Joseph "Joe" Patrick Lackner: 2023 candidate for St. Charles Unit District 303 board, 4-year term
Town: Campton Hills
Age on Election Day: 50
Occupation: Management consultant
Employer: Ernst & Young
Previous offices held: District 303 board member since March 2021, board vice president
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 solid education is the foundation for a modern, responsible, free citizen. Data shows that educational attainment is the great leveler; it is the path to social and economic mobility for people from all circumstances. D303 is a diverse community with varying needs; the board's role is to ensure that D303 is equipped to inspire all young people to become engaged, fulfilled citizens.
As the son of a teacher and the husband of a teacher I believe this to my core. We owe D303 students -- and ourselves as a community -- the benefits of great schools. That is why I wish to serve.
Making decisions about D303's nearly $200M annual budget ($800M over a four-year term) is an incredible responsibility. In my short time on the board, I have helped the board ask better questions about how this money is spent and helped the board make better decisions on your behalf.
Let's maintain the calm, mindful, and analytical approach to hard trade-offs that will move D303 ahead.
Q: What is the role of the school board in setting and monitoring curriculum?
A: The Illinois School Code expressly charges the school board to take responsibility for " ... the selection of textbooks, instructional material, and courses of study." (105 ILCS 5/10-16.7). It is important to have a group of local citizens focused on what local students need. We owe families graduates who can build successful, fulfilling lives.
The spirit of the board's role is described in the oath of office, " ... ensure all students have the opportunity to attain their maximum potential," and " ... ensure a continuous assessment of student achievement." I believed these words when I swore the oath; I believe them today.
We must balance time on testing while delivering on maximum impact. D303 has 12,000 students. When we achieve 15+ percentage point increase in a single grade, we're helping 150 more students succeed. When we achieve across 12 grades, we're helping nearly 2,000 more students succeed. There is positive compounding effect and we owe our students bold ambition every single day.
Q: Are there curriculum issues within the district that you feel need particular attention from the board?
A: D303 is a good school district. It has a responsibility to the community to get better; we need to help more students succeed.
I have pushed for increased focus on decisions that drive educational efficacy.
I'm proud that I pushed the board to adopt a very specific set of student performance improvement goals through 2025. These goals are shared prominently in the Student Achievement Report; they create a rallying point for the administration and staff improvement plans.
It is important that each curriculum is selected with is built students' success in mind. D303 data show that nearly 80% of D303 students expect to go to college.
At the same time, the percentage of students who will take a different route is growing. We need to build curriculum that starts with the high school end in mind and works down to kindergarten to link the successes, knowledge, skills, and habits that will allow our students to have the most options when they plan their post high school paths.
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: There have always been passionate conversations about the school's role in society. Every year billions of dollars are invested by the federal government, private foundations, and universities in studies of what is good for students.
Academics' views change over time, Illinois continuously changes the school code, and our community's perspectives evolve.
Controversies are inevitable. One of the great advantages of our community is a real diversity of viewpoints which can provide a robust discussion when the community lacks a unanimous view of what is best.
The board's responsibility is to explore viewpoints, provide transparent discussion, and communicate clearly about the trade-offs it must make. The board must create a venue to listen to the community and a decision process that weighs the pros and cons of competing viewpoints while never losing sight that the students' educational experiences and student educational attainment is the primary mission for D303.
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: Managing through COVID was difficult for school boards everywhere. The public health policies that COVID inspired created ever-changing operational challenges for schools that were nearly impossible to manage. Some of the technical management issues (technology, adapting curriculum, etc.) may be easier to address in the future given what we've learned.
On the other hand, we continue see just how damaging the prolonged absence from the classroom has been on students' social, mental, and academic health. We may continue to see a lingering impact on student's success and happiness for years to come.
In this light, the board must serve as a sober deliberative body that holds students' best interests as its guide even as "the best interest" is heatedly debate.
The board must work within legal and regulatory constraints, while communicating in an open transparent way about our shared goal of a positive education for students and a safe working environment for teachers and staff.
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: School boards are only empowered to act as a group and issues are decided by vote. In my board service, I have demonstrated the ability to work effectively in a group where strong disagreements often occur. The key to turning these productive recognizing that board members most often bring positive intentions.
When board members respect one another, the opportunity to explore an issue, to ask questions, and to listen with an open mind is ever present.
I bring civility, a genuine desire to understand fellow board members' perspectives, and a willingness to consider the administration's recommendations to every single board deliberation.
Boards cannot achieve consensus on every issue. On the other hand, they can communicate clearly and respectfully around the issues and share openly their perspectives and concerns. I encourage voters to review the videos of past board meetings to see my working style in action or join me at the next board meeting.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: D303 is complex with 12,000 students, 1,800 employees, and more than 2M square feet of facilities. In spite of this complexity and my abbreviated term, I've helped drive real, positive change: we've gotten the students safely back in school, we've hired a new superintendent, we're redefining the D303 strategic plan and revamping the administration's ways of working. There is more to do.
Being an effective board member requires four things: a commitment to student outcomes, a respect for teachers' contributions, an understanding of school finance, and willingness to make hard trade-offs. I have delivered these during my service.
As a father of four D303 students, I have a depth of personal experience with what works and what can be better. In my work as a management consultant, I help the world's most complex companies improve their complex operations. I bring this combination to the board -- along with a fierce determination to help D303 move from good to great for every student.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better your district that no one is talking about yet?
A: We have a real opportunity to take a hard look at the high school course catalog. D303 has strong course catalog and there are significant gaps in how the high schools address technology.
A single AP computer science course is insufficient when our broader society continues to reorder the economy from a focus on "things" to a focus on "information."
For college bound students, the ability to code is becoming a required "language."
For those who wish go straight into the workforce there is a real opportunity for D303 to help build technology skills that are directly job-related.
Other districts have developed deeper offerings in technology-related courses of study that range from coding courses to programs that see high schoolers graduate with Microsoft certifications, to technology support training. D303 can do more to help families see how technology fluency will shape immediate career opportunities or college success.