Thomas Andrew Binkowski
Candidate Name: Thomas Andrew Binkowski
Office Seeking: School District 203 School Board
Campaign Website: www.beagoodcitizen.org
Subdivision/Neighborhood: East Highlands
Occupation and/or Professional Training: Professor of Computer Science and Research Scientist (Computational Biology)
How long in years have you been a Naperville resident? 40
Number of school-age children? 4
Service on Boards, Commissions, Task Forces, etc. with dates served (nonprofit too): N/A
The following answers have only been edited for formatting purposes.
1. Why are you running to serve the board of education?
As a parent of four District 203 students, I have been frustrated by this school year. I am concerned about academic performance and saddened about the social and emotional scars that our children will bear. I am genuinely hopeful that a bright future exists for the District and its students. However, it depends on where we go from here. Everyone wants to do what is best for our students, but there is an impassioned division on what exactly that means. Some will be happy to have everything return back to the way it was. For the rest of us, we want it to be better.An opportunity is present now to reshape priorities, reimagine the school day, redefine what excellence in education looks like, and reclaim our District’s leadership role. I am a teacher who has been thrust into the world of remote learning and a scientist who has spent over a decade studying proteins and infectious diseases, but more importantly, I am a father who has dedicated my life to my children. I have an obligation to them, and our community, to raise my voice to ensure that being a student in District 203 is once again an asset and not a liability.
2. What is the school district’s most pressing need?
The negative impact of remote learning on the academic achievement and social development of our children is obvious to all parents. The District needs to perform academic triage to rapidly identify the learning loss and provide supplementary educational opportunities and programs to get every student at or above grade level. While the full exstent will not be clear until testing is completed, the District needs to plan and act now. No matter what the model, Remote, Hybrid, or In-person, there should be equitable options to support all students.
3. What are strengths and weaknesses, if any, of the school district’s programs dedicated toward special education students, English Language Learners (ELL), students “in the middle” and gifted students?
I believe that there are enriching, engaging lessons and classwork in the gifted program curriculum that should be brought back to all classrooms. In addition to supporting high-performing students, these programs should be the proving ground for innovation and experimentation. The best pedagogy should not be reserved for a subset of District 203 students, it should be accessible to all.
4. Name three District 203 policies that need review or immediate attention.
- Reclaiming Board Authority on Return To Learn – On August 17, 2020, “The Board held discussion with action and approved a Resolution Affirming the Authority of the Superintendent to Implement Return to Learn Plan for 2020-2021 School year.”. This resolution gives complete authority to the Superintendent to plan and execute the Districts “Return to Learn” plan. Section 2:20 Powers and Duties of the School Board, item 3, identifies the board’s power and duty in• Reclaiming Board Authority on Return To Learn – On August 17, 2020, “The Board held discussion with action and approved a Resolution Affirming the Authority of the Superintendent to Implement Return to Learn Plan for 2020-2021 School year.”. This resolution gives complete authority to the Superintendent to plan and execute the Districts “Return to Learn” plan. Section 2:20 Powers and Duties of the School Board, item 3, identifies the board’s power and duty in”Directing, through policy, the Superintendent, in his or her charge of the District’s administration”. By transferring policy decisions to the Superintendent the board relinquished one of its primary directives during the most critical points in the District’s history. I will ensure that Board reclaims and never again undermines their authority.
- Amend Board of Education Member Requirements – This past year has highlighted the need for board members to have a child in a District 203 school during their term. There is no way to possibly understand some of the current issues facing families without daily interactions with a student. I will propose that the District 203 Board of Education amend its requirements to require that a Board member have a student in a school at the time of their election.
- Define Digital Citizenry Standards For Students, Faculty and Curriculum – The reliance on technology to deliver curriculum and resources has provided for a nearly unlimited access to resources. However, it has also led to a fragmented, unrestricted use of resources that may not be suitable for all audiences. The District should design and enforce “real-world” digital citizenry standards for faculty, staff, and students. Students should not be assigned online resources that violate child protection laws, contain advertisements, or are not age-appropriate. All resources should have accessibility features for learners of all abilities. Also, the full implications of data-collection associated with Google GSuite accounts should be transparently disclosed to all stakeholders.
5. How often are you in touch with members of the current School Board? And how many years have you attended/watched school board meetings live or after they’re saved in the archive?
I have not been in regular contact with members of the current board. I have sent emails to the Superintendent but, frustratingly, they were never replied to. I have considered the best way to address issues was direct to the teachers and principal at the school. Up until last year, I had casually attended and watched board meetings. Since last year, I have consistently watched them.
6. What up-and-coming City of Naperville development do you think will impact School District 203 funding the most? As a board member, where would you look to make budget adjustments?
Under the cloud of a pandemic, it is difficult to speak about the impact of future development projects. At this time, I am most concerned about the number of Naperville businesses that have closed their doors and the negative impact of the 2020-2021 school year on the ability of Naperville to attract and retain families with school age children. The City should be concerned with an impending exodus if Naperville is unable to provide the excellent education on which its reputation has been built. I believe the top priority in budget adjustments should be aimed to support a safe return to full-time, in-person schooling such as state-of-the-art air filtration equipment, contactless bathroom fixtures and personal protective equipment.
7. In a public relations role as a school board member, how would you orientate a new family to the school district? What engagement opportunities would you suggest for parents to connect with the school regarding volunteer activities, parent-teacher committees to oversee curriculum, etc.
I would encourage all parents to get involved in any way possible at their children’s school. Do not just sit back and wait for the perfect opportunity, walk in the front door and ask what you can do. Talk to the teachers, talk to the custodian, talk to the principal. There are many fantastic volunteer opportunities that will present themselves. I have shelved books in the LC, chaperoned field trips, and been a room parent but I have also proofread essays, chalked the front sidewalk, helped build a garden planter, and silk-screened t-shirts, only because I asked if anyone needed a hand. Our elementary school also had a successful program to pair new family with a representative family in that grade to help adjusting to the new school.
In my 10 years in the district, I have never seen anything like a parent-teacher committee to oversee curriculum. I would have welcomed it. As a board member, I would advocate for a more standardized curriculum across grade levels. There needs to be more parity in curriculum, activities, resources, and assignments between classes.
8. Consider K-12 core curriculum to include English (reading, language arts writing), science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts (STEAM), foreign languages, computer science, civics/government/current events, economics, history, geography, physical education/health and social-emotional learning standards. If the school district were forced to eliminate a subject in order to add a new one, what would you eliminate? Any thought of what you would add at what grade level? What’s the parents’ role in monitoring curriculum changes and choices?
If forced, I would eliminate Computer Science from the curriculum. This may sound surprising since I teach Computer Science, but I think that computational thinking and coding can be integrated into the existing curriculum. Computational thinking and coding should be a core competency for District 203 students. In today’s world, computing is ubiquitous and this should be reflected across our curriculum. The District has provided every student with a computer or tablet, but they are only used as glorified notebooks. We should encourage the use of computing as a tool that can be applied to all disciplines. This does not mean that all students need to become highly proficient programmers, but instead that they all develop logic and problem solving skills that can be leveraged anywhere. I would encourage expanding grade-level computational thinking and programming summer school courses to support this.
I would propose an initiative that aims to integrate financial literacy into the curriculum. Financial literacy is a real-world skill that will benefit a student for the rest of their life. This could be introduced during the Family and Consumer Science (FACS), PLTW, and Art sequence in junior high. A required follow-on course at the High School level focused on credit, personal finance, debts, investments, etc. would prepare students as they transition to college or their first careers. Being able to ‘solve for x’ may be useful now, but providing them the knowledge and tools to make sound financial decisions is the first step to making sure that your kids do not end up living in your basement.
9. Research reveals that high self-esteem and student achievement are closely related to positive parental involvement in school. Considering growing interest in school choice, home-schooling and private schools, what are your thoughts on school vouchers?
It is disheartening to hear people talk about school vouchers in Naperville. When you ask people why they move to Naperville, the answer is always the same: the schools. If the community is talking about private schools, home-schooling, and school choice then there is a fundamental change in how the community feels about District 203. Naperville was once ranked the best place in the US to raise a family, now it is ranked a top place to retire or remote work. The difference is the schools. I would hope that the excellence of District 203 would make this a non-issue for families, however, I understand that they will do what they feel is best for their children.
10. When was the last time you read the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights?
I was inspired to read them for the first time since taking U.S. History in High School during the 2016 election. I subsequently read them both again after reading this question.
11. Have you received any donations or endorsements from any organized group(s)? If so, which groups?
12. Name the school teacher who most influenced you. Please include grade, school, city and state. (Parents/family are not eligible.)
Like many former Huskies, Naperville North’s Lee Merak was the teacher who had the most profound influence on me. Mr. Marek was my Chemistry teacher and even if you did not go NNHS, you might recognize him as a return guest on Late Night With David Letterman where he performed science demonstration and famously ruined one of Dave’s suits with elephant toothpaste. It would be easy to select a “celebrity” as a most influential teacher but it was his soft-spoken, quirky manner combined with a passion for chemistry that made his teaching effortless and memorable. As a teacher myself, I often think back to his classes for inspiration. I try to emulate his enthusiasm and hope to garner the same excitement I felt sitting in class with my own students. I try to convince myself we are a little the same because my students can watch me on their screens too (even though I know in my heart that Zoom doesn’t count)
Anything else you’d like to add?