Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks as they respond. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, and these interviews are not endorsements. Hopefully, they will provide you readers with some insight into the importance of local races, and help you develop a sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.

There are two contested races for the Urbana District 116 School Board, which is divided into sub districts. If you live in sub districts 4 or 6, you will have this race on your ballot. Not sure which district you’re in? You can look up that info here. These are four year terms.

Anne Hall is an incumbent running for another term in sub district 4.

Smile Politely: Why should voters keep you on the District 116 school board? What successes can you point to and what do you hope to improve upon?

Anne Hall: The reason why voters should reelect me is that I have a wealth of institutional knowledge and personal relationships with many people in the school district, experience that will help guide all of us through the tumult that we’ve seen in the past couple of years. I have proven that I can reach across the board room to speak to people from every background, political ideology, and role within the district to get work done. I do not always agree with our district’s administration or even with my fellow board members, but I know that when there is conflict within a school board, there will be conflict within the district at large. I am also fully engaged and fully present for all my district duties — attendance at board meetings is arguably the smallest fraction of the work that goes into serving on a school board. For the past year, I have averaged about 30 hours each week on board duties, the majority of which involve meeting, emailing, and speaking with district employees, parents, and other community members about their concerns. I attend meetings at our various schools on a regular basis, such as faculty meetings/training, PTA meetings, sporting and arts events or other community events (such as our recent Read Across America celebration at Lincoln Square Mall), and I volunteer regularly at Leal School in my subdistrict. I also attend our regular Illinois Association of School Board division meetings and the joint annual conference between the IASB, ISBE, and Illinois Association of School Board Administrators to keep abreast of statewide and national initiatives involving public schools.

The successes I am proud to be a part of are helping to complete the renovations to Yankee Ridge Elementary School and implementing a regular PE program with full-time certified PE teachers at all elementary schools. I voted yes to expanding both our dual-language program and our early childhood program into additional buildings. In addition to the DL program’s success in two elementary schools, we now have a comprehensive DL program in French at Yankee Ridge Elementary School. I supported renovating the dining facilities at Urbana High School, increasing lunchtime supervision at Urbana Middle School, and the hiring of additional staff to support students at the high school as a part of our restorative justice and social/emotional support programs. I voted to begin implementing a land-use improvement plan for our middle and high schools and am excited to see the progress taking shape already. I also signed a resolution drafted by our board to support continued efforts at improving racial equity in education so that our students of color and those from other underrepresented groups can succeed in our schools.

SP: In terms of addressing racial disparity in academic achievement, what thoughts/proposals do you have to continue to work towards more equal outcomes?

Hall: Our district has already begun the difficult work of addressing racial disparity in its disciplinary systems, which will take time and deep research into the causes and outcomes of discipline on student learning across racial groups. I am also concerned about catching our underrepresented students when they need educational interventions long before it is too late to change academic trajectories. One way the district has already begun that work is by providing regular racial equity training in all buildings. These conversations involve how teachers and staff view their experiences to race, discipline, and teaching methods, and the meetings are intended to help everyone think of ways to enlighten and inform his or her own daily work. Along with other continued professional development initiatives, continuing these sessions will help teachers feel empowered to try new ways to reach kids from all backgrounds and ethnicities.

I also want to use more resources to screen our students early on for those kids who are high achievers but who may not be challenged to aim for advanced placement classes and other academic enrichment opportunities. Our search for a new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction is our opportunity to find a candidate with a strong background in learning initiatives grounded in equity. I hope we find such a leader who will encourage staff to try new initiatives to address student learning that is sensitive to different racial and cultural styles of learning.

SP: For our readers that live in Urbana, yet do not have students in the District 116, beyond tax dollars, why are these school board elections something that they should care about? Why should they do the work of researching the candidates and choosing wisely in this election?

Hall: I believe all elections deserve thorough researching of candidates, because every area of civic life is touched by them. A voter may not have children in the district, but the policies and expenditures enacted by a board affect the community as a whole. Board candidates need to know how local and state regulations affect school funding, because school boards have partnerships with other civic bodies such as the public library, the park district, and the city council. How the school board works with those entities very much impacts every Urbana resident’s life, whether it is through property values, neighborhood harmony and resources, and local business success. A successful school board member is someone who has all those entities in mind when voting on policy and funding initiatives, because current Urbana School District students grow up to become future Urbana residents.

SP: Are you committed to pursuing restorative justice as a way to deal with current disciplinary issues in the Urbana schools? Why or why not?

Hall: I have been committed to the model of restorative justice as a component of student discipline for close to 10 years now — since my oldest child, an Urbana graduate and UIUC student, was an underclassman at UHS. I not only believe that restorative justice needs to be a component of our disciplinary system, but I strongly advocate for beginning the practice with our youngest students. Our partnership with Conflict 180, a research-based, clinical professional organization that works to teach the nuts and bolts of restorative justice, has allowed us to branch the model into our elementary schools. I am eager to see its practice become systematic — second nature, really — within our schools so that by the time our children reach middle and high school, they view restorative circles and other remediation measures as routine. If we begin restorative practices at the beginning of a child’s education, then that child has learned the underpinnings of how to learn from conflict and deal with it in healthy, productive ways.

With that said, what many people are confused by is that Urbana schools do not operate on a zero-sum model of discipline: restorative justice is one component of our student disciplinary policy, but there still are consequences for negative behaviors when other methods have failed. The school board’s role is to ensure that our policies are equitable, fair, and consistently applied so that every child is allowed a safe learning environment, regardless of background or age.

SP: How will you address concerns about lack of communication and transparency with parents and community members?

Hall: The only way to address the community’s concerns about lack of transparency and communication is through conversation and education. During my tenure on the board, I have found the most effective way to address people’s concerns is to reach out and speak to them personally, through countless phone calls, emails, and personal communications. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation with someone to shed light on how the board operates within the confines of Robert’s Rules of procedure or the Open Meetings Act to dispel an idea that it conducts business covertly. Another way I show transparency is by soliciting questions and ideas from community members, and then discussing those questions with administration at our board meetings in open session.

However, as a board, there are certain things we cannot discuss in public, such as a specific district employee’s job performance. Discussions of that nature must be done in closed session, which to many may seem like secrecy. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to make inferences on such topics that the board simply cannot address out of respect for confidentiality. In order to stay transparent in other areas, I try to be as open and honest about other issues that come before us to let my constituents know my views and how they help shape my votes.

SP: How will you stay connected to staff and students who do the day to day work and live with the policy decisions you enact?

Hall: I will stay connected in exactly the way I have been: by being present. I regularly check in with administrators and teachers by showing up to meetings, by volunteering in the classrooms, and by attending school and community events. I hold great stock in reaching out to people I run into at the store or at a school concert and asking how things are going, offering them an ear, and allowing them to speak to me candidly and confidentially. I value their trust in me, and I follow up on questions or concerns they have as discreetly and respectfully as possible. I may not be able to fix a problem single-handedly or even quickly, but I report back to those people when I am able to move their issues further forward, whether by personal communication or through board discussion in our open meetings.

SP: How can Urbana prevent another total collapse of its administration in the future?

Hall: We have a golden opportunity to build trust and collaboration districtwide in choosing a new superintendent this spring! I hope we find a candidate who thrives on teamwork, even if the members of the team have very different viewpoints from his or her own. Our next superintendent needs to be an excellent listener and mentor, and he or she should also be able to put the best people into the right positions to get work done. When we have a central office that is running efficiently and harmoniously, all our other buildings can rely on that stability, too. And when all of our school administrators feel they are being supported to do their best work, then our teachers, in turn, can do the same. Trustworthiness and competence within central administration trickles down to every employee in the district, which is the best way to make sure our children are receiving the best possible educations.