Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, we’d just like to do our part to provide voters with some insight into the importance of these local races and have some sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.
Champaign residents will be electing four school board members this time around. There are nine candidates, three of which are current school board members, and you will be selecting them for a four year term.
Chris Kloeppel, the current school board president, is running for another term.
Smile Politely: Why should voters choose to keep you on the school board? What successes can you point to, and what do you hope to improve upon?
Kloeppel: For the past four years I have not only served as a board member but also as the board’s president. During that time we have accomplished many things. After bringing the community together in the form of a Tier 2 committee to build consensus, the board proposed and passed a $183.4 million referendum in November of 2016 that passed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. We successfully negotiated four contracts with our staff. We hired a Superintendent, and we navigated a charter school proposal, among many other accomplishments. I also bring to the board additional knowledge in construction and real estate, being both a licensed plumber and a realtor in the state of Illinois. Since October 2015 I have served on the board of directors for United Way of Champaign County. I'm a member of the Central Illinois Business Magazine’s Forty Under 40 (class of 2016), and in 2017 I won a Those Who Excel merit award from the Illinois State Board of Education.
As far as what we can improve upon, I would say our communication. While I’m positive this will always be something the district can continue to grow and improve on, I’m encouraged by recent steps to update our facilities website (short term) and district website (long term). These, along with a commitment to begin a new Strategic Plan process, will allow us to further connect with all members of our Unit 4 community.
SP: In terms of addressing racial disparity in academic achievement, what thoughts/proposals do you have to continue to work towards more equal outcomes?
Kloeppel: I think as we move forward it's important to continue the work that is already occurring, but also to make sure that the data is driving the continued processes and programs. I'm really interested to see how our home visits will move the needle forward while continuing to grow our trauma-informed practices. I believe the more screening and early interventions that we can put place, both socially and academically, the better our students will be set to succeed later on in their Unit 4 experience.
SP: How do you plan to address suspension and expulsion rates for African American students that are out of proportion with the percentage of African American students in the schools?
Kloeppel: Our expulsion rates have continued to drop on average each year since I began serving, and I would like to see that continue. Unit 4 has been a leader in this state when it comes to implementing Senate Bill 100 and I think we can continue to do so. Again I think this is all about how we serve our students. Having programs and structures in place that are more about supporting students than disciplining them will mean our numbers can only continue to fall.
SP: For our readers that live in Champaign yet do not have students in the Unit 4 School District, beyond tax dollars, why are these school board elections something that they should care about? Why should they do the work of researching the candidates and choosing wisely in this election?
Kloeppel: When our community has successful schools, and therefore successful students, the whole community benefits. We are educating and developing the future base of our community. Anyone whether they have children in the district or not should have an interest in what kind of students and citizens their school district is turning out .
SP: As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Looking back at the most recent contract negotiations, what do you think went well, and would you have done differently? How will that inform your actions moving forward?
Kloeppel: When considering how things went in 2015, during the first CFT contract that I was part of, decisions and changes were made on the board side of things to help the process this time around. However, we still ended up with a strike authorization and a late fall agreement. I would once again take what was learned from this negotiation and attempt to do things differently. One step that I think could be beneficial is being more intentional in our monthly areas of consultation meeting with CFT, discussing issues in the district so we can come to the negotiation table better prepared on both sides. It’s been the practice to receive CFT’s proposal first, then counter with a Board proposal. The Board should consider coming to the table with a proposal on day one; at least that would be my suggestion. I would also be intentional on tentatively signing off on things as they were agreed upon.
SP: How will you stay connected to staff and students who do the day to day work and live with the policy decisions you enact?
Kloeppel: As a father of children in the district at both the elementary and middle school level, there is certainly that level of connection to our school and policies. I will continue to try to make events and activities at all of our schools as my schedule allows it. I have developed and furthered several relationships over the past four years with teachers and other various educators and I would continue to do so if given another term to serve.