How can District 211 make schools more equitable? Board candidates weigh in

  • Upper from left, Curtis Bradley, Jessica Hinkle, Anna Klimkowicz, Tim McGowan, Amy Nelson and, lower from left, Kristen Steel, Robi Vollkommer, Denise Wilson and Roxanne Wittkamp are running for the Palatine Schaumburg High School District 211 board of education.

    Upper from left, Curtis Bradley, Jessica Hinkle, Anna Klimkowicz, Tim McGowan, Amy Nelson and, lower from left, Kristen Steel, Robi Vollkommer, Denise Wilson and Roxanne Wittkamp are running for the Palatine Schaumburg High School District 211 board of education.

 
 
Posted3/15/2021 5:30 AM

The improvement of equity and equitable opportunities in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 -- and what exactly that means -- are among the issues in the campaign for three seats on the district's board of education.

Some of the nine candidates see the issue as primarily one of racial equity within the culture of the district. Others interpret it more broadly to include how educational and other resources are allocated among its five main schools.

 

Candidate Tim McGowan said recent Freedom of Information Act requests have brought to light inequities that affect all students of the district, such as a large disparity between the numbers of Black and white students being suspended. He believes improved education of teachers and staff about these issues can help them better serve students.

"(We should be) teaching these things, having these uncomfortable conversations, so that every child inside the district feels safe, feels represented and feels like a part of the culture in the school," he said.

Robi Vollkommer said she believes inequities in the district don't only involve race.

"We see over and over, every year, a disparity between Fremd High School students and the other four high schools' students as far as academic achievements," she said. "It's something that needs to be assessed and looked into at each particular school."

Anna Klimkowicz, the only incumbent in the race, said efforts have been made to recognize and address inequities in the district. As far as academics go, she said students who would not have thought they could take an AP class have been encouraged to do so and challenge themselves with higher-education goals.

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"We have the D211 Equity Team that has been meeting and doing a cultural audit," Klimkowicz said. "This was brought to our attention at the beginning of the school year and we're taking a look at what can be done to be equitable to all of our students."

Denise Wilson said issues of student attitudes and behavior are not a new problem.

"It's one of the top 10 problems of education," Wilson said. "The respect for themselves, for teachers, is shown in tardiness and absenteeism, and that proposes challenges for the school system. Coming from the business world, equality and diversity is not seeing the color of skin. And that's true diversity, not teaching hate or supremacy of any skin color."

Amy Nelson said there are many indicators of resources being allocated unequally within the district, from Fremd High School offering students 85 hours of SAT prep compared to Palatine High School's 5 hours, to the fact Fremd won an award some years ago for best school lunches.

"Are we not feeding the same things to all the students?" Nelson asked. "And I think when we look at SAT prep ... I think it's symptomatic of maybe a bigger problem."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kristen Steel said she too is curious as to whether every school is receiving the same money for the same things, like SAT prep. And she believes whatever inequities students from different backgrounds were facing a year ago have only increased from the pandemic.

"I think that the gaps in equity as they relate to academics, social-emotional well-being, everything -- just the kids interacting -- has really grown greater by the pandemic, by being remote and isolated so much," she said.

Jessica Hinkle said that even if different schools have different needs, they should be assessed anew each year and not be based on earlier years.

"I think we just need to look at what resources we have, what are we providing at each of the schools, and what do each of the schools need specifically," Hinkle said. "I think that if we did that, we would help close the gap on equity."

Curtis Bradley expressed his belief that the discussion about equity had grown too broad and the fact members of minority groups are judged by the color of their skin remains an issue for the district.

"There is a huge disparity when it comes to equity in our neighborhoods, and unfortunately a lot of people will not see it," Bradley said. "So when you talk about equity, yes, there is a problem whether you want to believe it or not. And it's not about textbooks, it's about the color of everyone's skin."

Roxanne Wittkamp wrote in an email that equity and fairness must become the guiding foundation for all schools, both in curriculum and in how educational tools are provided. She said she supports the work of the district's Equity Team.

"The program is needed and it is timely," Wittkamp wrote. "As an educator, we must ensure equity with our students, and this program brings students, staff, and parents together for continuous improvement."

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