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VOTE411 Voter Guide

Naperville Community Unit School District 203 (Unexpired 2 Year Term)

CHOOSE TWO CANDIDATES FROM BELOW TO COMPARE
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    Kristine M. Gericke (N)

  • Robert W. Fieseler Sr. (N)

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Biographical Information

Bio - Please describe your personal and professional background and offer examples of how you have been involved as a community contributor.

Why are you running for the Board of Education, and why NOW?

What do you see as the Board's role and responsibilities within the district? What are some qualities, qualifications and attributes to a successful board member?

Given the challenges the District has faced when working through sensitive topics like reassigning attendance boundaries to address capacity concerns and population shifts, how would you seek input to make informed decisions on sensitive community issues?

How might you suggest the District address the issues of under-performing schools? What considerations must be in place in order to properly evaluate an under-performing school? What factors do you believe to be of larger concern to an under-performing school? On a more macro scale, how might you suggest we reach and assist the academically challenged students district wide?

While District 203 receives a small amount of funding from the State of Illinois, there are many factors that may contribute to additional or new pressures to the budget in the coming years, i.e., pension reform, property tax freeze. What might you suggest to maintain a balanced budget? What repercussions/sacrifices do you see that have impact within the schools? What might you consider to be the most difficult change or changes that you would support in favor of keeping a balanced budget?

There has been much discussion about stress and pressure felt by students, especially at the high school level, to achieve high grades while also participating in sports/clubs, volunteering and working part time. What does the District do, or should it do, to address the mental and emotional health of our students while ensuring their collegiate qualifications and high academic standing?

With the state mandate of Common Core, PARCC Assessments, and Social Emotional requirements added to the District's need and desire to remain globally competitive, what programs do we currently have in place that you feel help create an advantage for our students? Are there programs for our students that may be a better fit for our community, if so- what do you suggest?

I believe that my volunteer experiences have prepared me to serve on the Board of Education. I have had the opportunity to work with many individuals across the district-from parent groups to the administration through my involvement in Home and School. This experience in the district has given me a strong foundation on which to build. My advocacy work with CASA of DuPage has shown me the value of schools in a child’s life before academics are addressed. A school, its teachers and staff are sometimes the most consistent adult presence in a child’s life. School becomes predictable-it is there for the student everyday, it is a place that may provide meals and snacks. The routine can be comforting if their home life is chaotic. Staff members become trusted, reliable adults. If a child is responsible for siblings at home, school may be a place where they only need to focus on themselves, if even for a few hours. Working with both girl and boy scouts has allowed me to work with different age groups in a setting that can be challenging. Scouting fosters exploration and confidence to try new things and to accomplish things by applying what they have learned in school and vice versa. For some, this may the first time that school and the ‘real world’ begin to come together. Finally, substitute teaching keeps me informed in the classroom. I see firsthand what students are learning, the challenges they may face based on cultural and/or socioeconomic issues. I also see how teachers are implementing curriculum.
I have chosen to run for the Board of Education this year because I feel that my time as a parent (my children are both at Naperville North) and my 18 years as a resident in the district has given me a better understanding of our community. I believe that our district has the ability to take a more holistic approach to the education of students at this time. No one issue is a distraction. The problems we face are not unique to our district, i.e. an un-certain state budget.
The Board of Education should be setting a positive tone at the higher level. Board members should be willing listeners and learners. A very important attribute is open-mindedness. Without an open-minded attitude, it will be very difficult for a Board member to collaborate with the community and administration. A Board member should be interested in seeking out numerous opinions. The Board should be looking at the big picture in regards to curriculum. I don’t believe a Board should be getting into the small details of subject matter. The Board should understand how the curriculum flows and its relevance. A Board should be sure that the district is in compliance with federal and state mandates. An open dialogue with administration will help a Board member understand details surrounding curriculum. Is the subject matter age-appropriate? Are students at an appropriate cognitive level to understand what is being taught? Is the curriculum building in a logical fashion? Are students being “stretched” in a positive manner? Is the curriculum meaningful and relevant? After asking questions and seeking out research, a Board member should be in a good position to make decisions. Finally, a Board also needs to make sure that the investments and expenditures it approves are appropriate. The Board needs to strive to provide the right environment and tools and resources in order to help our students and staff succeed.
The first thing any district needs to do is communicate with all interested parties when sensitive issues arise. A comprehensive explanation as to why an issue needs to be addressed has to be presented along with options that the district is considering. The district also needs to share all available and reliable research on the topic in question with the community. Next, input from residents has to be captured. This can be accomplished through a combination of surveys, focus groups, and larger community forums. It will then become important to balance passion with facts. A Board member must be able to explain his/her stance and more importantly, how and why they came to a given conclusion
The first thing that I would want to be sure of is that our district foundation stable. Next, I want to make sure that all available resources are being used effectively in each of our buildings. We need to ensure teachers and principals are getting the proper training and coaching so that they may be as effective as possible in their jobs. I would also want to make sure our evaluation system is fair and reflects current research and best practices. These are factors that are in the district’s control. The next step is to look at outside variables that may be contributing to achievement gaps or under-performing schools. What socio-economic or cultural hurdles are some of our students facing? Do we have students and families that feel isolated because of language barriers? Once we understand what factors may be contributing to under-performing schools or achievement gaps, we can differentiate supports at each building. Maybe one building needs more resources concerning ELL. Another building may need more SEL resources. We can strive to differentiate what resources a building needs the way we strive to differentiate instruction for students. On a macro scale, we need to use every resource available (parents, schools, volunteer groups, religious and business institutions, civic groups, etc.) to make sure that when academically challenged students come into school each day, they have what they need to begin their day and they are able to focus on their academic work.

The state budget, once passed, may prove to be a challenge. If the funding formulas in the state change, that may present challenges to our district budget. It may become necessary to re-think our short- and long-term goals in District 203. We must first prioritize the needs and wants for our school district as we strive to maintain a balanced budget. A combination of tax and fee increases could be one approach if we needed to solve budget shortfalls. This assumes that a property tax freeze is not in the mix. The fee increases are the additional investments from those families that currently have students in the district. Tax increases are the additional investments from the wider community. A community’s support for its schools is very evident when it is willing to pay more towards the education of its children. However, tax increase requests are not to be taken lightly and should be asked for when other options seem to be exhausted. The Board should be upfront on how additional tax revenue would be spent. It is only fair for taxpayers to understand how any money is going to be specifically used. If cuts were to be necessary, programs and expenses need to be looked at as a whole throughout the district. No one program should be cut. Sacrifices should be shared across all entities within the district.
The district cannot work alone in regards to the mental and emotional health of its students. This challenge has to be addressed together by families, schools, physicians and the broader community. No one entity can prevent, treat or solve mental health illness or addictions. The district can continue to work pro-actively to make the school environment safe, welcoming and productive for all of our students. It can also make sure that all staff is provided with training and/or refresher courses to help identify a student that may be in need of help. The district and Board especially, need to have an open dialogue with students in grades 6-12. As adults, we need to do a better job listening to our teenagers and making sure they feel engaged in their academic career and not just going through the motions of fulfilling requirements and “checking off the right boxes”. Stress is a contributing factor to addiction. The district can work to ensure that undue stress is not being placed on students. Prioritizing needs and wants for academic success on the individual level is extremely important. This is something that is in our control as a school district. I want our kids to strive for their personal bests. The focus should not be on who is #1 or who is the “best”. The focus should be on an individual reaching his/her next level or personal best. I don’t want students to be comparing themselves to each other. We need to ask students: Are you where you should be? Is this what you need to be successful? For students that are actively managing mental health issues, the district should make sure that appropriate personnel and resources are available in each building. Some students may want to talk with a teacher or counselor; some may prefer quiet areas in order to decompress. Working together with the students and parents should be able to identify what will help a student navigate their personal challenges.
I feel that the Social Emotional Learning focus is an advantage. Students are taught how to develop decision-making skills inside and outside of the school setting. They are taught what a meaningful relationship looks like and how to nurture positive relationships in their lives. They develop self-awareness and interpersonal skills that are critical to being a successful student, professional and human being. The Performance Series test is important to me as a parent because it is the one test that has been the most consistent in my student’s academic careers. Standardized tests seem to change regularly and it is difficult to see growth when the measurements/tests used are inconsistent. I am also supportive of the re-structured report cards that coming out at the elementary level. The new report cards are going to better reflect where kids are academically and in what direction they are moving. I think it gives a more holistic picture of the child’s progress.
Family: • Born June 1, 1955 (New York, NY) • Married to Mary Ellen Gryzbek (April 19, 1980) • Four children: Bob Jr. (age 36), Lauren (age 34), Bill (age 32), Anne (age 27) • Two grandchildren: Riley (born February 2, 2017), Josephine (expected February 20, 2017) Education: • Norwalk (CT) High School graduate (1973) • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), Bachelor of Science, Biomedical Engineering (1977), • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), Master of Science, Operations Research & Statistics (1978) • Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Juris Doctor (1984) Community Contributor: • KidsMatter, Board Member (2009-2017) • Naperville City Councilman (elected to two terms; 2007-2015) • Naperville Development Partnership (2011-2015) • DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, Regulatory Issues Committee (2011-2015) • Naperville Public Library, City Council Liaison to the Board of Directors (2007-2015) • Naperville Heritage Society, Board Member (1998-2007)
Candidate has not yet responded.
As set forth on the District’s website, “It is the function of the Board to set general school policy and, within the framework of ISBE regulations, to establish guidelines that will ensure the proper administration of the District 203 program.” The role and responsibilities of the Board are to apply their best efforts to carry out that function.

What are some qualities, qualifications and attributes to a successful board member? The qualities, qualifications and attributes of a successful Board member are the same as those for any elected official, namely: •To cast responsible votes by studying the facts presented by staff and seeking community input; •To serve as a contact (ombudsman) for the provision of governmental services that a constituent is having trouble receiving; •To promote certain priorities that the board member believes and has thought through the potential positive consequences of implementing those priorities, as well as the measures that should be taken to avoid potential negative consequences.
I would seek input to make informed decisions on sensitive community issues in the same way I sought and received input from the community while serving on the City Council. As set forth in response to question (1) above, my community involvement is vast, and I interact daily with many, many community members, as well as elected officials at the local, state and federal levels whose districts encompass School District 203. As a Councilman, I had regular office hours when community members could count on me to be available to discuss their viewpoints and concerns. I will adopt those practices as a member of the District 203 Board of Education.
The concerns set forth in this question are ones of which I have, at present, only superficial knowledge. I have a proven track record as a quick-study on issues, particularly in orienting myself to the structure and operation of a governmental entity like the school district, then absorbing facts and opinions provided by staff, other Board members and community members. Regarding how to reach and assist academically challenged students, one of my key priorities is to make available vocational opportunities to students in the upper grades who aren’t natural book-learners. Much of the school district’s attention has been focused on gifted-student and special-education programs. College preparation, while important to many students, should not be the default for all students, particularly for those who aren’t suited to indoor desk jobs. Vocational programs abound in our community, such as: •College of DuPage’s culinary and homeland security programs; •Technical schools with programs for developing skills in computer software and hardware design and installation, computer numeric control machinery and additive manufacturing (3D printing) programs; •Union apprenticeship programs for professional training in electrical, plumbing and pipe fitting, construction; •Programs in website design and coding, photography, visual arts, landscape design, and dozens of other career pursuits are available within reasonable distances from Naperville. To introduce students to these vocational opportunities, community colleges and technical schools should be encouraged to visit junior and senior high schools, perhaps in career-fair setting during the school day, and visit with students who may not have yet decided to be on a college preparation track.
With less than half of the district’s households sending their children to public schools, our community will become increasingly populated with empty nesters on their way to senior citizenship. This trend will continue over the next 10-15 years as these empty-nest households increase in proportion to households with students in the schools. This trend will reverse around 2030, when most of the current empty nesters, mostly baby-boomers, will have left their current homes for homes more conducive to senior living. Meanwhile, young families will be moving into those departed homes. In the near-term, the school board should continually seek to provide tax relief on the revenue side of district operations and to reduce expenses via staff attrition. Approximately 80% of the expenses to run a governmental service organization, like the school district, are made up of staff salaries, benefits and deferred compensation, of which pension benefits are a major component. The way to limit or reduce expenses is to manage headcount. The number of teachers should be exempt from district headcount management during the school year, being set instead during the annual budget process. However, when back-office positions are vacated due to attrition, it should be used as an opportunity to “stress the system”. Specifically, the department in which the attrition occurred should be made to wait 3-6 months before filling the vacated position. Department heads should then be made to justify why the work formerly handled by the departed employee could not be distributed among the remaining staff members within the department. If then justified, the position can be filled. When this practice was instituted by the City during the recent economic downturn, a 15% headcount reduction was achieved (160 out of 1070 positions). The same can be accomplished in District 203.
Mental illness and related substance abuse among junior and senior high school students represent the greatest public policy challenge facing Board members. Mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental illnesses, affect a large portion of families with students in the schools. Parents are mostly unable to assess that their student has developed a mental illness and, if they are, they are understandably slow to seek professional help because of the concern that doing so will deprive their student of opportunities, such as disqualification from military academies and college varsity sports, law enforcement, airplane piloting, and increased insurance rates for their entire lifetime. Families need to know that there are Naperville-based organizations like KidsMatter and its affiliate ParentsMatterToo that equip parents to step in at the right time before their student is in crisis. The recent suicide of a Naperville North High School student after being interrogated by school administrators about alleged sexual wrongdoing is one potential example of the need to be better aware of student mental health conditions and to seek the assistance of outside medical professionals and mental health counselors to provide guidelines and training to teachers, administrators and support staff on how to handle delicate and potentially dangerous incidents involving students whose mental health has been compromised. Regarding substance abuse, junior and senior high school students are exposed daily to recreational drugs and partake frequently. Opioids are available in the medicine cabinets of many, many Naperville homes. Every weekday afternoon, students can find a home in which no parent is present, and at-risk students will troll the medicine cabinets for opioids, other pain medications, and psychotropic drugs. Adults need to make use of the prescription drug drop-off boxes at all ten of Naperville’s fire stations to rid their homes of opioids so as not to become accidental drug pushers. Study drugs, like Ritalin and Adderall, are also rampant among junior and senior high school students. These study drugs are readily available from students already diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, to whom these drugs are legitimately prescribed (overprescribed in reality). Up to now, student drug use has not been adequately addressed by the Board. The recent incident at Naperville North High School, in which more than a dozen students ingested THC-infused Gummy Bears, is only one sign of many that drug usage in the schools during the school day should be a top priority for Board consideration and action.
As with question (4) above, the concerns set forth in this question are ones of which I have, at present, only superficial knowledge. I have a proven track record as a quick-study on issues, particularly in orienting myself to, in this case, the various state and federal mandates, that affect the structure and operation of the school district, then absorbing facts and opinions provided by staff, other Board members and community members.

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