BERWYN – Berwyn residents packed the City Council chambers March 7 for a forum featuring candidates running for three local school boards.
The All Berwyn Committee put on the forum, which included 13 candidates running in Berwyn North School District 98, Berwyn South School District 100 and Morton High School District 201.
Those in attendance included Brian Swade and JoAnn Kulis-Kearns Valeriano, who are seeking re-election in Berwyn North School District 98, where four candidates are running for three seats. Incumbents Fritz Paul-Emile and Rob Pabon did not attend the forum.
All nine candidates running for three seats on the Berwyn South School District 100 board appeared at the forum. Incumbent Chanda Sczczeblowski and former board member Anthony Harris were joined by Sarah Lopez, Andrea Dressell and Amber Dawn, who are running together on the SoBeMom slate.
Also in attendance were incumbent Elizabeth Jimenez, who is joining challengers Desiree Robles, Katherine Zeitvogel and Laurence Disch on the commUnity for BSD100 slate.
Morton High School District 201 candidates Esteban Rodriguez and Edwin Robles participated in the forum while Mark Kraft, Jeffry Pesek and Lido Manetti Jr. did not appear. The five candidates are battling for three seats on the high school board.
Candidates addressed an array of issues, some of which they shared commonalities.
Candidates running in District 98 praised former Superintendent Carmen Ayala and acknowledged that one of the board’s top priorities moving forward is to hire her replacement.
Ayala recently was appointed superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education.
“If I am re-elected for the school board again for Berwyn District 98, the first thing we’re going to do is to hire a superintendent,” Swade said. “For those of you that have heard, our superintendent is now the state superintendent. She just got that designation last week. Right now, we’re in the interim process, and we’ll be doing a search for another superintendent.”
Kulis-Kearns Valeriano said she is equipped to begin the district’s superintendent search process.
“I’ve been through three superintendents and two searches,” she said.
Candidates for District 98 also talked about the importance of keeping tabs on the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
“I’m a registered nurse, and I’m retired,” Kulis-Kearns Valeriano said. “I’m very interested in the health and welfare of the children and the staff.”
Swade said he thinks there are more opportunities to strengthen relationships between the community and the police.
Several candidates said they want the board to address the issue of teacher retention.
Sczczeblowski said she believes this is one of the biggest issues facing Berwyn South District 100.
“Our high turnover is detrimental to the growth of our students and very expensive for our schools,” she said. “I will continue to work on ways to keep our amazing district teachers.”
Several candidates touted efforts to make community improvements without raising taxes.
“In 2017, I led this community on the rebuilding of Piper’s 20-year-old playground that the district did not have the resources to repair, let alone replace,” Dawn said. “I engaged the city, the health and the park district – and though I had never done anything like this before – we raised $15,000, was awarded three of the four grants for which we applied, and brought together over 200 volunteers to build a park not only for the Piper School, but for the community. We did this without raising your taxes. This is what a community leader brings to the table.”
Jimenez said she stands by her voting record.
“I worked closely with Chanda [Sczczeblowski] on the referendum and was instrumental in passing off the safe school resolution to protect our students and families,” she said.
Candidates fielded questions about the district and its barriers to success.
Rodriguez said a lot of the challenges are the result of funding issues and the need for the state of Illinois to “provide their fair share of the money.”
Robles said he doesn’t think the current school board is keeping the community’s interests at the forefront.
“Let’s not burden taxpayers,” he said. “Let’s work with what we’ve got.”
Candidates for District 201 spoke of their interest in getting the board to prioritize the social-emotional learning of students.
Rodriguez questioned the extent to which discipline is employed in the school district.
“We need to figure out what’s happening with the youth,” he said.
Robles agreed, saying that everyone needs to understand how to work with the youth.