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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: M.A., counseling degree in psychology, Northwestern University. Current employment: mental health clinician in private practice, treating children, adults, and families; Evanston ties: moved here 25 years ago; three children who will attend District 65 schools
Why She’s Running and What She Brings to the Table: I have researched extensively and written articles on child development, and I have worked on IEPs for families. My clientele are members of all walks of life, from LGBTQ to families of color, and they entrust me with their stories of struggle. I seek equity for these marginalized groups and am working with them to overcome the obstacles they experience daily.
I’m also an experienced trauma-informed clinician. Our schools are the single largest provider of mental health services to children. There is no doubt this pandemic will have a lasting and long-term effect on our youth. But it makes it all the more critical to have a mental health professional’s expertise and perspective on how we can truly support our children in their return to school.
I am committed to D65 and its future.
Top Three Priorities and Reasons for Them:
First and foremost, we need to be responsible stewards of the $140 million dollar budget that the public has entrusted us with to make our public schools function. The current Board announced in December that the district is running out of referendum money faster than was planned for when the referendum passed. The Board recently announced that it must cut $12 million in the next three years in order to not run out of money. My question is, why did the Board approve the administration to spend $1.5 million on creating 11 new administrative positions this past summer—even while kids were not in the classroom? Why in the past two years alone did spending increase by 11% while revenues were down and enrollment has declined? Why are we spending money that we simply do not have? At this point the district is now discussing reductions, and is cutting reading specialists and librarians. They also are threatening to close one to two schools. Over 400 kids have left this district this year, and 3 principals have left…I am concerned that we will lose even more students and educators if the mismanagement of finances continues.
My second priority is to invest in academic excellence for all children: below grade level, at grade level, and above grade level. Students in the Black and brown community continue to fall behind white students at a completely unacceptable rate, and this achievement gap must be closed. Test scores have declined across the board, despite an unprecedented amount of money being spent in the district right now. D65’s score on the “Ambitious Instruction” category in the 5 Essentials Survey has gone down significantly over the past five years. I am concerned that our MAP testing scores have gone down for all kids, and that for kids who need accelerated academic stimulation, there is no longer an option for them. For trends of test scores, White students at District 65 rank below all other school districts in the nation serving White students with similar socioeconomic status, and fall toward the bottom of all other districts in the nation serving White students. The trend in test scores of Black students at District 65 is below the national average and below that of the vast majority of school districts in the nation that serve Black students. Evanston has historically had an excellent reputation for their public schools, but we are looking lukewarm at best right now…we need to protect the quality of our education so that people will want to move to Evanston.
My third priority is to emphasize socio-emotional wellbeing with a trauma informed perspective. In this pandemic, our children have experienced more than a year of stress, fear, and isolation. In my psychotherapy practice, I work directly with children and families, hearing firsthand the cries of our children and families who are struggling to stay afloat during school shutdown. These children will need unsurpassed social, mental, and emotional support to reintegrate into daily learning and educational experiences at the levels that best meet them where they are. Additionally, so many students come from home situations that are not conducive to learning. We must put in place the extra emotional and educational supports these children will need to reach their potential. Centering these children’s voices is a top priority for me.
Two Recent Board Positives:
Addressing 5Essentials Survey Results
D65 scored below the baseline for the state of Illinois in the categories of “Effective Leaders” and “Collaborative Teachers” on the 5 Essentials Survey. I think it’s important to remember that the 5 Essentials Survey is primarily based off of educator and student responses, and so this survey is a chance for us to hear what the educators are thinking and feeling. The subcategories of “Effective Leaders” includes instructional leadership, teacher influence, teacher-principal trust, and program coherence. If teachers are giving these measures a low score, it indicates that educators feel misunderstood and not heard or supported. The subcategories of “Collaborative Teachers” includes collaborative practices, teacher-teacher trust, school commitment, and quality professional development. Low scores in this category seem to indicate again that educators are saying that they do not feel supported. Based on the latest results from the survey, it seems educators are unhappy with leadership, and with the community culture and environment. It seems to indicate that they also do not feel supported by the larger institution of D65. These responses should be publicly discussed, and it is imperative to open up the line of communication with teachers and directly listen to what they need to feel better supported. I would propose small groups of educators meeting with administrators to honestly and directly voice their concerns. If teachers are unhappy, they will leave our district! (And by the way, again, three principals – from Washington, Willard, and Dewey – just left our district in the past few weeks…)
Addressing the Joint Literacy Goal
60% of Black and Latinx students have not met the literacy goal set jointly by D65 and D202…this means that these kids are placed in remedial classes upon matriculation at the high school. What concerns me is that the current administration’s solution is to try to make the losses less apparent by moving the benchmark down to make scores seem better—which is not true equity. For example, the drop in scores between the spring of 8th grade and the spring of 9th grade suggests that District 65 is using a lower benchmark score than necessary to align with a grade equivalent (GE) Score of 9.7 on the STAR test in the spring of ninth grade. When I look at charts mapping these results, it seems that all scores are going down towards the mean, rather than lifting up Black and Latinx students. Not only do we need to challenge all students (rather than lowering the standards), we need to help our Black and Latinx students catch up. There is a great need to increase reading specialists–not cut them which the district just did! We should also be providing one on one math tutoring and other academic enrichments before and after school for kids who are not meeting benchmarks. A mentoring program with Northwestern University would be beneficial, and we need to get more Black and Latinx kids prepared at a young age for advanced math. Most importantly though, a lot of our children are experiencing trauma at home with unstable family situations. Perhaps the most important thing we could be doing is attending to these kids socio-emotional well being so that they can access the cerebral parts of their brains for learning, without being flooded by their emotions. As a board member I would want to partner with local psychology and counseling graduate programs to make D65 an internship site for these graduate students. It would be an extremely low cost way to provide more psychological services to more students in need. And finally, schools must be open in person in order to be truly equitable for all students. Too many kids have been left behind to fend for themselves during the school closures in this pandemic. Schools must be open in person full time, especially now that the CDC and IDPH have both said that schools can safely reopen if children are 3 feet apart.