After an unprecedented year of debate over distance vs. in-person learning due to Covid-19, twelve candidates have filed to run for four open seats on the seven member Barrington 220 Board of Education (BOE). This also comes after overwhelming voter approval in March of a $147 million bond referendum to improve schools and enhance educational opportunities in Barrington 220.
Current BOE President Penny Kazmier is not seeking reelection after sixteen years on the board. Sandra Ficke-Bradford and Mike Shackleton are running again, Gavin Newman is not and the three school board members remaining in their positions are Barry Altshuler, Leah Collister-Lazzari and Angela Wilcox.
Five women and seven men have filed to run for Barrington 220’s Board on the April 6th, 2021 ballot. In addition to incumbents, Sandra Ficke-Bradford and Michael Shackleton, the list of candidates includes Lauren Berkowitz Klauer, Erin Chan Ding, William Betz, Alex Michael Strobl, Jonathan Matta, Katie Karam, Thomas J. Mitoraj, Steve Wang, Maggie McGonigal and Robert Windon.
With a dozen to choose from, we decided to reach out to all candidates to get to know a little more about who they are, their connection to Barrington and what their goals are for our community schools. We’ll publish profiles about all candidates between now and election day, but we’re starting with Thomas Mitoraj who was first to respond to our questions.
Thomas is a father-of-five committed to positive change for our schools by promoting greater equity, cooperation and preparedness within the Barrington 220 District. One of Thomas’ priorities is to focus on lessons learned during 2020’s pandemic to better prepare our schools for the future. Originally from Clarendon Hills and Des Plaines, one of the reasons Thomas and his family chose to move to Barrington is because of its schools. Here’s more about Thomas and what he hopes to accomplish if elected.
Meet the Candidate: Thomas J. Mitoraj
365: What brought you to Barrington?
Thomas Mitoraj: After I retired from the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps, I wanted to return to the Northwest suburbs because a significant number of my family and childhood friends live in this area. We specifically chose Barrington because of the great school district, the abundance of natural beauty, the small town feel, and the convenience of an express train stop for my daily commute to my office in downtown Chicago.
365: How long have you lived here and what do you love about our community?
Thomas Mitoraj: We have lived here for almost twelve years, and I thank God that my wife and I made the right decision to settle in this area. The people of Barrington live up to the proverbial village responsibility to pitch in and help raise all of our children. The selfless leaders in Boy Scout Troop 29, the tireless instructors at Bataille Academie of the Danse, and the spiritual team at St. Anne’s church all welcomed us and helped impart values that you can’t always learn in a classroom. I am grateful for meeting so many caring, generous, and hard working people through school and various other activities around town and I value the friendships we have developed along the way.
365: Did you attend school locally?
Thomas Mitoraj: I went to St. Mary’s school in Des Plaines through middle school and attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette for high school. I have a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota as well as both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
365: How would you describe your experience to-date with learning in Barrington 220?
Thomas Mitoraj: Starting at either Roslyn Roads Elementary school or Prairie Middle school, four of my five kids have graduated from Barrington High School and are now in their early 20s. My youngest is an 18 year old Senior at BHS.
My kids all learned from a balanced program that combined in-class learning with extracurricular activity learning. The school district really has something for everyone. My kids are like many kids in the community. The students have an array of strengths, weaknesses, and interests. The teachers and school staff members have been able to work with kids who needed extra help through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 program as well as kids who are able to take advantage of multiple advanced placement courses. My kids also benefited from the tremendous learning opportunities available on the fine arts stage as well as on the football field. From elementary school to high school, there were always teachers interested in and supportive of my kids. Many teachers challenged my kids to grow intellectually and emotionally. Of course, the school experience was strongly shaped by their fellow students. My kids were fortunate to make many good friends and I suspect several will be life-long friendships.
365: How has your background prepared you to serve on Barrington’s Board of Education?
Thomas Mitoraj: I think a combination of my experiences raising five kids who all went through the District 220 school system, my roles in various youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts, my eleven years on the faculty of Northwestern University, my twenty one years serving the public as a Naval officer, and the opportunity to watch the unbelievable hard work of my wife Elba, a local bilingual kindergarten teacher, have all provided me a fairly well rounded perspective.
365: What are your short-term goals for B220?
Thomas Mitoraj: As guided by government health officials, we need to return to in-class teaching in a smart, safe, and expedient manner. At the same time, we need to gather our lessons learned from our remote learning experiences. It seems as though we should return to some semblance of normalcy with the rollout of the new vaccines, but, and I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, there will likely be other viruses or circumstances in our lifetime that will occasionally require remote learning. We need to be better prepared for the next time.
2020 will be remembered for the virus as well as some prominent racial injustices that revealed we still have a long way to go in terms of respect for basic human dignity. I would like to work with groups such as Courageous Conversations and Be the Change as well as the first ever Director of Equity, Race and Cultural Diversity Initiatives, Nate Rouse, in order to identify and implement ways in which we can bring about meaningful change. For example, I need to learn more about restorative justice options while continuing to commit to public condemnation of all forms of racism and hate speech.
While passion is a great source of energy to channel into making positive change, I think there has been a surprising amount of negative polarization within the community, particularly over the past year. We need to keep the students’ well being in mind foremost. We need to remember that they are watching our actions and language, even when we don’t think they are paying attention. We need to find more common ground and recognize that we will not be able to get unanimous agreement on all issues.
I also need to listen to the concerns of teachers and staff of the district as represented by the Barrington Educators Association and the Barrington School District Employee Organization, as well as any individuals, who would like to communicate their concerns and positive ideas in a constructive manner.
365: What are your longer-term goals for our school district?
- Maintain the balanced academic excellence of one of the best districts in the State of Illinois and elevate the district to the top tier level in the entire United States.
- Build upon the surge in interest to improve diversity by learning from experts in this field and implementing specific plans of action that are developed in the coming year.
- Find new ways to maximize the return on the investment in our facilities through smart leases and off peak usage.
- Expand our fine arts and athletics programs to provide world class opportunities to develop our students’ abilities to their fullest potential.
- Implement the facility improvement plans that have already been approved while recognizing that there must be a perpetual commitment to sustaining our facilities and adapting or expanding them as our needs evolve.
365: What are your biggest concerns for our students and our school district today?
Thomas Mitoraj: Our students and adults need to keep the use of technology in perspective. Technology should be a tool to make our lives better and not a substitute for social interaction, human touch, and time in the outdoors.
I am saddened to see the polarization of our community, particularly around the COVID dilemma. The uncertainties, the economic impacts, the isolation, and fear have really inflamed our passions. The scale of this pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime and we can’t be too surprised that we have struggled so much to get through it. We need to use science to inform our decisions and we need to be creative in solving the challenges. This pandemic has revealed numerous weaknesses in our healthcare system and the limited resources of the school district. At the same time, I think the solutions are evolving, albeit imperfectly, as we implement hybrid teaching and revolutionary vaccination techniques.
Many of our students see government leaders with no logical plans, little compassion for others in need, no honesty, and no respect for human dignity. We need to restore their hope by setting examples of ethical based leadership. Character counts.
365: What should our priorities be as a community in choosing new school board members?
Thomas Mitoraj: Board members must have the ability to listen to the community and logically balance the numerous competing requirements within the District.
365: What’s at risk with the wrong leadership in place?
Thomas Mitoraj: Ultimately, our students and teachers will suffer with the wrong leadership in place. The wrong leadership will focus predominantly on the negative and set a poor example of effective leadership for our children. The wrong leadership could also result in a decline in the quality of our academic programs, deterioration of our facilities, and an exodus of talented staff from the district.
365: Any favorite words to live by? From whom and why?
Thomas Mitoraj:Two of my favorite quotes are attributed to Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.
Edison suggested that, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” The smartest and most successful people I know are persistent. Some of them may have been blessed with various natural talents, but they achieved great things because they worked extremely hard. There are always a hundred things that can go wrong, but persistent, hard working people will find a way to succeed. My hard working friends also find ways to have fun. Just because you sweat, it doesn’t mean that the effort is all tedious. My parents really instilled in me the joy and satisfaction of a hard job, done well.
Einstein reportedly said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is a tremendous nod to the value of diversity. If we all grow up with exactly the same experiences, same values, same friends, and same education, we will greatly reduce our ability to generate novel solutions to the challenges that face the human race. We must embrace diversity, even if it can be uncomfortable at times.
365: What’s one of your favorite things to do/places to be in Barrington, with whom & why?
Thomas Mitoraj: My weekends would not be complete if I didn’t have a chance to stop by Shirley’s Piano Bar to enjoy some great music and cocktails with friends or family. I love good food. Starting my day at Egg Harbor for breakfast or sharing a fantastic dinner meal and lively conversation at Region, Frantonio’s, Pl8, Francesca’s, Sushi Kushi 4 U (Lake Zurich), Franco’s Pescharia (Lake Zurich), Near (RIP), or one of the other great places we have in the area is one of my favorite past times. It’s fun to share the good times in Barrington with locals as well as friends coming from all over the Chicagoland area. When I am not playing tennis at Citizens Park or Midtown Athletic Club (Palatine) or doing projects around the house, I really enjoy being able to walk out my front door and right into the trails of Cuba Marsh.
365: Any other questions that you’d like to answer or things you’d like to share?
Thomas Mitoraj: A few years ago, I finished writing a book that distilled my thoughts about the challenges of helping kids grow into self sufficient adults with positive values. The published book is called, “Raising Capable Kids with Basic Decency, Common Sense, and Passion.” I have always found that writing down my challenges has helped me tremendously to put things in perspective and come up with workable approaches to tackle them. I didn’t originally intend to write a book, but my thoughts started flowing and once I developed a framework for the book, it was relatively easy to tie things together. My hope is that the book will help parents, teachers, and any adult volunteers working with kids. Click here for more information.
I am in listening mode as I gather input from people throughout the District 220 community. One way I am collecting input is from an on-line survey I created just before Christmas. I encourage people to check it out and answer some or all of the questions. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Y3W7RKR.
Stay tuned for more Barrington 220 Board of Education candidate profiles in the weeks ahead. We’ve reached out to all twelve of them. Our schools are a big part of what gives Barrington its unique character and we appreciate all who are willing to help lead the way on behalf of Barrington families, children and young adults.
Formed in 1973, Barrington Community Unit School District 220 educates over 9,000 students at one high school, two middle schools (grades 6-8), eight elementary schools, and one early childhood center. District 220 encompasses 72 square miles in 4 counties and covers 12 villages: all of Barrington, Lake Barrington, Tower Lakes; and portions of Barrington Hills, Carpentersville, Deer Park, Fox River Grove, Port Barrington, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, North Barrington, and South Barrington. Learn more at Barrington220.org.