Six candidates vying for four seats on the District 233 school board shared information about themselves and what they hope to accomplish for Homewood-Flossmoor High School if elected to the board on April 4.
Incumbents Pam Jackson, Gerald Pauling and Nathan Legardy and challengers Christopher Riedel, Charles Dieringer and Beth Larocca addressed questions submitted by a sparse audience at the Homewood-Flossmoor area League of Women Voters forum March 1 at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
Current board member Debbie Berman is not seeking reelection.
The six candidates had much they agreed with, including believing the high school is important to the H-F area and that the administration’s focus on strengthening the educational core should continue as a top priority.
Newcomer Riedel, of Flossmoor, said he saw the election as one about growth, “realizing our potential for excellence;” the future of H-F; and the role the school plays in the successes of the students and the community. Riedel said he has expertise as an entrepreneur and former teacher. When he lived in Homewood he was a member of Foundation 153 supporting Homewood schools.
Jackson, of Flossmoor, is completing her first term on the board. Professionally, she works in the human resources area. She has represented H-F on the Illinois Association of School Boards for two years. Her H-F focus is on innovation, transparency and equity, and fiscal responsibility. She is running “to continue the good work we started” and offer her experience and voice to decisions by the board.
Dieringer, of Chicago Heights, is a former school business manager and former employee of the Museum of Science and Industry. He has grandchildren attending H-F and said he is “very concerned about transparency” and “I’m looking forward to doing some tweeking here, if elected.”
Pauling, of Flossmoor, is an H-F graduate who has served on the board for nine years. He currently is board president. He would continue the work of the board setting policies for the pursuit of excellence. He believes his tenure on the board and his professional career as an attorney are benefits he brings to the position.
Legardy, of Flossmoor, is an H-F graduate and is executive director of Wiz Kids Foundation, which offers after school and other supports for youth. He is running to continue “the transformational work we started.” He said that includes curriculum supports, developing data-centric policies and supporting the administration’s ongoing efforts.
Larocca, of Flossmoor, an H-F graduate, is a retired educator and former accountant. She still tutors students in the area. As a former board member who served from 2017-21, she sees many of the things she worked on “coming to fruition now” and she would like to offer her insights to future board decisions.
A variety of questions were asked during the debate, everything from book banning to how English and social studies are taught to teacher salaries.
Q: What is the school board’s role in elevating school and student performance?
Pauling said H-F has outstanding numbers with 95% of students graduating and 80% going on to college, but he recognized that the pandemic has set some students back, and the district has new initiatives in place to help students “be their best selves.”
Dieringer said the board should rely on standardized tests, and Riedel said the board needs to provide teachers with the tools and resources they need to help students meet achievement goals. Larocca said the district has a “fantastic team” in place and she believes they can meet the goals the board has set for H-F.
Legardy said H-F has done “transformational work” coming out of the pandemic to try and close the education gap, and Jackson said leadership is crucial, parental involvement is critical and support for teachers in essential.
Q: What is the community’s role in supporting education?
All the candidates applauded the support the school gets from the H-F community. Larocca said it is “extremely supportive” not just for the education but for the extracurriculars from sports to theater to clubs and activities.
“You can’t have a great school without a great community, and you won’t have a great community without great schools,” Riedel said. “They go hand in hand.”
Pauling repeated the motto “We are H-F” and said the community needs to know the school board is always looking for feedback and parental involvement.
Q: What are your budget priorities?
All of the candidates felt the district’s staff had set priorities with student needs in mind. Several also suggested safety and technology as top priorities. Pauling said the board knows their responsibility in maintaining a strong reserve fund and being careful with expenses.
Diering said, “This is such a wonderful institution and I think we’re doing a great job,” but he believes the community doesn’t know what’s going on.
Q: What are your views on educators salaries and benefit?
None of the candidates felt H-F salaries were out of line for the marketplace. Pauling said salaries are one of the reasons H-F is a destination school for teachers. Jackson said she believed in fair pay equity and was proud of the support H-F gives its educators. Larocca and Riedel said salaries and benefits are always the largest line item for any organization.
Q: Why does a one-school district need a superintendent?
Not one of the candidates felt H-F High doesn’t need a superintendent who, Legardy pointed out, acts as the CEO for the district. Riedel said the position was one for a strong leader who works with those in other roles to handle the day-to-day operations and educational priorities.
“The principal is for the building. The superintendent is there for so much more” including representing the district statewide, Jackson said.
(NOTE: State law requires each district with more than four teachers to have a superintendent. Superintendent Scott Wakeley oversees H-F’s 2,800 students and approximately 371 full-time staff.)