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Communication, curriculum key issues in D-58 race

DOWNERS GROVE – Several candidates in the Downers Grove Grade School District 58 School Board race name better communication among staff and parents, building maintenance and renovations and curriculum updates as their top three priorities.

“I feel like the district drops the ball a lot of the time,” said Kylie Spahn, a local education activist who is vying for a seat on the board of education. “If they don’t know the answer to a question that a parent has, then say, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ or just acknowledge a parent’s concern.”

At a recent meeting, Spahn said school officials talked more about plans to include a weekly early dismissal starting in fall 2019 exclusively for teachers’ professional learning and development.

“There’s parents that have a ton of questions about what will their [children’s] school day look like,” Spahn said, adding that the board needs to have some details or ideas on-hand for parents to avoid misinformation or speculation.

Spahn joins a list of political newcomers and incumbents who are running for four-year terms. The newcomers are Emily Hanus, a former middle school teacher, and Steve Olczyk, an operations strategist and Downers Grove native. Incumbents are Kirat Doshi, who was appointed to the board in July, and board vice president Elizabeth Sigale.

Hanus shared Spahn’s sentiments on the district’s need for transparency and added that is a challenge she is willing to take on.

“The one thing that I really want to focus on as a board member is making sure that there’s really a strong and consistent collaboration between the district administration, the teachers in the building, staff and the parents and the community at large,” said Hanus, whose three children attend District 58 schools. “I just think that’s invaluable in terms of how we provide education to our kids.”

Hanus and Olczyk turned their focus to the district’s school buildings. District 58 is made up of 11 elementary schools and serves nearly 5,000 students. Aside from any redevelopment plans, one major problem the district encountered is the overcrowding of students, they said. If elected, the two aim to look more closely into the buildings’ purpose and to ensure the safety and well-being of both staff and students.

“There’s been some additions and some small renovations here and there over the last 50 years plus,” said Olczyk, who is a graduate of Fairmount Elementary and O’Neill Middle schools. Olczyk’s son is a kindergartener at El Sierra.

Olczyk wants to study the Downers Grove community and how its population affects the neighborhood school model as a way to better understand what resources should be allocated toward District 58’s buildings.

For Sigale and Doshi, the pair want to highlight the ongoing work throughout the district. The adoption of a new science, math and English curricula is a necessary move to build a strong foundation for the children and that’s where next year’s early dismissal comes into play, Doshi said.

“We’re also investing pretty heavily in ensuring that teachers have protected time for professional development and collaboration,” he said.

Sigale echoed Doshi and said another example is the use of technology in the classroom and how those experiences continue to shape children’s learning. For months, Sigale and her colleagues have been working on completing and executing Vision 58, a strategic plan that addresses the state of the district, along with most of the candidates’ concerns.

“I want to see the work of the strategic plan and really help guide the district as we’re moving forward,” said Sigale, who is running for a second term. “One of the things I’m hearing from teachers and principals and staff is that they’re really excited about the momentum that we have and how we’re all moving in the right, the same direction.”

Like Sigale, board president Doug Purcell is proud of the district’s most recent progress. Purcell, who has been a board member for eight years, is seeking re-election for the last time, he said. He is facing Tracy Weiner, a District 58 parent who has served on numerous committees. The two face off for a two-year unexpired term.

“We’re in a really good spot, really good,” said Purcell, a longtime resident of Downers Grove. “In other words, a lot of the heavy lifting has been done to get to this point.”

At this point, Purcell remains focused on finding and hiring the right superintendent to help lead the District 58 community to success, and if elected once more, he plans to work side by side with that person so he or she can be aware of the district’s strengths and areas of improvements.

Weiner, however, is critical of District 58. While she acknowledges the changes that have been made, she is putting out a call, a need for the board, staff and families to become a united front and engaged. Weiner wants to create an environment in which people can truly speak openly and frankly, a place where real conversations can happen and everyone is working together.

“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty,” she said. “Let’s get to work.”