Crowded field for Huntley School District 158 Board includes 10 candidates vying for four spots

Hopefuls discuss backgrounds, views on spending, learning strategies, COVID-19 and more

Huntley School District 158′s response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on schooling and the role the board plays in responding inspired several candidates to join the race for a seat on the board.

In an especially contested election, six newcomers are running to unseat four incumbents for spots on the seven-member board in April.

The continued COVID-19 response was among the top priorities the candidates pointed to in answers to questions from the Northwest Herald this week, along with fiscal responsibility, mental health and innovative learning strategies.

The newcomers

Laura Murray has a background in customer service and considers herself a “team player.” She said she is running because of the current board’s “dismal response” to the pandemic.

“Without strong leadership, organizations cannot thrive,” Murray said.

Tara Masino is a longtime district resident with a degree in psychology and a background in global human resources. She said she was inspired to run because of the legacy her father left as a football coach.

“I think now more than ever we all need to be active participants in our children’s education,” she said.

Jennifer Sargent has a background in elementary and early childhood education. She is a write-in candidate, meaning her name will not appear on the ballot but can be written in by voters. She sees herself as an “advocate” for students.

Katherine “Kate” Policheri is a basketball coach and pharmacist who has been vaccinating residents at local clinics such as the ones held at Huntley High School on Feb. 11 and 12. She said she has many ideas she feels would benefit students and thinks she would bring a “fresh perspective” to the board.

Susan Hochmuth is a longtime district resident, avid volunteer and breast cancer survivor.

“In the past year, I didn’t like what I saw, and I surely do not approve of the academic future for my children and all the other children in our district, so I want to be their advocate,” Hochmuth said.

Finally, Dana Dalton-Wiley is a longtime volunteer and district resident who has held leadership roles with other local organizations.

“I know that the bulk of our local taxes go to the school districts, so what better way to be involved than at this level to watch and learn how our tax dollars are best used at a grassroots level?” she said.

The incumbents

Current board members running for reelection are president Anthony “Tony” Quagliano; secretary Paul Troy; Lesli Melendy, who leads the board’s communications and community engagement committee; and Sean Cratty, who chairs its legislation committee.

Cratty is a retail banker who said he wants to continue using his financial expertise to guide conversations on the district’s budgeting and spending. He said he is actively involved in the community and makes a point to listen to all viewpoints presented to him.

Melendy is a community volunteer and a member of the Huntley Area Chamber of Commerce with a background in state and local government. She said she has a passion for “community involvement and civic duty” and is not afraid to break with the majority to stand up for what she feels is best for students and taxpayers.

Troy has a background in engineering and finance and has served on the board for 12 years. He also serves as vice chairman of the Illinois Association of School Boards’ Kishwaukee region. He said he wants to continue helping District 158 students prepare for their futures.

Quagliano is a certified public accountant and partner with Eric J. Fernandez & Co. in West Dundee. He said he had not planned to run again, but after the past year of dealing with the pandemic, he wants to remain on the board as a source of stability and expertise. He called himself a “proven leader” and an “excellent problem-solver.”

The issues

The pandemic’s effect on schools is top of mind for many District 158 families, as well as the board candidates.

Murray, Hochmuth and Dalton-Wiley stressed the need for a return to full in-person learning, with Murray and Hochmuth also calling for a full return of athletic programs. The other candidates called for approaches that emphasized listening to district families, giving options and moving toward more in-person learning as infection rates decline and vaccination rates increase.

“I do believe consistency in the school-day schedule is important and to minimize the amount of changes to the schedule as we close out the school year,” Cratty said.

All of the candidates touched on the need to address learning gaps from the past year’s educational disruptions.

Dalton-Wiley proposed the biggest changes to the district’s pandemic response, suggesting that schools move forward with standardized testing in the spring and fall to “hold themselves accountable” and “learn where failures have occurred.” She also said she would push to extend the school year into the summer months for the next two years to “make up for the lost in-person instructional time.”

Supporting students’ mental and social-emotional health was listed among the priorities for Melendy, Troy, Dalton-Wiley and Masino, most of whom said the topic is particularly important given the effects of the past year.

“Our kids are under significant social, emotional and family stress only complicated by a pandemic,” said Masino, who also expressed a need for a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum at an earlier age.

All candidates expressed a core desire to help prepare District 158 students for future success. Dalton-Wiley said one way to do this is for the district to promote more postgraduation options beyond attending college and to facilitate internship programs for high school students.

Cratty, Melendy, Dalton-Wiley, Masino and Quagliano listed fiscal responsibility, budgeting or managing the district’s burden on taxpayers as one of their top priorities.

“For me, each decision is weighed according to cost and benefit and in a manner that stresses efficiency,” Melendy said. “I also believe that schools should be primarily funded by the state of Illinois as mandated in the [state] Constitution.”

Policheri said that as the mother of a child with autism, one of her priorities would be to address the challenges remote learning has posed for special education students and teachers. She also wants the district to participate in the Nora Project, a program that promotes empathy and inclusion between students of all abilities.

Sargent also said she would focus on supporting the diverse needs of all students and would start out by “listening and learning.” Masino, too, said she would advocate for a focus on special education services.

Troy said he wants to continue supporting innovative teaching and learning strategies to move District 158 forward as a “destination district.”

Kelli Duncan

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.