Nancy Zettler: 2023 candidate for Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 board
Age on Election Day: 64
Previous offices held: District 300 board since 2019; Judge, Illinois Court of Claims
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?
A: We all lived through COVID and not many people can say that they came out of it unscathed. Throughout COVID, when predicting what would happen next was nearly impossible, we, the board, and the administration were responsible for making sure that the students and staff of our district remained safe. Of course, that meant making several very difficult decisions; but the thought of a child or employee dying or getting seriously ill, was terrifying, so we erred on the side of caution.
Now we are back in school and in the recovery stage and things seem to be going better, but we still have a lot to do. Many of our kids are still suffering from emotional issues and we have a lot of work to do to get our kids back where they should be academically.
And, while we are doing great financially (we just built a new elementary school without a referendum), the district is still growing and we may need another new school soon.
I'm running to continue working on these and other issues like finding and retaining great educators and support staff and strengthening the working relationship between the district and our community.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: School boards do not set curriculum. Curriculum is determined by the Illinois State Board of Education and the General Assembly. They determine what subjects will be taught in Illinois schools.
School boards generally rely on their administrators (the true experts in education) to monitor changes in curriculum requirements and review and recommend what materials we will use to teach what the state requires us to teach. The board reviews the administration's recommendations and acts accordingly. But our role is merely one of overseeing how the process is going.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: No. We have an amazing team that spends a lot of time keeping abreast of what the state requires us to teach; and then finds, reviews, evaluates and recommends the potential materials available to us to use to meet the state's requirements. Now, the board does have, as part of their oversight responsibilities, the ability to discuss any curriculum and teaching materials that come before us but, with very few exceptions, we do not often need to dive deeply into any particular material.
Q: How do you view your role in confronting policy or curriculum controversies: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state authorities?
A: Our job as board members is to make our decisions based on making sure that all students' safety and educations are taken into consideration; and that is what we do. Despite some people's beliefs, we do listen to everyone and take their opinions and positions seriously.
We also take the law, data, science, previous district experience, the institutional knowledge and expertise of our educators and staff, as well as those student and parental opinions and positions, into consideration. On most issues I look at as much information as I can find and use it to make my decisions.
Q: Concerns are growing regarding a new resurgence of the pandemic. If another massive outbreak of infectious disease occurs, what have we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that will guide your decision making?
A: While I reject the beginning premise of your question, if we were to have a resurgence of COVID, or another infectious disease occurs, I would use the same methods that we used during COVID, i.e. making our decisions based on making sure that all students' safety and educations are taken into consideration and following the law, science and data, etc.
We have spent a lot of time looking back at how we handled COVID and I can say without reservation that under the same circumstances, with what we knew when, I would not change a single decision I made. We did lose people in our community to COVID: friends, family members, neighbors. But we did not lose a single child or employee to COVID. That was due in large part to the precautions we took throughout.
Q: Describe your experience working in a group setting to determine policy. What is your style in such a setting to reach agreement and manage school district policy? Explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions of your school board.
A: During the past almost four years, I have worked in a group setting as part of District 300's board of education. And, as a member of the board, I have discussed and debated several issues with my colleagues, some contentious. This board has a very good professional working relationship based on our respect for one another and our mutual love of the district and the kids we are tasked with helping to educate.
I know that there are those people who believe that we are all of the same mind or that we are simply a rubber stamp for one another, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. We have people of all political stripes on the current board and not a single one of us has made a decision based on politics.
We all believe in public education, the district and our responsibilities as board members. And, while we may not agree all of the time, we know how to compromise for the sake of the kids. I used to negotiate multimillion dollar settlements for a living, and I don't like to lose, but that is not the same as when you are making decisions that impact kids' futures.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: My family moved here in 1999. I immediately became involved in District 300 and have spent a lot of time over the years working to support the district and the community. I helped lead two grass-roots efforts that helped the district out financially -- even one that brought the district back from being on the brink of being taken over by the state.
I have been on several district committees. I even subbed in the district. All of that, plus my time on the board during one of the toughest times in District 300 history, I believe, gives me a unique, perspective on the district, how it works and what we need to do to recover from COVID and move into the future even stronger than before.
I am a big believer in public education and District 300. I believe that every child has the right to a good education and that they have the right to feel like that are important to the school district and the community that they belong to. An education is something that no one can ever take away from you. I have been fighting to provide that here for the past 20-plus years.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: I don't know if there really are any ideas out there in education anymore that are not already being talked about, but I would like to expand our use of family school liaisons. Family school liaisons, or FSLs, are people whose job is to get to know the families whose kids go to the school they are assigned to.
They build relationships with those families and help educate them on services and opportunities available to them and to keep them informed about events, trainings, workshops, ongoing technical assistance for parents and the community as well as address concerns between parents and school personnel. They work to improve the quality of school family relationships and even make visits to family homes to see if they need anything and to check up on kids who may be home sick. In other words, they extend the school relationship from the school door to the front door.
The FSL program started with special needs kids and Title schools but I think that there is a real need for FSLs across the entire district. Especially in K-8.