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New DeKalb D-428 school board members ready to tackle issues

DeKALB – Restructuring $108 million in bond debt, hiring a new superintendent and improving perception of local schools are some of the issues newly elected DeKalb School District 428 Board members face.

Jeff Hallgren, Valerie Peña Hernandez and Victoria Newport all won election April 4, with Hallgren leading the nine candidates actively campaigning for the three open seats with 16.85 percent of the vote. Hernandez finished with 15.32 percent, and Newport with 14.93 percent, according to unofficial results.

The Illinois Association of School Boards is assisting the district in its search for a replacement for Superintendent Doug Moeller, who has been on leave since September after he was accused of sexual harassment last year.

Throughout his campaign, Hallgren voiced his displeasure with the board’s decision to start the search process before new school board members could be seated.

“The school board needs to give consideration in slowing the process so new members can be a part of the process, and I will make every effort to open it back up,” Hallgren said. “Selecting a superintendent is the most important decision I can make as a board member, and I’m determined to make the best decision possible.”

Hernandez said a qualified candidate should be capable of closing student achievement gaps, and have proven that capability in work with other districts.

“The superintendent must also be visible throughout the community,” she said. “They should also be someone who is available at social events so people get to know that person and can build a relationship and rapport with the community. That is one of the main things I find to be very important.”

Newport, the board’s president, said Hallgren and Hernandez will bring good, new ideas to the district. She said it will be crucial to get them up to speed not only on the superintendent search process, but for plans to replace DeKalb High School Principal Michele Albano and Human Resources Director Jim Bormann, whose contracts were not renewed by the board in February.

Newport said in order for the public to be more informed about the positive aspects of DeKalb schools, the district should look into partnering with Northern Illinois University to spread the word.

“We have created informational sheets to give to county employers to show what our schools have to offer,” Newport said. “Maybe we can also work with an intern from NIU and use journalism and photography classes to get the word out on what is going on in schools to show the reality versus the perception.”

Hernandez said improving the district’s image not only involves mending relationships outside the district but from within, as well.

“We have to be the leading example of what we want in our buildings,” Hernandez said. “As a board, we must have a relationship with community members as well as secretaries, food service and administration. They all have to feel we have a collaborative relationship with them.”

Hallgren said he hopes to restructure the district’s administration.

“I want to be an agent of change as far as the way our district is administered,” Hallgren said. “Obviously, we need assistance right now, as we got off track and we need to repair relationships with our teachers and the community.”

The new board members will take their oaths at 7 p.m. at the school board’s May 2 meeting at DeKalb High School, 501 W. Dresser Road in DeKalb.

Once the new members are seated, the board will vote to appoint a new board president, vice president and secretary.

Hallgren said as the candidate with the most votes, he will push to become board president.

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