance puts that good faith into question. I’d deal with the perception of arrogance by never, ever forgetting to honor and respect every member of the community I serve. To me, that means treating everyone with honesty, openness and integrity. Every decision a Board Member makes will face someone’s objection, but it’s their duty to remain true to their principles while explaining those decisions with honesty and patience.

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Question 5: What is your experience with the local educational system . . . either as a “consumer” or as a community member?

Terra Costa Howard: I am both a “consumer” as well as a community member of our school system. I am a parent of three daughters who attend Ben Franklin School. I have been very involved in their education as a parent volunteer in the classroom as well as PTA activities.

Prior to starting Ben Franklin, I attended community forums as well board meetings in an effort to gain a better understanding of our local school system.

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Drew Ellis: Having grown up in Glen Ellyn and attending public schools, I am a product of this District as well as District 87. This would make me both a “consumer” and a community member who believes in this local school system and has a heartfelt belief that all children in the District are entitled to the best possible academic exposure that I experienced in the District.

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Jack Kahler: I’ve had children in District 41 for the past 5 years. Our oldest son is a 4th grader at Ben Franklin Elementary School. Our younger son, who we adopted two years ago from Ukraine, is in the Pre-K program at Churchill Elementary. I can honestly say that both of our kids have had excellent classroom experiences in D41, and I’m grateful to their teachers.

I am a product of public schools, and as a family we are 100% committed to the quality of our children’s educations. Over the years I’ve enjoyed participating in many D41 educational programs including Family Math, Science Fairs, Boys and Dads Book Club, and others. My wife and I have been active volunteers at Ben Franklin.

I’ve also been involved with district-wide initiatives for several years, serving presently as a leader of the Master Facilities Planning Steering Committee and previously on the Strategic Planning and Boundaries committees.

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Dan Smith: My wife and I have one son that is in kindergarten at Lincoln, so my recent experience is that as a consumer. We also have a 2 year old that will be entering the system in 2 years. I am pleased with the events the PTA hosts at Lincoln (math/science night) and would like to see the district put more support behind these type of programs.

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