About 75 people attended the Feb. 10 forum for candidates for both public School Boards, sponsored by the Haven School PTA and the Central Street Neighbors Association. This story covers only the responses of the candidates for the high school board, District 202. See adjacent story for coverage of the District 65 candidates’ responses.
Four candidates for the Evanston Township High School District 202 Board – incumbents Jane Colleton and Mark Metz and challengers Jonathan Baum and Scott Rochelle – attended. Cherie Hansen, the fifth District 202 candidate, was unable to attend because of a family emergency, said moderator Jeff Smith. The sponsors formulated some of the questions; others were posed by audience members but were asked by Mr. Smith, president of Central Street Neighbors Association.Education
Candidates were asked to comment on the role of schools versus the role of families in supporting and preparing students. “Are we expecting too much from schools relative to the influence of families? Should we be focused more on outside factors? What should schools expect?” read the question.
“A student cannot succeed,” said Mr. Rochelle, “if he does not value education. Schools cannot instill that value, but [they] can give expectations. They can expect students to perform at high levels. … We can’t go into the house, but we can expect success of each child [from] the moment they step into our buildings.”
Ms. Colleton said she recognized the “nature versus nurture” question and added, “I think both the home and school and the community are tremendous influences on the students. Schools have to also offer the kids a high level of expectation – that’s their task as well. And when the community chooses that well, it can change the influence of homes. … Do we ask too much of teachers? Yes – and we ask them to rise to the level of our need.”
Mr. Baum said, “Schools cannot use families as an excuse, but we can’t succeed without families. We have some great programs, but the kids don’t show up [to take advantage of them].”
“Are we expecting too much of our teachers?” Mr. Metz repeated. “Yes. It’s what we need; it’s what we have to have. The reality is that thereare limitations to our resources. I wish we could do outreach. What’s needed is for our entire community to rise up and take this challenge and help our schools get there.”
Budget and Money
Questions about money and the budget appeared to fall into two categories: cost-cutting measures and teachers’ salaries. Most candidates seemed to agree that ETHS has handled its finances well. They all agreed that cuts should be made as far from the classroom as possible, but none suggested cutting any specific programs or salaries. On the question of teachers’ salaries, the candidates appeared to agree that salaries had to be competitive to attract and retain excellent teachers.
All four candidates ducked a question about administrators’ salaries – what, if any, sacrifices administrators have made to allay the financial crisis – but Mr. Metz said ETHS is paying a “smaller portion” toward administrative costs than it did previously.Differentiation
Questions about differentiated instruction were directed toward the 202 Board’s recent decision to eliminate its honors-only classes in freshman humanities they replaced those classes with mixed-level classes, where students must demonstrate academic achievement to earn honors credit. “Does this portend greater changes to tracking at ETHS?” the question concluded.
Mr. Metz said the decision to make the changes in freshman humanities and a similar change next year in freshman biology was “unanimous. There has been no talk” – and here an audience member interrupted with “Yet”- “that we’re going to eliminate honors or AP classes. It hasn’t come up.” He added that it was “unfortunate that the rhetoric used in the rollout caused a small minority of people to feel that they were proponents of institutionalized racism if they did not support the decision. As a Board we have to take responsibility for that miscommunication.” He said one reason for the decision was that the “results were unacceptable – students in regular classes did not rise up to take honors classes later in high school.”
Ms. Colleton, herself a Montessori teacher, said, “A Montessori class typically has three levels in it. I’m ready to believe [the high school program] will work. We’ll allow kids access to a rigorous curriculum. It’s not dumbed-down; it’s not watered-down. It’s one class. It’s the kind of change that was needed in Evanston. If not here, where?”
Mr. Baum said he opposed the Board’s decision and added, in response to Mr. Metz’s comment that miscommunication that led to accusations of racial insensitivity was a result of the Board’s miscommunication, “It wasn’t simply members of the public, it was high-level administrators at ETHS, and that was disturbing.” He also said, “I’m not philosophically opposed to either mixed-level classes or tracking,” he said, “but we should be doing this empirically to make it work. We should rigorously monitor and evaluate the program … and send out the message loud and clear: ‘This change is a step on the ladder of opportunity that ETHS will continue to offer.’”
“I want it to work, said Mr. Rochelle, who identified himself as a product of the honors program at ETHS. “It’s a step in the right direction. … Are we prepared to step in, criticize and evaluate it? Accountability is going to be very critical.” He said if the program is not successful, the Board would have to “have the guts to tear it down. Every student deserves a focused, focused classroom. If [this program] doesn’t work, I’m going to tear it down.”Consolidation
Whether it makes financial and pedagogical sense to consolidate the two school districts into a single K-12 district is a question that has been asked from time to time for nearly two decades. While most agreed there could be savings in economies of scale and administrative costs, the question of parity of teachers’ salaries remains a large issue. ETHS teachers have a larger pay scale than do teachers at School District 65, so consolidation would necessitate evening out the pay scales – most likely increasing the elementary and middle-school teachers’ pay-scales.
“It’s finance, finance, finance,” said Mr. Rochelle. “It may make sense financially, but I’d like to see how it’s going to affect kids.”
Mr. Metz said he would “favor looking at it” but would like to study the impact on students before commenting. He said he had two rules, handed to him by a wise person: “Beware unintended consequences” and “There are always unintended consequences.”
Ms. Colleton said, “We’d have to raise the salaries of District 65 teachers to the level of the District 202 teachers’ salaries. We’d save one superintendent’s salary. This is not the avenue [to the cure] for what ails either district.”
Mr. Baum said, “[Consolidation] has to be educationally driven and subject to financial analysis. Our districts have to function as one. With consolidation we wouldn’t’ have the divergence on [which] tests [to use to evaluate student progress]. Students deserve a seamless educational experience.”