In an effort to inform Evanston voters about candidates for both local school boards, the RoundTable sent out a standard questionnaire to each person running for a seat on the board. Today, we are publishing all responses from District 65 candidates, which you can find in one place here. Tomorrow, we will be back with answers from all candidates for Evanston Township High School board.

Early voting begins at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Monday, March 20, and Election Day is Tuesday, April 4.

John Matthew Martin

John Martin Credit: Candidate website

Provide your educational background, occupation, recent civic/volunteer activities, time you have lived in Evanston and whether you have children attending District 65.

My wife and I moved to Evanston from Chicago in 2015, and we have two children in D65 schools – first- and second-graders. I have a bachelor of science in business administration from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a master of science in taxation from DePaul University. Currently, I work as a senior tax manager for a company that makes tax accounting software. I work with large corporations in their tax departments on gaining efficiencies and improving their processes with my company’s software as one of the tools.

Regarding civic/volunteer activities, I became involved in AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) shortly after coming to Evanston. First as a coach, then as registrar for two years and then as commissioner for two years bringing us out of the pandemic.  This gave me the opportunity to get to know many different families and experience the great diversity in our community—which is truly unique. I also continue to coach AYSO and flag football.

What do you see as the top three challenges facing District 65 in the next few years, and how would you address them?

  1. Steep decline in enrollment. I will address this by ensuring that equity and excellence are both treated with the same importance, not “equity or excellence.” Equity and excellence can coexist and complement each other. We need both to reverse District 65’s steep decline in student enrollment. A culturally inclusive and reflective education is what we want for our kids—a better holistic support system for our teachers socially, emotionally and academically. 
  2. Lack of trust among the critical parties of teachers, administrators, parents and students, which has contributed to both families and teachers leaving D65. I will help rebuild and foster positive and trusting relationships among all parties. We need to treat everyone with respect and work collaboratively, even when opinions differ. We must let teachers focus on the core role of teaching and be supportive of their needs. I will address this by doing my part to ensure the board is independent and transparent, with clear explanations of policy decisions provided as summaries on the district’s website for all to read.
  3. Fiscal responsibility and transparency are missing. I will address this by using my financial expertise to closely scrutinize the millions of dollars spent on consultants and administrators that take funds away from students and teachers. Dollars spent must benefit the students and classrooms, with the goal of meeting each and every child’s unique needs.

Name one thing that you think the current board has done well and one thing that it could have done better in the last three years and provide your reasons.

One thing I think the current board did well was collaborate on the Chat and Chews in schools, as discussed at the Aug. 31 board meeting. From what I’ve heard, these have had a positive impact on the relationship between the administration and teachers and are exactly the type of communication I would like to see further strengthened. 

One thing that could be improved is the communication to parents around the changing of college preparedness standards. Students need to be the number one priority, and there was not a clear explanation of the rationale behind this critical decision. Without an explanation, people started filling in the blanks with their own thoughts, right or wrong. The community should have been informed of the decision process, plus the specifics as to why the board thinks the new standards are better for the students.

Over the past three years, enrollment in District 65 has fallen by more than 1,300 students. These numbers were expected to stabilize after the pandemic, but they continued to fall. Do you think declining enrollment is a concern for the district, and if so, what do you think should be done to address it?

Yes, the steeply declining enrollment is absolutely a concern for the district. Students should be the number one priority. The students, and their learning environment, should be the focal point for everyone. When students are leaving the district, we need to understand why. We cannot brush this off as a national trend, when we see our neighboring communities leveling off (Skokie, Wilmette, and Oak Park/River Forest) while our decline continues. Moreover, our school-aged population (ages 5-14) has remained steady during that timeframe. To address this, we must first conduct exit interviews for every family that left D65 to find out exactly why they exited and reflect on the results to make our district stronger. Equity and excellence must coexist and complement each other. We need both to reverse District 65’s steep decline in student enrollment.

Second, we must stop the loss of our excellent D65 teachers to maintain the culture and rich history of D65 and optimize the students’ learning environment. They are the backbone of D65 schools and are the faces to our children. They need to feel valued and respected, something that is lacking today.

The latest available data on student math and reading performance shows that proficiency in those two subjects has remained flat, or fallen slightly, since 2015, and Evanston continues to have one of the largest gaps in educational opportunities by race and ethnicity in the nation. What strategies do you want to employ to address those issues that have not already been implemented?

We need a heightened focus on students per teacher. The Tennessee STAR report showed that small class sizes (fewer than 15 students per teacher) in grades K-3 saw significant long-term growth. The study also showed Black students saw more than a 50% improvement compared to white students, and low-income students saw double the improvement of high-income students when in the small classroom size for four years.

We need to focus resources to the classroom, including reallocating administrative overhead and consultant expenditures. My experience working with Fortune 500/100/10 accounting departments provides me unique insights to identifying ways to gain efficiencies. We must evaluate every expenditure against getting the teacher-to-student ratio to fewer than 15 students per teacher in grades K-3. 

We also need to see more paraprofessionals, teacher assistants and social workers in the classroom. And we need to greatly increase access to preschool, particularly among our low-income families. 

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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