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U-46 special meeting used to seat new board


By Seth Hancock
  A new Board of Education in School District U-46 was seated which also voted for new leadership at a special board meeting on Tuesday, April 30.
  Incumbents John Devereux and Sue Kerr as well as new board member Eva Porter were sworn in at the meeting. New board member Kate Thommes, who was not in attendance at the meeting, was sworn in prior to the meeting according to Donna Smith, then the board’s president.
  Smith, who has been on the board since 2001 and the board’s president the last eight years, nominated Kerr for president who was unanimously approved. Devereux was approved as vice president and Veronica Noland as secretary pro-temp.
  “You will be a very, very difficult act to follow,” Kerr said of Smith.
  Outgoing board members Phil Costello, who did not seek reelection, and Jeanette Ward, who lost her reelection bid, were both recognized. Both, who were often in the board minority, offered well wishes to the new board but also advise to listen to different perspectives.
  “I implore you to work directly with citizens, including students, to gage your effectiveness and supplement your perspective,” Costello said.
  “I hope the current board will not forget the perspective of a sizable portion of this district who agreed with me that curriculum resources should present all sides of controversial issues and that taxpayers need relief,” Ward said.
  Also seated was new student advisor to the board Streamwood High School junior Halli Furtak who replaces Larkin senior Jackson Teeter, and Furtak’s backup for the spot if she is unable to finish her one-year term is Larkin junior Marteena Mendel-Duckins. The student advisor is chosen by the CEO’s Student Advisory Council, and the previous board approved the selections at its April 15 meeting.
  “This has been truly an amazing experience, and I just wanted to say it’s been an honor to serve as your student board advisor,” Teeter said.
  Both Costello and Ward thanked their family and friends for their support. Ward, who has two daughters in U-46, said “it does take a lot out of your family.”
   “I’m grateful for the things I was able to accomplish, even in the minority,” said Ward who noted an increase of transparency was achieved after the state affirmed unanimously in the General Assembly that her civil rights were violated by the board which denied her access to information when first seated. She said there was greater “diversity of thought, dialogue surrounding privacy and safety for all students,” school choice with the opening of the district’s first charter school and “a modicum of respect for the taxpayer.”
  Costello said he’s often been asked if it was worth it, and “I can unequivocally answer yes. Four years ago, the voters of this district entrusted me to represent their concerns at a particularly difficult time where they were being overtaxed without public accountability or sensitivity. They were simply told that ‘they just need to suck it up.’”
  “The socioeconomic impact of what U-46 does or doesn’t do has and will have a dramatic impact on the welfare of our families and the prosperity of the communities that we live in,” said Costello who cited some accomplishments like challenging U-46’s financial planning, supporting school choice and decentralization as well as supporting full-day kindergarten and career pathways. He said he hosted annually at least one town hall meeting, he contributed to the superintendent’s scholarship yearly and worked with the district on a shoe drive that provided 6,400 shoes to Syrian refuges.
  Costello thanked administrators Dale Burnidge (director of financial operations), Jeff King (deputy superintendent of operations) and Miguel Rodriguez (chief legal officer) “for their professionalism and their diligence” despite not always agreeing on “methodology and best practices.”
  “I’m especially thankful to the community outside of this Elgin board room that supported my path to scrutinize circumstances and rationale beyond the narrower context of our agendas and presentations,” Costello said. “They rely on this board to address their issues that challenge our students to achieve positive outcomes in the classroom and in life so that we can grow our economic tax base.”
  Two members of the public, Rick Newton and Tracy Smodilla, spoke during public comments to thank the outgoing board members.
  Newton thanked Costello for not being “merely a rubber stamp for the administration and teachers union,” and of Ward for “your intolerance of indoctrination-based policies and curriculum, your insistence of value for tax dollars spent, your demand for a moral foundation for district policies, your in-depth and unparalleled preparation for each meeting, your support of educational choice for parents and students, your insistence in seeking diversity of thought and your unwavering support of personal responsibility and individual freedom.”
  “The educational quagmire known as U-46 is left with a board that prefers the debilitating pursuit of social justice, an intolerance for those who would dare oppose their liberal groupthink, a preference for identity politics that underscores a misguided focus on closing meaningless achievement gaps that turns a blind eye to those teachers and policies that knowingly promote their own ideological biases to unknowing students,” Newton said. “And fiscal irresponsibility that is sustained by having a complete absence of accountability for achieving academic excellence in preparing students to become lifetime learners. In short, it is a microcosm of the swamp known as Illinois and liberal politics in general.”
  Smodilla said: “Their dedication and commitment not just to their oath but to the process of educating and preparing themselves for mindful deliberation with an often hostile and dismissive board majority is to be lauded. From meetings I’ve attended and viewed online, their considerations of matters that carried weighty consequences for all stakeholders, for better or for worse, is the standard that all agency boards should conduct themselves by.”
  “Not once did I find their opinions, whether I agreed with them or not, to be ‘nonsense’ or ‘tiresome’ as some board members or administrators would want us to believe, but rather reflections of what their constituents had brought before them,” Smodilla added.
  Smodilla said she has hesitations with the new board but is “hopeful that you will take the mission of the school district along with your oath to respect taxpayer interests and respect the opinions not just of your fellow board members but also of the public truly advocating for the inclusiveness that you all spoke of.”
  “I hope that you are able to rebuke the soft bigotry of low expectations that have been set for some students that I believe that this district has acquiesced to via the implementation of some policies,” Smodilla added. “I’ll also remain optimistic that rather than falling lockstep into groupthink, you will come to each meeting and decision with mindful, independent thought free from abdicating your authority and your fiduciary duty to special interests.”

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