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?

Doug Holt

Thumbnail Sketch: University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, B.A. in journalism; Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Evanston resident for 15 years. Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic, taught English as a second language and biology as a high school teacher. Reporter for 15 years, including at the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News. Currently, Corporate Communications director, Northern Trust. Three children, two at ETHS and one in sixth grade.

Civic Activities: Member, School District 65 Ad Hoc Citizen’s Budget Committee; founding member and volunteer of St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter at St. Joan of Arc (provides direct assistance to about 150 needy families a year); board member, Financial Communications Society, Chicago Chapter.

Earned-Honors Program: I support the goals of the program as originally stated in 2010, to strengthen the freshman experience and “increase the demand for honors and Advanced Placement classes.”

The District’s 2012 Popular Annual Financial Report mailed to taxpayers called earned honors a “template” for classes throughout ETHS. This is a concern because the School Board has not voted to make earned honors a “template” for classes throughout ETHS.

I agree with those on the Board who put in place an outside evaluation on the efficacy of the freshman year changes, led by Northwestern University Prof. David Figlio.

Possible Board Actions: The Board’s decision in 2011 to expand earned-honors to Biology came too soon, given that there was no data or evaluation plan in place for freshman restructuring.

Similar efforts have not always worked, so execution matters in addition to theory. For example, in 1997, Chicago Public Schools placed all ninth-graders in college-prep algebra and English classes. Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded in 2010 that this approach had “no positive effects on student achievement and may actually have hurt the college prospects of some top students.”

Recognize that the challenges of ETHS are not unique, and learn from successes elsewhere. Examples: the turnaround of schools in Union City, NJ; Noble Network Schools in Chicago; P-TECH,  a high school that partners with IBM, and New Trier’s Adviser System, which groups students into single-gender classes that remain constant year to year and includes home visits by advisors to all students.

Pay greater attention to school climate to ensure an engaged staff with high morale, a shared sense of mission and a culture of constant improvement. The state-mandated “5Essentials” survey could serve as a free tool to improve ETHS’s climate if enough students, parents and teachers respond by March 31. ETHS should encourage participation via a variety of channels – not just email. 2) ETHS should encourage an ethic of feedback and accountability with 360-degree reviews for all staff, including administrators.

Work more closely with District 65 to chart a pre-K-12 strategy so more students are better prepared for the rigors of ETHS. Student achievement doesn’t begin in the 9th grade.

Leverage community organizations and employers to engage students, involve parents and tap outside expertise. Recognize student achievement cannot be left up to schools alone.

Distinguishing Attributes:  I’m running as an involved community member and as an ETHS parent. If elected, I will have a child at ETHS the entire time of my tenure. That’s important because the school district we hear talked about around the board room table may differ from the one talked about around the kitchen table.

I’ve learned to listen carefully, to have an open mind, to think independently, to ask good questions and to work as part of a team to solve problems.

I served as Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic, where I taught high school English as a foreign language and biology. My Peace Corps training stressed skills, adaptability and cultural sensitivity.

I graduated with honors from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and worked 15 years as a reporter, including covering government, education and the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2011, I served on the District 65 Ad Hoc Citizen’s Budget Committee.

I am a founding member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society/St. Joan of Arc chapter, which provides assistance to more than 150 needy families in our community per year – with $0 overhead.