The four candidates for the three open positions on the District 202 School Board participated in the Feb. 27 forum at Chute Middle School sponsored by the Origination for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL).
Moderator Tiffini Holmes posed questions for the candidates – Slaney Palmer, Monique Parsons (incumbent), Elizabeth Rolewicz and Stephanie Teterycz. OPAL members had prepared some questions; members of the audience submitted others.
Discussion centered for the most part on Evanston Township High School, but some topics extended outside the school’s educational and physical boundaries. The candidates discussed the necessity of improving the collaboration between Oakton Community College and ETHS and of correcting the disconnect between School District 65 and the high school.
Question: “What is the greatest need of District 202?”
ETHS spends $21,000 per student each year, Mr. Palmer said. “The question is, why are we not seeing the return on investment?” he mentioned the investment of time and money, the restructuring of freshman year and other changes and said, “Why are we seeing the achievement gap? … The Board has adopted a statement to show they endorse equity, but [the gap remains].”
Ms. Parsons said, “I think the greatest need is to collectively and creatively delve into the classrooms to make sure every student is prepared for career and college. The ultimate goal is college and career readiness.” She acknowledged the achievement gap continues to be a problem. Student well-being, she said, “should be addressed through the lens of equity.”
Ms. Rolewicz said she is interested in strengthening the relationship between the high school and Oakton Community College. She also said, “We have to make sure students are leaving the school able to get a living-wage job. It’s inexcusable that a student [would] leave ETHS [and be] in poverty. Every student should be able leave ETHS and get an entry-level job with potential. … We need to have our kids truly career- and life-ready when they leave the high school.”
Ms. Teterycz said sometimes “we forget about the other opportunities that are available to high school students,” such as internships and advanced classes. She said through her work at Northwestern University, she has created partnerships with ETHS. “ETHS students can take classes at Northwestern in the summer, not just throughout the year.” She said these classes are offered at no cost to ETHS students.
Many of the candidates’ answers to questions were similar in tone and content. A few comments may help to distinguish them.
Mr. Palmer suggested focusing on the high school’s literacy model and see where there are gaps. Literacy is not just English, he added. He also said, “If you want to see improved student outcomes, look to see where students are three or four years after graduation,” then look back to see how they did in high school. In closing he said, “I am deeply concerned about the outcomes of all students.”
Ms. Teterycz said the Board should improve communication of policy and Board decisions. “You can never over-communicate. … Chances are the pushback [the Board receives] could come from people who think they were not consulted. Some of the pushback has to do with lack of communication and lack of transparency.”
In closing she said, “Equity is not a one-size-fits-all concept. … We need a culturally sensitive and historically accurate curriculum.”
Ms. Parsons said it is critical that each individual Board member make a commitment to support the school’s equity work and continue to support the administration. She said she felt that there should be a “shared urgency” among all School Board members (District 65 and 202) about the achievement gap. “We should be vulnerable – say what it is. We know what it is, and we’re moving forward to try to change the outcomes.” In closing, she said, “I believe there is power in this complicated community of Evanston when we all come together.”
Ms. Rolewicz said, “I do think the Board is prioritizing the issues that I care about. You’re dismantling a system that has been in place for a very long time. … We need to be patient if we want it done correctly.” She also said, “The greatest challenge is that race continues to predict outcomes.” In closing she said, “We all know ETHS is an amazingly resourced school. What we also know is that some students are not being served. I wish that we could just talk – have an honest conversation.”