Oswego Election 2015: Brad Banks, Candidate for School District 308 Board
Name: Brad Banks
Employment: EMC Corporation, Business Development Manager; United States Marine Corps Reserves, Gunnery Sergeant
Family: Married to my wife Kelly, of almost 20 years, with three children. Kyle, 5th grade; Annie, 1st grade; Ryan, preschool.
Education: Park University, Park, Mo.; B.S. Management and B.S. Marketing Management
Previously elected office: None
Relevant community service: Parent volunteer at Hunt Club School; Coordinator of Running Club at Hunt Club School; Special Olympics volunteer; Little League coach. I also am an active participant in efforts to find employment opportunities for military veterans locally and across the country.
What makes you qualified to serve on the school board?
My military and business experience uniquely qualify me to serve. District 308 has a number of problems that require strong leadership. Unfortunately, we don’t have strong leaders in place. People are dissatisfied with the direction we’re heading, and that is why there is so much interest in this school board election. I am a strong leader and an excellent planner. Most importantly, I care about the children in this school district. They need to be our top priority.
What do you believe is the role of a school board member?
The school board’s most important job is hiring or retaining a superintendent who can lead. Once that person is in place, the board’s job is to govern, not micromanage. As board members, we need to make sure the administration has properly planned for the education of the district’s students by asking questions and doing due diligence. The board is not a rubber stamp of the administration, nor do they represent particular groups of constituents. Board members are trustees for the district as a whole. Their job is to make sure the children in this community are getting the best education possible with the resources that are available.
What should be the No. 1 priority for the next school board?
Our students should be our No. 1 priority. Parents and teachers are very upset that students and their needs have taken a backseat to other priorities such as rebranding and lucrative administrative contracts. We need to mend fences with the community and restore trust. Our parents need to know this board has the best interests of the students at heart.
What are your plans to help repair broken relationships between the district and parent groups, including BPAC and Special Education?
We should recognize the legitimacy of the Bilingual Parents Advisory Council, or BPAC, which the district attempted to shut down a few weeks ago. The district cannot be in the business of disbanding parent groups that do not agree with the administration. The excuse given by the administration -- that the BPAC board was not comprised of ELL parents --was invalid. Four of the seven members of the BPAC were parents of ELs. In addition, there was an EL teacher and two community members.
We need to stop calling police to school board meetings every time the ELL program is discussed. This parent group is very passionate, but calling the police is unnecessary and smacks of racism. The police have better things to do.
We need to be compassionate listeners when we are approached by parents whose children are in special education or the ELL program. We need to be compassionate listeners any time a parent comes to the board. The 5-minute time limit on public comment during board meetings is reasonable, but the board president should not interrupt the speaker to announce how much time is left. In addition, there is never any reason for a board member to shout, “Escort them from the room,” as Ms. Paul did following the DL vote. There were children in that room who were crying about the loss of the program. One of them was mine.
We need to investigate parents’ concerns. BPAC parents begged school board members to visit a DL classroom to learn how an immersion program works, but no one came. My opponent, Mr. Lightfoot, walked the high school track before voting on repairs but wouldn’t step foot into a DL classroom.
We should attend occasional Home & School meetings to talk to parents about their concerns. Our previous superintendent, Dr. O’Donnell, used to meet with representatives from all the PTAs and HSOs. Dr. Wendt has discontinued that.
I am concerned about policies now being considered by the board with regard to parent organizations and booster clubs. One proposed policy would require PTAs/HSOs to have “express written consent” from the superintendent before using a school name, mascot or logo. I am uncomfortable with that. The superintendent has shown that if he doesn’t like the parents in charge of a group, he will shut it down.
In the face of dwindling state education dollars, what can and should be done to ease the District 308 property tax burden for local homeowners?
Responsible spending. We need to make sure we are responsible stewards of our district’s resources. I believe we have too many administrators in the central office and that we pay them too much money. While our superintendent’s base salary is not out of line with those in surrounding districts, his annual bonus and annuity payment make him one of the highest paid around. This money would be better spent on teachers and on resources for the classroom.
In addition to responsible spending, we can reduce the burden on local taxpayers by working with the villages of Oswego and Montgomery and the city of Aurora to lure more business to this area. Bringing in business will fill our coffers and relieve the burden on homeowners. At the same time, having a good school district makes us a more marketable community. If schools are good, people will want to live here. The consumer base will draw in business, which in turn will provide tax revenue for our schools. The poor decisions made by the incumbent board members have placed the district in a downward spiral that is affecting home prices and undermining the economic security of the area. That is why the April 7 school board and municipal elections are so important. It is time to right the ship.
Many teachers and administrators have left the district in recent years. What should be done to improve employee retention in the district?
Pay is important. I believe in competitive pay for teachers and comparable pay for administrators. That’s because teachers are the people who have direct contact with students. We want to make sure we take care of our frontline employees and their families, so they can concentrate on the job at hand: teaching our students.
A good school environment may be more important than pay. Employees would stay in District 308 if they were treated with respect. Our superintendent has a top-down management style. He hands down mandates without seeking input from teachers or providing the tools or training necessary. Many teachers privately say they are afraid of him. His tactics have chased off good people and have tarnished our reputation in the educational community outside of Oswego.
Changing the board will be a big help. The constant turnover began when my opponents, Walsh, Lightfoot and Swanson, were elected on a platform to stop construction of a third high school. Under their governance, our administrators began complaining of being micromanaged. Dr. O’Donnell left, citing “philosophical differences” and several others followed. Dr. Wendt brought in his own people, but many left after only a year. Again, it’s not a pay issue. It’s a work climate issue.
Should every elementary school in the district be home to all-day kindergarten classes?
Yes. Times have changed since we were children. Today’s kindergarten is like yesterday’s 1st grade. Many children enter kindergarten ready to learn how to read. We need to offer full-day kindergarten at every school; however, we need a half-day option somewhere in the district for those who feel their children aren’t ready to spend a whole day in class. Parents need options so they can make the best decisions for their kids.
Is there any place in the district for a two-way language immersion program, now or in the future?
Absolutely. Research shows that two-way language immersion (also known as Dual Language) is the best way for our Spanish-speaking ELL students to close the achievement gap. Immersion at an early age is also the best way for English speakers to acquire a second language. The brain of a young child is wired to acquire language effortlessly. It only needs exposure. The brain loses that ability by the time the child reaches junior high. A teen can memorize vocabulary words and verb conjugations, but he or she will never speak a second language like a native. We need to offer immersion classes starting in kindergarten or preschool to as many children as possible. There is certainly a demand.
It is important to understand what Dual Language is. There are many misconceptions. A two-way immersion program (Dual Language) includes equal groups of native Spanish and native English speakers in the same classroom with a bilingual teacher. We have had a successful, cost-efficient two-way immersion program for 10 years. The board is replacing the program with one-way immersion, which means Spanish speakers will continue to learn in both languages, but there will be no English speakers in their classrooms. Furthermore, the district has no plan in place to allow the English speakers in the existing DL program to continue their Spanish studies.
If elected, I will support reinstating Dual Language for the coming school year. I will send the administration back to the drawing board to create a proper plan for improving the performance of our ELL students and giving more children in our district the opportunity to become fluent in a second language. For Spanish instruction, Dual Language is clearly the most cost-efficient option because we have the population to support it. For other languages, such as Mandarin, I would support a one-way immersion program. Immersion is more cost-efficient and effective than any other world language model.
What level of participation should the community have in drawing new school boundary lines?
Boundary lines will not be redrawn for 2015-16. It is already too late for that. But it is clear that we will have to take another look at school attendance areas. We will need considerable input from the public to make effective changes.
I would propose a boundary advisory group composed of a diverse group of parents from different geographical areas. They should begin meeting with the administration in the fall. The administration should set some parameters, such as class size and keeping subdivisions together. The group’s meetings should be open to the public so that everyone can hear what is being discussed. Then the advisory committee should publish its tentative recommendations and hold a public hearing before presenting its final recommendations to the school board.
Prior to voting on recommendations, the board will need to listen to public comment prior to approving the attendance areas. It will be emotional, no doubt. The board will need to listen carefully and with compassion.
How would you rate the job performance of the current district administration?
I am not at all happy with the performance of top administrators. That said, I think we are lucky to have some excellent building principals who care about children.
The reason I am not happy with the performance of our superintendent and other top administrators is they are weak leaders. They have not won the hearts and minds of school employees or the community.
The superintendent should include teachers and building principals in all decision-making. Things that look good on paper are not practical in the real world. An independent auditor recently told our district leaders they have a “reputation for acting first, and thinking about it later.” They need to become better motivators and better planners. On my campaign website, I outlined my method for planning, which includes getting feedback from stakeholders and war gaming outcomes of decision-making. You can read about it at www.bradbanks308.com
The achievement gap between students with IEPs and non IEP students continues to widen in the district. In your opinion, why is this happening? What should the district do to close that gap?
I cannot speak as to why it is happening, but I do know that many special education parents are concerned about whether their children’s needs are being met. I share that concern. The achievement gap may have to do with the amount of time the children spend in general education classrooms. Inclusion in many instances may improve test scores, but only if the teachers are provided with proper training and time to collaborate with special education teachers. As a district, we need to help our teachers meet the needs of our most vulnerable students. We also need to do a better job of listening to parents. They know their children best.
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