Eight candidates, including two incumbents, are vying for the four positions on the School District 202 Board of Education.  The RoundTable compiled a profile of each, including education, civic activities, etc., and then asked for their responses to the following: 1) State your views on the earned-honors program as it is currently implemented at Evanston Township High School. 2)  Please name two or three actions the Board could take, consistent with its goals,  that would help ETHS improve its education of all students – high-achieving, lower-achieving and those in the middle. 3) What differentiates you from the other candidates for the District 202 Board?

Deborah Graham

Thumbnail Sketch: Harvard University, B.A. in American history and literature; Northwestern University Legal Studies Fellow. Graduate of ETHS, moved back to Evanston more than 25 years ago. Former director of communications and marketing at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, editor, quarterly publication of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession; columnist and reporter for a number of legal publications. Currently a freelance writer. Three children, all of whom attended District 65 schools and ETHS.

Civic Activities: District 202 Board member; ETHS PTSA co-president, 2008-09; ETHS School Improvement Team, 2008-10; ETHS College & Career volunteer; member, District 65 Differentiation and Enrichment Committee; co-founder, Warren W. Cherry Preschool; co-chair Kingsley Chess Club for three years.

Earned-Honors Program: The earned-honors assessment system at ETHS presents problems for students without solid writing skills.  I’ve proposed to the ETHS Administration that students be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned in more than one way. 

If students don’t know how to write well,  they’re stymied by the fact that all of the earned honors assessments involve writing assignments.  

Differentiated instruction has yet to be fully implemented in connection with the freshman restructuring.  As a result, high-achieving students aren’t always challenged enough, and lower-achieving students don’t always get feedback and input that will help to improve their performance in mixed-level classes. 

I took mixed-level Combined Studies classes during my first two years at ETHS, which are no longer offered at ETHS.  These classes gave students a variety of ways to show what they had learned. 

The Senior Studies class at ETHS is also a model for Freshman Humanities.  Senior Studies students receive intense individual attention from teachers in this class.  The freshman restructuring could benefit from having more individual attention to students in these classes.   There is no substitute for individual attention to every student.    

Possible Board Actions: Let students demonstrate what they have learned in diverse ways, not at the expense of rigorous writing instruction but as a supplement to it.  (B)  Increase individual attention for every student who participates in restructured freshman classes. (C) Implement differentiated instruction so that high-achieving students can get the challenges they need, and lower-achieving students can get the reading and writing support they need to succeed in mixed-level classes.  (D)  Focus not only on college-readiness but also on career-readiness.  (E) We must increase access to equity and access to excellence for all students.

Distinguishing Attributes:  I have been an activist at ETHS for 10+ years, serving on the School Improvement Team (SIT) and being  co-president of the ETHS PTSA.  I also served on the District 65 Differentiated Instruction, and learned a lot about differentiated instruction from that committee.

When I served on SIT, I chaired a committee on personalized learning and the new Freshman Advisory Study Hall is the result of my efforts.

In addition to being an ETHS graduate myself, I’m the parent of two daughters who are ETHS alumnae and of an ETHS sophomore.  I understand the achievement gap that for far too long has afflicted ETHS.  

I also stress the importance of arts education for ETHS students so they can express what they feel and think. As a Board representative to the ETHS Foundation, I have raised sizeable funds for the foundation to finance capital improvements that otherwise would not be feasible.  

As a member of the City-State Liaison Committee, I’ve advocated for increased lighting around the high school so students can feel safer; the school is also installing new safety phones in the  PE wing and the arts wing, and outside the school.  We must make every effort to ensure that our students are safe and protected not only inside ETHS’s building but also outside of it.