The thumbnail sketch and reasons for running were compiled by Mary Helt Gavin from information provided by the candidate. Answers to the questions are in the candidate’s own words.

Thumbnail Sketch:

Education: undergraduate degree from University of California Santa Barbara; master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. Current employment: Associate Director at the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northwestern University. Evanston ties: born in Evanston, returned in 2006; children at Walker and Chute. Volunteer/Civic activities: volunteer with local non-profits; coach of AYSO soccer; Sunday school teacher;  member of local PTAs, PTA Council, PTA Equity Project, and ANU Women mentorship committee.

Why She’s Running and What She Brings:

The school board needs to call attention to accountability, implementation and assessment. There is a reason why the school board members are elected and not handpicked by administration: to represent their community, ask questions on behalf of their teachers, parents and students, and continue to have the difficult conversations that will challenge each other, because that is when change will start to happen.

From the administrative side, I have experience with leadership transitions, budget maintenance, and policy implementation. As the current Evanston/Skokie PTA Council President, I supported initiatives including bulk school supplies, LGBTQIA+ and BLM curriculum, Green Team, and enrichment opportunities for all D65 students.

Top Three Priorities and Reasons for Them

The District 65 School Board represents to me a collaboration of different voices and strengths to guide the district and our superintendent, while also representing. To me, the top three priorities as a District 65 School Board member will be representative of the community and support for the district administration and Dr. Horton during this pivotal time for our district:

  1. Transparency and communication around finances, curriculum changes and development, and process. As many residents are not able to go through a full report, they still want to know why the district budget is in a deficit. Same is reflected in changes to the curriculum where teachers appear to have little input or training. Levels of communication have not been consistent from school to school which has led to differing levels of understanding.
  2.  Policies through Equity assessment –Not only do we need to develop policies to promote equity in all aspects of our schools, but we need to see them through.  The board needs to prioritize supporting initiatives that were developed and created several years ago. There has been little to no discussion lately about our students in special education or our TWI population. Creating and implementing equitable policies is just part of the success. What skills and tools are being provided to be successful? What steps and metrics are checked regularly to decide if there needs to be changes and adjustments?
  3. Collaboration with the community. For example – Return to School Fall 2012 – As District 65 has begun a hybrid return to school, the board’s top priority should be on preparing for Return to School Fall 2021 just as the previous summer had a task force made up of key representatives, this summer should have similar goals in creating scenarios and plans to be implemented. Ensuring a safe return would also include health and medical professionals, teacher and staff protection and support. Another example for community collaboration would be the recent announcement around exploring school redistricting and a 5th ward school. In these cases, the research and discovery phase needs to have the right balance between industry professionals but also local residents that have may past or present experience with the district.

Two Recent Board Positives

In the past two years, the current board has begun some important initiatives to benefit all children of District 65, including the school discipline policy that was amended with positive behavior expectations and restorative practices to be in alignment with the district’s equity policy to support all students. In 2019, the school discipline policy developed the creation of a Restorative Practices Model focused on equity, social-emotional support, positivity and restorative practices for administration. This minimized the disproportionate rate of office referrals for district students, which is critical to reducing out of school instruction time for students.

Additionally, the district with teachers developed curriculum around Black Lives Matter, LBTQIA+ and Latinx equity weeks. As part of the PTA Council, we collaborated with the district in bringing them into our regular meetings where representatives from each of the D65 PTA leadership were present to share curriculum, training and information.  The process wasn’t a perfect implementation but the school board has been reflective and encouraging with further developing and enhancing equity week curriculum for following years.

As the PTA Council Treasurer in 2018-2019, I surveyed our schools and then presented the disparity of differences between schools whether they participated in bulk school supplies (each student pays a set amount) or not. Even though the majority of schools participated in the bulk school supply process, it was time consuming for parent volunteers, pricing varied and even the process of supplies purchasing varied. After sharing this with the school board, we requested for the district to absorb this process for various reasons, including being able to have that consistency and equity. In January 2020, school board representatives shared during a PTA Council meeting that the district would be absorbing this process and the fees would be reassessed. This would be an example of an important initiative that affects all District 65 students as a collaborative effort with both the PTAs and the School Board.

Addressing 5Essentials Survey Results

Depending on whether the remedy is related to the dialogue or correcting the issue at hand. Given the investment of time and resources, the 5Essentials survey is the best indicator for climate and culture in our schools, it important to bring forth vehicles for our teachers and leaders to discuss these concerns with the board, especially around specific programming, curriculum, and school dynamics. Parents and students were encouraged to fill out the surveys and meet the minimum of 20% participation as it “provides our school leaders with valuable insights that are used to develop effective school improvement plans”.

The School Board has stated their investment in previous programming with monies and staff/teacher time and will need to follow through on previous commitments.  One example is that climate teams were organized in 2017 and as we are coming up on the 5 year mark, there has not been much progress or updates shared. To continue to build on the need for transparency, the school board should be having that open dialogue with teacher collaboration to understand where the breakdown is happening and begin taking steps to gain ground that has been lost. The lack of communication leads to a general lack of trust, desire for more transparency and a better form of voicing concerns and addressing issues.

Addressing the Joint Literacy Goal

As the numbers indicate, District 65 students are coming into District 202 less and less prepared not only in literacy but also in math. The joint literacy goal is comprised of a variety of different plans and actions, but spread thinly and not enough in one particular focus to make a significant impact. With the PreK – 3rd grade literacy, curriculum doesn’t align with the science of reading where literacy carries over into all of the other interdisciplinary parts of education. Shouldn’t literacy be reinforced and specific skills enhanced thorugh science, social studies, and other general education curriculum?  Even as equity week curriculum is introduced, having the same thread of literacy carry throughout continues to develop the child’s literacy comfort and confidence.

There are different phases throughout a student’s time within District 65 where there is opportunity. Early childhood components focus on school preparedness which leads to the key transition phases of elementary school and then, middle school where interventions should double down. In previous years, there was some work that was done around the 8th grade level, which reduced the number of student below the reading proficiency levels, but doesn’t appear to have continued. It is concerning to hear that in recent budget cuts, reading specialists were cut. One of the clear and single largest issue is with literacy and yet we are shifting resources away from that? The process has been called reorganization but how is the new reorganization going to be better in outcomes for kids and are we even giving a program enough time to be effective?

Additional supports should also be given to the TWI population and ESL students (not native speakers) continuously throughout the years within District 65. Focus has traditionally been on early childhood, but not all students will come into the system throughout the years and not just during the early years. District administration are the curriculum experts and should be giving both the teachers and students the right tools to succeed.