Full Name: Gonzalo Reyes
What office are you seeking? Sterling Public Schools Board of Education
What is your political party? This is a non-partisan election.
What is your current age? 69
Occupation and Employer: Retired, working part-time at Newman High School as an art teacher.
What offices, if any, have you previously held? Sterling Municipal Band, Chair
Sterling Educational Association, Executive Board
Twin Cities Education Scholarship, President
Sterling Public Schools Board of Education, Vice-President
Finance Committee Chair
Public Relations Committee Chair,
Personal Committee, Chair
Public Relations Committee, Chair
Northwest Regional Division, Illinois Association School Boards Chair
Latin American Social Club, Executive Board, Parliamentarian
Campaign Website: https??www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100089066206238
Education: Sauk Valley Community College, Associate in Arts, Liberal Arts
Southern Illinois University, Bachelor of Arts, Communications
University of Notre Dame du Lac, Master of Fine Arts, Visual Arts
St. Mary’s College, Teaching Certificate
Community involvement: Sacred Heart Church Pastoral Council
Sacred Heart Church RCIA
Sacred Heart Adult Formation
Twin Cities Educational Scholarship Inc.
Latin American Social Club
Notre Dame Club of Rockford
Volunteer Northern Illinois Food Band
Hispanic Mural 1999
Marital status/Immediate family: Carol J. Reyes
Why are you running for office?
There is no more important job in our community than the education of our children. I am very passionate about this, that is why I have dedicated more than 40 years of my life in education. Further, I was elected to three terms as a board member at SPS. Prior to my election to the Board of Education, I was a community activist in education, I had concerns about the lack of educational progress of student populations of color and low social economic students. Further, there were concerns about how funds from the Health/Life Safety were being illegally spent. I wrote letters to the editor, was asked by the Daily Gazette to write guest columns in the editorial page and would appear before the school board, and would address the board about these areas of concern. I have continued to aware of the direction of Sterling Schools and feel that I would add an experienced and divergent voice to the board.
There are four areas I would like the Board of Education to consider.
The first concern is the Grow Your Own (GYO) now called SPS University. I originally presented what I called the GYO concept after reading about it in an educational magazine some 15 years ago. I again spoke about his concept two years ago when I last ran for School Board. Finally, I approached the Board of Education, at the November’s meeting of this year, to address the falling number of teachers of color employed by the school district. Minority teachers compromised only 7% of the teachers, down from a high of 15% just seven years prior. This in a school district where the minority population is over 30%. GYO-SPS University is a plan of action where the SPS schools would recruit employees/students and help prepare them to become teachers with the intention of serving our school district as educators. There are still areas under development that I would like to have input.
The second area I would like the Board of Education to consider is changing the current policy of how our sports facilities are being used. I would like to see the school district open some of facilities to the public for their use during the week and on weekends when they are not in use by the students. While we are not the park district, we have beautiful sports facilities paid for by tax dollars. Perhaps we could expand programs that are family friendly, where the public would feel welcome. There are both pros and cons to this idea, but a discussion should be had by the Board of Education.
The third topic I would like to present to the board for discussion is considering a change to how we elect our school board members. I believe our current system is antiquated and now currently unfair. When our current school district was created in the 70′s, it was set up to in-sure that the out of district townships would have representation on the board. However, the west end historically has been under-represented for at least the past 50 years. While both districts are guaranteed representation, voters from in-district vote for the candidates in the out of district candidates and the out of district voters vote for the in-district candidates. Why should either district influence the election of board candidates from the other district. There are currently two options offered by the state to change the manner of elections, I prefer the 7 districts with residence, meaning there are seven districts and each district elects their own member to represent their neighborhood. Now each neighborhood has some one that represents them, someone who is a neighbor, and who is responsible to them.
Lastly, the board has just signed their final contract with the current superintendent. He will be retiring at the end of this contract. Dr. Everett has served more than 15 years. I was part of the board that hired Dr. Everett to his current position. I have been on the board when we have had to do three board searches. As the board searches for his replacement, I have some ideas that would be helpful in this the most important function of the Board of Education. It is no easy task and there are many things that will need to be considered in looking for a qualified replacement that will continue to meet the needs of our students, staff and community. The new superintendent will have to be able to understand and carry out the vision and mission that has been established by all the stake holders of our community. We are diverse population who wants the very best educational system for our children. I believe my prior experience will be a benefit to the current board which has had no previous experience in a superintendent.
What makes you qualified for the office you’re seeking?
There is no more important job in our community than the education of our children. I am very passionate about the education of all children. I have dedicated more than 40 years of my life as a teacher, administrator and a board member. My experience in education includes teaching at the grade school, middle school, and high school. I also have 5 years teaching of teaching at the college/university level. I was rated as a highly qualified teacher. As an educator I was recognized for excellence several times, the most recent was being nominated twice for the Sterling Public Schools Garnett Teacher of the Year. I received this award during my first year of teaching at Sterling Public Schools.
An additional qualification, was my being elected for three terms as a member of Sterling Public Schools Board of Education. In my time on the Board of Education, I was Vice-president for 5 years. I served at one time or another as chair of the Financial Committee, Education Committee and Policy Committee. In more that 108 meetings of the regular scheduled board meetings during my service, I missed only two times. In addition, I was elected to serve as chair of the Northwest Division of Illinois Association of School Boards for three years. This event is where the area district school board members would attend a meeting twice a year for further training in their school board responsibilities.
Lastly, prior to my election to the school board I spent 6 years as a community activist. I would write letters to the editor of the Gazette informing the readers about then school board practices that were ultimately deemed illegal by the Illinois State Board of Education. The Daily Gazette would invite me to write articles as a guest columnist concerning these educational issues. Lastly, I would attend the school board meetings where I would address the board about issues that concerned how tax money was being spent or on issues as related to the education/treatment of minority students.
Have you sought and/or received any training to run for your local school board? If so, from whom?
Besides my educational background and training, I have been recognized by the Illinois Association of School Boards with the status of Master School Board Member for six consecutive years. This training is provided to school board members. The number of classes exceeds what is required by the state a minimum standard. To earn this annual award the board member must earn 200 points every year. The requirements for recognition include attending workshops on various responsibilities of the school board, governance, attending regional/state meetings, and participating in committees of the Illinois Association of School Boards. I still retain that status. The committee I chose to participate in was involved in recommended to the assembly of delegates legislation the Illinois Association of School Boards would recommend to the State Assembly to consider as part of their legislation. I still retain that status.
Would you propose any changes to the curriculum? If so, what?
I would not make any changes to the curriculum at this time. The school district continues to work on the scope and sequence of its curriculum with the intention of having a fully integrated curriculum from the lower grade levels through the secondary level. I would however, support the continued expansion STEM and pathways.
Lastly, in regards to co-curriculars, I would continue to emphasize its expansion to get more students involved and hopefully have the same results as we are currently experiencing, in regards to inclusivity and rising grade point averages.
Something I might consider in the future, is the addition of a civics class, given the political climate of our country.
Are LGBTQ students treated fairly in your district?
I would assume yes. I would expect SPS to be following the laws as mandated by the Illinois State Assembly. The Illinois State Board of Education, as well as, the Illinois High School Association, derive their authority from the assembly and are to implement policies that are mandatory for all schools; these policies are supposed to guide the local school districts in their governance of both the academic and athletic aspects of the educational environment. I would further assume that the culture of the school is inclusive and welcoming to all students regardless of its diversity. If I hear different then the board would direct the superintendent to investigate the situation, after the chain of command of responsibilities has been followed.
What is your assessment of how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is handled in your school district?
Currently my biggest concern, even more so than minority student achievement, is the lack of diversity of the professional and support staffs at Sterling Public Schools. While the support staff has more diversity, it still only numbers about 28%. The professional teaching staff is even more dismal at about 7%. These number means we have about 15 teachers who are Latino. There is currently one Latino administrator and no Afro-American teachers working at the Sterling Public Schools, according to the 2022 Illinois Report Card. The trend for minority professional staff has been declining over at least the past 5 years. Our minority student population is about 35% or more and increasing. The current numbers in regards to staffing at Sterling Public Schools are unacceptable.
Do you believe the district needs to make any changes to improve DEI in your district?
A change of focus must occur. During the times when Sterling Public Schools had higher numbers of minority teachers, I discovered that the staff was almost entirely made up of persons who were raised and educated at Sterling Schools. They went to college and wanted return to Sterling, as teacher, to have an impact on the lives of our students. In my opinion recruiting and trying get students to come to Sterling from other areas, is a waste of time and resources. I proposed Grow Your Own (GYO) now called SPS University, as a means of providing an avenue to help any student from Sterling to achieve their post-secondary goals of becoming a teacher and then returning to Sterling. This effort should not be our only means of increasing minority teaching populations.
Are teachers in your district paid adequately now and in retirement?
According to the 2020 Illinois Report Card, the average salary of the teacher at SPS lags behind the state average by about $12,000. After the last negotiations, the teaching staff will receive a raise over the next four years for a total of 18% increase over the previous contract. The starting salary of the first year teacher is now about $45,000. Based upon these figures, I believe that the teachers are being adequately compensated for their services.
Further, contained in their contract is the stipulation that as their educational qualifications increase, so does their compensation. Additionally, the greater the number of years’ experience, the greater their compensation.
Other benefits provided to the teachers include sick days and personal days. In regards to health insurance the school district pays the first 6% of each year’s increases and after that amount, the costs are split 50/50.
The last benefit of the teacher’s employment, is the continued school district’s payment of the full 9.899% contribution to the Teacher Retirement Service for their retirement.
Would you support changes to teacher pay scales? If so, how?
After the last negotiations where both parties were happy with the final terms of the contract, I would say no.
What is your assessment of the district superintendent’s compensation?
The Board of Education has just renewed a five-year contract with the current superintendent culminating with his retirement. While, I do not know the terms of the agreement, I would expect the board to be responsible in its use of the tax dollars.
A point of fact while I was on the board, there was a superintendent who asked for a pay increase that exceeded the expectations of the board and was refused. He finished out his contract and left for another school district. The point being, is that I have had previous board experience that I believe could benefit the school district in the search and negotiations with the new superintendent.
Would you make any changes to how the district superintendent is compensated?
No, as the terms of the conditions of his current contract have already been agreed to by both parties. His compensation very closely mirrors the contract with the Sterling Education Association with several exceptions, I believe that his family health insurance is fully paid and there is a matched contribution to a 403B account as well as the contribution to Teacher Retirement Association of 9.899%. Lastly, his mileage is re-imbursed and the district pays for the professional and job-related workshops he attends.
Do you support the current superintendent? Please explain.
I was part of the board that hired Dr. Everett. In the time that I was on the board, prior to hiring Dr. Everett, we went through three superintendent searches. The first left because he was unhappy with the new terms of his contract, he left so abruptly that we did not have enough time to do a thorough search for a new superintendent. We hired an interim superintendent for one year. We spent the year looking for a new person, using the resources of the Illinois Association of School Boards superintendent search resources. As a result, we hired Dr. Booker and he was our superintendent until he retired 5 years later.
Our last search was concluded with the hiring of Dr. Everett. He was an internal hire. We felt that he knew the needs and the culture of the community. We further felt that he could lead the school through innovation and a reliance on the data to make decisions that would best meet the growing needs of the school district. He was highly regarded by most, if not all the stakeholders of the community.
In each search we had to use various resources and criteria to find a superintendent best suited to what the board felt was the needs of the district. I believe that he has well served the school district. One important issue is that there has not been a tax increase in fifteen years, while as the same the educational needs of the students has greatly been expanded. There have been areas of disagreements that I have had with Dr. Everett concerning board issues, there have been situations that he has had that he would do over but, by and large he has very done well. For me the bottom line is this, is our school district better now than where we were when he started 15 years ago? I would answer yes, we are in a much better position.
Should schools in your district adopt and teach sex education according to the National Sex Education Standards? Please explain.
No. Instead we have the local YWCA come in and present a program to the students of our district, that reflects more our values of our community. The YWCA’s series of presentation, allows SPS not to follow the National Sex Education Standards. Further, if parents are in disagreement with any of these presentations, may pull their children from attending this program.
What is your assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled locally?
The safety of our children is the greatest priority in our school district, even higher before their education. With all the confusion and politics of COVID-19, the school district did its job in the protection of our children based upon what was current information. I attended the school board’s meeting remotely when the superintendent and his administrators presented a plan of action in regards to COVID. 19 to the board. The board at some point gave the superintendent the authority to study, plan and execute the district’s response to this new and dangerous disease. I am in agreement with what was decided and the district’s response.
What did you learn from the pandemic?
Safety above all else. Try to get feedback from all stakeholders, including the medical experts, so you make a plan, but the district highest responsibility is the safety of all children and the decisions that are made should reflect this value. At some point in this realm of the unknowable is that, “We do the best we can with what we got.”
Unfortunately, the education of our children suffered, families suffered, the whole system was at risk. Could we have been better prepared, yes. How so, I don’t really know as yet. For me then the lesson that needs to be learned is this, we don’t always have control where we can anticipate, but instead only react. Lets learn what we can from this event and begin to prepare for the future.
Are voters that support your district taxed at an appropriate level?
Under the current system I believe so. I have no complaints about the school taxes I pay, I just ask that the taxing entity use each dollar wisely, and provide a good education for all children.
Would you support any plans to raise taxes in the district? If so, what should the additional revenue be spent on?
No, not at this time.
Would you support lowering taxes in the district? If so, what programs or services in the district would you cut?
I would support lowering taxes in the district, if a reasonable plan was presented before the board. Not all scenarios where taxes are cut requires the Board of Education to cut programs. In the current fiscal year taxes were cut, without there being a need to cut any programs or services. If and when the economy requires cutting taxes to the degree that programs must be cut, it would be the responsibility of the board to assess where the stakeholders would want the cuts to occur and by what amount. Proposed cuts would need to be judicious, while maintaining the educational integrity of the school system.
Will you accept the voters’ decision in your race on Election Day?
What is your position on open, transparent government?
The Board of Education should always act in a manner to encourage interest and participation by the stakeholders. I believe in an open and transparent Board of Education. As one example, I would like to have the monthly meetings streamed live and rebroadcast several times of the month. While on the board previously, at my request and with the board’s approval the meetings were broadcast on then channel 5 of Comcast. Shortly, after I resigned because of being hired to teach for Unit 5, the Board stopped broadcasting the meetings. If we can broadcast sports, music concerts, and other events of the school, why not board meetings?
The second matter I would like to address is having a public review of the highlights of all committee meeting minutes that were held during the month. This is where most of the work is done and recommendations for approval are made for the monthly board meeting. When an item is brought up before the board during the regular monthly meeting a motion and a second is made, then item is voted on, usually without much discussion. For the most part what has been decided is unknown unless the paper covers the meeting or the stakeholders search the internet the following month after that month’s minutes have been approved.
Thirdly, the addition of microphones at the Board meetings would greatly help the stakeholders hear the what is occurring during the meeting.
Lastly, an email could be sent to all the stakeholders of SPS with a notice of the proposed upcoming agenda for the board meeting; included in the email would be the dates and proposed agendas of all the committee meetings as well.
I realize that most of the stakeholders would not be interested in these efforts, but still, these efforts would be an attempt to create more interest in the business of the school district.
Do you support the Freedom of Information Act and citizens’ ability to freely access government records?
Any governmental body doing the people’s work, should be as transparent as possible. Any citizen has the right to request and receive public domain information. Whatever is reported out to the public by the school district must be true. If someone believes that there is a problem, they then have the right to request the information desired though the Freedom of Information Act.
I have used the Freedom of Information Act to get access to information from Sterling Public Schools on many occasions. For an example, there was a time, in the 1990′s, when Sterling Public School’s had a superintendent that was not following the law, in regards to the use of the Health Life/Safety Fund. In my investigation of this I had used the Freedom of Information to gain access to the discussions Sterling Public Schools had with the Regional Office of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education. While the district was denying there any problems, the information requested through the Freedom of Information provided contradictory information. I would use these documents as a source for my letters to the editor and to address the board, as to why this was occurring. Further, I asked why the board wasn’t following through with the information that I had provided to verify its’ truthfulness. Their response was to believe the then superintendent and not act on the information was provided.
It was determined that SPS was in fact spending money illegally and as a result, the school district was placed on probationary recognition and ordered to repay the Health Life/Safety Fund more than one million dollars.