Current board member, legal journalist and author Deborah Graham is running for reelection to the District 202 Evanston Township High School board of education. Here are her answers to the questions Patch posed to every District 202 candidate.
1. How long have you lived in Evanston?
I've lived in Evanston for most of my life. I attended Nichols Middle School and graduated from ETHS in 1974. My husband and I moved here 25 years ago to raise our three children.
2. How long have you served on the District 202 board?
I was elected to my first term on the Board in 2009. I have served on the Board for 4 years.
Click here for information on the other District 202 candidates.
3. What would you say are your greatest accomplishments as a school board member?
As a member of the ETHS SIT (School Improvement Team), I've pushed hard for more personal connections at ETHS. I chaired a committee that focused on personalized learning. ETHS now is launching a new Freshman Advisory Study Hall that stands to improve relationships between counselors, teachers, and students; this will promote better understanding of student circumstances that may cause stress and anxiety in their lives.
I was one of only two board members to oppose extending the freshman restructuring to biology. I opposed this expansion of the freshman restructuring because the Board of Education had not yet received data demonstrating that the freshman restructuring was working for all students.
As a participant in the City-State Liaison Committee, I have pushed for increased lighting in the vicinity of ETHS so that students can feel safer.
As one of the Board of Education's representatives to the ETHS Foundation, I raised significant funds and supplemented the funds available for capital improvements at ETHS, including its project this year to finance the construction of STEM labs.
4. What do you think are the biggest issues for District 202? How would you address those?
I think the biggest issue for ETHS involves the freshman restructuring, particularly the freshman humanities class. Data provided to the Board of Ed in December shows that 54% of African-American students received grades of C or below in this class, and 45% of Hispanic students also received grades of C or below. Meanwhile, more than 80% of white students received grades of A or B. We need to do a better job of articulating with District 65 so that the emphasis in District 65 is not on the quantity of writing, but the quality of writing. Too many students enter ETHS without being able to write proficiently, and this negatively affects these students' performance in freshman humanities classes.
I'm also an advocate of diversifying the way that students can present what they have learned. Given that all of the earned honors assessments involve writing, we need to implement differentiated instruction so that more students can improve their performance in freshman humanities class. The Senior Studies model, where students delve into their area of strength and maximize it, may be a model for how we can address the performance of students of color in freshman humanities classes. I strongly feel that diversifying the way students present what they've learned is essential to improving students of color's performance in freshman humanities classes. Too many high-achieving students are not challenged enough in these classes, and too many lower-achieving students are not always able to improve their reading and writing abilities. We need to take account of different students' readiness levels, interests, strengths, and learning styles.
5. What will you do to improve graduation rates and job placement for those students who do not go on to college right away (if at all)?
The good news is that ETHS's graduation rate is growing. It is imperative that ETHS focus not only on college-readiness, but also career-readiness so more students who leave ETHS and don't go to college can become more successful in becoming gainfully employed. I recently have reached out to businesses in Evanston and they are receptive to hiring ETHS students. One thing that ETHS needs to do is build stronger relationships with local businesses, so that more students possess the skills and opportunities to become employed. I also am enlisting the support of Kim Hoopingarner, who works at the Youth Job Center, and Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of downtown Evanston, to help more ETHS students get employed.
6. What will you do to improve safety in and around ETHS?
ETHS's safety department is doing a fine job of controlling violence inside ETHS, but the environment around ETHS is, unfortunately, a different issue. There have been far too many incidents of violence in the vicinity of ETHS. The school does have plans to install safety phones around ETHS, and we have already limited access to the school to just two doors, one in the front and one in the back. Like Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, I am concerned about the number of students who leave ETHS without skills that will enable them to gain employment. Another answer to the safety question involves getting more students gainfully employed so their time is occupied. There are too many kids who leave ETHS and are unable to find employment.