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.

Mya Wilkins

Mya Wilkins. 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.

I attended public schools and graduated from Shaw High School in Ohio. I then attended Case Western Reserve University and received a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. I moved to Evanston 18 years ago to attend the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.  

After getting my MBA, I completed an internship with the Broad Center focused on urban education and worked in the Office of Planning and Development for Chicago Public Schools. I’m currently an executive director in marketing research at JPMorgan Chase.

I have a third grader and a seventh grader in District 65. As a district parent, I’ve served as an organizer of the district’s African, Black and Caribbean Group (ABC) events, as a PTA Equity Project (PEP) representative and as one of the founders of Black Students Achieve (BSA), an affinity group for Black families at Walker. 

Outside of District 65, I’ve been a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Fellowship Initiative, a program through JPMorgan Chase that provides intensive academic support and leadership development for young men of color. I’ve also volunteered as an instructor of internal DEI training.

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

The opportunity gap, teacher shortages especially in specialized areas and upgrading facilities are top challenges. Eliminating the opportunity gap will require a comprehensive set of strategies including a focus on early childhood education, academic interventions, having a welcoming climate for students of color so they all feel they are supported, using science based-curriculum and support and training for teachers, to name a few. It will also require tracking progress on multiple measures, not just a single set of test scores. Many initiatives related to these areas are already underway, including new rigorous curricula in math and literacy and real curricula in science and social studies, which we did not have previously. To be successful, these initiatives will require continued commitment from the board, administrative support and resources.

The educator shortage is another national problem from which District 65 is not immune. It is also critical that we hire teachers of color that reflect the diversity of our students. In order to attract and retain high-performing educators, educators must have a voice when decisions are made, feel they are fairly compensated and be provided with the resources they need to be successful. I am a proponent of conducting exit interviews with educators to better understand their reasons for leaving. 

To combat the educator shortage, the district has already instituted residency programs to create pathways for individuals to earn their teacher certifications (CREATE65), their principal and assistant principal certification (Aspiring Leaders) and an apprenticeship program for paraprofessionals in a partnership with Bloomboard.  As a board member, I will continue to support these programs.

Given the age of our buildings, it is necessary to make capital improvements while balancing all of the other financial needs of the district. The district must continue to work through the Master Facilities Plan in a systematic, environmentally friendly manner. New LED lighting, asbestos abatement, window replacements and roof repairs underway are the types of initiatives that the board needs to continue to drive.

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.

The board should be commended for instituting a set of comprehensive strategies to promote equity, including approval of the new 5th Ward school, new curricula, Academic Skills Center high-dose tutoring and restorative practices. As these strategies continue to be implemented, they will positively impact student outcomes and experiences. The board has also shown commitment to continuous improvement until the district fully reaches its equity goals.

The board hasn’t always adequately communicated why changes were made or what to expect to the school community. The standards-based report cards are a good example of this. While standards-based report cards are more actionable because they differentiate academic proficiency from student habits, some families did not understand or were surprised by the changes.

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?

Declining enrollment is a reality that the district must manage. A combination of factors are at play. Some reasons are specific to Evanston and some are not. Lower birth rates and students not returning after making alternative selections during COVID are contributing factors. Robust student assignment planning is underway to make needed adjustments. The district is also working with community partners to promote enrollment for kindergarten families and outreach to families who may have left the district during COVID encouraging them to re-enroll. 

Families have choices in Evanston around where they send their children to school. As a public school, it is District 65’s responsibility to provide the best education possible to all students who enroll. I would like to see the District promote the great things happening in our schools including new curricula, the positive school climate that we are cultivating, opportunities for extracurriculars including new spelling bees and sports programs and the strength of our diverse student body. More people should know District 65 is being recognized locally and nationally for its innovative, high-quality work, from Golden Apple finalists to Superintendent of the Year to board governance.

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?

Work is underway to bolster student performance, including the rollout of a new math curriculum, pilots of ELA instruction that use the science of reading and expanded summer learning opportunities.

I would like to implement forums to get frequent and regular input from educators on what is working and what they need to be successful. Educator feedback needs to be representative of teachers with different experience levels and should be provided anonymously so educators feel comfortable sharing concerns.

In addition to the strategies already underway to address the opportunity gap by race, ethnicity and IEP status, I would like to see more frequent opportunities for families and students to provide feedback on their experience in District 65. Expansion of programs that promote a love of learning in culturally relevant ways would also be beneficial. District 65 can strengthen partnerships with programs like Black Girl Magic Book Club, Black SonRISE reading club and Digital Divas that enrich student learning.

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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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