Barbara J. Somogyi: 2023 candidate for Community Consolidated School District 59 school board
Town: Elk Grove Village
Age on Election Day: 79
Previous offices held: Board Member CCSD59 1975-1978, 1981-2019
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: A resident of Elk Grove Village since 1967, I raised my three children all District 59 graduates there. Having been a former District 59 board member for many years and holding offices in District 59, NSSEO, LICA, and IASB, I feel I have the background, experience and knowledge to assist the Board of Education in the Board's operation.
Recent events that caused division, unrest and lack of trust in the District, motivated me to run again for District 59's Board of Education.
Another factor is since 2019, fourteen board members have rotated on and off the seven member Board, leading to the supposition that being a board member is more difficult than most expect. New members are integral for continuity of board membership; however, senior members are important for stability to blend the experiences of the past, with today's best practices, when making decisions for the future. No one can question my commitment to District 59 over my years of service.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: Since I do not have children in District 59, the setting and monitoring of curriculum is done in none direct ways. The administrative reports to the Board share the status of yearly student growth and other data. Administrators during those reports try to share the successful data, but statistics can be overwhelming. Curricular review should be done on a regular schedule keeping the good and reviewing what needs to be changed. During those reviews, it is very important to listen to teachers, parents, and even students. The Curriculum Committee was a way for teachers, board members, parents and the community to come together to address and identify issues both good and bad. I am sorry to say, that committee has been suspended. I recommend that the committee be resumed and continue to be active.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: As reported a new math program has been adopted and Language Arts is being piloted. I hope both will be successful. All other subjects need the same attention and then put on a rotating schedule. However, there are other issues that need to be addressed. The District curriculum was dismantled at the former Superintendent's directive, and during CoVid the remote learning caused students to fall behind their yearly growth expectations. Giving students what they needed to catch up should have been the first priority when school was resumed. Fourth and fifth grade is crucial to make sure students have the basic skills to enter Junior High. Teachers in the Junior High should not have to be responsible for reteaching reading and simple math. The same goes for 8th grade. District 59 should make sure students meet High School requirements. It is the Board's responsibility to see that teacher's are supported, well prepared and given proper resources for their important work.
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: I believe that a board members role is to listen with understanding. Board members are elected by the community, and should be open to receiving communication from the community. If a controversy exists, administration should investigate, and if the controversy continues with those with different views, explanation and rational should be given. If controversy still continues it might be time for a review that may or may not lead to change, thus giving a voice to constituents.
Leadership can be unpopular; however, a board member needs to represent all stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, community), but always keeping in mind what is best for the students. If State authorities are brought into the issue, it is the Board's obligation to follow the decision that is made.
Q: Did you support Superintendent Terri Bresnahan's equity plan that would have paired schools up into grade level centers, redistricted some areas, and repurposed Ridge into a preschool?
A: I believe that the equity plan was handled poorly. I do not know what was directed by the Board, but if equity was a Board directive the Superintendent proceeded under that assumption to gather information. The Superintendent reviewed a demographic study, initiated a staff survey, that survey was questionable as some staff did not want to state their true feelings, and established a Task Force Review. I do not understand how a Task Force can review the plans in eight hours (4 two hour meetings). All that just to show support for the Administrative Recommendation.
I believe that any major decision like grade level centers, boundary changes, or repurposing a school should be done openly. State the problem/issue, notify those that would be affected, bring all together to have dialogue, discuss, debate, and together come to consensus as to how to solve the issue.
Q: Did you support Superintendent Terri Bresnahan's equity plan that would have paired schools up into grade level centers, redistricted some areas, and repurposed Ridge into a preschool? Why or why not? And now that the plan has been rejected, how should the district address some of the areas of improvement that were identified during this process?
A: I did not support the plan as outlined. As stated above, I believe that the issues identified could be addressed in other ways. Equity is elusive, a goal that can never be achieved to everyones satisfaction. There will always be someone that objects or feel that they are not getting what they perceive as necessary. Therefore, my focus is to give each child what they need to learn and succeed, and the teachers support to guide, instruct, and challenge their students.
These are some issues that need to be addressed. No student in need of support should have to wait a long time to receive necessary services. Support for teachers that may feel isolated is not good practice. Space for physical education equipment storage needs attention. The schools are safe, but behavior issues are being brought up at Board Meetings.
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: It is hard to always follow the laws that school districts are obligated to observe. During the pandemic the students, parents and teachers did rally and do their best to continue the educational programs. Remote learning should not be a first choice, but safety of students and staff should be considered. It is difficult to keep schools open if more than half of either students or staff are out ill. Schools should be kept open if safe. If there are questions about the schools' safety, parents should be given the option to send their child to school or remote learn.
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: My style is open dialogue, discussion, debate, consensus. Policy review is done by the Illinois Association of School Boards. Board member usually take their recommendations and adopt them as presented. Most are legal changes, but some can be changed to reflect community beliefs. I believe board members should look deeply into those policies where there are options that can be adapted to reflect the District's direction. Some policies in the Board Governance section have been changed and I would like to have a discussion with the Board to see why those changes were made.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: Having been a parent, former board member, continuing community member, and now a retired resident, I have lived through many changes. I possess the training, experience, knowledge to become an active member of the Board Team. I have worked with many board members during my years on District 59's Board, and the other Boards I served on. I received recognition from the State Board of Education.in 2005 as the designated winner of the State's Outstanding Board President Award. I am willing and can help the Board bridge the changes on the Board and provide a past leaders experiences to help the District move forward.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: It will be important to provide opportunities for open discussion to help build the trust that has been damaged. Open forums where questions can be answered. The many reports that are presented at the one meeting per month board meeting might be great for new board members and the public to learn about district business, but those reports might be given in other formats that would present the same information to the Board and others that want in-depth reports. An information forum or another format using technology on-line would give more opportunity for public input. The three minute rule at meetings with no response is one I do not like. If a question is raised and an answer can be given, it should be given after the public comment. If follow up is needed it could be at the next meeting. Questions asked at board meetings are seldom answered. There has to be many other ways to get outside input and open discussion on District issues.