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Four Candidates Vie for Three Seats

Profiles provide voters with vital candidate information.

 

Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch is providing each candidate an opportunity to provide information about themselves for voter's to use in making an informed decision on Election Day, April 5.

The candidates are presented in alphabetical order.

For more information on the School District 65 Board of Education race, visit the Lake Bluff Caucus website and the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff League of Women Voters website.

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Name: Kate (Mary Catherine) Amaral

Age: 41

Town: Lake Bluff

Incumbent? (If yes, when were you elected?) No

Education: ABA Degree in chemistry from Occidental College.

Family: I have twin boys in fourth grade at Lake Bluff Elementary School, and my husband, Parris Devine, is a vice president at W.W. Grainger.

Occupation: I worked as a molecular and cellular biologist at UCLA, UCSF and Tularik/Amgen, until my husband's position with Grainger moved us away from California. I now currently work part-time as an independent consultant for Arbonne International.

Community Involvement:  I have been involved with the Lake Bluff PTO for five years, currently serving as Lake Bluff District PTO President.

Link to campaign website or Facebook page:

 None.

 

Why are you running for a School Board position?

I am very passionate about education and particularly education in Lake Bluff.  We have so many great resources and as a result, have a very special and unique School District.  I would love to lend support in keeping it strong and making it an even better district for our children and our community.

 

What are the key issues that the district will have to address in the next four years?

We have gone through a lot of changes in theses last few years. It is now important to ensure we have strong leadership that increases morale among the teachers, as well as the community, and leadership that will make Lake Bluff Schools a successful model for 21st Century Learning. With a challenging economy, budgeting will also be important. As we are in the midst of evaluating our curriculum, we will also need to carve out a path forward with the recommendations that come out of those evaluations.

 

What are your top three priorities as a board member?

  1. To be fiscally responsible as a District.
  2. To attract and retain great teachers and staff, by encouraging their development and desire for innovation.
  3. To support a District which graduates students who will be great community members, based on our 21st Century Learning Mission.

 

What are some of the district’s strengths?

We have excellent, dedicated teachers and staff. Lake Bluff also has a very involved and caring community and we have great resources at our fingertips.

 

What do you think could be done to improve the district?

I like to think a lot of improvement could be seen just by increasing the quantity and quality of communication.

 

What role should the School Board play in shaping curriculum?

Curriculum should be shaped by the curriculum director, the superintendent and the school staff with the School Board playing a supporting role.

 

What are your thoughts on the district’s financial state?

Our current School Board has done a great job of maintaining an excellent financial status even through the down turn in the economy. We are fortunate to not rely heavily on income from the state as other School Districts must, but as EAVs have declined, we must make every dollar work for us.

 

What distinguishes you from the rest of the School Board candidates?

Certainly, one thing that distinguishes me from the other candidates, is that I have attended every School Board meeting this year. I'm already very involved with the district as a PTO Board member, and feel I have a good understanding of the issues that face the Board from being at these meetings and being involved in those discussions. Also, being passionate about education but a very analytical and practical person, I will ensure my votes as a Board member will always carefully balance the best interests of our children and those of our community.

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Name: Mark Barry

Age: 47

Town: Lake Bluff

Incumbent? (If yes, when were you elected?) No

Education: I have a master’s degree in environmental engineering (1996) and a BS in civil engineering (1994), both from Manhattan College in The Bronx, NY. In addition, I have a BS in business administration (1987) from Northeastern University in Boston.

Family: Married 22 years, two sons in middle school, two dogs, one Gecko

Occupation: I am a stay-at-home father raising my two sons. Prior to staying home I was an environmental consultant. Most recently I managed environmental compliance at over 600 properties for a large East Coast petroleum retailer.

Community Involvement: Since arriving in Lake Bluff in 2008, I have been involved in a variety of community service activities including;

  • the NSSED APS board,
  • the LBES principal search committee,
  • the District 65 21st Century Learners curriculum committee,
  • Soccer and Little League coaching,
  • and scouting and swim team events.
  • In addition, I am working to bring mentoring programs to the area for children with special needs.

 Similarly, prior to Lake Bluff I was involved in a number of community activities including;

  • a Special Education Parent Advisory Board,
  • a Board of Education Grant Writing Committee,
  • an Elementary School Health and Safety Committee,
  • a variety of PTA functions,
  • boy scout programs,
  • and Soccer, Little League and Basketball coaching.
  • In addition, I founded and ran a support and advocacy group for parents and families of children with learning differences,

 Link to campaign website or Facebook page:

 http://www.lbschoolcaucus.org/candidates.html

 

Why are you running for a School Board position?

I am running for the District 65 board for several reasons. Community service makes me feel good. I want be thought of as someone who helps to make a difference. I like to role model community service for my children. It is important to me to be able to influence the education system that serves my children. We are relatively new to town and Lake Bluff has been very good to us and it is time to pay it forward.

 

What are the key issues that the district will have to address in the next four years?

The key issues facing District 65 include budgets and taxes, union contracts, special education service alternatives, hiring a new principal for LBES, tri-district cost sharing, and technology and curriculum. Finances are always at the head of the list as they effect all the other issues. Most are probably aware of the possibility of a gap between budgets and projected tax revenues. The current board and administration has worked very hard to minimize the impact of budget shortfalls and to publicize all the tax implications.

However, perhaps fewer are aware that District 65 is evaluating alternatives to the North Shore Special Education District cooperative (NSSED), along with both Lake Forest school districts. This is significant to all Lake Bluff families because special education can often represent one of the biggest unknowns in a budget, and our historical affiliation with NSSED has acted as a buffer against some of that unknown.

 

What are your top three priorities as a board member?

My top priority will be getting up to speed on the key issues listed previously so that I will be a productive asset and team mate to my fellow board members in as short a time period as possible.

In addition, my other top priorities include working to improve the district communication plan and to improve the perceptions of transparency in the district. The first step is to continue the good work begun by the sitting board on improving the district’s communications plan. As my response to the question on “suggested improvements” below details, District 65 needs a two-way interactive communication plan that provides for ongoing dialogue between the board/administration and the community. Similarly, improved transparency will flow from improved communications. Once better communications are established, the perceptions and rumors having to do with a lack of transparency will abate. 

 

What are some of the district’s strengths?

Lake Bluff District 65 has many strengths, many of which are a function of our small size. Here are some of my favorites.

  • The caring culture in each of our schools fosters a nurturing environment that promotes excellence.
  • Class sizes remain low compared to state averages.
  • Teachers are a passionate bunch, always willing to go the extra mile for their students.
  • Parents are involved and will not hesitate to make their opinions known.
  • Administrators are easily reached and make themselves readily available to the community.
  • The budget is much less dependent on state funding than many other districts, as a result we are not having to cut and slash while we wait for a state check that may not arrive.

 

What do you think could be done to improve the district?

The most fundamental improvement needed in District 65 is to adopt an interactive communication program that will ensure the ongoing interests of the community are identified and best served prior to addressing key issues.  District 65 needs to improve the way it gauges community sentiment toward key issues. The current communication plan is informational, one directional, and does not actively encourage dialogue. A more effective plan would foster interaction.

It is District 65’s responsibility to seek out and consider public sentiment in a timely and useful manner even if the community does not always step up to the podium. Historic practices must be updated; technology must become a larger part of the modern interactive communications program. Technology could allow dialogue to take many forms including perhaps, online surveys, focus groups via web hosted meetings, electronic parent and student advisory panels, aggressive use of e-mail, blogs, Facebook pages or Twitter. 

 

What role should the School Board play in shaping curriculum?

I think the School Board’s role in shaping curriculum is to balance the suggestions of the curriculum experts against the desires of the community in a responsible and cost efficient manner. The first step is to accurately identify what the community wants. As I have detailed in the “suggested improvements” question above, the board needs a two-way interactive communication program that fosters continuous dialogue with parents so that the curricular desires of the community can be accurately ascertained. The district already has curricular experts on staff who are well versed in the latest trends in education. The board’s job is to then find a way to merge the vision of the curricular experts with that of the community.

 

What are your thoughts on the district’s financial state?

It is my opinion that for the immediate future District 65 will weather the storm with minimal damage, but we must remain vigilant in our search for increased efficiency. We know that budgets will be strained and tax revenues are in flux.  We will be facing difficult decisions. We are fortunate to rely very little on state aid, as Springfield is not paying nearly as quickly as other more reliant districts need.

Our current board and administration has worked very hard to minimize the possibility of a gap between revenues and expenses.  Similarly the current board has worked very hard to publicize and explain the tax revenue situation in multiple public forums. I am committed to addressing the District 65’s financial issues in an honest and responsible manner, with an eye toward efficiency and creative “out of the box” thinking.

 

What distinguishes you from the rest of the School Board candidates?

I can distinguish myself from the other candidates on several fronts.  I am not the typical candidate. I am a stay-at-home father. I have the flexibility and time in my schedule to commit myself to the job. I am the rare male parent with hands on experience in the school buildings. I can draw on experience in school districts outside of Lake Bluff. I am relatively new to the district and not beholden to any “old boys” network. I can offer fresh perspective. I have special education experience. I am passionate about education and I am an advocate for the rights of children.

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Name: Leigh Ann Charlot

Age:  45

Town:  Lake Bluff

Incumbent? (If yes, when were you elected?) No

Education:  BA, public administration, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Master of social work, Loyola University of Chicago.

Family: I am a 12 year resident of Lake Bluff. I live here with my husband and two children. Our daughter is 8 and in second grade at Lake Bluff Elementary School (LBES), and our son is 5 and will enter kindergarten at LBES in fall 2011.

Occupation: Licensed Clinical Social Worker experienced in both administration and in working directly with children and families. Experience has been primarily in Crisis Intervention, Family Violence Issues/Prevention and Mental Health.

Community Involvement: Served two years on PTO board, troop leader for brownie troop, served on 21st Century Learner Committee, past member Parent Board, Gorton Children’s Drop in Center. Frequent classroom and event volunteer.

Link to campaign website or Facebook page:

http://www.lbschoolcaucus.org/candidates.html

League of Women Voters of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Candidate video Bio: http://www.lwv-lflb.org/

 

Why are you running for a School Board position?

  • I am committed that students in our district have access to excellent schools and believe that a strong school board is needed to make that happen. 
  • As a 12-year resident of the village, social worker and as a parent, I am keenly aware of the importance of our schools to our kids and in the life of our community. 
  • My 8-year-old daughter is currently a second grade student at Lake Bluff Elementary School, and my son is 5 and will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2011.
  • I have experience and education that I believe are good preparation for a position on the School Board.
  • Lake Bluff has a wonderful school district.  I believe the stewardship of a committed, qualified School Board is key to its continued success.

 

What are the key issues that the district will have to address in the next four years?

In the immediate future the district will be negotiating a new agreement with teachers and hiring a new principal for the elementary school. The school board has communicated its intent to reduce staff by eliminating the position of the Assistant Principal and to withdraw from participation in NSSED. These two decisions need to be finalized or reversed by the board pending further debate, and in the case of the NSSED decision, pending review and input from parent advisors.

Falling EAV’s (Estimated Assessed Values) of homes in the community and falling enrollment in the district, as well as impact/potential impact of the state not paying money it owes to the district are creating    significant financial pressures in District 65. The school board will be tasked with looking closely at all financial obligations and determining where cuts can be made, or whether to increase the tax rate. 

All of these decisions have the potential to impact school environment and programs. For example, we’ve seen class sizes creep up in some grades this year.  Parents frequently talk to me about the need to individualize our assessment and instruction methods.  Changes in all these areas will demand increased communication with the community.

 

What are your top three priorities as a board member?

  • Safe, nurturing environment for students
  • Excellence in the education provided
  • Fiscally responsible management

 

What are some of the district’s strengths?

  • The district has highly qualified and experienced teachers and staff. 
  • We set high standards for our schools and provide a very caring, nurturing environment for students, while also challenging them.
  • Parents and community members are interested and involved in the success of the schools. 
  • The new elementary school building and renovations to the middle school building are an example of the community’s support for the district.

 

What do you think could be done to improve the district?

Lake Bluff has a terrific school system but there are always ways to improve.  As with most large organizations, we could improve our communication, particularly as changes occur. I would also like to see class sizes kept at target levels. Although there are financial pressures for all schools these days the quality we provide will be impacted if we stray from those goals.

Finally, I often hear concern from parents about individual students needs being met at school, whether because a student struggles in a particular area or because they excel and need more of a challenge. 

 

What role should the School Board play in shaping curriculum?

While the school board operates at a policy level, I think it can impact curriculum in several ways. First, the board needs to hire and support staff and administrators with great training and experience. The board needs to listen to the recommendations of school staff and take a leadership role in setting the expectation that we do the very best job for students. Staff need to stay current on the most effective methods and curriculum, and the School Board’s job is to encourage and support that.

 

What are your thoughts on the district’s financial state?

The current board has done a good job of looking for areas to reduce expenses and that should certainly continue. While there are financial pressures, past boards and administrators have done a good job of creating reserves and leaving those untouched for a time when they are really needed. I am concerned about increasing class sizes and other changes in the district which could negatively impact students. We need to continue to pay close attention to both sides of the issue.

 

What distinguishes you from the rest of the School Board candidates?

As a social worker who has served in both managerial and direct service roles, I think I am uniquely trained to be able see issues from many points of view and consider all sides before making decisions. I also have direct experience assessing the way budgetary, and even subtle policy changes can affect delivery of programs. I think that having been a resident of the district for several years is also important, as it gives one a sense of the values and priorities of the community.

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Name:  Susan H. Rider
 
Age: 45
 
Town: Lake Bluff
 
Incumbent? (If yes, when were you elected?) No

Education:      Nebraska Wesleyan University, B.S. 1987. Cornell University Law School, J.D. 1990.

Family: I have a husband, Todd Porter and three children, Sarah Porter (8th grade), Elizabeth Porter (5th  grade), and Zachary Porter (2nd grade).  My mother lives in Nebraska, where I was raised.

Occupation:  Attorney. Title is Associate General Counsel, Exelon Corp. 

Community Involvement:  Todd and I have lived in Lake Bluff since 2001, when we moved here from Chicago, during which time I’ve worked in Chicago as an attorney. I serve on the Board of Directors for a non-profit called Family Rescue, a domestic violence services agency.  As a result of the various demands on my time, I have not been as involved in the Lake Bluff community as I would like to be. I would like to become a more integral part of the village, and be part of its success during these economically challenging times.

Link to campaign website or Facebook page: 

 
Why are you running for a School Board position?
 
I would welcome the opportunity to serve on the Lake Bluff District 65 Board of Education. I believe that the American public school system is one of this nation’s greatest assets and our teachers among our most important leaders.  Lake Bluff’s schools are two of the finest examples. I want to become a more integral part of the village and contribute to its continued success during economically challenging times.
 
I am uniquely prepared for this particular type of community service. For more than 20 years, I have been an attorney specializing in Labor and Employment law, first in law firms in Boston and Chicago and currently at Exelon Corporation. In that capacity, I have counseled companies on the many issues that face employers every day. I, and the lawyers who work for me, represent Exelon in lawsuits brought by employees and former employees, hiring and supervising outside counsel to assist us when necessary.  However, the vast majority of our time is spent helping to manage the business.  Together, we devise and implement strategies for a more effective and efficient work environment.  
 
 

What are the key issues that the district will have to address in the next four years?

  • Lake Bluff residents have generously supported the school district with tax dollars—even providing exceptional new facilities in recent years. I am concerned for the future, however. From all available information, including the Annual Report as well as the revenue and budget projections provided by the District, we face significant challenges.
  • I would like to encourage the Lake Bluff school system to continue its current program of providing differentiated instruction to its students.  We can't afford to focus resources on only the children on one end of the learning spectrum. Rather, the schools should try to identify and address every student’s learning style and gifts. By leveraging technology, we can make our precious teaching resources reach farther and deeper than ever before.
  • In addition to focusing on standard academic achievement, schools must increasingly explore the full range of social and emotional skills that are crucial for success in life. If we are to develop high functioning adults, we must not loose sight of the development of the whole child, including his creative, emotional, and physical interests.  

What are your top three priorities as a board member?

  • Exercising financial discipline ensuring a balanced budget.
  • Placing and retaining strong administrators.
  • Collaborating with the teacher’s union to reach reasonable terms for the new collective bargaining agreement. 

 

What are some of the district’s strengths?
 
Lake Bluff is fortunate to have all of the elements necessary to continue as a strong school system.

  • Our families are involved and supportive.
  • Our teachers are dedicated.
  • Our children are physically safe in the community.
  • And we have been adequately supported by tax dollars—even providing exceptional new facilities in recent years.

 

What do you think could be done to improve the district?
 
I think it’s crucial to put the school district on a firmer financial footing.
 
 
What role should the School Board play in shaping curriculum?
 
The Board’s role is governance. We must manage the district budget and hire and retain a superintendent and assist him/her in hiring and retaining principals who we trust to set the curriculum.    
 
 
What are your thoughts on the district’s financial state?
 
Based upon my review of our current budget, we face significant challenges. Our primarily residential tax base has suffered over the past few years.  Many of our constituents have experienced loss of income. Accordingly, we must work to minimize administrative costs while maintaining the standard of excellence that we have come to expect.

What distinguishes you from the rest of the School Board candidates?
As a leader who has helped manage complex business strategies for many years, I am uniquely prepared for this position. While facing significantly lower EAV and resulting tax revenues, the current Board has begun the process of negotiating a new labor contract with our talented group of teachers.

Concluding these negotiations in a way that serves everyone’s interests within a reasonable budget is imperative to keeping the school system on a sound footing for the years to come. With my background in collaborative negotiation, I am well prepared to help lead the District through these challenges.

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