VOTE Cathy Piehl for IPSD204 Board TODAY!

The Naperville Patch asked us why we are running? It's a good question:

Our children are the future.  It is our collective responsibility to protect, educate and nurture all of them.  As an educator, a parent, a social worker, a homeowner, and citizen, I value being a part of an educated caring community.   With the current fiscal challenges, and the ever-changing landscape of education, I believe my experience, knowledge and willingness to listen, learn, and communicate honestly, will be more valuable than ever on the board.

I've been endorsed by current and esteemed former board members, and the Naperville Chamber Political Action Committee, as well as the Daily Herald.  I implore everyone to be informed, and vote.

Thank you to all who have posted and reposted, come out to forums, put signs up.  You help inform folks.  You are the community.  

Thought Pete the cat might get some attention! :)

What am I going to do?

This Question: What do you hope to accomplish in office?
— Naperville Patch

What do you hope to accomplish in office?

Four major issues we face are the budget, building maintenance, possible boundary adjustments, and student achievement.  The first three issues are intertwined with how well we communicate with the community. We have a great deal at stake, and it will be our collective responsibility to ensure our community will embrace the need to ensure excellence in our students’ education.

Measuring our goal for academic achievement has been difficult with the many moving parts of curriculum and testing changes over the years.  These discussions have caused us to consider an approach that will look at the “whole” child. We want to adopt alternative ways that consider ‘authentic learning’ when we measure college and career readiness.

A final issue I intend to continue to pursue is legislation that will eliminate the presence of students in our schools that are utilized as polling locations.   It is an unnecessary risk we should not have to make.

What have I done?

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
— Naperville Patch

As a board member for 8 plus years I am ever mindful of the role I play in maintaining the excellence of a public education, therefore I have purposely focused on several areas where I have good background knowledge to bring to the table in order advance improvements at the board, district, local community, county, and state levels.

Through a tremendous amount of hard work, with fellow Board Member Mike Raczak, the four district goals are reflected in the Superintendents Contract and her evaluation process.  The primary job of a school board is to ensure the right person is leading the district.  Mike and I have dedicated a great deal of time to creating an evaluation process that includes a mid-year formative and end of year summative evaluation.  Collaboratively with the entire board, a process has been crafted over the past four years.  It is still a work in progress, but it is a stand out for School Districts across the country.

The push for equity has been a unified voice from the current board.  Therefore, I am still active in my role on the Parent Diversity Advisory Council, serving in an advisory capacity.  I have always advocated for change in embracing the diversity in our district by allowing room for dialogue and opening lines of communication. As the council evolves, they have worked to continue their focus of ensuring welcoming schools, and inclusive teaching practices and curriculum.

Last year, I also decided to become “active” in the Indian Prairie Education Foundation, by running the half marathon.  I raised nearly $1500 with the generous support of friends, family and fellow board members.

At the local community level, I blend my knowledge as a Social worker and Board Member in my work on the Community Alliance for Prevention. Their mission is to prevent substance use in youths 6th through 12th grade within the boundaries of Districts 204 and 203.  This past fall, I served on the sub-committee to hire our first director.

Together with City Councilwoman Judith Brodhead, we continued a tradition of inviting the elected women of Naperville to an annual dinner, a tradition first initiated by Judith and the late Marylou Cowlishaw.  The Dinners continue, conversations are vibrant and lovely, and they facilitate a collaborative approach to leadership.

Because Indian Prairie School District 204 is considered a leader in the state, I felt it important to ensure we have a place at the table at the county level.  I served as a director of the DuPage Division of the Illinois Association of School Boards for six years, and I currently serve as the Vice Chair. In this role, I have advocated for meetings that will add value to the work of board members.

At the state level, I have been successful in gaining the support of the Illinois Association of School Boards' support to include Cyberbullying in the “Bullying Prevention” statute.  I have also been a leading voice for ensuring safer schools on polling days, by advocating for legislation to ensure students are not present.  Although I did not get the entire support of the Association, there is discussion of the topic in the legislature.

Our Children are the Future

Our children are the future.  It is our collective responsibility to protect, educate and nurture all of them.  As an educator, a parent, a social worker, a homeowner, and citizen, I implore our community to continue to support our public schools.  Indian Prairie School District #204 is achieving excellence because our community values children. 

There are many voices working to devalue the institution of public schools.  Blaming teachers for a pension they were promised, expecting the school experience to be the same as 50 years ago, when our economy and society is moving exponentially into the future (self –driving cars!), promises of lowering taxes as campaign slogans, when instead we should be talking about how we can best serve the community within our means.  We need to understand what “within our means” means.  It has to be fair.  The impact of Proration of General State Aid has resulted in our district not receiving $10,640,000 for the last five years.  That has been difficult for our district.  It has devastated poor districts. 

I value being a part of an educated caring community.  Moreover, I would be honored to continue to serve as a board member for Indian Prairie School District #204.

What is a Hot Topic for the Future?

Last night several candidates were invited to an informal forum in a friend’s living room.  We had some great discussions.  One question posed was "What is one area or focus we see having an impact on learning in the next few years?  We had a dynamic discussion around the topic of changing the current focus on our students achieving a test score, to learning.  

As it happens, this past Tuesday night the Parent Diversity Advisory Council also hosted a discussion around this same topic based on Carol Dweck's book "Mindset".  We utilized a few TED TALKS to stimulate thoughts and dialogue around "What makes a great parent?" and "What makes a great teacher?”  I encourage you to view them also:  

Quiz on Learning Myths

A dangerous board member is one who thinks just because they went to school, they can dictate policy on education and learning.  I do not dictate, I educate myself.  This way I can understand what the experts are proposing, and ask the questions to ensure we move thoughtfully toward a better way to educate our students, because we cannot stand still.  

Take the quiz, you may learn something new, I did!  NPR Learning Quiz

On School Choice

This question came from the Daily Herald Survey

"What role can and should school choice play in your district? If Congress or the state approves a voucher system or other means giving students broader choices among public and private schools, how will that affect your district?  What is the appropriate response for the board of education of a public school system?

We have become a choice society.  We no longer walk in for just a cup of coffee; we want it with mocha and 1% milk. Indian Prairie has been deliberative in our approach to providing avenues for all students.  Becoming a part of the John C. Dunham STEM School, the eLo consortium, programs such as VEI (Virtual Enterprises International) are a few examples of choices we provide to our students. The important point to remember is we provide these choices under the umbrella of a public school system within the requirements of state and federal regulations and accountability. In addition, we do this at a lower than state average operating cost per student of $11,500, vs $12,800. 

Choice within the public school system is appropriate because it allows all students, no matter race, gender, or level of wealth, to benefit.  School choice in the form of charters, and vouchers, does not guarantee service to all students, and has hidden costs, such as diminishing the teacher pipeline.  (Stanford, 2017)   

In an article “Coming Full Circle”, Professor Robert A. Garda, , explains how modern education reforms such as school choice, and finance reforms have been working to create a separate but “equal” education system once again. 

“The current reform movements displace integration in the American conscience as the best route to equality by creating a false belief that minority achievement gaps can be eliminated in separate schools”. (Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy)   

School Choice, at the core, is an avenue to separate and segregate our schools. There was a time when I believed the United States had conquered discrimination and segregation.  However, during my involvement with the referendum for a third high school in 2005, I was confronted with the realization that the fear of going to a school with a greater number of minority students, brought out the worst in folks.  The experience raised my awareness, and it motivated me to become involved in changing hearts and minds.  

The day after the referendum passed, I signed up to be trained as a dialogue facilitator for the City of Aurora.  I soon brought dialogue circles to the Parent Diversity Advisory Council.  If at the heart of school choice is a fear of those who are different, then my hope is that we will continue to dialogue, so we can move beyond this false belief that a separate school will help students.  

Our government has to consider if school choice provides the opportunity equitably for all students.  Within public school systems, we strive to do that.  That is the mission.

NCTV17 Interviews

We are so blessed in this community to have NCTV17 to provide local news. Thank you to Liz Spencer for her incredible ability to help us feel comfortable in an interview! 

NCTV17 has released thier video tapings of the Candidates in the local elections.  Please watch if you need to make decidions for April 4th.  Early voting starts tomorrow!  

District 204 Goals

Question from the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederattion:

"Do you support all elements of the district’s four goals? What specific experience and skill do you bring to the table to help achieve them? If you don’t agree with any of them, please explain why and what you would try to do to change the goal."

The question posed is would I support a change in our goals? The answer is always yes, as long as it works to set us in a positive direction.

Each year the board has a retreat to discuss our district goals.  There were 25 District Goals when I first started on the board.   Within one year, we had a new Superintendent, Dr. Kathryn Birkett and she advised us to narrow them down to six. We now have four that provide our superintendent, administrators and staff clear expectations:

  1. Help each student achieve academically 
  2. Hire and retain a high quality, effective teaching staff
  3. Manage resources efficiently and effectively
  4. Be student and community focused

(Complete Goal Descriptions can be found on the district website.)

Discussion of our goals is thorough.   When we land, we land as a team. These goals have provided us a consistent measure for the superintendent and the board's work.   With a 329 to 1 ratio of students to administrators, this focus is essential.

The four district goals are also reflected in the Superintendent's contract and her evaluation process.  It is important to recognize that the primary role of a school board is to ensure the right person is leading the district.  Having consistent measures to use to evaluate her performance and the performance of the board,  has made us a better district.

However, the most difficult goal to measure is our achievement goal.   We have had to struggle with some moving parts in the past six years with the adoption of the Common Core standards and resulting curriculum and test changes.  (Math, ELA, and Science curriculums, a transition from ISAT to fluid PARCC assessments, and the coming transition to the SAT from the ACT at the high school level).

The good news is that an innovative and more comprehensive approach for measuring student success, called “Redefining Ready” is getting a great deal of attention across the nation.  Dr. Schuler from District 214 in the Northwest suburbs initiated the approach:

Schuler's initiative proposes that schools use multiple measurements, including completion of Advanced Placement and dual credit courses, AP exam scores, community service hours, career interest identification and co-curricular participation. (Chicago Tribune, 2/2/2016)

The point is: “Our students our more than a test score.” In their literature the authors’ state:

“Our nation’s teachers and school leaders provide students with rigorous academic programs, personalized and career-specific learning experiences, along with social and emotional skills that prepare them to be global citizens in an ever-changing world. Students learn in a variety of ways. Therefore, they should be able to demonstrate readiness in a variety of ways.”     Redefining Ready

When we consider changes to goals, we need to be deliberative, but we also need to look if we are measuring the true indicators of success.  For too long, a test score has been that measure.  It should not be one measure.  As the state begins to consider how they will implement ESSA, they too will be considering a more comprehensive approach.  This is a good move.


Endorsed by Naperville Area Chamber Political Action Committee

I am pleased to be endorsed by the Chamber's Political Action Committee.  The endorsement process is one where we are asked to respond to a survey, and interview with the committee members.  Apparently it went well.  Below is my response to this query:  

You are running for office, if elected what do you think is the greatest public policy challenge you will face and how will you work to be a leader on the issue?

The greatest public policy challenge is what will public education look like in the next several years?  It never occurred to me when I first became a board member that public education would become so vulnerable to misinformed and potentially destructive policy initiatives.  The uncertainty of a budget for the last two years and the potential for disastrous education funding “reform” is tying our districts hands for long term planning.

I have become involved at the County level for the Illinois Association of School Boards because I recognized that this would give our district a stronger voice.  Helping to ensure all board members understand the issues and best approaches to education is a vehicle to bringing about an informed public. They have the ear of their legislators.  This past fall, I proposed a new format for our Fall Dinner, where we could begin some conversations around "what does good leadership mean?", and "what is our mission as leaders of our local boards of education?".  The new format received great praise. This Spring we will be hosting Dr. Schuler from High School District 214 in the Northwest Suburbs, to speak to “Redefining Ready”, an initiative gaining National recognition to reconsider the focus on test scores when we look at a student’s ability to achieve success in college and/or career:

“Our nation’s teachers and school leaders provide students with rigorous academic programs, personalized and career-specific learning experiences, along with social and emotional skills that prepare them to be global citizens in an ever-changing world. Students learn in a variety of ways. Therefore, they should be able to demonstrate readiness in a variety of ways.”

However, as a board member the most significant way we have to influence legislators and congressional representatives is when we hire great superintendents. Superintendents Dr. Birkett and Dr. Sullivan have been the best champions for our district as well as for public education.  Dr. Birkett’s approach to develop the relationships in 2009 saved our district from even deeper cuts in funding from the state.  She also began to gain notice nationally by extending her leadership in various organizations.  Dr. Sullivan has an incredible ability to go deep in explaining issues to legislators and congressional representatives.  Not only has she followed in Dr. Birkett’s footsteps, she has established herself as a "go to" person with leaders when they have questions about legislative proposals.   

Fred Rogers

This is what we need to get to. At the heart of my drive to work on the board of education for one of the greatest districts in the country, is understanding that we have the ability to shine the light on children.   They are our future.  Yet, as I begin to see promises of lowering taxes as a campaign slogan, I wonder if our community can move beyond this “no taxes”, “more taxes” red herring. If your main plan is simply to lower taxes, if that is what you want to stand for, then you miss the complete point of what government is about.  

Our children need leaders to put their big boy/girl pants on, solve the problem of inadequate funding for educating all our students, including early childhood.  I am not a spendthrift, but lowering taxes is not a solution.  We have a funding problem.  We have a resource problem.  It can be fixed, and it can work and be fair.  It will never make everyone happy, but that is the sign of a good solution.  We need to talk about what we need to do for our children.  Like Fred did.