It has been a good year for Forest Park District 91 schools. In addition to seeing a revamped middle school schedule, slight uptick in test scores and staff engagement in equity work, seven passionate, highly qualified people have announced their candidacy for the three open spots for the board of education. The community wants a stronger relationship with its public school board, as evidenced by the unprecedented number of candidates who have stepped up to be the voice of D91 schools.
We’ve observed these candidates at board meetings, in our endorsement interviews and candidates’ comments at the D91 forum — which was sponsored by the Review and Forest Park Chamber of Commerce. On that basis we readily endorse Monique Cotton Yancy, Steve Rummel and Katherine Valleau for the school board.
Cotton Yancy’s life experience touches several parts of the schools — she’s had three children go through the D91 system, with one going on to enroll at Proviso Math and Science Academy, another at Proviso East and another at a therapeutic school. She also has a child currently enrolled at D91. Her experience raising four very different children will allow her to successfully engage with parents of children who are different ages and face different hurdles to learning. At the D91 candidate forum, she also suggested inviting Proviso students and institutions — like East’s award-winning band — over for D91 events. It’s initiatives like this that could help strengthen D91’s relationship with its public high schools.
Cotton Yancy has a nuanced understanding of equity — arguing that diversity is meaningless without inclusivity, which will ultimately drive change — and offers an important perspective that will help as the district continues to engage with this work. Her sustained involvement in the community — as a member of the Citizens Advisory Council, work at the Park District of Forest Park, Cub Scouts and more — means she’s in Forest Park for the long haul. For a board that’s had significant turnover in previous years, that’s a good sign.
Steve Rummel brings a common sense, scientific perspective to the board. Questions he’s asked about student high school admission have already led D91 administrators to compile data for the first time on a topic of intense community focus. He is also the only candidate to argue that, regardless of whether the district’s low enrollment is a trend or one-off circumstance, it shouldn’t immediately impact district hiring and compensation. This is the perspective of someone who understands how to use data to manage an organization.
And while D91’s public board meetings are generally not controversial, and address basic housekeeping likely uninteresting to most residents, Rummel believes that making the meetings accessible to those unable to attend is something the board owes the community. At the D91 candidates forum, Rummel suggested instituting a formal community feedback system, so as to ensure all resident queries are treated and resolved in a standard way.
Katherine Valleau, meanwhile, brings her experience as a D91 teacher, differentiation coach and union head to the board. She understands that test scores measure simply a moment in time for a child, rather than their whole understanding of a subject. Her vision for surveying young families about things they’re looking for in the district, is a great way to drive community engagement.
Valleau’s confidence and outspoken nature will be a good fit for the board, as she will certainly advocate strongly for whatever causes she believes in — even if it’s unpopular.
This has been a hard race to judge because there are so many strong candidates. Incumbent Shannon Wood, in particular, is a passionate board member whose vision for a non-biased state of education at D91 is inspiring. Wood advocates for causes she believes in and, we believe, acts as a bridge between D91 and other institutions in town, like village hall and the park district. Her experience with the north and south side schools is a benefit, as well as her obvious commitment to the post. The board would certainly benefit from another term by her.
Daniel Gasse has two children enrolled at D91 and is obviously very committed to the schools. His son occasionally live-streams board meetings, which is an important transparency measure for the community. Gasse also holds a doctorate in education and runs a small business in town. He offers a valuable perspective that should be listened to and respected.
Greg Mitchell is a recently-appointed board member who brings valuable professional experience to the board thanks to his work as vice president of a financial services firm.
John Lyons III has a daughter in the district. He is a committed father and community member. We are inspired by his passion for strengthening the relationship between D209 and D91.