Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

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: BA in English and Art History, Williams College. Ph.D. in English Literature, University of California Irvine. Current employment: Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs,School of Professional Studies, Northwestern University

Evanston ties: lived here 14 years; third-grader and seventh-grader in District 65 schools; Volunteer/Civic activities: Lincoln PTA Equity Committee; Next Steps Evanston, parent education and advocacy planning committee; Sister District of Greater Chicago volunteer.

Why She’s Running and What She Brings to the Table: With 25 years in higher education as both instructor and administrator, I have deep experience with educational equity initiatives, strategic planning, academic policy, student learning assessment, resource allocation, etc.

As a collaborative leader, I’m well versed in listening to the sometimes competing interests of various stakeholders, while keeping the student learning experience front and center.

My years of experience teaching students from diverse backgrounds and abilities help me understand that empathy and trust are essential for learning.

I’ve taught in an Upward Bound program for underserved high school students, a large public university with a majority minority population, two Ivy League universities, and an arts and media college.

I bring to my board role not only a strong commitment to equity, but a first-hand understanding of the social-emotional dynamics at play in the classroom and how school culture can affect student success and well-being.

Top Three Priorities and Reasons for Them:

  1. Close the opportunity gap in a way that is sustainable and meaningful: many of the equity initiatives and key human resource investments are focused on this main goal. The recent board presentation on the district’s racial equity journey describe key steps that have been taken and that are currently underway to create a truly inclusive learning environment for all students no matter their identities, abilities, or family income. We need to dispel the perception that an equitable educational system is at odds with academic rigor or quality.
    1. Address the structural deficit while keeping our eyes on the district’s equity goals: in the short term, we are looking for efficiencies and cutting expenditures in areas that do not directly impact classroom instruction. In the long term, the student assignment project and facilities audit will provide important information about whether we need to consolidate schools and what pathways are open to finally opening a 5th ward school.
    1. Educate the whole student within a community of care: Decades of research at all levels of education from pre-K to higher education confirm that students learn best when they feel a sense of belonging, when there’s a genuine belief in their potential to learn, and when learning is connected to what matters to them. In other words, creating classroom and school cultures where students feel valued and seen is an essential part of academic achievement and intellectual thriving. I am interested in systems and policy changes that center student learning defined and assessed holistically, not just measured by standardized test scores.

Two Recent Board Positives:

System-wide implementation of a racial equity impact assessment (REIA) tool to evaluate policies and practices so that there is a coordinated effort to address the opportunity gap. It’s important that the Beyond Diversity and S.E.E.D. trainings for all district employees (2018) took place prior to the implementation of the REIA tool (2019-2020), so that a shared language and understanding of an equity framework could be in place. Policy and curricular changes such as Algebra for All, expansion and improvement of TWI programs, district-wide translation services, revision of social studies curriculum, etc. are the results of applying an equity lens to improving not just what students learn, but how they access the learning.

Data-driven evaluation of district efforts of the past few years is critical to identifying work to be done and tracking progress made. The discipline report, early childhood education task force and recent update on their strategic plan, the special education report of the disparity in services and student outcomes help us see where we are, put plans in place to address the identified gaps, and track the effectiveness of interventions. We have to be careful not to rely solely on numbers and metrics, but good, regular reporting of both quantitative and qualitative data is essential to creating a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.

Addressing 5Essentials Survey Results

I do remember seeing the 5Essentials Survey data and thought it was referenced at a board meeting. The data seem to reflect the transition in leadership prior to Dr. Horton’s arrival and official start in June 2020 and the need to build a culture of trust and collaboration between district and building leaders and educators.                              Even in the midst of a pandemic, Dr. Horton has put in place a system of robust professional development and ongoing feedback for teachers. Building leaders are making hundreds of classroom visits per week to provide teachers with just-in-time feedback and support. With several new principals who have joined this past year and several more who need to be hired this year, it will be important to have an active onboarding and support process that helps new building leaders establish a healthy school climate with teachers, staff, and families. With each new leadership change, there needs to be attention to both continuity and opportunity for innovative change. Dr. Horton has also begun to convene a principals advisory council and a student advisory council as opportunities for important dialogue.

Addressing the Joint Literacy Goal:

Improving literacy for Black and Latinx students has to continue to be a multi-pronged approach. There were promising data in the recent early childhood education report showing gains in Kindergarten readiness of JEH students and it will be important to track their progress to 3rd grade. The proposed redesign of the reading intervention program is another effort to broaden and strengthen tier 1 support through a more collaborative and collectivist model, while continuing to provide targeted supports in tiers 2 and 3. Tracking the effectiveness of this support model will be important. The data presented from a program like Summer Lift at the joint board meeting is promising, but this is a relatively small program. How do we scale up and/or integrate key practices into instruction and intervention during the school year?

I am increasingly interested in recent research showing that methods usually reserved for gifted education (acceleration, enrichment models of pedagogy) also work for students not yet meeting readiness benchmarks. The district has engaged multiple community partners in summer learning programs for 2021, and I’ll be interested to see which programs yield the most promising results, and whether these align with the research.