Read the Board Meeting Speeches from Joseph Sears Faculty

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Jennifer Comiza

Good evening, My name is Jennifer Comiza and I am here to make public comments on behalf of my colleagues of the World Language department standing here with me. Public comments. An essential part of every meeting of this democratically elected body, elected to lead the community in realizing the mission of this neighborhood school, the heart and soul of the village of Kenilworth. To be stewards of the dreams and potential of every child in this community. And we the teachers come here today to address you, the public, the community with heavy hearts to inform you of the impact of working without a contract since August, due to slow-moving negotiations. We know that while to some Sears teachers have been reduced to a budget line item of salaries and benefits, simply another cost to minimize, or FTE’s that can be manipulated in a staffing plan or discarded without thought, that our parents and families see us for who we truly are, partners in raising your children, spending the majority of each day with them, keeping them safe, supported and growing as students, as citizens and as individual spirits we cherish, walking alongside our students and families through these wonderful years.

We definitely feel this as World Language teachers who have the longest term relationships with our students, spanning JK-8th grades, from tender first days of school, through the tumultuous years of adolescence, until they’re ready to fly off to high school. Year after year, with the changing tides of shifting scheduling, budgeting, and staffing priorities, our team has seamlessly adapted our curriculum and practices to meet the challenges of the moment, supporting our students in their language development, opening a window wide to the rest of the world, often while juggling multiple roles in the schoolhouse. We have done this with great success. We are esteemed by our peers at New Trier, as was specifically articulated to our administrators in a meeting last year, and every year we have Sears graduates who advance to Years 2 and 3 of their language and go on to earn the Seal of Biliteracy, which New Trier emphasizes can’t be achieved without our essential work here. 

Almost all of us on the team have been committed professionals here for over a decade and have experienced the peaks and valleys. While boards and administrators have come and gone, through all the upheaval, we with the rest of our colleagues have been the ballast, keeping the ship upright and moving forward, we have continued to produce competitive outcomes and have kept Sears a wonderful place to grow up.

We have been committed to our roles as Sears teachers all these years and now the Board of Education’s lack of action shows that Sears is not committed to us. But does this really speak for Sears’ larger community? We don’t think it does, and that’s why we’re here. We think you agree with us that the children of Kenilworth deserve to have all their educational needs met with integrity, that we should continue to honor our hallmarks of tradition and excellence rather than go along with a shift to mediocrity, providing what’s just good enough to improve our district’s already sterling finances, which amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face. We’ve been told by Board representatives that if we don’t like it, we can leave. Well, we don’t like it but instead of leaving, we’re bringing our concerns directly to you.  We come to you with a dark cloud hanging over our heads, one that follows us into our classrooms with our students and into our homes with our own children and families, as much as we try to keep it out. And we know you have a vested interest in this state of affairs, because our working conditions are your child’s learning environment.  Thank you

Ann Rice

Good evening, my name is Ann Rice. I stand here with my first grade colleagues,
Blythe Szafoni and Jill Carell Gravenites to convey to you how we are feeling
about the climate of our school and the morale of this staff. 
We would like to begin by stating: 
Some things that have remained consistent over the
-Sears is an outstanding community of parents, students and alumni ….
all of whom have chosen to live in Kenilworth for the best education and
community as possible.
Another thing that has not changed since we first began teaching here is:
-The strong commitment and devotion to excellence of each and every colleague
that we have worked with over the years has remained intact. 
-The three of us combined have a total of 100 years of teaching. That number
right there should tell you we love what we do and we are dedicated to this
-Sears remains an incredible place to learn, to teach and to discover the very
best in each and every student.

Things that have changed:
-The culture of Sears School has changed, gradually!!
-We put in countless hours of work outside of the school day, but the workload
continues to increase each year. Maintaining a work/life balance is an extremely
challenging task. We often feel compelled to put Sears first because we are
dedicated educators. We have lost excellent, experienced teachers to other
districts due to the overwhelming workload. 
-With the high turnover of administration over the last 15 years, many new
initiatives have been created and not carried out with the level of integrity that is
necessary. We have spent countless hours developing curriculum and cohesive
lessons, only to have them replaced when there is administrative turnover. 

-Another growing concern is our substitute situation. The pay at District 38 is
among the lowest in the area. When teachers are home sick or taking care of
loved ones, they worry if there is a substitute taking their class. They expect their
students to have a seamless day without the interruption of multiple adults in and
out of their classroom which quite often is what is happening. 
-The best schools retain the best teachers by valuing their experience and
expertise. However, at Sears, colleagues, including tenured, well respected and
devoted teachers have resigned or been let go. We have lost 16 colleagues over
the last two years! The best schools recognize the devotion of those teachers,
year after year, and work to build relationships among them each and every

In closing, the commitment of Sears teachers has not changed this year,
despite all the challenges we have faced. The lack of a contract has not
prevented us from teaching. We continue to spend countless hours outside of the
school day preparing our lessons and communicating with families so we provide
the absolute best education possible to our students.  At the height of this
pandemic, we went above and beyond to implement the best curricular practices
to lead our students to success, as we have always done. As dedicated teachers,
we choose to do what is right for our students. We stand here united for our
students, our families, our community and our teachers. 
Please keep in mind that our working conditions are your children’s learning
conditions.Thank you for listening.

Laurie Sahn

For all of us Teachers here at Sears School, our students
walk in the door at 8:10, and they leave at 3:15. All of us
teachers want to make sure you know that our work
doesn’t begin at 8:10 and end at 3:15. We’re here–or at
home, long before and after school, over the weekend, too,
preparing and planning.

We devote our lives to this work, because we’re dedicated
to helping our students here at Sears School thrive and
love learning.

There is a saying that goes, “You strengthen a parent and
you strengthen a child”. Well, it goes the same way for us,
“You strengthen a teacher, and you strengthen a child”. In
fact, you strengthen a teacher and you strengthen all of
the children in the classroom.

That’s why it’s so important that all of us teachers feel
supported by the Board of Education and the Sears School

Our working conditions are your children’s learning

Christina Mellen

Good evening, Members of the Board of Education,
When I came to The Joseph Sears School, I was hired for a newly created position as
elementary math specialist; a position I was told was long overdue at Sears, and a
position I had experience with. In this role, I would work to provide students with support
and enrichment in math, collaborate with teachers to differentiate the curriculum, and
develop rigorous assessments. Having done my research, I knew Kenilworth to be a
community committed to providing students with a high-quality education, as evidenced
by the desire to hire specialists to meet the varying needs of all learners. Kenilworth, a
community where multiple generations continue to grow their families, knowing the
community is committed to academic excellence and based in timeless tradition. It was
an honor to be hired here six years ago, and still today I feel so fortunate to be part of
such a dedicated community.
In my role as the kindergarten through 4 th grade math specialist, I had the privilege of
communicating and collaborating with many teachers. I knew that the success of the
position was rooted in the relationships that were established with the common goals
we set for students.
This year I am honored to be part of the third grade team, as a classroom teacher for 17
inquisitive third graders. When my colleagues and I started the school year, we set out
to create an environment where students feel safe and supported, comfortable taking
risks and questioning. Classrooms where our students want to come to every day. We
did this knowing that creating a positive culture and climate in our classrooms, and
building relationships with our students is key to a successful school year.
Teaching is not a job we clock in and out of. We carry our job with us throughout our
days and nights. When not at work, we still think about how we might help a student
struggling with an academic concept. When one of our students has a social-emotional
concern, we do not let them carry that burden alone. This is true because of the
relationships we have established with our students and their families, and the climate
and culture we have built.
The climate and culture the third grade teachers aim to create, is not unique to us. It is
something every teacher in our schoolhouse strives to create. It is the type of culture
that needs to permeate throughout the entire school; not to be contained solely to the
four walls in our classrooms.
Like our students, teachers too must feel safe and supported, respected and valued.
Members of the Board, we stand before you today saddened and concerned that we do
not have a contract. We hope we can come together to improve the climate of our
school and move forward in the process of building relationships. We need to do it for
our students. A contract is a first step in that process.
Our working conditions are your child’s learning conditions.
Thank you for your time.

Kim Goff

Dear Kenilworth Board of Education,

Tonight I stand before you with a unique dual perspective as a member of both the Kenilworth
community and Sears faculty. Ten years ago, my family moved to the Northshore with the hope
of finding a community that would provide our four children with a top-notch education. We
settled in Kenilworth for the very same reasons as many of you – a small-knit community and
excellent K-8 school. As parents, my husband and I enjoyed the traditions of Sears, the quality
of education, and the collaboration with teachers, which ensured that our children obtained the
high standard of education we sought.
Seven years ago, I was honored to join this esteemed faculty. I am humbled daily by my
colleagues’ dedication and devotion to meeting the needs of all students and by their sheer
intelligence. Sears today is very different from when my children walked the halls and from
seven years ago when I first entered the building as a teacher.
As a teacher, I pride myself on the culture I create in my classroom. A culture where everyone
has a voice, feels safe, learns together, supports one another, and shows respect. The culture
that I create within the four walls of my classroom is not the culture in which I work.
What I know to be true in a high-performing school and what many of you also know from
working in high-performing businesses – is that the culture in the workplace and among
employees is the core of success.
Here, at Sears, teachers are the essential engine to the success of this school. And teachers
should be the focal point of cultural and engagement efforts as we are tasked daily to deliver on
the promise of a Sears education.
And while culture can, of course, be fostered at a local classroom level, it is constrained
significantly when it’s not supported and fed consistently and authentically from the top – in this
case, by the board.
Great culture begins with recognizing and rewarding those that drive success. The teachers
drive the success of Sears. The Board has a stated goal to make Sears the best school in the
nation. We, teachers, share that same goal. Remarkably, even without a contract more than
two months into the school year, we come to work every day to deliver on that goal. Kenilworth
is a town that deserves a school that is the best in the nation. How to become the best is not
excessively complex and out of reach. The key ingredients are:

  • Provide teachers with a locally competitive, robust contract for salary, benefits and
  • Equip the school with resources that take students beyond the curriculum and push them
    to new academic and social levels.
  • Allocate funds to endeavors that will propel us down this path and common goal.
    There is an obvious reason why so many teachers are gathered in this room today as a
    symbolic act of solidarity and intended to send a clear message to this Board.
    The state of Sears is not healthy and the children and this community will suffer as a result.
    We are clearly at an inflection point. And the Board can absolutely make decisions that can
    pivot this school in one direction or another.
    I only ask you to look around this room, consider what drives the success of this school, and do
    what is right – and in many cases, what is obvious to change the course and regain the success
    of Sears for the future of this town.
    Again, I stand before you with a dual perspective – as a tax-paying member of this community
    and as a faculty member experiencing the culture and consequences of this Board’s decisions.
    I know ‘the Best’ is what my colleagues and I want for Sears. We ask if this Board is willing to
    make choices supportive of the faculty to achieve the same.
    In the end, our teaching working conditions are the students learning conditions.


Kim A. Goff

Jim Beavin

Good evening,

I am Jim Beavin and this is my 9th year serving as 8th grade
advisor and 8th Grade Science educator here at Sears, in addition
to my 3rd year being 8th grade team coordinator. Over my 23
years in the teaching profession, The Joseph Sears School truly
stands out as a special community. Obviously, our parents are
amazing and their support for our collective mission here is clearly
evident through their committed partnership, sacrificial volunteerism
in our schoolhouse, and frequent expressions of appreciation. And
our students – we know they’re awesome. They’re both talented
and motivated, and even under challenging circumstances like the
pandemic, they embrace the growth-mindset we seek to instill in
them and work hard to fulfill our lofty expectations. For example, as
a science teacher, I think our entire school community can take
great pride in the fact that between 2017-2019, Sears 5th and 8th
graders had the highest 3-year average of NT feeder schools on
the state-mandated Illinois Science Assessment with 93% of our

Sears 5th and 8th graders demonstrating science proficiency – over
4% greater than the next highest school’s 3-year average.

And the Sears staff — despite dramatic shifts in the Sears
landscape over my tenure here, our dedicated teaching staff has
always focused their strong expertise, collaborative approach, deep
devotion to students, and thoughtful instruction toward guiding,
inspiring, and empowering our young Sears Scholars toward
maximizing their potential, both academically and personally. With
regard to the pandemic, Sears teachers uphold the importance and
value of in-person instruction. In July of 2020, we began closely
collaborating with each other and the Sears administration to
successfully keep our school open for the entire year, unlike other
area schools. In addition to changes in last year’s school schedule
and facilitating both in-person and remote learning support, some
teachers assumed new teaching roles in different grades, and
various teachers assumed expanded leadership responsibilities as

team coordinators and curriculum coordinators, all of which
significantly strained teachers’ physical and emotional well-being.
Speaking for our 8th grade bubble, teachers within the bubble
substituted for quarantining and absent bubble-mates for days at
time throughout last year. When one teacher needed to be absent,
three other bubblemates effectively supervised students all day
within the bubble with limited opportunities to step away to use the
bathroom, all to ensure our grade level bubble would stay in-person
for most of the year.

As teachers, we started this current school year with expanded
responsibilities as learning interventionalists with fewer student
learning specialists to help support our students. We are engaging
our students with more frequent social-emotional learning lessons
even as we are consistently being asked to cover our colleagues’
classes because the school cannot secure enough substitutes.
Rising to these new challenges without a contract, we teachers continue to give our very best to our students, parents, and school community each and every day.

As our school community continues with its aim to be the best K-8
school in the country, our hope is that you — the Joseph Sears
School Board of Education — extends a respectful teacher contract
that compares to nearby districts — a competitive contract that
retains and attract top teachers to our school — in short, a contract
that reflects the value this community places on having an
experienced, exemplary faculty implement the mission and goals
set forth by you, its Board of Education. Our working conditions are
your children’s learning conditions. Thank you for your
consideration and partnership.

Bill Gordon

Good Evening. My name is Bill Gordon, I have been employed as a music teacher here at the
Joseph Sears School for the past 20 years.
I begin tonight with gratitude. I’m incredibly grateful to the numerous board members,
administrators, and community members who have allowed me to work in such a wonderful
place. I’m fortunate to have landed in an occupation that I truly am passionate about, and have
so appreciated the privilege of teaching music to just about every single student that has
attended here over the past two decades. I know that to do my job successfully, the structure
and oversight of the board and administration is so needed. I thank you all for the many hours
that you put in weekly for the Joseph Sears School.

I wanted to share a bit about my teaching assignment for this year. I am back to my “pre-Covid”
position of working with the older students….and in a slightly different capacity. This year, with
a new emphasis on mandatory band, choir or orchestra, my student rosters are quite full with
students who both have a passion for choir, and those that had no other place to go. I knew
this was going to be the case, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Would students who are
placed in my class actually sing? Could they sing in tune? How could I start building a
successful choir program with such a diversity of students?

I can tell you that the work of the 2021-2022 choir is not done in the least, but I truly know how I
am building it. I am building the choir by expressing my belief in them as human beings. I am
building the choir through praise. When a shy singer offers just a little more volume than they
normally do, and I shower compliments upon that student, they often go on to give even more.
A few days ago, I got all of my novice 8th grade baritones to sing jingle bells in tune…it was
glorious….I was SOOOOOOO proud of them.

I think that the Bill Gordon that was hired twenty years ago would not be handling my classes in
such a manner. I would have probably raised my voice, demanded excellence and pulled my
hair out trying to force them to sing wonderfully. The skills I have learned in trying to become a
master teacher are many. I am a completely different educator than when I was hired. Much of
what has helped me grow is learning from my colleagues. SItting in their classrooms, team-
teaching and discussing the craft of educating has impacted me positively in so many ways. I
think that there is a little bit of everyone behind me in the version of Mr. Gordon that students
are seeing today.

Joseph Sears School is, and has been for a very long time, an exceptionally high-rated school
that prepares students for New Trier and beyond. This is the reason that families choose to live
in Kenilworth. The teachers in attendance tonight, those who were unable to attend, and those
who have moved on, have all played a key role in that achievement. Our experience, expertise,
loyalty, and dedication are what the community and school boards of the past have invested in
for a very long time. I urge this board and community to have that same belief in us. Please treat
us with respect and fairness. If confidence, belief, praise and support can work in my choral
classroom, then I know it can work for the teachers of the Joseph Sears School. The working
conditions for teachers are the learning conditions for students.

Thank you!

Karolina Bajkowska

Good evening, my name is Karolina Bajkowska and I am proud to be speaking on behalf of the
Fine and Applied Arts as well as the PE Departments of the Joseph Sears School. We are a
passionate and dedicated group of educators who are proud to teach the children of this
During the 2020 – 2021 school year, we were tasked with becoming Creative Arts or Remote
Learning teachers, taking on subjects and content outside of our specialties. Although that
presented our team with enormous challenges, we were happy to take them on, because we
care deeply about creating the best learning experiences for our students. Teachers who stand
with me tonight have continuously shown flexibility, professionalism and poise, as they took on
their new roles, adapting to the needs of our students.
We are so grateful to be teaching within our disciplines again, providing children in our
community with a creative and vigorous arts education.Our curricula teach many skills
necessary to solve problems, to make decisions, and to succeed in life. Our students are
learning to think creatively, build self-esteem and self-discipline; they learn how to imagine what
might be, how to articulate a vision, and learn what it takes to complete tasks from start to finish,
all of which are essential for success.
With depth of knowledge, great passion, professionalism, and the utmost care and respect for
our students’ experiences, we look forward to a time when we can partner with the board to
create the best, well-rounded academic experience for our students.
Our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions.

Barb Rodriguez

Hello, my name is Barb Rodriguez, and I am a second grade teacher here
at the Joseph Sears School.
I would like to thank the Board of Education for the opportunity to speak at
tonight’s meeting on behalf of my second grade colleagues.
This is my 30th year of teaching, and it is my 18th year as an educator at
the Joseph Sears School.
My teammate Jennifer Garza has 22 years of teaching experience, and
Alison Gilchrist has 23. Collectively we have been teaching for 75 years
and for most of our respective careers, we have had the privilege of
teaching at Sears.
Joseph Sears is our home and our family. We have built positive
relationships with our students, their families and this community. We
invest countless hours getting to know our students and understand not
only their academic needs, but also their social-emotional needs. Your
children are our priority, and everything we do is for them.
We are passionate about teaching and don’t view it as a job, but a calling. I
love it when I am working with students and that magic moment happens.
That moment when a student who has never smiled, smiles. That moment
when a student has that light bulb moment and finally understands a
concept they have been working hard on. These are the moments that we
look forward to, these are the moments that give us joy and satisfaction
knowing we are connecting and making an impact in their lives.
Our days rarely start at 8:10 or end at 3:15 when our students walk in and
out our doors. We work countless hours before school, after school and on
the weekends. It’s the after school hours that allow us to grade student work, prepare materials for differentiation, create new materials for various activities, review the curriculum for the following day and write our
newsletters to share with the families. This is the time when we reflect on
our teaching and our students’ needs. Our students occupy our thoughts
when we go home. We worry about your children and consistently think of
ways to reach them.
Your children become our children when they enter our classrooms. We
love them. We listen to their small problems that feel really big, we put
bandaids on their cuts, tie their shoes, make sure they wear their coats and
hats, mediate their conflicts, and remind them to say “please and thank
you”. We are with your children for 7 hours a day. Our classrooms are our
school family, and at times we are mistakenly called “Mom” due to the
connection we have created. We take care of each other’s needs, we
celebrate each other’s successes, and support each other when someone
needs a helping hand.
These last three years have been anything but typical. Once COVID hit,
we jumped and quickly created new and dynamic ways to teach our
students. We spent countless hours worrying about our students and how
to keep them physically safe, while making sure they flourish academically
and were taken care of emotionally. We are unbelievably proud that
through our commitment and collaboration we were one of the only schools
in the area that taught in-person learning for the entire year! We achieved
this goal while trying to maneuver our personal lives through a pandemic.
That is an accomplishment that we need to recognize, and celebrate.
Everything we do is for our students. Our goal is to work in collaboration
with the community, administration, students, and our peers. We hope to
move forward with a contract.
Our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions.

Bernadette Slovitt

Good Evening Board of Education,

My name is Bernadette Slovitt and I live at 1220 Broadmeadow Road in Winnetka. I am a member of the 5th grade team who are standing beside me. I have taught in the schoolhouse for 14 years and am so honored to be a member of this faculty.

I speak to you tonight, so you can hear a teacher’s voice. This school building is filled with the most qualified professionals you will ever encounter. 85% of us hold master’s degrees and above with multiple certifications including National Board certifications. This was once applauded by the previous boards, but now all of our credentials are a fiscal liability. 

My colleagues in the schoolhouse are highly professional and all share the same philosophy: we do what is best for children every single day through a turnover of administrators and a global pandemic. I personally have seen 8 different administrations in my time here, and who has kept this school afloat? The teachers. We have never ever put the politics of the school board ahead of the children we teach. We love what we do and it reverberates through the laughter of children in the school and in the support from our school families. 

The beauty of a K-8 school is the community it creates almost instantly between fellow teachers and the families of the community. We have all attended former students’ graduations, written recommendations for college and boarding schools. We have had lunches and dinners over the years with our students and have been there for them when there have been any illnesses or interruptions in their family lives.  It is undeniable that the teachers in this school have a strong connection to our families. 

Despite this strong connection with our families and students, our undying commitment to educating our students, and our superior qualifications, we are unbelievably still not valued by the Board of Education. How can teachers who are highly regarded and educated, loyal to our students and their families, and maintain a consistent quality education for all children in the school through multiple administrations, not have a contract? It defies logic. 

Please remember,

Our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions.

Thank you for your time.

Toula Sideris

Good evening.

This is my 27th year as an educator. I have a Master’s in Curriculum and Design and a
second Master in Education Administration. I am also the co-president of the
Kenilworth Education Association, the union that represents 100% of our teachers, our
nurse, speech pathologist, psychologist, and social workers at Sears School.

We are working with the school board and the administrators to reach an agreement
and hopefully, we will have a fair contract soon. KEA is focused on making sure that
Sears School continues to attract and retain high quality educators so our students can
continue to thrive. We believe it’s important that we all work together and to continue to
put our students first.

According to the National Education Association, “Collective bargaining gives educators a
voice in their workplace. It not only helps assure fair wages and benefits but also can
improve teaching and learning conditions. That means everyone connected to the
school—students, teachers, educational support professionals, administrators, and

A 2011 analysis published by the Employment Policy Research Network (EPRN) found
that “evidence and examples drawn from the public and private sectors show that
collective bargaining and workplace innovations based on a mutual interest, joint
problem-solving approach can produce positive outcomes for employers, employees,
and citizens….”

What that means is that in economic times both good and bad, a smart public education
employer—be it a K-12 school district or a higher education institution—can better serve
students and taxpayers by negotiating in good faith with its union(s).

Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions, so by addressing school
and classroom issues, everyone gains. Where teachers, including support
professionals, and their employers are allowed to collaborate on issues that go beyond
the scope of salary, benefits, and working conditions, education unions routinely
negotiate provisions to improve student learning.

Topics have included setting limits on class size, specifying time for teachers to reflect,
plan, share effective classroom practices, addressing school building health and safety
issues, ensuring teacher input into their own professional learning, and much more.
A bargained contract ensures that employees are treated fairly because both parties
have discussed and agreed upon rules and procedures for the workplace.”

On behalf of myself and Anne Trueman, my KEA co-president, we are committed to
reaching an agreement. We all have to do our part, the Board of Education,
Administrators, educators and the community.

We should strive to create an environment where we don’t want teachers to leave, not
an environment that promotes the narrative that if you don’t like it here you should go.

We see that the administration is dressed in black today. We can only take that to
mean they are showing solidarity with our union.

We understand that the BOE has reached a contract agreement with the valuable 12-
month staff. Our negotiating team and our constituents look forward to an equally
positive outcome soon.

I am proud of our KEA Membership. I am proud of the professionals standing with
me today. These are trying times and they continue to show their solidarity,
professionalism and their commitment to the hardworking students of the Joseph Sears
School. Thank you.