ISLAMIC CENTER OF NAPERVILLE 204 CANDIDATE FORUM
Thank you again to Citizens of Metea, Metea Valley Youth and Government and Waubonsie Valley Youth and Government for hosting an interactive forum on Feb. 11 for 204 school board candidates. Student-written questions were compelling, thought-provoking, and an excellent demonstration of "democracy as a verb"
IPEA AND IPCA CANDIDATE INTERVIEW
All candidates were asked the following question, and responses were published in the February newsletter:
Q: With changing demographics, recent national movements and events, and the uneven impact of remote instruction, what areas should schools focus on moving forward?
A: Allison Fosdick: I’m a parent of four students, currently in elementary, middle school, high school, and college. I’m an educator, a volunteer, and a believer in the power of working together. The events of the past year affected all students in ways we never anticipated. To move forward, schools have to focus on what unites us: we’re all in the same ocean. But we have to acknowledge that we’re not in the same boat. We must identify students most in need of “lifeboats” in the form of extra support and services, and we need to deliver those supports without delay. It’s critical that we create equitable opportunities for all students, so that each one has the chance to realize his or her potential. We have to concentrate on students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) as they process the “new normal.” Providing students with opportunities to practice what one district principal calls the “second SEL” (to be Sincere, to have Empathy, and to Listen) is the next step. These life skills have never been more relevant, and it’s our responsibility to both teach and model these qualities for our students. And it’s essential that we do it together. Deliberate investment in “each of us and all of us” is the key to leading D204 into the future of excellence in education.
PDAC FORUM QUESTIONS 1/21/2021
My name is Allison Fosdick. I’ve been a Naperville resident for over 25 years. My husband and I have four children—a college junior, Neuqua sophomore, Gregory 6th grader, and a Spring Brook 4th grader.
I earned my undergraduate degree in International Studies from Miami University, and my master’s degree in English from Northern Illinois University. I work part-time as English professor at Aurora University, and I’m blessed to have time to dedicate to being involved and invested in our community. I’ve served most recently as a PTA president, Art awareness volunteer, as the current VP of the Neuqua Orchestra Parents Association, and annually, as a cast member in Naperville’s community theater productions.
Running for school board has been on my heart for some time. I submitted a letter of interest during the 2018 board vacancy, and though I was not selected, my interest has only grown. I was raised with the idea that with privilege and opportunity comes the responsibility to give back--serving as a school board member is an ideal chance to do just that. It has been an especially tough year—and as Mr. Rogers said, in times of crisis, look for the helpers. I want to be a helper.
My goals for the school board are:
First, to continue to strengthen our students SEL in and out of the classroom, especially during this unprecedented time.
Second, I’d really like to grow our community’s focus on equity in order to work on closing the “achievement” gaps. It’s our responsibility to make sure each and every student has the opportunity to succeed.
Finally, I’d like to work on increasing communication and collaboration between the district, families, and students so that we ALL feel supported, heard, understood, and included. I believe we are stronger together, and I would be honored to serve our amazing community in this way.
1. What are the most significant issues related to equity that D204’s board must face?
A: The biggest, and most complex issue regarding equity in my opinion is the culture of divisiveness instead of unity that is pervasive in our society right now. We have all lived through an incredibly tumultuous and stressful year. Many of us are frustrated, uncertain, worried, and anxious. As the saying goes, we are all in the same ocean but we are NOT all in the same boat. This pandemic has disproportionately affected already marginalized students and families. This is one of the first things I think the administration and board must address as we travel down this road toward our new normal. I worry that the existing achievement gap is widening dramatically, and so I think we have to take the time to clearly identify students and families most in need of support at this time. It may be that the group of marginalized students is looks different than before as the pandemic takes its toll on jobs, the economy, etc. I think that is the most pressing issue at this time.
Another issue related to equity is trying to balance our class sizes, especially at the elementary level. They vary widely across the district, and class size can have a big impact on student success. With the potential for a growing student population especially on the north side of the district, we definitely need to start tackling this issue.
My campaign slogan is “Each of us and all of us”—by focusing on giving each student that tools he or she needs to succeed, we are making our community a better place for ALL of us. I think working in a genuine spirit of togetherness is the only way to make this happen.
2. What 3 concrete steps will you do to advance equity is D204?
A: The first step I want to take is to LISTEN. Particularly as a woman who grew up with every available opportunity, I think it’s critical that we create opportunities for marginalized students and families to be heard. One example of this would be to hold student forums at the high school level, where some students of color are disproportionately affected by disciplinary practices and policies. I would love to hear student suggestions for solutions, and better, more effective strategies for these practices.
Second, I would propose that the district create an equity policy, similar in vein to the anti-bias, bullying prevention, and disciplinary policies. By narrowing down and committing to a policy (even stronger than a statement), we are showing the community that we value equity as strongly as we value these other things. Putting an official policy in place then obligates us to stick to our word. It reminds of us of our collective responsibility to generate equitable learning opportunities for all students.
Finally, I’d like to involve our older students especially by offering a high school course or workshop about equity and equality. By providing our students who are growing into young adulthood the chance to learn what equity really means and what it looks like, I think we are better equipping our future community. When we discuss equity head-on with our students, we are making it a more natural, fundamental human right. I think that’s a valuable investment in our future.
3. What is the role for Parent Advocacy groups like PDAC in D204?
A: Parent advocacy groups have a powerful and necessary role in our district. With about 27,000 students, and over 30 schools, we must create spaces in which smaller groups can come together to discuss concerns, challenges, victories, ideas, and more. By organizing these advocacy groups by commonality, we are hopefully bringing people together who may share similar concerns and needs.
I think these groups play a really important role—first, as a resource and advocate for families who share similar challenges or circumstances. The exchange of information and mentor/mentee type environment that groups create serves our community first by reassuring families that they are not alone. A worry shared is a worry halved—this support network gives families that safety net.
Next, I think parent advocacy groups provide important education for community members. For example, I can learn about the unique issues parents and families with special needs face by attending programs sponsored by the Special Needs PTA. I can learn about the different but equally important challenges that gifted students face from the Project Arrow PTA. These educational programs help support and grow a culture of empathy, which I think only strengthens us as a district.
Last but not least, I think parent advocacy groups are important as a place for celebration. Shared victories (big or small), cultural holidays, meaningful moments—we can ALL benefit from celebrating one another and lifting each other up. Parent advocacy groups help bridge the spaces between us and remind us that we are more alike than different. That’s more important than ever.
4. What has most influenced your views on equity?
A: There are three fundamental experiences that have influenced and shaped my views on equity. The first is my experience after college of working as a volunteer teacher in the People Educating People program through the College of DuPage. I taught free, adult ESL classes in the evening. Our students were immigrants from all over the world, who came at the end of their long days working or parenting or both to learn how to speak English. Their reasons for the being there were most often to be able to talk to their children’s teachers, or their co-workers, or their neighbors. They were the most dedicated students I’ve ever had, and I marveled at their determination and work ethic. I also for the first time realized how very lucky I was to grow up in a place where my educational opportunities were limitless, and I realized how unfair I thought that was.
Next, my experience as PTA president opened my eyes to the inequities in our own district. At an elementary school with a PTA budget in the tens of thousands, I was shocked to learn that there were elementary schools in 204 that got by on a PTA budget of maybe a tenth of that. At the presidents’ meetings, I learned about our district’s homeless students, and those falling behind. It really opened my eyes to the vast spectrum of equity in my own backyard.
Last, my experience teaching English and writing at Aurora University has made me much more aware of and emphatic about post-secondary options for low-income or minority groups. Aurora is a Hispanic-serving institution, which means that at least 35% of our student population is Hispanic. Most of my students are first generation college students, who don’t necessarily have parents who are able to guide or support them in their college journey. I’ve especially witnessed this disparity during the pandemic and teaching over Zoom—many of my students don’t have a quiet place to work at home or attend a virtual class, or live in a multi-generational household, or have unpredictable technology. This makes their education more challenging, and it deepens my belief in working to make equity the standard rather than the exception.
5. How will you consider equity if the district redistricts during your term?
A: I know this can be a particularly emotional issue for families, as many of us want our kids to go to school with our neighbors. I think it’s really important that we focus as much as possible on making sure that class size is consistent across the district, as that can directly affect student learning.
Another factor that couples with class size is transportation time to and from school. We could perhaps balance class size by bussing children to other schools, but that is both expensive for the district and time-consuming for students. I think we will need to try to find creative ways to come up with a class size/transportation time balance that serves all students well.
Finally, I think we should consider redistributing school resources as necessary so that they schools and students with a higher degree of need receive a higher proportion of resources (financial and otherwise). Each student in our district, regardless of which school they attend, should have access to the resources we provide. Making sure we are equitable in the distribution of those resources is foremost in my mind.
6. A significant portion of our students are English Language Learner participants or have children with Special Needs. How can we best serve these students?
A: After college, I volunteered for some time as a teacher in the People Educating People program through the College of DuPage. I taught free, adult ESL classes in the evenings to working adults. These students were the hardest working students I’ve ever had, and this experience really brought home to me the unique needs of ELL. In addition, in my extended family, we have some children with special needs, so I have been witness to their educational challenges on a personal level. Both of these experiences inform my suggestions for how to best serve ELL and special needs students in our district.
I think after making sure we do a careful identification of each ELL or special needs’ student situation, a combination of a “self-contained” classroom-type atmosphere as well as inclusion in a general classroom (when at all possible) is really important, both for those students as well as their classmates. Normalizing the differences that make these students unique benefits all students. In particular for ELL students, immersion in an English-speaking classroom for increasing time during the school day will speed up their language acquisition skills considerably.
Another way we can serve these students is by focusing energy on hiring specialized teachers and staff—those who have studied extensively the ways in which we can best meet these students’ needs.
7. How should equity be part of our curriculum?
A: I believe that teaching children about equity and the need for equity is really important for building a future community that takes care of its members. Including lessons about equity and our country’s history of inequity is an excellent place to start with younger children. Including diverse and varied literature in the school libraries is another way we can insure that our students have the opportunity to learn about equity.
In the high schools, I think a class centered on the history of equity and lack thereof is an unmet need. If we hope to build a community of acceptance, support, and celebration of diversity, we need to make it a part of our students’ basic education. Opening the conversation and teaching students how to talk about the tough stuff, and the differences that divide us is one way we can start to bridge those differences.
8. How do you define the achievement gap? What do you think are appropriate responses to the achievement gap?
A: First, I’d like to say that though I know “achievement gap” is the common terminology, I prefer to think of it the same way that Teach for America refers to it—as an “opportunity gap.” I like this term because I think it more accurately represents what the achievement gap actually is—a measurement of which opportunities some students have not yet had. Achievement gap can mistakenly suggest that there is some responsibility or failing on the part of the student. I don’t believe that’s true. So to me, achievement gap (or opportunity gap) is what we call the collective measurement of which opportunities have not existed for some students.
I think appropriate responses to the achievement gap are first to identify individual needs. For example, all students represented by the low-income grouping in a data point about achievement gaps share some similar needs, but perhaps not all. Taking care to identify each student’s order of need can help us learn how to best serve each one.
Another way we can respond to the achievement gap is to rethink the totality of our current method of assessment. While standardized tests allow us to gather a little information about a large number of students, non-traditional assessments could be utilized to create a more complete picture of student achievement.
9. Please summarize why you are the best equity candidate.
A: I think it’s possible that at first glance, I don’t seem to fit the bill as the best equity candidate. But that would be a mistake for two reasons.
The first is that in order for us to succeed, together, and for true equity to be achieved, we need to join hands and work together. I want to be an ally for those in need and for the underrepresented. We can do far more good together than we can apart.
The second reason is because I believe and I try to live by the less well-known SEL. Dr. Furher introduced it to me during our conversation about SEL programming at the high school level, and I couldn’t think of a better mantra.
The second SEL is this:
--to be sincere
--to have empathy
--and to listen.
I am sincere in my desire to work towards providing our students and families with the best possible opportunities for growth. I am empathetic to a fault. And I believe we make the biggest strides forward when we listen to one another.