DeKalb School District 428 School Board candidate Jeff Hallgren submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb District 428 School Board race.
Name: Jeff Hallgren
Office sought: District 428 School Board
1) Why are you running for School Board?
My family has been in this area for six generations, and DeKalb for four. I am a graduate of the DeKalb school systems, as were my parents and grandparents. I have lived here most of my life. I have served on the DeKalb Park Board and the DeKalb Zoning Board of Appeals. My family was involved in selling lumber, manufacturing, and banking. I have been in business for most of my life and have been a teacher for the last 15 years.
I am proud of my city, and have raised my family here. It has become clear to me that we need a change of leadership in DeKalb. All of us are aware of the litany of the bad news confronting DeKalb.The current path is not supportable. We need to change the way we do business. The DeKalb School District is just one of the players in this area, but by tax dollar, it is the largest.
My objective upon being elected after a very divisive episode in the Districts’ history, is to be part of the rebuilding process. We need to rebuild ties of trust to our teachers. We need to rebuild the direction of our administration.
2) Were you satisfied with how the school board handled the controversy that led to the removal of its superintendent earlier this year?
It should never have happened , and it dragged on far too long.
It was extremely disruptive to the efficient operation of the district and the relationship between between the board, the administrative staff, the teachers, and the students. Very importantly, it put into question the competency of the board to lead. This is evident in the fact that there are ten candidates running for three open positions on the board.
3) What qualities would you look for in a new superintendent?
The situation that we find ourselves in regarding administrative leadership in the School District is indicative of a lack of direction from the Board. We have hired our Superintendents based on the generic ability to be a School Superintendent. That method has not been working.
The Board should establish goals for the district before we even begin to search out and interview candidates to make those goals real.
I would want to select a superintendent who knows how to reduce expenditures. I would look to a very strong leader that has a history of unifying and energizing, and continually expanding the performance of an ethnically diverse student population similar to ours. I would want a leader that has a history of coaching a lean, strong team of administrators. And I would not look to a search firm, or the Illinois Association of School Boards to do our searching for us. We have to charge ourselves with finding the right candidates. This is too important of a task to leave to others. Upon getting elected to the board I would not want the selection process to be completed by those who were deeply involved in the problems of the past.
4,) What, if anything, can the school board do to reduce the tax burden on homeowners?
We must, as a district, stop the pattern of increasing the tax burden on the homeowners in the district. It is frustrating to hear it said that DeKalb’s problems would be solved if we could just increase the amount of revenue that we bring in. As a School District we control only one revenue stream: Taxes. We need to spend within our means, like any household budget must do. We must manage our expenditures to match our income. Our property taxes in this district are among the highest in the country. The school district accounts for about 63% of that bill. We can’t just hope that families choosing to move here, or those already here, will ignore this. We cannot price our product beyond the means of the consumer. If we do, there will be no one left to buy it.
5) Does the district do enough to respect and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of its students?
The district does quite a bit to celebrate the ethnic and racial diversity of its students. I think we should continue to understand and celebrate the places from which all our students come. I also believe strongly that we need to always be looking for ways to bring all of those groups together. My focus will be on unification. We need to operate as a unit. This is, after all, the basis for our school district. It is in our name. We are the DeKalb Community Unit School District. We need to understand that when we join together we are unstoppable. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
6) Class parties for holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day were eliminated at district elementary schools this year. Do you agree with this policy. Why or why not?
As a teacher in higher education, I have much to learn about the needs of very young students. I enjoyed the party atmosphere of those holiday celebrations when I was in school. I think we need to use opportunities to bring students together and continually reinforce in our students that school can be fun. I would need to look into what some of those methods might be. When we impose adult sensibilities on children, I think we risk losing some of the magic that is part of being a child. And we need to use every tool at our disposal to reach those students in whom we are trying to instill a joy of learning.
7) As a school board member, how would you approach teacher contract negotiations?
As a teacher, I understand that we have to allow teachers to teach! Over-administration of a district can drown it in continually new methodologies, testing, and paperwork. Teachers want to teach. We have to allow them to do what they love. We also have to provide them with a friendly, safe, and disciplined environment to work in.
Once the board has identified and clearly communicated its’ goals, and we have hired a new administrator capable of achieving those goals, I would look to that administrator and his or her team to work with the teachers in freeing them up to do what brought them into the profession. I would look to reward those re-energized teachers with the compensation they so rightly deserve.
8) Does the school district do a good enough job promoting the positive things its students achieve?
We have awards ceremonies to celebrate the accomplishments of those students who have won prizes for sports or band or debate. We celebrate groups who achieve something special. The local news media do a terrific job of reporting on, and celebrating student accomplishments. I think we do a good job, but am very open to listening to other opinions as to how we could do better in this area. Related to this topic, I do have an opinion that we should work with the teachers and local PTAs and PTOs in sponsoring more celebratory events where we honor the ways in which teachers and students worked together to accomplish goals. We need more occasions where we honor students and teachers working together. We have to know that while a State or District Championship is very noteworthy, what students do successfully every day in class is the foundation for their success.