D86 candidate Peggy James' questionnaire

Peggy James

Attendance area: Hinsdale Central

Years in district: 17

Age: 53

Education: Michigan State University, BA Communications


Senior Business Analyst at IAT Insurance with strong business acumen focusing on strategic execution and business process operations. Work experience at global companies including Zurich, TransUnion and Arthur Andersen

Community Service:

Active PTO and parent volunteer during my children’s K-8 grades

Boy Scout Troop 8 parent volunteer

HJWC – Gift of the Season

Board experience: The Lane School PTO Executive Board - VP Communications, various committees

Why are you running for this particular seat at this particular time?

In 2018, the D86 BOE approved a strategic plan to be used to guide future initiatives and budgets. Based on subsequent board actions and my engagement as an active district parent, I have noted that the District has not addressed community concerns. I believe strongly that public schools have a responsibility to provide students with the tools needed to maximize their potential, and I am running at this time to ensure that student needs are at the core of any and all changes. I will effect change and be part of the solution by being committed to keeping an open mind, listening to differing points of view, and analyzing all available data to make student-centered, data-driven decisions. I will also execute my responsibilities with honesty, integrity and full transparency.

What in your personal or professional experience has prepared you to be an effective board member?

I have been an active community member since moving to Hinsdale in 2004. As a parent of four former, current and future D86 students, I have questioned, reviewed and researched many of the initiatives presented by the district, am able to understand the impact of these initiates and believe I can add value to the process. Applying my strong business acumen and knowledge of data and analytics, I am committed to making data driven decisions that most benefit our students and ensure we are best utilizing the community’s tax dollars.

What in your opinion are the board’s three most important responsibilities?

Championing open governance through community engagement and collaboration

Providing guidance to and holding the superintendent accountable for representing our communities’ goals and the District’s vision as defined by Board-approved Strategic Plan.

Ensuring an inclusive and safe environment for all students to reach their full potential

What is the district’s greatest strength? Which area is most in need of attention?

Strength - Our teachers. Their experience, knowledge and ability to motivate and challenge students at all academic levels has been our strength for many years. It is why families move here and is why we continue to be ranked as one of the highest academic districts in the State and in the Country.

In Need of Attention – Our students. Our current Board and administration are failing our students. The decisions and choices made these past 10 months and the plans that are being considered for the next school year are quite simply inadequate. Returning our students to the classroom for those who wish to attend full-time as many other private and public schools across our state and country have already executed is imperative. Students have lost too much educational time this year – the equivalent of up to 54 days off. One of my greatest concerns is that the new Board Members will need to direct the district administration to focus on addressing the educational, social and emotional gaps as we return to a full-time instruction model and for several years to come.

What is the most pressing budgetary matter the district will face over the next four years?

At approximately 72%, Salaries/Benefits comprises the significant majority of District expenditures. As such, even small changes can have a big impact on financial health. Given the magnitude of the District’s Salary/Benefits expenditures, the uncertainty regarding the impact of COVID on healthcare costs, the fact that the recently ratified HTHSTA (Hinsdale High School Teachers Association) contract is a short-term agreement which expires in less than 1 1/2 years and includes a provision which doubled pension spiking, and given the financial position of the state of Illinois which means that the transfer of pension costs from the state to local school districts is a very real risk, I believe that renegotiating the HTHSTA contract will be the most pressing budget issue facing District 86 in the next four years.

What will be your top three priorities if elected?

SAFE REOPENING: I will champion and support an effort to rapidly develop a plan to safely reopen D86 schools for 100% in-person, on-site learning and address deficiencies resulting from this year’s COVID-driven compromises to instruction time. The plan should also provide the most optimal platform for those that choose or need to continue remote learning.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE: I will stand in unwavering support of the high standards of academic excellence in place at D86 and tailoring rigorous academic offerings to students of all levels and interests rather than a one-size-fits all undifferentiated approach. As such, I will revisit recent STEM curriculum initiatives to evaluate the decisions in a data-driven, student- centered approach, balancing the need for change with the risks and costs of such change.

GOVERNANCE AND ENGAGEMENT: I will seek and encourage ongoing dialogue with the entire D86 community. All D86 stakeholders should have their voices and opinions heard, including a full understanding of issues prior to any board decisions. I will also seek to upgrade governance practices at D86 to the level of best practices that are expected from a district of D86’s caliber.

Please cite a recent board decision that you have agreed with and one that you have disagreed with and briefly explain your reason(s) why.

I agreed with the Board's decision to return audience communication to the beginning of its meetings. Community engagement is an extremely important aspect of proper school board governance. For this reason, it is common practice for school boards to provide an opportunity for community input at the beginning of its meetings, or to even offer opportunities for input at both the beginning and the end of its meetings. Even after being sued for violating free speech rights, the D86 Board banished audience communication to the end of meetings, the ability of Board members to hear and even consider community input on past agenda items in a timely manner was severely compromised.

I strongly disagreed with the Board's unanimous approval of Math curriculum changes. The approved changes had limited support among feeder districts and took place in October when the priority should have been addressing the challenges of COVID safely and without compromise to student education. I don’t understand the Board’s urgency to revamp the math curriculum without supporting data for future students when they were not effectively educating their current students. Notably, two months later, Ms. Prentiss, Superintendent, stated during a board meeting that D86 needed all hands on deck to address "The sheer volume of D's and F's are a problem at both campuses."