Pamela A. Shaw: 2021 candidate for Fremont Elementary District 79 school board
Eight candidates are running for four 4-year terms.
City: Long Grove
Occupation: Music and science teacher, virtual educator, professional development facilitator, substitute teacher
Civic involvement: Served on the Fremont District 79 Handbook Committee and the Illinois State Board of Education's Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted and Talented Children. Current board member for the Chicago Gifted Community Center and the Illinois Association for Gifted Children.
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: While the biggest issue we face right now is the pandemic and how to get students back to school safely, a school board member serves for a four-year term. I am concerned that many candidates do not have a long term vision for our schools past the immediate goal of getting all of the kids back into the buildings. I believe it is important to look beyond this issue to pandemic recovery. We will see academic, social emotional, operational, and financial impacts in the next several years that will affect our students, teachers, and community. We need leaders on the board who will look at all angles of these issues and help guide the district through these challenges. I care about kids, I care about education, and I care about Fremont. I will be a dedicated board member who will put those priorities first.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: I would give the current board mixed reviews. I understand that this has been a challenging time and I feel like everyone has been trying their best to navigate an evolving situation. The board has tried to balance being responsive to parent concerns while still following public health guidance. This has resulted in plans shifting several times on seemingly short notice, which has made it hard for teachers and families to anticipate and adapt to the frequent changes.
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 view my role as balancing the needs of all stakeholders while responding to the latest scientific developments and recommendations. During this time, families need to be able to choose what they feel most comfortable with. Some families may want to keep their kids home, some may feel safe with 6-foot social distancing and reduced class sizes, and some may feel comfortable sending their kids back to classrooms with less social distancing. Some teachers may feel more comfortable with more kids in their classroom and some with fewer. It seems to me that we need to be thinking more creatively and flexibly when meeting the needs of our students and families while also trying to avoid overburdening 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: Fremont already had devices for all students and a plan for e-learning emergency days, so the infrastructure was already in place to continue with school last March when things shut down. They started with asynchronous instruction, assigning students work using Google Classroom to work on each day, with teachers available to assist as needed. Recognizing that students needed a greater sense of connection to their teachers and classmates, they started doing synchronous Zoom classes this fall. Now that more of the students are back in the building, teachers are having to split their attention between students at home and at school. While virtual and face-to-face teaching have some things in common, they are distinct teaching methods, and doing both at once is bound to reduce the quality of engagement teachers are able to offer students. If this continues into the fall, I would advocate planning to offer separate face-to-face and online classes in order to provide a better learning and teaching environment for each.
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: Fremont just released a survey for parents to determine their level of comfort with bringing students back in the buildings full-time, with the understanding that although safety measures would be followed, six-foot distancing would not be possible. The results should come back quickly and the board is set to make a decision at the March 15 meeting. Thus, it looks like the plan for the spring will be out of my hands if I were to be elected. My personal feeling is that the six-foot distancing needs to be maintained in order to ensure student safety; however, as a board member I would also need to take into account the results of the survey and the needs of the families in our community before making a decision.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: Fremont is not a high school district. However, Fremont does have a number of middle school sports. Since we have been able to get students back in the classroom, there should be some creative ways to get students engaged in sports again, especially if they can practice or play outdoors. There are guidelines for different sports from the Illinois Department of Public Health that can guide schools in making these activities as safe as possible.