NEW TRIER TOWNSHIP, IL — Illinois school boards were tasked with a series of tough decisions in the year since buildings were ordered shuttered to in-person learning amid the state’s first wave of COVID-19 infections. In New Trier Township High School District 203, which launched a hybrid learning model in October 2020, three of the
NEW TRIER TOWNSHIP, IL — Illinois school boards were tasked with a series of tough decisions in the year since buildings were ordered shuttered to in-person learning amid the state’s first wave of COVID-19 infections.
In New Trier Township High School District 203, which launched a hybrid learning model in October 2020, three of the four board members with expiring terms are not seeking reelection. Six candidates, including one incumbent, are seeking four open seats on the school board.
Ahead of the upcoming school board elections, Patch provided questionnaires to all candidates running for the New Trier High School board. Responses from candidates are published verbatim and in the order they are received. Early voting is open ahead of the April 6 consolidated election.
Age (as of election day):
Town of residence:
New Trier Twp High School District 203
Oscar Alcantara (husband). Jack, Lucas and Asher Alcantara (sons).
Does anyone in your family work in politics or government?
B.A., University of Michigan; J.D., University of Michigan Law School
Occupation, years of experience.
Attorney since 1993
Previous or current elected or appointed office:
Wilmette District 39 School Board Member, 2009-2013, 2013-2017
Wilmette District 39 Facilities Committee Chair, 2011-2017
The single most pressing issue facing our (board, district, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it:
I expect that “re-entry” in fall 2021 will be the Board’s most pressing issue. Many students may struggle as they return to in-school instruction after a year of learning in a hybrid or remote environment. I would encourage the administration to assess our students’ academic growth and deficits, examine social and emotional effects, and set a course of action on how to overcome challenges. I would like to see the administration make a plan for students to engage in focused discussions in Adviseries, take advantage of openings in the Block Schedule for group meetings and seminars, increase social worker support and accessibility, and provide teacher training to identify students who are struggling in ways that are not just academic.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
I am one of the four candidates selected by the New Trier School Board Caucus for the four open seats on New Trier School Board. The Caucus process is helpful in a District comprised of six different sender districts. The caucus is nonpartisan and thorough, comprised of delegates representing a wide array of backgrounds. I appreciate having been selected by the Caucus along with Keith Dronen, Avik Das and Sally Tomlinson.
As an individual, my eight years on the District 39 School Board distinguish me as a candidate, as does my volunteerism in Wilmette and New Trier schools over the past 15+ years. Professionally, the skills I use regularly in my role as an attorney lend themselves to serving on the School Board. In my legal practice, I need to communicate professionally and civilly, manage differences of opinion, find middle ground without compromising my clients’ key objectives, identify creative solutions to roadblocks, work within a budget, and pay close attention to detail. As a New Trier School Board Member, I hope to bring my experience as well as my passion for public education to this community’s most valuable asset, New Trier High School.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.
I will work to ensure the excellence in education and responsible financial stewardship that this community’s students, parents and taxpayers expect and deserve. In doing so, I would be guided by New Trier’s 2030 Strategic Plan, which is the culmination of a school- and community-wide effort involving parents, students, faculty, staff, alumni and New Trier Township residents who worked together to identify priorities for the future. Input was collected from nearly 5,000 community members via focus groups, meetings, and surveys, and the Plan itself was developed by a 28-member Planning Committee (including my running-mate, Sally Tomlinson). The final product is a Strategic Plan that sets forth a focused yet flexible approach to achieving goals in the areas of: (1) intellectual engagement, growth and readiness; (2) student personal growth, engagement and well-being; (3) culture, climate and equity; (4) leadership throughout the school; (5) community engagement, partnerships, and governance; and (6) finance, facilities and human resources.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
Having been elected to Wilmette District 39’s school board for two terms, I spent six years chairing the Facilities Committee. During my tenure as Facilities Chair, we accomplished significant undertakings within budget and on-time, including construction of a state-of-the-art junior high science wing; building and renovating classrooms; transforming aging libraries in five school buildings; and executing key maintenance and infrastructure goals such as new roofing, and replacing boilers, windows and HVAC systems.
I also have volunteered with and served on the boards of several community organizations, including elementary and New Trier PTAs, the League of Women Voters of Wilmette, and District 39’s Community Review Committee.
Professionally, my experience negotiating, drafting and closing complex deals and contracts will be an asset as a New Trier School Board Member.
Why should voters trust you?
My family has lived in Wilmette for nearly 20 years. During that time, I have been dedicated to community volunteerism. This is borne out by my productive service on the Wilmette District 39 School Board for eight years, and my role as a volunteer and board member for all manner of local organizations, including Rose Hall Montessori School, the Wilmette Wings, D39’s Community Review Committee, as well as elementary and New Trier PTAs. I look forward to continuing my service to our community by contributing as a New Trier High School Board Member.
If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office a success?
New Trier School Board members must be ready to tackle a myriad of issues and challenges; I am not a single-issue or agenda-driven candidate. My focus will be on administrative oversight, and best ensuring that New Trier makes meaningful progress in affirming its values and meeting the goals set forth in New Trier’s 2030 Strategic Plan.
What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the handling of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?
New Trier has a healthy and reasonable reserve level, a AAA bond rating, and no referendum in the foreseeable future. Despite this solid financial position, I think we would be hard-pressed to find anyone in New Trier Township who does not worry about New Trier finances and the impact on property taxes. As a Board Member, I would be ever-mindful of taxpayer concerns, fiscal prudence, and budgetary challenges.
Financial pressures on New Trier’s budget and that must be kept top-of-mind at all times include:
• CPI rising at a lower rate than expenses;
• Possible reductions in state funding;
• Underfunded pension plans and potential cost shift to local districts;
• Possible property tax freeze; and
• Local reliance on property tax, very little support from State or Federal government.
As a board member, I would recognize that achieving the goals set out in New Trier’s 2030 Strategic Plan depends on a stable budget and the use of existing resources for implementation. As a board member and financial steward of New Trier High School, I would be vigilant in using taxpayer funds judiciously and thoughtfully with all of these points in mind.
Do you support Black Lives Matter and what are your thoughts on the demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake?
I was impressed by our students in New Trier Township who played an instrumental role in organizing, promoting, and executing peaceful demonstrations in Winnetka and Wilmette in June 2020. The student speakers at these events were particularly impactful and impressive as they conveyed their thoughts about experiences in our community. With respect to New Trier specifically, I will encourage the administration to live the values stated in New Trier’s Strategic Plan, which states that “all students, no matter their race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, innate abilities, or academic levels, have the right to equitable opportunities to a rigorous and rich curricula and inspiring instruction that promotes intellectual growth, exploration and risk-taking. What makes our school better for the most vulnerable students makes the school better for all students.” I support this sentiment and progress toward these values, recognizing that they are of particular importance currently with respect to Black and AAPI students.
Do you think the current board has done enough to support racial equality, and if not, what specifically should be done to do so?
One of the key components of New Trier’s 2030 Strategic Plan acknowledges that New Trier needs to (and intends to) make progress in creating a learning environment that encourages empathy, creates interpersonal connections, embraces diverse identities, and explores multiple perspectives. At New Trier, no student should be made to feel unwelcome or as though they don’t belong. I understand that New Trier’s initial plans toward living these values include recruiting and retaining staff members of color, supporting marginalized students with affinity groups and restorative justice efforts, and making sure the curriculum provides both a mirror of our students and a window into different world experiences. With respect to each of these initiatives and any others, I would advocate for data collection to measure impact and success, using tools such as New Trier’s annual climate survey given to graduates and New Trier’s youth risk behavior survey. Progress in this area is vital to New Trier’s delivery of excellence in education and continued progress toward the values and goals of a truly inclusive and respectful school culture.
What are your thoughts on the district’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic? Are you in favor of remote learning, in-person learning or a hybrid of the two? Do you support a mask mandate for students and school staff, or mandatory coronavirus testing for both students and staff?
I believe New Trier has been very responsive and adaptive in transitioning to remote, hybrid and in-building instruction throughout this fluid and unprecedented pandemic. Likewise, New Trier teachers have performed their best with an instructional model that has never been delivered and is incredibly difficult to execute. That said, my sense is that students perform their best when in-school, in-person with peers and teachers. I hope and fully expect we are on our way to a return to social and instructional normalcy.
Regarding masks, the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Health have set forth updated requirements for in-school instruction, which apply to public schools in Illinois. Those directives include social distancing and masking, which are mitigation measures that I understand New Trier follows. With respect to coronavirus testing, I support New Trier continuing its current policies on saliva screening through the end of this school year, unless further data and information indicates a recommended change.
When the vaccine is available to them, do you support mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students and staff?
For any vaccination policy at New Trier, I would be guided by public health experts, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Health, recognizing that there will always be exceptions for certain medical conditions. I note that only one vaccine (Pfizer) is currently available for students age 16+ (while many students at New Trier are age 14-15). Until we see the outcomes of the ongoing vaccine trials for children under age 16, speculation as to vaccine policies and recommendations for students is premature. Likewise, for teachers, I would need to consider information on the percentage of teachers who have already chosen to be vaccinated (or who are intending to be vaccinated), as well as recommendations and research presented by public health experts, ISBE and IDPH before supporting a specific policy.
Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?
The best advice ever shared with me was ____________?
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.”