Wesley Ann Polen: 2021 candidate for Hawthorn Dist. 73 school board
Four candidates seek the three seats on the Hawthorn District 73 school board in the April 6, 2021 election.
City: Vernon Hills
Civic involvement: Hawthorn School of Dual Language parent volunteer, Hawthorn PTO volunteer, Vernon Hills Park District basketball coach, Girl Scouts parent volunteer
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 believe ALL Hawthorn students should receive a high-quality education from top-notch educators, regardless of their abilities or background.
I am running for reelection because I feel consistency and experience on the Board are critical to the district's success, especially as we continue to deal with the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and complete our Educational Facilities Master Plan.
Hawthorn's success ultimately depends upon the relationship between the superintendent and the school board. I am fortunate for the opportunity to work with such a talented and dedicated team as we support Dr. Hannigan as he navigates the many obstacles involved in transforming Hawthorn. I am proud of what we have accomplished, but we have only just begun. I would love to continue serving the district and the Hawthorn community during this exciting and challenging time.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give a grade of 90% for our response to the pandemic. From day one, keeping Hawthorn students, staff, and families safe has been our number one priority. Throughout this entire process, our Board chose science, not politics, to drive our decisions about how and when students would return to our buildings. Our return to in-person learning was based on local public health data and conditions, and district-specific information. Our Board has been transparent, consistent, and most importantly, we did not modify our plan when pressured by a very small vocal minority. Given the diverse makeup of our student population, Dr. Hannigan and his team focused on equitable access to learning for all students. Hawthorn provided 1:1 devices to all students and connectivity to the families who did not have access. Teachers and staff received training on how to deliver remote instruction. Resources were provided to parents and guardians to help and support their student(s) navigate the remote learning platform and remote instruction.
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: During the pandemic, my role is similar to my role on any topic and includes all three of the components mentioned in the question. I work with my fellow Board members to provide leadership to our District. We support the Superintendent's recommendations when they make sense in the circumstances and align with our goals. Our decisions are not always popular, but our goal is always to make the best decision to benefit as many of our students and other stakeholders as possible. We gathered feedback from our constituents through surveys, emails sent to the Board, and public comments made during the open meetings. Some agreed with us, and some did not. Although feedback is not always determinative of the outcome or decision, it is still considered a puzzle piece. Illinois tends to leave many decisions to local control, but the Board does defer to the State or higher governing authorities on many topics, including this one, when necessary.
Q: Did your school 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: Yes, and we are continually reassessing to make continuous improvements. The Hawthorn teachers, staff, and administrators have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to serve our students' needs. By delaying the start of our hybrid reopening model, Hawthorn took advantage of the remote learning platform to better serve our students. The focus on remote learning provided our students with a consistent schedule, a more rigorous curriculum, common assessments, and unified communication. Additionally, having all students using the remote learning platform created a more equitable learning experience.
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: The Board's responsibility is to govern, not create or implement plans for the District. That said, I will continue to support our in-person hybrid model rollout, which began on February 1. If Dr. Hannigan finds ways to provide more in-person learning opportunities for our students using the local public health data and conditions, guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health, and legal advice, I will support it. This fall, I learned that making the right decision is not always popular, but that does not mean it is wrong. Consistency is key to the success of our students, and our remote learning platform allowed for that.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I believe in following the science and the data. This decision should be made by the infectious disease experts, medical professionals, and the professionals who oversee the sports programs. If the experts all agree and say sports can continue safely then sports should be played.