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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: B.A., DePauw University; M.A. DePaul University, Human Services/Counseling. Current employment: For 15 years, I taught classes on Civic Engagement, Diversity, Gender and Agents of Change at DePaul. I was the Director of Programs at Northwestern University’s Women’s Center for 8 years. Evanston ties: resident for 18 years; child at Chute and twins at Dawes. Volunteer/Civic activities: co-founder of the PTA Equity Project (PEP), a former Board member of Cherry Preschool, a commissioner and coach for EBSA softball, a basketball coach and a Girl Scout Leader.
Why She’s Running and What She Brings:
I am passionate about education which is the focus of my professional life. I am an equity, diversity and inclusion consultant working with schools and school districts. These experiences informed my perspective, built my capacity to center equity in decision-making, and strengthened my skill in developing systems and practices that benefit all our children. For these reasons I believe I am an asset to the District 65 Board.
Top Three Priorities and Reasons for Them
First, I want to be part of transforming District 65 schools into places where all of our students are valued, welcomed, included, respected and equally successful. I will dedicate my time and talents to work towards the elimination of the gap in opportunity to achieve and to create school communities where every student feels they belong. I want to ensure that all District 65 students do not face racial predictability in their present or their future.
Second, I believe every student deserves to have access to resources in their home school and will use an equity lens to address our challenges around student assignment and fiscal management. We have difficult decisions ahead, and I am committed to making sure our conversations focus on working smarter so that our financial challenges do not impact the quality of education provided and equity remains at the center of decision-making. In looking ahead, my focus will include bussing, a 5th Ward school, emergent bilingual services, and special education.
Third, I remain committed to supporting the safe reopening and return to school for District 65 students, teachers and administrators. By closely following the direction of the CDC, ISBE, IDPH and medical advisors, I will continue to work closely with District 65 leadership to reopen schools as safely as possible for all of our students, teachers, administrators, and staff. The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges for our most vulnerable students and their families. I have consistently advocated for the inclusion of students with IEPs and 504s in our reopening prioritization plans because I know how remote learning is falling short of meeting many students’ needs. However, our failures to serve our special education population cannot be blamed on the pandemic alone. There is critical work that needs to be done to ensure our special education students have an equitable experience in our district and I commit to giving voice to that need and working towards solutions with educators and families.
Two Recent Board Positives
First, I am proud of the work that the current board did to bring on the current superintendent, Dr. Devon Horton. Using an equity lens the board worked to substantially increase stakeholder input to develop a leadership profile that reflected the needs of our district. Dr. Horton was selected as a visionary leader with the demonstrated skills and experience that our district needs.
Second, I have been working collaboratively to advocate over many years for District 65 to approve gender support policy and procedures. We must be committed to addressing the needs and concerns of transgender and gender expansive employees to ensure safe, affirming, and healthy workplaces and school environments. By approving a new gender support policy, we are creating an environment that respects and values all staff and fosters understanding of gender identity and expression within the school community to ensure that all employees have a safe and welcoming work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment, where they can bring their whole selves to work, reach their fullest potential, and provide healthy models for students.
Addressing 5Essentials Survey Results
Last school year, District 65 Board had to face a full year of interim leadership, a national superintendent search and hiring process, and an emergency stay at home order caused by COVID19. Critical to addressing all of the concerns highlighted in the 5Essentials about effective leadership is having a superintendent that is a visionary and capable of implementing that vision. Our district has lacked the systems necessary to progress on a variety of metrics and the accountability systems that would allow the district to reach its fullest potential. Effective systems, protocols and structures create the scaffolding for everyone to do their best work and collaborate most effectively. Hiring the right leadership and supporting system change is a critical role the board can play in transforming school culture. While new district leadership continues to meet the pressing challenges of COVID-19, the school board and district leadership are focused on building capacity and establishing systems to support effective leadership and collaborative teachers over the long-term. This investment in structures should be reflected in
Addressing the Joint Literacy Goal
The scope of the literacy problem has been well documented and discussed. Now District 65 has been focusing on moving from conversation to implementation. The research is clear that early childhood education has a significant impact on a student’s trajectory. Our district has invested in a multitude of interventions in our early childhood programs that are yielding significant improvements in the racial disparity in Kindergarten readiness as measured by the KIDS Assessment. We will continue to prioritize this work and apply this learning to our K-3 work that we know is critical to addressing the literacy goal for our Black and Latinx students.
Additionally, we are in the process of revamping our literacy supports so that we can shift from a siloed approach to literacy intervention to a collectivist approach that allows our educators to collaborate more effectively to meet the needs of a broader base of students through Tier 1 instruction within the classroom and allowing schools to customize and improve supports for those that struggle and need additional support in Tier 2 and Tier 3.
While we continue to commit to addressing these needs in pre-K and K-3, I also believe we need to revisit our interventions and support systems for middle school students. Too many struggling students are entering high school unprepared. We need more robust support for literacy in our middle schools. Many District 65 students are not getting the educational support they need to meet standards. All of our support systems to address these needs must be data driven and results oriented. In addition to academic interventions and rigorous instructional practices including culturally responsive pedagogy, the value of reducing threats to students’ emotional safety through reducing racial disparity in discipline and focusing on school culture and climate through investment in EDI training to foster a sense of belonging for all students, teachers, and families can not be underestimated in its impact on student outcomes.
We will also need to continue to partner with ETHS to share data and best practices to collectively problem-solve for more effective interventions and support.