Photo by ALEXA ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey the Forest Park Review sent out to all D91 board of education candidates running in this year’s elections. Candidates full, unedited responses are printed.

Don’t miss your chance to hear candidates debate the issues. 

The Forest Park Review and the Chamber of Commerce will host a D91 school board candidate forum at 6:30 p.m. on March 6 at Forest Park Middle School, 925 Beloit Ave. 

Age: 68

Previous elected experience: none

Previous community experience:

Co founder of Music For Life Foundation in 2003 To help low income families to pay for music lessons for their children.  The MFLF crashed after the depression in late 2008

Gasse School of Music students and faculty performed for community and charity events since its opening in 2001. Most frequent organizations with which GSM collaborated include:

Chamber of Commerce (Holiday Walk annually for more than 10 years.) 

Forest Park Public Library (several times a year for various library’s activities since 2001).

Children Welfare Foundation (December annual fundraising for at least the last 7 years )

Mohr Community Center (Children Music Classes from 2004 to 2006)  

Scouts (volunteering for all sorts of special events over the last 4 years)

Betsy Ross and  Field Stevenson  (volunteering for special events) for the last 9 years

Occupation: teacher/musician/business owner

Education: 1- Doctorate in Music and Education –  2- Team Management and Leadership Program (5 years training with Landmark Education) – 3- Studies in Civil Engineering (3 years of college)- 4- High School Accounting Certificate

1)       How would you describe the communication style of Forest Park District 91 schools? What is the district currently doing and what more, if anything, do you believe D91 should be doing to communicate with residents and taxpayers? What should be the board’s role in engaging residents?

Unfortunately the communication style within D91 has been inefficient since my children started attending school 9 years ago. With the appointment of the new communication specialist the style has changed radically, and now the schools are in the paper every week, which is good. The new style is essentially a rebranding campaign with the intention of sharing with taxpayers and possible newcomers the good things the district has and does. This is a very positive step in the right direction. But communication must improve in many other areas, including: teachers-students, superintendent-teachers, teachers-parents, superintendent and board-parents, school- school  (e.g. Betsy Ross to Field Stevenson) and grade to grade, FPMS-D209, and more. Parents and other members of the community should know that we are not hiding anything, so transparency is key. Parents and citizens should know that they are welcome to bring questions, suggestions, and requests,  and also that we need their input to grow.  

2)       What role do parents play in D91?

Parents in the PTC, PTO, Boosters and CAC are working hard, but unfortunately the majority of parents are not yet playing as big a role as they can in D91.  I think this is due to many years of the superintendent and board being less receptive to suggestions and questions from parents than they could have been.  I am one of the parents who went several times a year for nine years with concerns.  While I found teachers and principals to be receptive, I didn’t always feel the same from the superintendent and the board. In the last few months, the D91 Board has started to reach out to parents, inviting them to come to special events to meet the board members.  We need to do much more than that, we must  empower parents to be the leaders, to champion the value of learning, working and following the rules.

3)      Can you describe District 91’s relationship to Proviso Township High Schools District 209? What more, if anything, should D91 be doing to align itself to D209?

District 91 has operated completely disconnected from Proviso District 209 for as many years as I can remember. The aspirations of the district were to send the top graduates to private schools and the rest to Proviso East, which had been underperforming until three of years ago. As a result, parents who wanted to send their children to public high school but feared the bad reputation of Proviso East moved out of town, creating a “brain drain” that constantly kept the performance of FPMS low. Now, thanks to the insistence of District 209 Superintendent Rodriguez, D91 has started coordinating  actions with District 209. We need to do much more of that. Our curriculum should prepare our students to be accepted to and succeed at  PMSA if that is what they desire. In order to do that we need to improve substantially the level of Math, Science, and English in D91.

4)      D91 students’ standardized (PARCC) test scores have increased slightly over the past few years, but students continue to struggle with math in particular. What is the district currently doing to address this issue and what more, if anything, do you believe D91 should be doing? What do you think about PARCC scores and academic performance at D91?

Again, after many years of parents’ requests, the district took action on the Math deficiencies of our 8th graders. Algebra was added to the curriculum, and [a] coach was brought in to help the regular Math teacher with the special needs of individual students. Changes like this are exactly what we need to see. D91 needs to  make sure that students have no gaps in their instruction. Expectations should be high; students won’t give more unless we expect more. Assignments should be at grade level; there should be no assignments at a lower level to help the students that are lagging behind to improve their grades.  On the other hand the schools should help those students to catch up to grade level by having coaches, before or after school classes, clubs, summer school or other programs. Teaching of any new topic should be done in the classroom, not assigned as homework online.

5)      Over the past year, the D91 board has approved several measures to address a racial and economic achievement gap at the schools. How, if at all, would you engage with and continue this work?

I’m proud of the approach D91 has taken in regards to the mentioned gap. I agree with paying attention to the needs of the families with difficult situations. As a Hispanic and Spanish speaker I can help bridge some of the cultural barriers for Hispanic parents that don’t speak English well or think they won’t be understood by a non-Hispanic that doesn’t share their background. Also, it’s my conviction that the best help we can give to those children is a great education, and so, by raising the bar of the entire school, the students at the bottom of the class will improve their performance.

6)      Enrollment at D91 was the lowest it’s been in at least six years at the start of this school year. Are you concerned about this? What is the district currently doing to attract students and what more, if anything, should the district be doing to retain and attract families?

Yes, I’m concerned about the low enrollment this year.  I think it was due to the news about the bad tests scores last year. When parents are looking for a place to move, one of the biggest deciding factors is the performance of the local public schools. The better our schools perform, the more young families  we’ll have. I think the rebranding campaign D91 launched a few months ago will help. Of course improving the academic performance of our students will help even more. Partnering with D209 will help both districts to improve; if we send better students to them they will improve sooner, and if they do we’ll stop our “brain drain” sooner. Building relationships and working  with all the districts that send their students to D209 also will also improve our performance sooner.

7)      What other issues are important to you as a school board candidate? How would you advocate for them as a board member?

I think that many decisions were made in a vacuum for too many years in D91, and that led to take several unfortunate decisions, like removing Spanish from the middle school, eliminating recorder in 3rd grade, choosing Math programs like Moby Max and Digits which were full of glitches, and using Cognitively Guided Instruction as the only system to teach Math.  The Board needs to create research committees for every decision like this. Reaching out to the community for specialists in different fields would not only help build community involvement but would ensure decisions were made with more thought and research. The district should also reach out to other schools who are more successful and ask for coaching.    Reaching out to the major higher education institutions in the area is another option we should consider. District 209 did this, and it made a miraculous improvement in 4 years. 


Here’s what Gasse told the Review about his candidacy:

Cotton, Gasse announce D91 runs