Family, community, self drive Unit 4 board candidate's bid

Family, community, self drive Unit 4 board candidate's bid

CHAMPAIGN — When Heather Vazquez began considering a run for the Unit 4 school board, there were three things that pushed her toward pursuing the new elected-official title.

First, she thought of her son, Jack, a seventh-grader at Franklin Middle School who has loved every minute of his time in Unit 4 schools.

"I think my son is the best kid ever. But I think my son is surrounded by incredible people who want to do good and I don't think he's in isolation in that," she said, adding she hopes she's able to help better support her son's teachers as a board member.

Second, she considered the futures of her son's classmates.

"It's so easy to get really focused on your own kid, but there are so many children who just want to learn and to be happy and they're all entitled to that. ... Most of us get involved in this kind of thing because we care about our own children, but when you can turn outward and say, 'Everybody wants their children to be first,' that's an incredible thing," she said. "We need to be thinking about all children and all our schools and supporting our teachers in a way that every student can be successful."

Third, she looked inward.

As the former president of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, who led her organization through a big transition in her time as leader, Vazquez realized she had the leadership skills necessary for a spot on the school board.

"I had so much incredible training in League about how to fly at 10,000 feet and see end games and goals and consider options. That's something I was taught, I didn't always know how to do that," she said. "So I'm really glad the school board is going to give me an opportunity to be in service to the community. ... That's the whole mission of the League, to give women skills to become leaders in their community."

A wife and mother of one, Vazquez has been working for the University of Illinois for more than 11 years and is going on three years in her role as the director of development for the School of Labor and Employment Relations. It was her love for the university — and the desire to help better Champaign schools so the UI can continue to recruit top talent — and her experience interviewing for an open seat on the school board a year ago that solidified her desire to put her candidacy in motion, she said.

"I was really humbled and honored (last February) when the board invited me to interview for the open seat. I remember thinking the candidate pool was really impressive and I walked in there that day and thought, 'There are some really good people here who want to be in service.' I was proud I even made it there," she said. "When Gianina (Baker) was offered the role, I knew they made the best decision and it was such a clear decision. After that, I wanted to know more about the school board."

Heading into the election on Tuesday, Vazquez says she's excited to start working on some of her goals as a board member, including: addressing the achievement gap, expanding technical training programs, helping the district establish partnerships with the UI and other parts of the community, and giving teachers all the support they need.

But she's also looking forward to serving alongside the current school board members.

"I really think there's a different level of transparency here than we've ever seen and I'm humbled at the notion of working with someone like Chris (Kloeppel). The board leadership does not have an agenda, I can tell. If you come into a role with an agenda, your output is different. You're not as willing to listen to other alternatives," she said. "What I like about the current school board is, you can tell they really want to be solution-oriented. They want to serve, solve and create the accessibility the teachers need, the students need, the parents need. These are the people that can get that done."

Vazquez also considers it a privilege to be among the first board members who will get to work with Susan Zola, the pick for superintendent when Judy Wiegand retires at the end of the school year. She calls Zola a leader who will "really impress people."

"She knows these students and knows these parents and she knows the administration. I think she is going to be someone who will be a game changer for Champaign," she said.

Looking to next week, Vazquez is excited about the lack of stress that comes from an uncontested school board election, but, she admits, she wishes she had to fight for the seat a little more.

"There's part of me that's competitive and part of me that's happy it's uncontested. I haven't had to be tremendously aggressive in my candidacy, but I love the notion of the competitive nature of being a candidate," she said, adding she's just excited to be sworn in and get started. "I think we will be a group that will stay together and work together in a collaborative fashion. We will finish out our terms and be productive throughout it."

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