Jennifer Cresse: 2021 candidate for District 129 School Board
Four candidates are running for three seats on the West Aurora District 129 School Board in the April 6, 2021, election.
Civic Involvement: Past PTA President at Freeman, currently vice president; Committee Chair for Pack 312 out of Freeman Elementary; lead two Cub Scout dens this year; merit badge counselor for several Boy Scout merit badges. I've found volunteering as a great way to stay involved, while being able to pull back when my son's health needs to be the priority. I also enjoy sewing, and have enjoyed volunteering to sew costumes for the Fox Valley Park District productions. I've made many masks, and taught others how to make them as well to donate to health care workers and schools during the pandemic.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A: I think that we need more representation on the board from the west side of Aurora. Currently half of the school board resides in North Aurora, while only 25% of elementary students attend school in North Aurora. Aurora is a diverse community, and that is the beauty of our district. I hope to bring a more diverse perspective to the board. I want to bring the voices of a broader population to the district, in hopes of providing more equity in opportunity for every student in our district.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: Our school board has not responded well to the needs of every family in our community during the pandemic. Our school board did not push the district to provide equitable opportunities for students who need to learn virtually. For some programs no comparable virtual option was offered to students, forcing them to attend in person. Dr. Craig said in a video to parents on September 17 that the district was watching COVID metrics to decide when it was appropriate to return to in person learning. However, at the October 19 board meeting, Mr. Sparks asked Dr. Craig what metrics the district was using to make their decisions on returning to in person learning. Dr. Craig responded that the district would be moving forward unless the state stepped in to change their plans. No one on the board questioned that answer. The purpose of the school board is to make sure that the district administration is making decisions that reflect the needs of the broader community. Our current board has failed to ask the hard questions publicly. They may be doing so behind closed doors during executive sessions, but members of the community deserve to see that the hard questions are being asked.
Q: How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?
A: I would love to be able to provide a voice to every member of our community. Several members of the board have only reflected on how the pandemic has affected their family personally. I believe that the school board has a responsibility to make sure that the voice of every family is welcome and heard by the district. I believe that every family is in a very different situation, and we need to be able to provide for the diverse needs of our diverse community. Many districts had plans to safely return in the fall, if we were going to return to in person learning, we should have done so back in August. The way that our district has rolled out the hybrid plan has been incredibly taxing on families and teachers.
Q: Did your district continue to adequately serve students during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: Our district has done a fantastic job of making sure that students have access to healthy food during the pandemic. Every student was able to maintain a connection to teachers through technology. Our teachers have been working incredibly hard to make learning in every format engaging for their students. Our district has failed to provide equitable opportunities for students who need or want to remain learning virtually. For some families, the hybrid schedule was not possible to accommodate working parents, and their children needed to remain home. For some families, health issues are forcing parents to keep children home. Some families have had to choose whether to prioritize the social emotional needs of one child, over the health concerns of another.
Q: Do you have a plan on how to safely and effectively conduct classes in the spring? What have you learned from the fall semester that you would change in the spring?
A: I believe that every student who wishes to be in person should be able to do so, provided that teachers are comfortable with their working conditions. There are so many reasons for children to be learning in person, however that isn't a choice for every family. I think that we need to make sure that we are focusing on the emotional needs of every family in our district, and the district administration has a responsibility to offer opportunities to meaningfully connect as a community. In order to maintain in person learning for second semester, we should be offering regular COVID testing for any staff member and students who would like it. Frequent testing has been shown to reduce transmission of COVID. The district needs to have standards for masks that follow recommendations put forth by the CDC, and they have a duty to ensure compliance. We need to make sure that all students and staff are as safe as possible. For some students, they have found success learning virtually when they have struggled with school under normal circumstances. I think that we can learn from those students how to improve education to meet the needs of a more broad population.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: If there is a way to do sports while maintaining all the recommendations set out by the CDC then they should absolutely be offered. However, if those conditions cannot be met, we may need to prioritize safety over normalcy for this moment in history. If distancing and masking are not possible, then we may need to pause sports for the time being. For students who do not participate in sports, they have also had less opportunity for activities this year. Sports should not be prioritized over other extracurricular activities. All extracurricular activities should be offered to students, provided they can meet the guidelines outlined by the CDC. Not every student excels with sports, but all kinds of extracurricular activities have been canceled this year. If it is possible to do an activity given the current guidelines, it should be offered.