Candidate Questionnaire Form
Candidate Background Information:
- Name: Art Kessler
- Address: 2714 Sheridan Road
- Phone Number
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Length of residence in the District: 1967-1989, 2013-2016
- Educational background:
Northwestern University, MBA, 1994
Colgate University, BA, 1989
- Employment experience:
Owner & President, Restaurant Discount Warehouse, 2003-2015
Owner & President, Rec Room Furniture and Games, 2005-2007
Partner, Kessler Warshauer Ventures, 2003-Present
Director of Operations, Starbelly.com/Halo Industries 1999-2001
Sr. Consultant, George Group, 1996-1999
- Professional organizations:
Midwest Business Brokers and Intermediaries
Association for Corporate Growth
- Civic or charitable organizations:
President of Board Of Directors, Dystonia Medical Research Foundation
Member of Launch Team, Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team
Member of Steering Committee, Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team
Member of Communications Committee, Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team
Member of Facilities Committee, Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team
Advisory Board, Chicago Center For Jewish Genetic Diseases
Board of Directors, Congregation Solel
- Children (ages & schools attended):
Ben Kessler, 13, Elm Place
Ryan Kessler, 9, Indian Trail
- Other pertinent information:
Alumni of Braeside, Edgewood, and Highland Park High School
My wife, Wendy Bloom, is current PTO president of Indian Trail
Youth sports coach for AYSO
A candidate for an Illinois school board must be at least 18 years old, must have lived in the school district for at least one year, and must be a registered voter. A school board member cannot be a child sex offender (as described in Section 11-9.3 of the Criminal Code) or convicted of a felony. Do you meet these requirements?
Circle One: YES or NO
1. Why do you want to serve (or to continue to serve) on the NSSD 112 Board of Education and what do you hope to accomplish?
My primary goal of serving on the BOE is to enhance the current high level of performance in NSSD112. NSSD112 is currently in a precarious financial position and suffers from a number of educational challenges. The number of Buildings in the district has strained the district’s finances. Despite having high reserves, projections indicate that state mandated and deferred maintenance on our buildings will deplete our reserves by 2018. This combined with our human resources costs rising at a greater rate than our revenues has created a situation where the long-term outlook for the district is very bleak unless changes are made. The projected shortfalls cannot be accommodated through additional cost cutting along the lines of what has been enacted in the past. In addition to the financial challenges, Enrollment declines and the Dual Language program has created a number of educational challenges. Class sizes and student cohorts at some schools are impractically small. These are the systemic problems affecting our schools, but from a more external perspective education has changed over the years and NSSD112 has not kept up with these developments. The needs of 21st century learning are different than those of the last millennium. The board needs to be in a position to understand and address these challenges. The decision we make with regard to reconfiguration is the biggest challenge this district will face for the next decade. I would like to see the board work with 2.0 to come up with a long-term solution that will not just address the financial challenges we face, but also enhance the district from an educational perspective. Because of my involvement in the Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team, I have learned a tremendous amount about the District’s challenges and feel that the information I possess can be put to further use for the good of the district.
2. Describe your view of the role of the NSSD 112 Board of Education in the context of the administration, teachers, staff, students, parents, other governmental groups, and the community. As a member of the Board of Education, to whom would you feel most responsible?
The BOE has many constituencies. In order to accomplish its work, the Board must interact with other governmental groups and act as a responsible partner to our sister organizations. Administration, teachers and staff are an important constituency and their needs must be met. However, their needs must be met only so far as they serve the best interests of the students. This is best done from a collaborative rather than an adversarial position. The Board serves at the pleasure of the community and must listen to the needs and desires of the community in every decision that it makes. The community elects the BOE because it is impossible for the community at large to undertake the monumental task of learning everything there is to know in order to direct the district. Ultimately the BOE takes on this role as the community’s surrogate in order to act in its best interests. The BOE’s primary responsibility should be that of doing what is in the best interest of the students, but it cannot do so without taking the needs of the community into consideration.
3. How would you, as member of the Board of Education, work to cultivate community confidence and credibility in the NSSD 112 Board of Education?
The current Board has done a terrible job in engaging with the community. They have not explained well their positons nor listened to what the community is telling it I would like to see the Board engage with the community in sessions where people can ask questions and get answers from both the Board and the administration. This would go a long way to opening the lines of communication. In addition, I believe the public comment period at the BOE meeting should function in a way more like public comment at City Council meetings, where the Councilmen actually reply to the concerns of citizen’s. This would allow the BOE to better explain their positions and in turn, promote a more constructive dialogue between the board and the community. I believe that this dialogue will go a long way to building confidence and credibility with the community.
4. Discuss an example of how you previously have effectively communicated and worked within a group made up of differing opinions and personalities to reach a decision.
Working with others you may not agree with to reach a decision is integral to any group’s success. Back in business school I received a lot of informal training on this. Most of our work was in groups. At times, group work can be frustrating as it always easier and more efficient to work alone. However, I have found over the years, and especially with my work on the 2.0 committee, that well run groups make better decisions than individuals. The key to doing this successfully is to show respect for other’s opinions and listen to what they have to say. I also feel that it is important to be able to disagree with others without being disagreeable. Often common ground can be found even with someone who disagrees with you. I find that I learn more from people who disagree with me than I do from those who share my opinion. The 2.0 committee is a perfect example of where different viewpoints lead to more robust decision making.
5. How would you describe your approach to making decisions? Please give us an example of a time when you have had to make a tough decision and describe the process that you used to reach that decision.
In general, I like to analyze a situation in depth, perhaps to a fault, before arriving at a decision. I strive to think out of the box to address the core issue while also satisfying the greatest number of constituents. On the Steering Committee of the 2.0 Community Team we had to decide whether or not to video tape and release all of our meetings. There were people on both sides of this issue who had very good reasons for their positions. Most of the Board members were of the opinion that we should record everything and most of the committee members were opposed to recording. The first step was to closely listen to both sides. Next, I looked into what past committees in similar situations have done. I considered the current practices of our BOE and its subcommittees. I looked at previous reconfiguration efforts. I also researched the approach of the committee that worked on the High School’s last referendum. Then I considered the problem in the larger context of what would be best serve the continued progress of the work of the committee. In the end, I proposed a compromise solution in which we would record our full committee meetings, which had begun meeting more regularly, and not record but take minutes at our subcommittee meetings, which had begun meeting less regularly. Before proposing this solution I ran it by several committee members, board members, and community activists from both sides of the issue. The solution seemed to be acceptable to all the parties and was ultimately adapted.
6. What do you anticipate as being the most significant demands of being a member of the Board of Education and how are you prepared to address those demands?
Perhaps the biggest demand of serving on the BOE is the time commitment. I recently sold the last of a portfolio of businesses that I had owned over the last 15 years. This has afforded me time to dedicate to the Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team and the Board of Education. While I plan to start another business, I am actively looking for businesses which I can oversee without being so enmeshed in the day to day that I will continue to have the time needed to meet these commitments.
7. How have your personal or professional experience(s) prepared you to deal with the demands of service on the NSSD 112 Board of Education?
The most relevant experience has been my work on the 2.0 committee. I have become deeply aware of all of the challenges and opportunities that are facing NSSD112. In addition to the nitty gritty of the district’s financial and educational issues, my work on this committee has given me the opportunity to work with people from all sides of the issues facing the district. In addition to the work on the 2.0 committee, I serve as the President of the Board of Directors for a non-profit medical research foundation. Prior to becoming the foundation’s president, I served on the board for a number of years. This board experience has been invaluable in understanding how board’s operate, or in some circumstances, how they could operate better.
8. What qualities do you possess that you believe will help you to work with the existing members of the Board of Education in order to build consensus, resolve conflict, and find the best plan forward for our community?
People tell me that I am consensus builder. This does not mean I am willing to compromise my beliefs, but I feel it is important on a board to be able to bridge gaps, find common ground, and bring people along when necessary.
9. What do you see as NSSD 112’s biggest challenges other than those regarding the facilities/finances? And, what specific actions would you take to address them?
There are a number of educational issues that face the district. Kindergarten has become a big challenge for the district. Before joining 2.0 I was of the belief that Full Day Kindergarten was not needed for our district; I have since changed my view. Many parents in the community need full day kindergarten because they work full day schedules. It is also likely that sometime in the near future Full Day Kindergarten will be mandated by the state. Most importantly, because almost all of the surrounding school districts now offer Full Day Kindergarten, our district is seen as an inferior place to raise children because we do not give children the advantages that come with full day emersion in a school environment from this earliest age. I would look to provide space and funding for a world-class full day kindergarten program.
Declining enrollment and students getting pulled out of their neighborhood school for the Dual Language program, has caused some class sizes to become way too small to be educationally and socially practical for the students. The dual language program has also has increased the number of two section and virtual one section schools in our district. While at one time one room school houses served our educational needs, larger schools with more sections per grade has since been shown to be educationally superior. Teachers are afforded greater opportunity to collaborate with their peers to lesson plan. Students can be split in more ways to meet their educational, social and emotional challenges. More opportunities will exist for grouping students according to their needs for math and English groups. Students are also more likely to find like-minded peers. Reconfiguration will address these issues.
The district is also far behind virtually all of our surrounding districts in implementing things such as ADA accessibility, secure vestibules, fire suppression, air quality improvements, needed classroom renovations, flexible furniture for collaborative learning, enhancements to 5th grade education, and the list goes on. While it will be impossible to accomplish everything due to budgetary constraints, I would work to implement as much as possible within the confines of what the community is willing to pay for.
Finally, it is important to make sure that the district’s human resources are not all being distracted by reconfiguration. We can’t neglect running the schools as we seek to reorganize them. I would monitor this situation closely and look to set clear expectations where necessary to achieve the best outcomes.
10. a) What specific actions do you feel that NSSD 112 should take with respect to the current financial situation, including but not limited to BDR3 and Reconfiguration 2.0?
I am very much opposed to BDR3 because I think it unnecessarily penalizes current students in the district. For the last couple of months, I have been meeting with individual school board members in private meetings to share with them the financial findings of the 2.0 committee to show them that there is some flexibility with regard to BDR3. With regard to the financial situation, I think it is imperative that long-term we close some buildings. The specific building to close will be decided by 2.0 with engagement from the community through a collaborative process. I will likely support the position of the committee.
BDR3 and 2.0 are supposed to be running on parallel paths but it is impossible to keep those paths from crossing. I would like to see the board adopt a BDR that takes into account the changes that 2.0 is likely to put in place and hold off on making drastic changes which may have to be undone by 2.0. This may mean modifying BDR3 to address the positions that 2.0 are likely to take or delaying BDR3 entirely until we have more clarity on where we are headed.
b) How did you go about formulating your position?
I formulated these opinions from a deep understanding of the financial model created by the 2.0 committee. This model shows that, unless one believes the community will support the tax increases necessary to continue to operate 12 buildings and forego the educational opportunities that a reconfiguration offers, it is necessary to close some buildings. However, the model also shows that we have some flexibility around the implementation of BDR3. The real question is whether I would attempt to overturn BDR3 if it is still in place if I am elected. I have not decided how I feel about this because of the disruption that would cause the district. I have an upcoming meeting with Dr. Bregy to discuss the ramifications of overturning BDR3 that late in the year. I hope to have an answer to this key question by this Saturday. Ultimately, I think it is most important to do what is best for the children. This decision will come down to how disruptive it will be to overturn this decision once pink slips have been mailed.
c) How does your vision support the whole community?
Strong schools are the bedrock of this community. Although many people don’t have kids in the district, their property values and by extension the vibrancy of this community is closely linked to the strength of the schools. Therefore, I believe what is in the best interest of the district is also in the best interest of the community.
11. Please identify what you view as some of the most important needs of our student population. How would you seek to meet the varied needs of students, and how do you see yourself balancing competing interests within the District?
There are so many varying needs of the student population that it is difficult to say that some are most important. To each group of students, the needs that affect them are most important. I believe the role of the BOE is to serve the entire student population and therefore address each of these needs to the best of its ability. Where conflict occurs, it is important to seek community input and strive to find a way to help everyone. If a tradeoff must be made, it is important to do the greatest good while looking out for the needs of those who are most vulnerable.