Jennifer Phillips

Thumbnail Profile: Master’s of Public Administration, University of Michigan; B.A. in political science, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Currently a principal of IdeaFuels Consulting, provides advice on strategic planning and program evaluation for foundations and non-profits. Previously served as a program officer for two philanthropic institutions on domestic poverty and employment issues: The Charles Steward Mott Foundation (1995-2000) and the Joyce Foundation (2000-09). Resident of District 65 since 2000. Three sons who attend Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies.

Civic Activities: Served on the High Quality Teaching and Learning committee for the District 65 Strategic Planning process; created District 65 parent math forum (District 65 Math Matters); Rhodes PTA secretary in 2012-13; launched and led the after-school Lego Club at Rhodes; board member of National Skills Coalition in Washington, D.C. (2009-present).

Top Priorities: Ms. Phillips says her top three priorities are

• “Fiscal Oversight and Prudence: I think the District’s priorities have to be mirrored in its budget decisions and choices. I also believe that the priorities must be aligned to the new mission.  … The District needs to move to a priority-based budgeting system.

• “Educational Excellence: There is no substitute for academic excellence and a laser-sharp focus on that will be mission-critical. Educational excellence is about the quality of the ‘experience,’ e.g. robust fine arts, school atmosphere, teacher quality.”

• “Instructional Strategies for Technology: Given the belt-tightening that may be inevitable, the District must develop an instructional strategy for using technology to advance learning in classrooms. This is not about hardware but how its use is optimized in schools.”

Two Major Decisions of the Board You Agree/Disagree With: Ms. Phillips says she agrees with “the Board’s tenacity sticking with the discussion about higher achievement goals (2010-11) and their ultimate decision to adopt college and career readiness goals for all students.

“I do not agree with the policy and practice of measuring student Body Mass Index (BMI) at school, which was originally adopted by the Board prior to 2011. Measuring BMI does nothing to change a student’s BMI. … I agree with the amendment passed at the June 17, 2013, School Board meeting: ‘The District will not expand its Fitnessgram testing to the lower grades but will implement it in grades 6-8, including at the magnet schools. The District will no longer make the BMI available to students; only parents will be notified of a student’s BMI.’”

How You Will Influence Student Achievement: Ms. Phillips says, “The 2014 Accountability and Achievement report shows downward trends for students at all levels but has alarmingly low outcomes for low-income, African American and Hispanic students. We need to identify what is working and do more of it, identify what isn’t working and stop doing it, and pilot/scale up new approaches that make a real difference. We can’t just say the achievement gap is a priority without also making it a budget priority. I would hope that in four years, by 2019-2020, this District could make a real impact on the achievement gap.

”I don’t believe differentiation, a policy adopted by the Board after a community process in 2007-2009, is being implemented effectively. In most classrooms across the District there may be students with a range of abilities spanning several different grade levels. But there is not much evidence to show this method is working for teachers or students. I believe that this District must investigate innovations and develop a plan for how to use technology in classrooms to offer more personalized learning to meet the needs of all learners.”

How You Will Influence Fiscal Efficiencies: “No one wants to make choices that negatively impact instruction,” says Ms. Phillips, “but before the District can ask the community for an operating referendum, we must be able to answer the question: ‘Is our budget and school system truly optimized for peak performance?’” She says the Board needs more sophisticated information about which programs are working and which ones are not to make hard but smart decisions.

“I will not single out budget cuts until there is better information about how the budget aligns to improving student achievement. For instance, it is easy to leap to cutting fine arts during fiscal maelstroms, but the research is overwhelmingly clear about the  positive effect arts have on student academic outcomes. When we can see a document that prioritizes the budget by objective, my belief is that if an objective is not improving instruction and/or achievement and can’t be well-proven, it should go into a ‘parking lot’ until the fiscal situation improves.”

Preparation of Candidate Information

In the April 7 election, three seats will be filled on the District 65 School Board and on the District 202 School Board.

Omar Brown, Jennifer Phillips and Richard Rykhus are seeking a seat on the District 65 Board. Adrian Dortch is seeking a seat on both the District 65 and 202 Boards. Larry Gavin prepared the profiles of these candidates.

In addition to Mr. Dortch, Jonathan Baum, Mark Metz, Monique Parsons and Anne Sills are seeking a position on the District 202 Board. Kelley Elwood prepared the profiles of these four candidates.

The profiles were compiled based primarily on each candidate’s answers to five of 13 questions contained in a PTA Council Questionnaire.

Each candidate’s complete answers to the questionnaire are available in the “Election” section of the RoundTable’s online site at www.evanstonroundtable.com, and also at the PTA Council’s website, http://ptacouncil.weebly.com/. Videos of candidate forums sponsored by the PTA Council, the Evanston League of Women Voters and ETHS Parents Engaged are also available on these sites.