Rod Drobinski: 2021 candidate for Fremont Elementary District 79 school board
Eight candidates are running for four 4-year terms.
Civic involvement: Cub Scout den leader; Indian princesses tribe chief; Mundelein baseball assistant coach; Carmel Catholic Mock Trial coach; former Fremont Library board trustee; former Wauconda Police and Fire commissioner; religious education volunteer teacher at St. Mary of the Annunciation
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'm running for school board for the first time because of how the district handled remote vs. in-person learning this school year. After months of planning over last summer and a parent survey showing 70% of the parents in Fremont 79 wanted their children in-person under a hybrid model, the district announced we would begin the school year with a hybrid in-person option. Two days later, the district reversed itself and announced there would be no hybrid option to begin the year. The lack of transparency, communication and accountability led to a dysfunctional decision-making process and the current school board did little to voice the concerns of parents and taxpayers. Moving forward, we must return to full in-person learning for those who want it with urgency. We need school board members who are actively engaged with the planning and implementation of in-person learning.
Q: How would you grade the current school board on its response to the pandemic? Why?
A: "F." The school board did nothing to advocate for the concerns of parents and taxpayers; ultimately, the children suffered because of this failure. I have two children in Fremont 79 -- a seventh grader and a third grader. I have seen first hand how 100% remote learning has affected my kids, specifically my 8-year-old. Hours of screen time every day, Monday through Friday, have had dramatic emotional affects on my youngest and remote learning has been ineffective in promoting academic development in these crucial early years. When I attended school board meetings, the board members had very little to no questions or discussion about how the school district was handling the situation. The school board never even voted on any plan for the current school year, leaving it completely to the superintendent. The lack of leadership, debate and discussion on the school board has contributed to how this process deteriorated.
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 have spent over 15 years as a prosecutor here in Lake County with 10 of those years as a felony gang prosecutor. I have also served as the chief of felony and felony review in the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office. I believe the job of a school board member is to ask tough questions, demand straightforward answers and represent the concerns of parents and taxpayers. Fremont 79 is the largest line item on our property tax bill. The district has not been transparent about its spending of COVID relief funds and the budgets are not readily available online for us to see. Given how much we pay in property taxes for the school district, I would demand increased transparency and accountability.
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: The school district could have done better for the students by allowing in-person learning to resume much earlier than it did (hybrid resumed just a few weeks ago). I have been the Mock Trial coach at Carmel Catholic High School for the past 13 years, and I got to see firsthand how Carmel handled the pandemic. They began the school year in a hybrid model. Carmel strictly enforced mitigation measures and have had very few issues. Carmel has been so successful, they are now transitioning to full time in-person learning for those families who want it. The parents who wanted in-person learning earlier in the school year should have been given that option given how educational development is so vital for younger children, especially given that 70% of the parents supported it. Having taught high schoolers mock trial and grade schoolers religious education at St. Mary of the Annunciation, I know teaching is challenging when it's in person; teaching via Zoom is even more difficult. The teachers are doing their best in a difficult situation, but we must transition to full, safe in-person learning as soon as possible.
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 parents should be given the freedom to make the choice that is right for their family and their situation. Every family is different -- each faces their own unique concerns when it comes to this pandemic. If parents wish to have their children in 100% remote learning because of the health concerns of their household, they should be free to do so; if parents wish to send their children to school in-person, they should be free to do so. Many private schools in Lake County have been in-person throughout this school year with few issues because of the safety protocols they implemented. These schools strictly enforced mask-wearing, hand-washing and distancing as much as possible, among many others measures. They were successful despite having fewer resources at their disposal. We should model our school district's return to in-person based on what we've learned from those schools and their experiences.
Q: What is your position on allowing high school sports to continue during the pandemic? Be specific.
A: I'm not running for high school board.