Issues

There are many issues that are important to individual families and voters. I am happy to discuss any concern you would like addressed. Please reply to this page or contact me using the icons on the right, and I will add your question and my response to the page. I look forward to hearing from you.


Tackling Bullying

Bullying is a complex and challenging issue facing the Mahomet-Seymour school district. I’ve heard from many voters about experiences of bullying in every building in our district. This is an issue that we must stand together and fight because, in some cases, the very lives of our children are at stake.

There are many valuable approaches for combating bullying. As a school board member, I would work together with students, parents, teachers, and administration to make sure our district is doing everything we can to end bullying and support the children involved.

One technique that I believe has the potential to be a potent part of the district’s overall anti-bullying plan is called active-bystander or upstander training. This training teaches children and adults how to safely and effectively engage a bullying situation that they are observing in order to both undermine the power of the bully, and/or support the victim. This is a very valuable skill that we can equip our children with and they can carry it with them into adulthood and the larger world.

The federal department of Health and Human Services describes this approach on their anti-bullying website. There are also many other public and private organizations that promote similar active bystander approaches.

“All violence begins with disconnection.”

There are many ways for a school district to challenge bullying culture and our district should be using a multi-pronged approach. The methods should be both large and small. Here is an excellent example of a small way that classroom teachers can have an impact.

Each week, the teacher asks students to write down the names of up to four students that they’d like to sit next to and the name of one “exceptional classroom citizen.” From this simple, clear data, the teacher can identify which students are isolated, which children are avoided, and which children the teacher can utilize to help bring the disconnected children back to the group. It is really brilliant and *it was developed by a teacher.*

Not only is this an example of the small things we can do to fight bullying, but it is an excellent example of why we should be reaching out to our teachers for solutions. They are in the trenches, witnessing our children’s social-emotional growth. They will be the first to identify which strategies are working and which are not. They are best positioned to create new tactics like this one.

Fostering Empathy

Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education writes, “The critical role of school climate in reducing bullying has been well supported, but recent findings pinpoint specific dimensions that may have the most impact on student interactions and experiences in school. One powerful way of changing social norms is by building empathy — at home and in school.”

I think this is so powerful. Empathy is something we try to teach in our home constantly. By developing our students’ empathy, we can fundamentally influence the culture of our community and rip out the roots of bullying.

Also, empathy works in both directions of the bullying experience. Something I learned very quickly as a foster parent is that children are not inherently bad. The bad behavior they exhibit is very often rooted in their lack of confidence, their perceived disconnection from the community, or some underlying trauma that they have been unable to process.

Educating our children about empathy will hopefully kindle compassion in the child who acts as the bully. And, it will also hopefully teach our students to empathize with the outsider or traumatized and build friendships that will prevent bullying before it begins.

Developing compassion and empathy in our students is a powerful way to reduce bullying. There are many ways to do that. Here’s one that you may not have expected.

We all know that arts education has many beneficial side-effects for students. These are in addition to the inherent value of exposing our children to music, drama, art, etc. A recent large research study sought to track the benefits of arts education. One thing that they found is that arts programs like drama and dance fostered compassion in students.

We need a board that recognizes the importance of combating bullying and pushing our district to work hard for our students. There are a multitude of strategies for reducing bullying incidents. Our board should work with parents, students, and teachers to develop a coordinated strategy on bullying and then carefully monitor results to ensure that we are meeting our goals.

Smaller Class Sizes

As a school board member, I will work to focus our district and dollars on choices that have the greatest educational outcomes. Average class size directly impacts student achievement. Research shows that students experience a significant benefit as the number of students in each classroom is reduced. Classes no larger than 18 students is ideal for the youngest grades (K-3) [2]. Simply put, with fewer students, there is less competition for a teacher’s time.

Average class sizes for the Mahomet-Seymour school district compared with the state average for 2018 [1]. Mahomet-Seymour is represented by the lighter color green.

In 2018, Mahomet-Seymour had an average 5th grade class size of 28 students. Meanwhile, the statewide average was 21 students. We have improved in recent years at the kindergarten and high school levels, but grades 1-8 are still significantly higher than the state average and higher than almost every other school district in our area. For example, the table below shows the average 5th grade class size of the nearest surrounding school districts [1].

Average 5th grade class sizes for Mahomet-Seymour and surrounding school districts in 2018 [1].

Overcrowding in our classrooms is a serious problem. As a board member, I will strongly advocate that we at least stay below the Illinois state average at every grade level. I will push us to go further and try to meet the ideal class sizes as suggested by current educational research.

Sources:
[1] Illinois State Board of Education. “Illinois Report Card 2017-2018.” https://illinoisreportcard.com/
[2] Center for Public Education. “Class Size and Student Achievement: Research Review.” http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Class-size-and-student-achievement-At-a-glance/Class-size-and-student-achievement-Research-review.html

STEM Education

I am passionate about the need to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in our district. Especially in the younger grades, our science curriculum is simply too limited. We need more classroom time devoted to STEM subjects and more hands-on experiences to get our children motivated.

Getting children excited about science-related subjects at an early age is especially important to fight the gender imbalance that is endemic in STEM professions and STEM programs at our universities. We must work to battle the false stereotypes that assert that science, technology, engineering, and math subjects are “boy” subjects. I want our schools to reinforce the message that I constantly deliver at home to my daughters, “There are no ‘man’ careers or ‘woman’ careers; there are only ‘careers,’ and you can do anything that you are willing to work hard for.”

Mahomet-Seymour is doing a lot right. Our high school students consistently perform well on the science and mathematics portions of the college placement exams. Our extra-curricular groups devoted to STEM topics are really outstanding, and the competitive groups win competitions regularly. The partnership with MAYC to offer BLAST classes has been a great success, and the STEM related offerings are excellent.

As a member of the Mahomet-Seymour school board, I will be a strong advocate for STEM subjects in our classrooms at every grade level. I will push for interaction with positive role-models and STEM opportunities, especially for our girls. I believe that STEM based careers will continue to be strongly in demand as our children transition into adulthood. I want nothing more than for them to have the best preparation for a rewarding career that we can provide.

School Safety

In response to several national tragedies, the school district took considerable steps to improve school safety and security. The district hardened doors and locks, added buzz-in video systems to our schools’ main entrances, and designed the new Middletown Prairie elementary school with security in mind. The design of safe rooms attached to each classroom is an effective and reasonable solution.

While I appreciate the efforts the district has put forth, I would be careful that we don’t go overboard with concerns that are statistically extremely unlikely. I value parent access and involvement in our schools. When my son’s class put on a green energy fair at Lincoln Trail, it was a pleasure to attend and see the good work that goes on in our classrooms. We need to be sure that we don’t let fear get the better of us.

Standardized Testing

I look at standardized testing as a necessary evil. I certainly don’t like the time it takes away from instruction and the stress it adds to our children’s day. I believe that teaching to the test is a flawed educational strategy. However, as I scientist, I recognize the importance of quantitative data to help us understand the larger picture of how well our schools are performing. In addition, our district has state mandates to conduct tests like the PARCC exam which means that even if we wanted to, we couldn’t skip out on the test.

As a parent, I also value the feedback I get about my children from standardized tests. I certainly don’t think it fully encapsulates my children and their abilities, but it is a useful tool to see where my children may have strengths I can encourage or weaknesses I can work with them to improve. As a home-owner and tax-payer, I recognize that standardized test scores have a real impact on home values and the school district’s subsequent tax base.

As with all things, a balance must be struck. I will advocate for minimizing the amount of time spent on standardized testing and preparing for tests. We must meet our legally required obligations and some minimal amount of time spent on test-taking strategies is reasonable. With effective curriculum and staff, our test scores will continue to be strong.

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