Candidates for Flossmoor School District 161

Nine candidates are running for four seats on the Flossmoor School District 161 board of education. They are Misha Lynn Blackman, LaCael Palmer Pratt, Melissa Stilts, Stephen Paredes, Carolyn Griggs, Isaac D. Harris, Jadey Ryndak, Kelli Bentley and Cameron Nelson. Paredes is an incumbent. Three other incumbents — Timijanel Boyd Odom, Lisa Harrell and Christine Marks — are not running for re-election. The following candidates responded to the Chronicle's invitation to provide a profile.


  Carolyn Griggs

Carolyn Griggs
Education: B.S. elementary education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1993; professional educators license (K-9) endorsements in language arts and French; M.Ed. curriculum and instruction, National-Louis University, 2000; Ed.D. curriculum and instruction, Loyola University, 2003; principal licensure.
Occupation: Associate professor and chair, Department of Teaching, Learning and Diversity, College of Graduate Studies
Current employer: Concordia University Chicago
Incumbent: No

Most important issues: A systematic, research-based approach to curriculum selection and development must be implemented for all schools.
There is a need for the continued selection of high-quality, energetic, results-driven, passionate, and effective academic personnel in all schools capable of leading successful change efforts.
     Greater accountability measures need to be implemented to ensure sustainable and continued success of staff, teachers, and administration.
     A dramatic shift towards a more positive school climate and culture that celebrates learning and engages and motivates students in meaningful ways for all District 161 schools is necessary.
     Teachers need to be supported and equipped to facilitate change and improve student outcomes at the classroom level through appropriate training and professional development that includes collaboration.

Goals: Students: Provide students with research-based, effective, curriculum and instructional practices based on high standards for learning. Provide students with academic support to reach their fullest potential. Facilitate a shift to viewing students as critical stakeholders invested in their learning and capable of setting and reaching high goals and expectations. Increase opportunities for student voice to be heard and for students to be considered as critical stakeholders in our educational programs.
     Parents: Support efforts for more transparency and communication from schools regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment, and policies. Utilize technology and other resources to provide clear communication to parents regarding student expectations, academic growth and needs, and important school information. View parents as partners in education with schools, teachers, and administrators in the success of their children.
     Teachers: Ensure that teacher voices be included in decision-making processes related to academic concerns and school policy. Empower teachers to be leaders and advocates of change.
     Identify professional development opportunities that ensure teacher growth and development. Support greater collaboration across grade levels at all elementary schools. Increase articulation between elementary schools and Parker Junior High as well as between PJH and Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
     Administration: Identify leadership structures that identify and support necessary change. Support the vision of each building principal to meet the specific needs of each school. Ensure greater fiscal responsibly associated with the purchase of learning/curriculum materials, textbooks, and academic programming. Increase opportunities for collaboration and professional learning with principals from all schools.


Misha Blackman
Education: M.A. economics Roosevelt University; B.S. economics/business administration, Roosevelt University
Occupation/current employer: Financial services consultant
Incumbent: No

Most important issues: My priorities for serving on the Board are collaboration, raising student achievement, and fiscal responsibility.
     Collaboration: I will focus on working with administration, teachers, parents, students, and stakeholders so that district priorities are met.  I will ensure that progress is made and success is realized for all district students. My focus is creating an environment where every child can succeed. I believe in most cases, there is excellent work going on in the classroom, but many successful ideas are not shared or sustained.
     Coordination and articulation of curriculum between school sites and grade levels should be institutionalized. Struggling students should be matched with timely and effective interventions. The achievement gap must be addressed and an inherent part of this work may include taking successful pointers from other school districts, educational foundations, and organizations so we can learn which programs help our students and which ones waste our dollars. We can't be afraid to reevaluate and/or discontinue programs that perhaps promised much but the long-term results do not show the anticipated improvements in student achievement.  All students must become proficient or above in literacy and math skills to successfully participate in the global economy.
     Raising student achievement:  I will focus on retaining qualified teachers and improving instruction and curriculum, which are keys to improving student achievement.  I will advocate for more instructional resources to be allocated to programs that have demonstrated results in improving student achievement in English, Math and Science in K to 8 classrooms.
     Fiscal responsibility.  Budget stewardship and financial decisions will be deliberate, measurable and aligned with desired district goals. Fiscal responsibility is paramount to ensure that we are spending money wisely to benefit the students.  Fiscal decisions will focus on doing what is right for all schools and will benefit district residents by protecting and preserving property values.

Goals: District 161 has many exciting opportunities ahead and I would like to be a part of the district’s continued advancements.  My goal is to ensure that excellence continues for the current and future generations of students and families of district 161.  I believe in a culture of “every kid, every school.” I support neighborhood schools that enable all children to succeed and thrive, and I believe in an inclusive community and culture in which schools can work and learn from each other to attain a common goal of excellence for all children of district 161. As a school district, we need to critically assess our programs on an ongoing basis.  However, program decisions should be based on analysis of data, not anecdotal evidence.


  Jadey Ryndak

Jadey Ryndak
Education: M.S. organizational psychology, National Louis University, 2003; B.S. journalism, University of Kansas, 1988.
Occupation: Managing director
Current employer: Paladin Marketing Resources

Most important issues: Vision: The item we need most is a vision of ourselves as a shining example of what is possible: generating a truly transformative educational outcome right here — right now. Being an example nationally for public education, for community, for diversity, for rising to high-expectations.
     Hiring: Assuring that the district attracts and retains highly skilled, driven and engaged talent in all roles.  People are the difference in every organization.
     Community Engagement and Activation: Actively solicit and utilize the strength, wisdom, resources and knowledge from individuals across the district. Engaging parents, students, community leaders, companies, higher education institutions, professionals and government organizations to support and propel our district.
     Curriculum and Educational Programs: Thorough and swift action to develop and implement curriculum across all subjects and grades that readies our students to seamlessly enter high school.
     Technology: Assuring the district has the best tech resources for students, instructors, staff and parents. Having verifiable measures of outcomes, usage, usability and cost to assure we maximize our investment of time and money.
     Communication: Our communications vehicles, tactics, timing, and process must provide maximum value to parents, students and the community. Increased public relations, community relations and public engagement efforts.

Goals: I believe in this community. I have spoken with many parents and community members who have a similar belief in who we are and what we are capable of as a district. My goal, if elected, is to infuse the board and the district with this vision of success, kindness, innovation and inclusion.  If there was ever a district that can and should lead as a shining example of what public education can be, it is SD161. My goal is to be a solid voice of reason and advocate as a parent and
community member.


Stephen Paredes
Education: B.A. English literature, Loyola University; M.A. education, St. Xavier University; M.A. reading specialist, St. Xavier University; M.A. education administration, Governors State University; special education endorsement, Governors State University.
Occupation: Reading teacher
Current employer: Bloom High School
Incumbent: Yes, four years on the school board, last two years as board president

Most important issues: During the next four years, the school board has to ensure the success of our students. It is essential to our mission that our board supports our new administrative team to build on our successes while strengthening relationships.
     The success of our mission will depend on board members’ commitment to creating a collaborative culture of dialogue that engages with stakeholders and communicates to administration with one clear voice. As an important practical matter, school funding will always be an issue, but we can never lose sight of the value created by our children’s education.
     Our fiduciary responsibility, role in governance, and our district outcomes all have to speak the needs of our children and the crucial role that this institution plays in our entire community.

Goals: Strengthen systems and norms that further support a collaborative culture characterized by stronger community engagement, distributive leadership, transparency and accountability. As always, make sure that we put kids first.


  Cameron Nelson

Cameron Nelson
Education: B.S. psychology/mechanical engineering, University of Illinois, 1998; J.D. Chicago-Kent College of Law, 2001.
Occupation/current employer: shareholder at Greenberg Traurig LLP.
Incumbent: no

Most important issues: The most important issue presently facing our school district is focusing on individual students. Over the past several years our district lost sight of this. For example, the district spent millions on iPads and related initiatives, with no measurable impact on student performance. To provide another example, the district forced questionable software programs such as Odyssey on students and parents. These were "top down" decisions pushed by administrators, without regard to whether these decisions were actually helping our students.
     The core mission of the district is to help all children grow to their full potential.  We are not meeting that goal. Recent test scores showed that our students are growing at far below the national average, and that this problem is compounding with each year that a student spends in the school district. To provide just one example, in the 2015-2016 school year nearly half of all 8th grade students in the district were testing at least two grade levels below where they should be in math.  This is unacceptable at every level.
     This problem is the result of focusing on initiatives (which look good on administrators' resumes, and make Board members feel like they have accomplished something) instead of focusing on students.  As a Board member I will help refocus attention on the students.

Goals: First, I will insist that the District develop a plan, to be implemented immediately, for getting those students who have fallen behind "caught up" to where they should be, and to ensure that all students are being fully challenged to the best of their ability.
     Second, I will insist that the District make substantial improvements in community involvement, including better integrating with community sports programs, as well as art, science, robotics, and other extracurricular opportunities the community has to offer.
     Third, I will continue my ongoing efforts to increase transparency in our district.  A complete dataset of test scores should be made available to the public, and timely updated as new test scores come in.  We should not have to wade through FOIA requests and other hurdles to find out how our district is doing.

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