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?

 Gretchen Livingston

Thumbnail Sketch: University of Michigan, A.B.; Loyola University of Chicago Law School, J.D. Has lived in Evanston more than 20 years. Formerly a partner in Jenner & Block law firm in Chicago, with a practice in environmental litigation, including a variety of pro bono work. Two children, one graduated from ETHS, one still attending ETHS. 

Civic Activities: Current member of District 202 School Board; member or past member of District 202 Policy Committee, Finance Committee, Audit Committee, Joint Legislative Task Force and other committees; Board member of Interfaith Housing Association of the Northern Suburbs (now known as Open Communities); former board member and Government Relations chair, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation-Illinois; School Substance Abuse Team, City/School Liaison; formerly member of District 65 Wellness Council.

Earned-Honors Program: My views on the earned-honors program (Freshman Humanities and Biology) are subject to the evaluation of Dr. Figlio of Northwestern University and his team of outside experts.  This team is working, without charge, to examine whether the freshman year changes are having their intended effect, without unintended negative consequences. 

The curriculum is more rigorous (students read more books and write more papers, for example).  At the same time, the mix of students in the freshman year has changed (all students reading at or above grade level are in the same class).  Students can earn honors credit for the course if they perform at an honors level on honors level assignments (rather than being granted honors credit based on their 8th grade EXPLORE test results). 

The evaluation that is underway by Dr. Figlio resulted from my advocacy.  The evaluators will examine standardized test score data, rather than grades alone, as well as college acceptance and success rates.  We must make changes, including interim adjustments, as necessary based on the evaluation that is in progress.

Possible Board Actions: A key area for Board action is collaboration with District 65 (relating to Goal 1 on student achievement and Goal 5 on strengthening community relationships).  At the recent joint board meeting, we discussed “virtual consolidation,” including ways in which we can combine efforts and share services.  The most significant opportunity is shared student-achievement data.  The freshman year evaluation provides another opportunity to share data so that we can understand where we need to improve along the continuum of education from kindergarten to 12th grade. 

Another area for Board action, also related to Goal 5, is business and community group collaboration.  We have recently formalized our partnership with Northwestern by adding an office at ETHS relating to STEM education and our other areas of collaboration.  We need to focus on local businesses who could offer more opportunities for students who opt for job training or certification programs, many of which we offer at ETHS. In conjunction with the City, we are working to ensure students are taking advantage of these courses and obtaining assistance for placement upon graduation.

Finally, and still related to Goal 5, we can develop a systematic approach to seeking input from stakeholders and communicating better with them. We have made more use of surveys in recent years, but we need to do better. 

Distinguishing Attributes:  My record of strong leadership on the Board distinguishes me from the other candidates.  The most important Board role is to set objectives with measurable targets.  Last spring the Board adopted a three-year set of goals with targets based on input from stakeholders who participated in a full-day workshop. 

The Board also devoted several meetings to discussion of goals.  The resulting goals are markedly better than the last set, which lacked targets.  Similarly, I urged the outside expert evaluation of our freshman year changes.  I look forward to continuing my work, where I will urge Board oversight of the freshman year evaluation and progress towards our goals.