D202 Candidates in Their Own Words

With campaigns winding down to the April 4 General Election and early voting having already begun, the RoundTable gave District 202 School Board candidates a final opportunity to distinguish themselves. Their responses, which were limited to 250 words, appear below.  The RoundTable edited some responses for clarity and other reasons.

Incumbents Gretchen Livingston, Pat Savage-Williams and Anne Sills are seeking re-election in a field of six vying for four positions. The other candidates are Russell Kohnken, Jude Laude, and Patricia Maunsell.

Dr. Kohnken

After a career as a biomedical scientist, I became a teacher at ETHS for 14 years, retiring in 2015.  Together with other volunteer work, my experience and skills can serve well in devising and analyzing strategies towards equity and excellence for all students while still maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Towards those ends, I feel that the Board needs to improve communication with the community, and with the faculty and staff.  We can do so with listening events in the community, and teacher- and staff-created surveys.  I believe that we should make the experience of students and families more consistent between Districts 65 and 202.  Expectations and curriculum should be better aligned, supports continuous, and communication and relationships with the community more transparent and inviting. I propose that we investigate an advisory model to better communicate and provide supports to students when they need them.  In addition to the many equity initiatives underway at ETHS and in the community, I strongly support the early literacy efforts under the umbrella of Evanston Cradle to Career. I would work with faith communities, and quite frankly anyone, who can help to make this effort effective. Other equity strategies worth exploring include a curriculum that values a student’s strength in one area, analogous to a major in college, as opposed to all topics.  I want to see Restorative Justice further expanded, and support for the staff to develop better relationships with students and families.

Mr. Laude

I graduated from ETHS in 1984 and am a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For 26 years, I have been making an impact on the lives of Chicago high school students as an educator and counselor.  Now I want to bring my experience and passion for ETHS to the District 202 Board.  I am a board member of Foundation 65, and I strongly support the current District 65 referendum.

I’m a son of immigrants and a first-generation college graduate who benefited from the academic support and college exposure I received at ETHS.  I am committed to supporting and expanding student exposure to postsecondary and career pathways.

I want college to be an option for all ETHS students.  For that to happen, we must address with a sense of urgency the literacy deficits for those students who are reading below grade level.  I have instituted successful literacy programs in the past and look forward to working with and supporting the efforts of ETHS teachers and administrators in this area.

I believe in Building Bridges to Excellent Education. There must be continued and increased collaboration between District 202 and District 65 to help students successfully transition into high school.  We must also build bridges that increase the engagement of parents and community organizations.  

As a parent of four current and future ETHS students, I am running as a member of our community who shares a vision of academic excellence and high achievement for all students.

Ms. Livingston

I am proud of the progress ETHS has made during my time on the Board.  I look forward to continuing that progress if I am re-elected and to focusing on areas where ETHS can still improve in our four goal areas. 

Equitable and Excellent Academics: My leadership as Board President resulted in the first joint board goal on literacy with District 65.  We have seen more students taking and succeeding in honors and AP classes, particularly students of color.  But we still see differences in achievement that make our work on the transition of students into and out of ETHS, and support of them while they are there particularly important.

Student Well-Being: ETHS has reduced both its drop-out rate and the number of students suspended and has increased graduation rates.  We have expanded our social consciousness series in support of varied student identities. But we still see racial disparities in student discipline that require a closer look at how we can build on our already robust alternatives to discipline.

Fiscal Accountability: Our finances are sound, resulting in Aaa bond ratings and balanced budgets.  Our low borrowing rate, Foundation fundraising and corporate partnerships have supported important capital work.  On the negative side, State dysfunction continues to threaten.  My leadership in our school advocacy organization will keep us ahead of those threats.

Community Engagement and Partnerships: Our partnership with District 65 is more robust than ever and we are extending that important work through the work of Evanston Cradle to Career.  

Ms.  Maunsell

Supporting the education and overall success of all young people has been my life-long commitment. For 30 years, I have worked and volunteered to support children and public education. Professionally, I held senior management positions at several national non-profit organizations, taught high school, and, for the past 17 years, worked with education organizations and school districts, focusing on implementing efforts to improve student success. I will bring my knowledge of education research, policy and best practices to all issues that come before the Board.

My commitment to education and young people extends into my work in the Evanston community. I have volunteered at Kingsley, Haven, and ETHS and served as Board President of Cherry Preschool, Vice President of Foundation 65, PTA Co-President at Kingsley, and I currently serve as Chairman of the Board of the McGaw YMCA.

As an education professional and the wife  of a 1980 ETHS grad and the mother of ETHS graduates in ’14 and ’18 (soon), I know ETHS is an amazing school. But greatness is not static – we must constantly review the work we doing and improve and build upon it so that all students experience the best of ETHS and achieve personal success.

I believe my commitment, experience, ability to listen and maintain positive working relationships with people to find solutions will serve ETHS well. I am excited about the possibility of serving our wonderful students and educators as a member of the ETHS School Board.

Ms. Savage Williams

I am running for re-election for the Evanston Township High School Board of Education, of which I am the current President. I consider it an honor to serve as your representative on the Board of Education. For 38 years, I have worked as an educator with students from preschool to grade 12 as a school psychologist in District 65 for 25 years before moving to New Trier High School as a Special Education Coordinator.  I bring my perspective as a parent and an educator to the Board of Education. 

In short, I am experienced, effective, and ethical. I understand schools and how they are structured, how decisions are made, and how these decisions impact students. I know how students learn and what motivates adolescents. My abilities as a listener and a problem-solver are valuable assets needed by the Board.  Teamwork is the most effective approach to address the complicated issues we face in education today.

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Education is the most powerful gift we can give to our children. I believe that every student has the right to an education that enhances individual strengths, improves weaknesses, and fosters confidence and self-esteem. My highest priority is to meet the needs of all students within our school community.

Ms. Sills

I am a candidate because I want to serve the students at ETHS keeping them challenged, supported, and safe. I will advocate for ETHS students who are struggling to achieve, historically dismissed, or culturally isolated and for every student whose four years at ETHS are our treasure.

I have advocated for public education for 25 years and will put my experience at the Board table and in front of it, toward moving ETHS forward. I understand the importance of the role of a Board member in the governance of District 202. I am a servant leader.

I have worked to preserve the important policy decisions made by current and prior Boards to support the District’s equity statement that guides Board decisions and administrative actions. I will celebrate all that is good about ETHS and will always meet the challenges that the District faces with a caring and open heart. I’ll continue to be an ambassador for ETHS and the Board, an emissary for what we can do together. I’ll continue to monitor legislative trends and be a voice for public education. I’ll speak to the importance of community capacity as a part of change. I will work to improve the health and wellness of our community. Young minds and bodies must be strong so that learning can occur so that their expectations and ours can be met with success. And finally, I will work to accomplish these priorities and acknowledge my successes and shortcomings as a learner myself.

Early voting continues at the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., through April 3. Polls will be open 6 a.m.-7 p.m. on April 4. The RoundTable will post results on its website, evanstonroundtable.com, as soon as they are available that evening.

By Kelley Elwood

On March 7, the six candidates running for four open positions on the District 202 School Board gathered in the ETHS auditorium for a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, Evanston/Skokie PTA Council and the Evanston Community Foundation.  After introductions, each candidate made a brief opening statement and had an opportunity to answer six questions before making closing remarks.  The first question was provided to candidates ahead of time; the rest were taken from the audience. Here are a few of the highlights of the forum, attended by all candidates: incumbents Gretchen Livingston, Pat Savage-Williams, and Anne Sills and new candidates Russell Kohnken, Jude Laude, Patricia Maunsell.

Question: In May 2016, the ETHS Board adopted new goals including a goal of eliminating the predictability of academic achievement based on race and other factors. Some argued the goal should focus only on race. What is your view?

Ms. Livingston said she supported the goal adopted that calls out multiple factors yet highlights race. Race shows up in all categories and as CASE (Citizens for Appropriate Special Education) reminded the Board, “we can’t exclude others.” The goal is based on the Equity and Excellence Statement and “struck the right balance.”

Mr. Laude said he “understands the concern of those who felt the goal should have focused on African-American and Latino” because those groups have traditionally under-performed academically.  Evanston is a diverse community not just because of race, however, and we need to focus on best practices. Other groups need support too.

Ms. Savage-Williams read the goal in its entirety, stressing the section that reads ETHS recognizes “that racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished achievement of students. … This is the case at ETHS when you look at the data”.

Dr. Kohnken said he agrees with the language in the goal, that ETHS has strong equity training and resources for students.  Is it unconscionable “to ignore any group who needs our help.”

Ms. Maunsell  said, “Racism is tragic and deep rooted in society and education is no different.” She believes the Board “did the right thing” and applauds them for “making race front and center.”

Ms. Sills said race, income, disability and English Language Learners are all factors of success and “there is no one size fits all” solution. The Board isolated race by putting it first, acknowledging data and low performance.

Question: On what sources of information will you rely on to address issues that come before you?

Mr. Laude said he will rely on his 26 years of experience working in intercity schools where profiles of underperforming students are similar to those at ETHS. He will work with administrators and teachers to get good outcomes. He will make data-driven decisions and timely interventions.

Ms. Savage-Williams said it is very important to listen to the community. She said she will rely on her experience as an educator, research and the network of educators who help her with others’ perspectives.  She also looks for opportunities to hear from students.

 Dr. Kohnken said he will draw on his perspective as a former teacher. He will look to the community. “Teachers here are experts and we have to hear from them,” he said. Northwestern University provides a valuable resource. “Bottom line: We have to look at lots of different places.” 

Ms. Maunsell has worked in different school districts and has 30 years of experience to draw from. She has helped encourage better two-way dialogues in schools. The Board should “talk and listen” to students and teachers whose experiences are so honest and powerful, she said.

Ms. Sills said she has been an advocate for education for 29 years and looks to the community as her best resource. She prepares for meetings by reading her packet and making sure she understands the issues including state and federal implications. The Board must rely on good research methods to bring in good data, she said.

Ms. Livingston said she brings her experience as a lawyer into how she analyses things. Community input, while hard to proactively collect, is ideal. She takes advantage of available training on finance, equity and other topics.

Question: What is the best and worst thing about ETHS?

Dr. Kohnken said the people are the best, “so many caring, engaged, talented people.”  ETHS has tremendous resources and support, but too many students fail to take advantage of them.

Ms. Maunsell said she agreed that the people are the best but highlighted the students who “do us proud.” It is sad that “not every student experiences” how amazing ETHS really is but we are building on successes to reach all.

Ms. Sills said the best thing is that ETHS “thinks out of the box. … We raise food here and know that good nutrition and wellness is the basis of getting a good education.” She said “targeted interventions” are among the best things, and the achievement gap is the worst thing.

Ms. Livingston said ETHS has great resources with staff, students, alumni and community and is both blessed and cursed with its financial resources. A challenge is meeting the needs of each student as an individual. The school has “gotten better” at offerings for those not taking a traditional college route by ramping up available certificates, career and technical training.

Mr. Laude said diversity and a rich community where people engage and help students be ready for the world is the best thing about ETHS. The achievement gap is the worst thing, he said, and the Board should reflect the community. He added, “We need a clear view of what literacy looks like.”

Ms. Savage-Williams  pointed to the community “where we look at students and prepare them for the future in a global society like few other high schools can.” She said she is concerned about “disparities in achievement and that we continue to see the same patterns. Discipline is getting better but there are still racial patterns in that area too.”

Closing remarks

Ms. Livingston said she has seen many success in her time on the Board to date but that there are still racial and other disparities. The District is being fiscally responsible but the State threatens that. Community partnerships with District 65, Cradle to Career and others are a good trend. “I am glad to play a role.”

Mr. Laude said that while he would be new to the Board, he is not new to education. He is a literacy advocate and wants to increase collaborations with District 65 so the transition is easier for students and they are ready to perform. The Board needs to engage more with parents, he said.

Ms. Savage-Williams called ETHS the “heart of the community.” Work she has participated in on the Board has brought about many successes, changing the climate for the better. “Others are following our pattern for equity and diversity. Partnerships have grown and together we can do much,” she said.

Dr. Kohnken has two children who are ETHS alums. He is a retired ETHS teacher. He wants fewer ETHS students to graduate needing to take remedial classes in college. He wants all ETHS alums to find a career, be safe and do what they love with the help of ETHS.

Ms. Maunsell brings experience and a track record of working with people to find solutions. She said she is committed to the community and wants to be a part of making it even better.

Ms. Sills said she believes the education of children is the most important task for the community.  She will continue to be a part of all that is best about ETHS. It’s “the most important work I’ve ever done aside from my marriage and being a parent.”