Hinsdalean lists endorsements for the D86 board

Series: Decision 2023 | Story 14

✔︎ Asma Akhras

✔︎ Kay Gallo

✔︎ Catherine “Cat” Greenspon

Andrew Catton

Deborah Willoughby

A little more than two years ago, the newly seated board in Hinsdale High School District 86 spent two and a half hours taking 10 votes trying to choose a new board president.

Since that time, the board has been regularly divided on a host of issues large and small, from curriculum issues to the approval of minutes. A segment of the board and the community also has lost confidence in the superintendent, making board meetings even more difficult. And declining standardized test scores — a trend that is occurring nationwide — have raised even more concerns.

And so the three new members who join the board after the Tuesday, April 4, election, must be thoughtful decision-makers and collaborative colleagues in order to move the district forward. The Hinsdalean believes Asma Akhras, Kay Gallo and Cat Greenspon best fit that description.

We can’t imagine a District 86 school board with no members living in the South attendance area, so we were happy to see Akhras launch her campaign. Fortunately she brings much more to the table than just her Darien address.

Her extensive experience in education would be a tremendous asset at a time when the board is involved (excessively so, at times) in evaluating decisions on curriculum and instruction. She has a firm grasp of the role of a board member and experience working collaboratively. We appreciate her assertion that providing opportunities for all students does not prevent the district from offering a rigorous curriculum and her views on the increased accountability created through curriculum and grading alignment.

The admission this weekend by one of her campaign volunteers that he created a fake website for one of her opponents has created ill will toward her is unfortunate. While we don’t condone this type of political shenanigans, we don’t believe it should affect her candidacy.

The mom of two Hinsdale South graduates and one freshman, she has firsthand experience with the district. While her positive view of the district seems overly optimistic at times, we think she will make an excellent board member.

Gallo is the only candidate who would bring previous school board experience to the office. The parent of three Central graduates, she served four years on a feeder district board and eight years on the D86 board, including two as president.

She has expressed concern about unpiloted programs and identified a desire to meet the academic needs of all students and address declining test scores.

While Gallo has been a very sharp critic of Superintendent Tammy Prentiss, she acknowledges the necessity of working together until Prentiss’ contract expires next year.

Although it might be a result of her campaign strategy, Gallo has spent significant time calling for a return to the past. We hope that does not impede her ability to look to the future and trust that her experience will be an asset.

Greenspon is a longtime volunteer who’s become quite active in the district over the past few years, serving on the Central PTO and music parents association boards along with the district PTAC and CELT committees. She brings almost 10 years’ worth of experience serving on the Museum of Science and Industry and YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago boards.

The mom of a Central senior, she clearly is committed to the academic success of district students and promises to engender more collaboration among board members and district stakeholders. We encourage her to keep her focus on the future (and not on the Valda Valbrun incident, for example) and trust that the calm demeanor we witnessed during her interview and at the candidates night will be the one she brings to meetings as a board member. We believe her commitment to data-driven decisions, piloting programs and slowing the pace of change will benefit the district.

Catton is a successful businessman with financial experience who has been attending board meetings for the past couple of years. The father of three future D86 students, he has identified concerns about addressing the COVID learning loss and declining proficiency scores that have been shared by other candidates.

But Catton’s contentions that education methods that have worked for 100 years shouldn’t be changed and that diversity happens “naturally” seem out of touch. He sees problems everywhere he looks — even complaining that the new teachers contract was negotiated behind closed doors, as is standard practice. His call for the superintendent to be fired seems at odds with his promise to benefit taxpayers, given the likelihood of a breach of contract lawsuit. He spends more time offering well-scripted criticism than in articulating specifically what he would do as a board member to make things better. Finally, he seems far less interested in a collaborative approach to decision-making than other candidates.

Willoughby, with the lowest profile of the five candidates, has promising qualifications. With an MBA in finance and almost 20 years of experience working for a large global corporation, she would bring business acumen — including a call for measurable key performance indicators — and financial expertise to board decisions.

She is focused on listening and working collaboratively with the community and administration to ensure strong academic performance and rebuild trust.

Having lived in the district for only a year, we’d like to see her get more involved in district committees and run again in two years.