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ELMHURST, IL — Laurel Schrementi is one of six candidates for three seats on the Elmhurst School District 205 board. Here are her responses to the Patch questionnaire:
Age (as of election day)
Town/city of residence
My family includes my husband, Adam, who is a civil engineer and avid woodworker, and my two children, Dahlia (5) and Linnea (3). Dahlia will start kindergarten at Jackson Elementary next fall.
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?
I have a in BA Child Development from Tufts University and an MA in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy.
I currently work as a Senior Interactive Learning Designer at the publishing company, John Wiley & Sons. I have worked as an instructional designer in online higher education for 7 years and over that time I've built deep expertise in educational technology and developed unique skills in designing user-centered experiences for students and faculty. Before that I was in grad school at Northwestern, worked at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, and taught elementary school in Indianapolis.
Previous or current elected or appointed office
The single most pressing issue facing our district is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
The most pressing issue facing our district is the need to make proactive plans about how to address gaps in academic and social-emotional learning that have come about during the pandemic. There is no doubt in my mind that our teachers have worked valiantly to serve our students during this unprecedented time and the fact that there are going to be gaps in achievement compared to typical years is not a reflection of how hard our teachers have been working. But we need to acknowledge that our children have experienced varying degrees of social isolation, family stress, and for some: financial and food insecurity. This is in addition to the challenges of adjusting to learning over Zoom. There are many things the district can do to address this issue, including: hire additional support staff and counselors; formulate a plan for tutoring or additional one-to-one intervention; ensure our York juniors and seniors are as prepared for college as they can be despite the challenges of the last year. Above all, I'd like to see the district and the board define metrics for what "success" looks like as we come out of the pandemic.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
I am a progressive working mom and an educator. I am running for the school board because I want to bring a progressive voice to the board with a focus on equity, sustainability, and student-focused strategic planning (considering students as the whole people they are, not reduced to test scores or numerical data). I am a proud working mom who can empathize with the challenges of balancing childcare, school and work during this unprecedented time. And I am a lifelong educator--I have worked in elementary schools, preschools, as an educator in a museum, as an education researcher, and currently I work in educational technology supporting university faculty. Having educators on the board is critical right now as we select a new superintendent and work to make progress towards a post-COVID school environment.
If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community or district?
We have so many reasons to be proud of Elmhurst District 205 and our staff and students have continued to work hard throughout this unprecedented year. However, we can also improve the quality of education we deliver to our students, and there is always room for growth on the Board. The Board is striving to make communication more clear to all community members and I would like to continue that effort with a focus on transparency. The current Board has had many different pressing issues to focus on in recent years (the referendum, the pandemic, etc.) but one area I think we need to put a greater focus on is diversity and inclusion. We need to continue working to make sure that our district is welcoming to all students and families. The whole community benefits from having a school district that values tolerance, inclusion and critical thinking and that prepares our students to succeed in an increasingly diverse world.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform
As a committed educator, these are the key elements of my platform:
- Enhancing our students' education through smaller class sizes and opportunities for social emotional learning
- Supporting our teachers in their own professional growth
- Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as a district and having the hard but important conversations, as a community, about how institutional racism, stereotyping, implicit bias, and per-student spending impact our children collectively
- Focusing on the benefits of technology while not letting technology replace the expertise of our hardworking teachers
- Prioritizing environmental sustainability in the district's long-term infrastructure plans and day-to-day operations
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
I have years of experience working in education that prepares me to serve on the Board. I have worked with students (and teachers) from preschool to graduate school. Outside of my experience, the single accomplishment that I am most proud of and that best prepares me to serve on the Board is raising my two children. As a working mom, navigating my career while creating a nurturing and engaging world for my two young kids during COVID has been an immense challenge. But I try to treat every day that we get through together as a huge accomplishment (even though it's hard to consider a three-year-old's temper tantrum an accomplishment, I know it's part of her development!). I hope that other parents in the district can take a moment to acknowledge how much they and their kids have accomplished this year, even though it's been like no other.
Why should voters trust you?
I am committed to this district for the long-haul. My children will be in the Elmhurst District 205 schools for the next 14 years and I will work hard to ensure that the school experience I want for my own children is something we can achieve for all children in Elmhurst. Furthermore, my own background in education gives me ample experiences and knowledge to draw on when making decisions for the district. For example, my work at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum as an outreach educator gave me a unique view into the everyday workings of dozens of schools across the Chicagoland, which has really shaped the way I think about equity and access. My time in graduate school has shaped the way I evaluate data and compare research to make decisions. And my current work in online higher education has prepared me to make decisions and recommendations on education technology and remote learning.
If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office a success?
Navigating the COVID-19 situation is the biggest pressing issue in the near term. But in the longer term, two accomplishments that would make me feel really proud of my service on the Board include: 1) holding the district accountable to metrics on student success that go beyond surveys and test scores but focus qualitatively on student welfare, social-emotional learning, and equity & inclusion; and 2) ensuring that the district has an environmental sustainability plan that reduces reliance on fossil fuels (this is something that I think all large organizations should have going forward and ultimately impacts all members of the community).
What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the handling of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?
Education is one of the best financial investments we can make, in terms of long-term benefits to individual students and to our community. I support using taxpayer money carefully and conscientiously. That means not spending where we don't need to, and it also means making sure we do spend on the things that will have the greatest impact on our students: hiring of personnel, smaller class size, and quality curricula. I also support transparency in the ways we spend the referendum money, which our community worked so hard to contribute to our schools. Many people who live in Elmhurst don't have students in the school district, so it's important that the district value their contributions and be a good neighbor to all.
Do you support Black Lives Matter and what are your thoughts on the demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake?
I support the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement's call to work for a world where Black lives are not systematically denied opportunities to thrive. I support the peaceful demonstrations that have brought attention to the uncomfortable truths of systemic and institutional racism in core aspects of our democracy (our justice system, our voting system, our school systems, to name a few). As a white woman, I have to work to constantly challenge my own complacency and question my own complicity in a system that oppresses others. I know I personally have much to learn and practice to reduce my own bias, and I am here, in this campaign, to do that work. I am actively researching, reading, listening and learning so that between now and the election I can better understand the actionable ways to prioritize equity in our district. I value the inherent worth and dignity of all people and will work to pursue equity in our district.
Do you think the current board has done enough to support racial equality, and if not, what specifically should be done to do so?
Supporting racial equity in our district is a continuous effort--there is not a moment at which we've "done enough." I am grateful that the district has set up an equity committee and that our superintendent laid out action steps in June 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd. But after the incident over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I am left feeling that we need to do more and press on with this important work. Specifically what the board can do is 1) ensure that resources are allocated to fulfill the action steps laid out by the school administration (e.g. funding high quality professional learning for teachers on cultural competency and equity; funding new curricula and materials that are inclusive and representative of the diversity of our world) and 2) hold the school administration accountable to meeting the action steps (for example, one step outlined by the superintendent was "Ensuring that Black students as well as all underrepresented students feel safe and valued in our schools"--the Board needs to make sure that the district has a way to accomplish this and document our progress toward this goal). In addition to the action steps already laid out by the superintendent, I'd like to see the Board revisit equitable PTA spending across schools. Since this is a continuous effort, I believe we need to continue to expand on the work we've done in past years to move to a more equitable fundraising model. We need to hold ourselves accountable to making progress on these issues--we cannot merely make statements and check off boxes.
What are your thoughts on the district's handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Are you in favor of remote learning, in-person learning or a hybrid of the two? Do you support a mask mandate for students and school staff, or mandatory coronavirus testing for both students and staff?
There are certainly lessons to be learned from the past year, but I'd like to be future-facing and proactive in making progress to more in-person learning. I support mask mandates as a simple, cost-effective tool for minimizing the spread of the virus. While community spread is still so high and vaccination level is low, I support the current hybrid plan, which aligns with CDC recommendations. I see vaccination of school staff coupled with periodic testing as a way to keep students and staff safe while increasing the number of students in school at the same time. I believe the district should start by bringing back more of the youngest learners in person as we become able to loosen current mitigations. The district also needs to be open to creative solutions for getting Bryan and Sandburg students on a two-day a week schedule instead of the current ABC schedule which means some weeks the students are only in the building one day. There are many unknowns with the arrival of the more contagious variant in Illinois--if that pushes us to remain in hybrid for an extended period of time, I'd like to see the district revisit (with community input) the idea of having teachers teach remote and in-person simultaneously.
When the vaccine is available to them, do you support mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students and staff?
A legal mandate for a vaccine is complex matter and will likely require more than the emergency approval currently granted to the available vaccines. That said, I would support a requirement for vaccinations for COVID-19 as it becomes recommended by medical experts and widely available. The Illinois Department of Public Health already has robust requirements for vaccination against other preventable infectious diseases. In the meantime, I support prioritizing teachers as essential workers to get vaccinated and I eagerly look forward to the day when the vaccine is approved in children. The vaccine is a powerful tool to bring the pandemic under control and I support its use.
Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?
The best advice ever shared with me was ____________
Advice from my dad that I've thought a lot about since the start of COVID: "never wish time to go faster." Sometimes, when I'm in the middle of something really challenging, I think to myself: "I just want this to be over as quickly as possible." But when I'm so focused on time moving fast, I miss things that are right in front of me. So it's a continuous effort for me to sit with ideas and feelings that are uncomfortable, learn from them, and to take joy in the present moment. I know that serving on the Board of Education will require taking into account multiple perspectives and weighing diverse opinions. This can feel uncomfortable, and we are likely to have challenging conversations. But taking my dad's advice means that I am working to accept these challenges and work through them, not rush past them and push them away.
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