Candidate name: Steven M. Rummel
Steve Rummel was born and raised in New York. He served on active duty in the United States Marines for six years, mostly overseas, after which he moved to Illinois to attend Parkland Community College and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he met his wife, Bridgett.
He graduated with a degree in finance, passed the CPA exam and moved to Chicago to work as an accountant and financial analyst. In 2006, he and Bridgett moved to Forest Park and started a family. They have two children who have attended District 91 schools since they were old enough to do so.
Steve has been working as a data scientist for the last several years and finished his master’s degree in data science at DePaul University in April 2019.
Steve’s priority in running for school board is to help the district make the best use of its resources to serve the students, faculty and staff, and community at large. He has made a career out of designing and implementing solutions to complex financial, operational, and governance-related problems, while ensuring all stakeholders understand the elements and trade-offs of the solution and have their concerns heard and addressed.
1. What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities that will face a brand-new superintendent and a board with three new members?
The new superintendent will have to face the same issues Dr. Cavallo has faced – declining enrollment, consistent academic achievement across all grades and schools, poor communication and financial governance, as well at the new challenges of three new board members and recovery from a pandemic, with all the accompanying financial, operational and personal challenges those entail. The new superintendent is, however, a veteran of CPS and an experienced educator with a long track record of achievement and leadership. She is familiar with the dynamics of a diverse school district like D91. Like the rest of the community, I watched the selection process with great interest, as there were both individuals who were well-known to the community and newcomers in the candidate pool. Given the high caliber of the candidates considered and her ultimate selection, I am confident in Dr. Alvarez’ ability to take on these challenges, and I look forward to supporting her and her team in any way I can during her tenure.
2. A criticism of the District 91 school board has been its lack of communication, including videos and meeting minutes not being posted to the website. How can communication between the D91 board of education and the residents of Forest Park be improved?
I am new to the board, but have attended board meetings for several years, and this communications issue is one I have publicly and privately raised for almost all of the time I have attended the meetings. I have asked Dr. Cavallo about this specifically via email and in person, and while he has been extremely forthcoming and honest in his answers, I disagree with his position and policies on communication. Specifically, the district does not post complete minutes to their website, they post highlights with no detail and no supporting documentation (presentation materials, etc.). While such materials have been readily available upon request from Dr. Cavallo’s team, someone who could not attend the meeting might never know such materials exist. This matter is at the top of my list to discuss with the new superintendent when she takes office. Specifically, I would like to see at a bare minimum all meeting minutes include a summary of the discussion held and link to files presented at meetings with sufficient content to ensure individuals reviewing them understand the context in which they were presented. I also would like the district to issue formal press releases to the media and public about significant discussions, policy changes, etc. that present the districts position, reasoning, priorities and perspective. It is not appropriate for a board to micromanage a superintendent, but communications policy, or lack thereof, is a governance issue and should be addressed by the board. With the new superintendent, it would be appropriate to collaborate with her on any such policy changes and I look forward to doing so.
3. What are some of the biggest challenges facing the D91 school district right now, and what steps can the board take to help address these difficulties?
Recovering from the impact of the pandemic, especially for students who may have already faced challenges previously, is our first and largest challenge. Ensuring every child can meaningfully access and take advantage of the educational opportunities they have a right to is our second largest challenge. Guaranteeing effective teaching and resourcing is our third largest challenge. The board has been addressing the first already, so what remains is to ensure the new superintendent has the resources needed to continue current efforts and monitor performance. The second is a question of engagement, which is also already a priority for the district, but which I have not seen reported on in a way that tells me enough about current efforts. The board can require reporting on policies and ongoing initiatives to engage with every student and every family and address their challenges and concerns, and should do so. Additionally, the board can ensure the superintendent has the resources she needs to continue to develop programs to address such outreach and engagement. As for effective teaching, based on presentations by Dr. Cavallo at prior board meetings covering standardized test scores – which are a coarse and not very accurate representation of overall student achievement – it is clear that there are specific gaps in the district that have not been addressed adequately. While it is the superintendents’ job to work with teachers on performance, the board can and should require periodic reporting, especially on areas where performance lags, to ensure the superintendent has the tools and resources she needs to address the underlying causes and remediate the issue.
Declining enrollment has been cited as a challenge for several years. I cannot opine on how to remediate this issue without understanding the cause first, and while many hypothesis have been publicly discussed, I have yet to see any support for such hypothesis that have any backing in data. I look forward to addressing this in more detail with the board and superintendent during my tenure.
4. What are some improvements you’d like to see in the district within the next three years?
I would like to see the implementation of an effective public communications policy as noted above.
I would also like to see a specific, defined reporting cycle implemented covering performance metrics for employees, student progress, operational and financial controls, and public engagement. While it is inappropriate to micromanage the superintendent in her oversight of employees, it is entirely appropriate to require reporting on and accountability for the performance of all who report to her and the efficacy of key processes and controls. Without such specifically defined reporting, the district will be unable to identify and address areas of concern which will in turn directly impact our educational and public stewardship missions. Some of this reporting exists already. I would like to see the cadence formalized and key performance and risk indicators defined and included in such reporting, along with root cause analysis, remediations recommended or in-place, and related progress reporting and follow up.
5. Describe how you see your position as a board member in terms of your commitment to the students and their families, the faculty and staff, and the greater Forest Park community.
The current board, including those leaving and those staying, have had my unconditional support since I first attended meetings, even where I may have disagreed with some of their opinions or policy positions. The board has, in my experience, consistently focused on the efficient, effective, equitable education of our children and of being good stewards of the public resources they were entrusted with. As a board member, I am making a personal commitment of my time, effort, and intent to ensure the educational mission is accomplished effectively, efficiently and equitably. Every action I take and word I speak or write needs to be in service to that educational mission, and I hold myself accountable to the entire community, but first and foremost to the children of the community, who have an inviolable right to an equitable and effective public education. I am also mindful of the fact that there are underserved and under-represented communities within our district whose voices need to be heard and whose needs may not be met, and while the district has programs in place to reach out to such communities, I need to keep such communities in mind and do my best to engage with them, hear them and do whatever I personally can to help support their full, equitable access to the education the district provides. Wielding power and authority without compassion or consideration would be a catastrophic failure on the part of any public official.
6. In your opinion, how has D91 handled equity, specifically as it relates to remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis?
Equity is a much larger discussion than just ‘in the pandemic’. We have an economically and ethnically diverse community, and are better for it, but like in America in general, people of color here were impacted most by the pandemic, and in looking at the specifics of how those impacts hit our neighbors, the effects of systemic racism in America became more obvious than ever before. I give D91 a lot of credit. They have been aware of the race and equity issues in this country and in this town for as long as I have been here, and their remediation plans for the pandemic tried to specifically address such issues and impacts, primarily by recognizing the additional support needs for families who were struggling and by specifically addressing concerns, based on hard historical fact, that the African American community has around any governmental response to public health matters by being flexible with back to school plans. I also think the district and teachers did the best they could in general last spring trying to finish the school year after being suddenly forced into remote learning. I think they did a tremendous job retooling their remote learning methods over the summer to fix what did not work in the spring and implement a viable learning plan for the fall. They continued to support IEPs for students who needed them. They continued to provide meals for students who relied on them. They provided logistical and technology support. There are still challenges, like supporting special education students who need one-on-one assistance and remote education for students who cannot attend virtual classes from home. Given the suddenness of the pandemic and the speed at which the district had to respond, however, I believe they did and continue to do the best they can under the circumstances. I also think their absolute commitment to following authoritative guidance from the CDC and other credible governance sources to keep our children and community safe is noteworthy, and their ongoing commitment to provide options to families regarding in-person versus remote learning are both compassionate and appropriate.