Kerri Johnson had one thing to say about her reason for running for her local school board: “Where do I begin?”
As a first-time candidate for Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, Johnson said she’s concerned about the well-being of the district’s students and worries about the sexual education curriculum she thinks is being pushed by the state.
She was one of 47 candidates who filed Monday at the McHenry County Administration Building for 17 school districts’ boards, which are slated to have elections this coming April. Also on the ballot are seats on village boards, city councils, and fire protection, library and park boards.
The election is a pivotal one for many school districts, as a number of them have the majority of their boards up for reelection this year. The election will take place on April 4.
Those who were in line on Monday were a mix of incumbents, appointees, new faces and those trying again at a seat. Their concerns were just as varied.
The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic was something Johnson and many other candidates said was something that needed to be addressed.
“I want to help the students be protected and safe,” Johnson said. “I think we have a pretty strong group of people who are running. … I think the board has done a lot of good.”
He wants to focus on equipping students with a process to critically think and digest the information they receive. He also wants to focus on fiscal responsibility.
Departing from Johnson, Dailey said he wasn’t so much focused on those concerns about sexual content coming into the school. Instead, he’s focused on the framework of how to teach kids to deal with those things.
“[Teaching students] doesn’t come by censoring what they see because they’re going to see it in the world anyways,” he said. “I think we need to be mindful about not promoting a particular agenda … but promoting decision-making.”
District 158 will have four of its seven seats up in April’s election, according to the district’s website.
Jennifer Garafol, an incumbent at Harvard School District 50, said she was appointed to her role in February. In that time, she said she’s learned how limited the board is in its powers.
“I was like most and had no knowledge of what the board does and thinking they could do more than they actually could,” she said.
Garafol’s concerns are school safety. As a deputy with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, Garafol said she wants to continue being proactive to safety rather than reactive. She feels the board’s job is to provide a safe learning environment.
“I think I bring a different perspective to the board because of my experience,” she said.
Continuing to promote diversity was something a few candidates said they were prioritizing. PaTrice Dewey is running for District 47 for the first time and is concerned about efforts to ban books.
She thinks the district has done well at teaching “kindness and inclusion” and wants to promote that more. She also thinks teaching consent from an early age is a good thing since it’s a skill everyone needs.
“It’s good to see everyone welcoming,” she said. “Having the skills to be diverse and inclusive and consciously doing that … means these kids that are going to become future leaders won’t leave anyone in our community behind.”
Making sure the district has enough teachers is something Dewey is focused on too, she said. She wants to promote what she described as a “tutor-to-substitute-teacher pipeline.”
District 47 will have four of its seven seats up in April’s election, according to the district’s website.
Steve Fiorentino, an incumbent at Community School District 300, said he feels this election is different because of how much local interest there is.
He said he wants to help close educational gaps in the district, namely those that formed or were exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the pandemic affected us in a social and emotional way as much as it did in an educational way,” he said. “I think schools … invested a lot in the social emotional piece, and we need to swing back and be a little more balanced and go back to … education. Both are critically important.”
District 300, which includes all or part of Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Carpentersville and West Dundee, will have four of its seven seats up in the April election, according to the district’s website.
Taxes were another thing some candidates talked about. Dailey said he doesn’t think taxes need to be higher, but in order to lower the burden, the priority needs to be bringing in business to Huntley itself.
Dewey meanwhile said taxes are high, “but that’s why we have amazing schools.”
“People move out here to send their kids to our schools,” she said. “These are great schools. They’re worth going to.”
The timeline to file opened on Monday and will continue through 5 p.m. next Monday, County Clerk Joe Tirio said.