Three seeking two seats on Sterling Public School board appear at forum

During course of forum, candidates largely express shared values on education

Sterling School Board candidates Allen Przysucha (left), Narcisco Puentes and Gonzalo Reyes speak before the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce hosted candidate forum Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

STERLING — The three candidates vying for two city township seats on the Sterling Public Schools board of education expressed their shared values during a forum held Tuesday at city hall.

But when it came to priorities, each offered a slightly different emphasis on what their role would be should voters select them to serve a four-year term.

The consolidated election is Tuesday, April 4.

For Narcisco Puentes, a retired career educator who is a member of the current board, it’s about “setting policy that serves the best interests of all the students.”

Whether that means providing equipment or supporting teachers or staff, the quality of the board’s actions must “be more inquisitive as to what their needs are, continue to have conversations with all stakeholders.”

For Gonzalo Reyes, a career educator now a part-time teacher at Newman who served on the board previously, the most important task will be laying the foundation for the hiring of a new superintendent once long-serving Tad Everett retires in 2028.

“The superintendent helps to carry out the vision and mission,” Reyes said. “The importance of the superintendent cannot be understated.”

For Allen Przysucha, an assistant manager at Carpetland and literacy advocate through the Rotary, acknowledged both those as priorities yet added that the board carries the additional responsibility of being a sounding board.

“I can promise you if you have an issue, you can come to me or approach any of the board members: Ask them your question and they will get the question to the appropriate person,” Przysucha said.

The forum was moderated by Jon Mandrell, vice president of academics and student services at Sauk Valley Community College.

He questioned the candidates, who did not have advance notice of the topics presented at the forum.

All the candidates thought the preceding board performed well during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, acting on guidance and information as it was presented. Przysucha said learning lag remains an issue, especially for those who entered kindergarten and primary grades. Puentes also addressed that, saying one lesson learned was the need to do a better job of tracking learning progress during the remote learning period. Reyes mistakes were probably made, but he could not criticize the board’s actions when it clearly made student safety a priority throughout.

An ever-present challenge facing the distinct — and schools throughout the state — is the availability of teachers.

Reyes commended the board for initiating SPS University, which he said was modeled after his suggestions over the years to establish a Grow Your Own teaching pool, but he emphasized that the current staff does not come close to reflecting the minority demographics of the student body. “That’s unacceptable,” Reyes said.

Przysucha also recognized the initiative, singling out the work of Assistant Superintendent Sara Dail. He said he was informed that recently, at least, it’s not an unwillingness to hire minorities, but that they are not applying when “bilingual jobs are unfortunately going to the cities.”

Puentes said the biggest challenge in his eyes is “reaching out to all students.” He said the recent graduation rate of 88%, while acceptable, means there are students not being reached. “That’s something we need to dive in, to find out what we can do to help support those,” Puentes said.

The board should explore what it offers in the way of trades and avenues the community could support that approach, he added.

All three candidates discussed initiatives to address mental health of students, teachers and staff, especially in the aftermath of the first wave of the pandemic. In the main, the thought was the board has done well to make improvements in this area, but that the district should continue to take advantage of partners in the community that could enhance those services.

Prior to the forum, Sarah Alvarez-Brown was given two minutes to make a statement. She is the director of emergency services and Behavioral health at CGH Medical Center and is running unopposed in the remaining townships after serving out an unfulfilled term of 18 months. “I look forward to working with the oncoming board,” she said, noting her priorities are the quality of the academics and opportunities for all students.

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Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.