ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Champaign school board: Amy Armstrong

ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Champaign school board: Amy Armstrong

1. What prompted you to run for another term on the board?

"The school board is one of the most important boards in our community. Research shows turnover on a board of education negatively impacts student achievement.

"I am deeply invested in our community schools through my own three current students. I want to move forward on creating a strategic plan, implementing an equity audit, following current initiatives, as well as protecting the referendum projects that were created and started during our tenure.

"Taxpayers, staff and most importantly students, deserve and need knowledgeable board members who have regularly attended board meetings or have been serving on committees in Unit 4. Continuity and stability on the board of education is paramount to the success of students and healthy public schools. I am prepared and committed to serving/working for another four years."

2. What makes you most qualified to serve on the board?

"I have been advocating in Unit 4 schools since 2006, specifically around students with intellectual disabilities. I sat on the Excellence and Equality in Education (EEE) committee in Unit 4 for two years where I learned about our student demographic, scores, issues, curriculum and staff at Unit 4. My experience founding the Stephens Family YMCA with Larkin's Place, service on other community boards, and having four students in Unit 4 gives me a broad view of needs and issues in our community and schools.

"Over the past four years, the board of education has formed relationships with the city of Champaign, Champaign Park District, and village of Savoy trustees, leading the way to intergovernmental agreements and goals that best serve all students and taxpayers.

"Since being elected to the board of education in 2015, I have served as vice president. I have completed training to achieve master board member level certification, and attended 100 percent of board meetings for four years.

"I co-chaired three successful labor agreement negotiations with two different unions. We completed a search and hire for a new superintendent. I co-chaired the Tier 2 district and community committee, which created the long-range facilities plan for Unit 4. We campaigned, and successfully passed, an incredible $183 million referendum, which will change the landscape of education in our community.

"Currently, I co-chair the Referendum Oversight Committee, charged with connecting the community to the construction projects and budget oversight."

3. What, to you, is the school district's single-greatest strength?

"Strong schools attract families and businesses to Champaign, one of the fastest growing cities in Illinois. The schools are a major gateway of recruitment for businesses, because strong schools bring positive attention.

"Unit 4 schools help develop relationships that create strong family ties, and a healthy cohesive community."

4. What issue would you like to see get more attention than it has from the board or district?

"Due to excessive board turnover during the past seven years, long-term planning has suffered. I would like to start and finish a strategic plan.

"The current plan is over 10 years old. Much like the Tier 2 committee we created for facility planning, we must create that same process for mission/vision for education and operations. This would likely take at least two to three years to create and roll out to make sure all campuses are carrying out the mission and vision.

"The strategic plan will guide policy, process and procedure for years to come and push the district forward with work around equity and excellent educational outcomes for all students."

5. How big a concern is the size of classrooms, particularly at the lower levels, in Unit 4?

"I am interested to see what the data shows on outcomes with the class size limits and supports in place for kindergarten classes. Specifically, I'd like a survey or a meeting of campuses to know what the teachers and administrators felt worked better and what did not work with supported smaller class sizes.

"As a community, through KIDS we know that the majority of children entering Unit 4 kindergarten are not prepared to learn. Therefore, a supported class size limit makes sense at the kindergarten level and could be the best avenue for first and second grade should data gathered over the next three years confirm that better outcomes are achieved."

6. How do you feel about armed, uniformed police officers in the schools?

"I feel Unit 4 is on track to be as prepared as any school district can be in keeping our schools safe, but as a parent I feel the fear of what our society is dealing with as related to schools and violence.

"(Superintendent) Dr. (Susan) Zola meets with city staff regularly, and the team effort to work toward solutions and preparedness is a priority. Our students and staff are already feeling trauma on the community level and having a School Resource Officer (SRO) in the building not only supports staff, it helps build relationships with students that transfer back into daily life in our community.

"The board of education also reviews yearly data along with parental surveys that reflect overwhelming support from parents to have SROs present in our campuses where needed."

7. What are your ideas for how to keep district spending in check?

"Effective governance is critical to ensuring the long-term success of the community's public schools.

"Long-term fiscal responsibility and collaborative planning has allowed Unit 4 to make a substantial investment in its school facilities, through approval of school facility bonds and an ability to utilize fund balance in a transparent manner. The board of education has continual budget meetings to ensure all members are educated on items of concern, strengths and financial forecasting.

"Over the past four years, I have supported audits of: Facilities, Transportation, Communications, IT, Human Resources, and through Tier 1, educational programming needs. I would like to see an equity audit prepared as part of the strategic planning to ensure current and any additional programming or staff supports are necessary."

8. Would the district benefit from a charter school that serves low-income students, like the one proposed a year ago?

"My knowledge and understanding of exactly what charter schools are and what they do to the public schools they affect became quite clear after the charter school application presented to Unit 4 in 2017.

"I will not support a charter school that would drain resources from the most vulnerable of students. There are a plethora of studies that show student outcomes of charter schools are not better than public schools or in many cases are actually far worse. There is no transparency to the taxpayer or oversight of how funding is spent, and many are for-profit entities.

"I also have had conversations with educational reporters about the truth of working conditions and student treatment in charter school settings that further solidified my view."

9. What would be in your plan to recruit and retain high-quality teaching staff?

"Board of education members are expected to govern through policy and engage the public. The board employs, supervises and evaluates one person — the superintendent. A healthy school board understands that they do not run the district.

"The board takes community input and creates or updates policy to ensure the superintendent and staff are fully supported in being able to carry out the mission and vision created by the community.

"A board of education with vision and oversight creates an environment whereby people want to work for Unit 4 and make it a lifetime career choice."

10. Do you believe there is too much money being spent on administrators?

"No. Unit 4 has been under heavy criticism for lack of communication, specifically around the referendum work and engaging the public. Administrative staff time was overwhelmingly spent on addressing issues with people seeking to stop the Central High School expansion. The district has held and will continue to hold or attend neighborhood engagement meetings, traffic meetings, city of Champaign Planning Commission hearings and City Council meetings, all requiring specific attention to detail and communication.

"Unit 4 is the third-largest employer in Champaign, responsible for the education of and daily operations for over 10,000 students and their families, and in the throes of millions of dollars in construction work. Salaries and positions at Unit 4 are comparable to those of our neighbors at the University of Illinois, as well as the city of Champaign.

"I would welcome a conversation with a list of administrative positions and duties, asking why that position should be eliminated and who would assume those duties."

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