Corporate communications director Doug Holt is running his first campaign for the Evanston Township High School District 202 board. Here are his answers to the questions we posed to every 202 candidate.
1. How long have you lived in Evanston?
I’ve lived in Evanston / Skokie-Evanston since 1998 with my wife and our three children.
2. What elected positions have you held previously, if any? Have you ever run for office before?
Click here for information on the other District 202 candidates.
3. What experience/skills would you bring to the school board from your professional or personal life?
I’m running as a committed and involved community member, as a parent of two ETHS students, and also parent of a 6th grader who plans to attend ETHS. The parent perspective is important, I believe, because the school district we hear talked about around the board room table may be different than the one talked about around the kitchen table. As a board member, my perspective would be grounded by the experience of parenting students who attend ETHS today.
As a professional, over the years I’ve learned to listen carefully and have an open mind, to think independently, to ask good questions and to work as part of a team to solve problems. I have a strong professional background and a record of community service. In terms of education, I studied biology and journalism at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. I graduated with honors from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. I worked as a reporter for 15 years, including as a freelance writer in Mexico, and at the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News covering local, state and national government and the US-Mexico border. I served as Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic, where I taught English as a Foreign Language & Biology as a high school teacher. My Peace Corps training stressed skills, adaptability, cultural sensitivity, and intensive study of French and Sango. In 2011, I served on the District 65 Ad Hoc Citizen's Budget Committee, and was part of a committee that drafted the report. I was a founding member & continue as a volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, St. Joan of Arc chapter, which provides direct assistance to more than 150 needy families in our community per year – with $0 overhead.
4. What do you think are the biggest issues for District 202? How would you address those?
1) It matters how decisions are made. As an ETHS parent and a taxpayer, I am motivated by a strong desire to see ETHS perform at its best. As an ETHS board member, I would encourage measurable strategies and tactics to pursue ETHS goals; adopt an ethic of evidence-based decision making; and seek to instill a culture of constant improvement and accountability. As elected officials, I believe board members should treat each other and staff with respect and at all times positively reflect our community, even when discussing difficult issues.
2) The Board should proceed carefully on Earned Honors. Much was promised for the Earned Honors restructuring of freshmen Humanities and Biology, along with the elimination of straight honors classes in those subjects for freshmen. While some in District 202 have called Earned Honors a “template” for classes throughout ETHS, its effects – intended and unintended – should be carefully reviewed before expanding the Earned Honors model. Academic research raises questions about similar “one size fits all” approaches to education. In 1997, Chicago Public Schools placed all ninth-graders in college-prep algebra and English classes. Researchers at the University of Chicago found in 2010 this policy had “no positive effects on student achievement and may actually have hurt the college prospects of some top students.”
3) We must recognize that student achievement doesn’t start in the 9th grade. Currently, students enter ETHS from District 65 with a significant achievement gap on Day 1. Thus, working with D65 to chart a K-12 strategy to provide a consistent, rigorous course of study to minimize the gap should be an actionable goal. Additionally, student achievement cannot be left up to schools alone. It’s a function of inputs from the family, student, school, peers and community. I support a broad-based approach that engages students, involves parents and leverages community partnerships.
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)?
A: Approximately 1 in 5 students who graduate from ETHS do not go on to college right away, so this is an important question. After an education costing taxpayers more than $80,000, students who do not see college in their immediate future should graduate from ETHS with marketable skills.
As a board member, I would support current efforts to systematically add career and technical courses. I fully support career-preparation courses at ETHS with dual credit from Oakton Community College, and would seek to encourage further partnerships with area employers. I’m impressed by ETHS certification programs in fields such as automotive technology and pharmacy technicians, and its pre-engineering program that leads to careers such as manufacturing, design and digital electronics.
I’m particularly excited by a new course next fall, Geometry in Construction, in which students will build a house and gain experience working with the building trades.
6. What will you do to improve safety in and around ETHS?
A: Part of the answer here lies in offering a variety of pathways to success for all students, including career-preparation options outlined above, so every ETHS student is engaged and challenged in a positive way. Close partnerships with police and community leaders, including Evanston clergy, can work to make our neighborhoods safer, particularly near ETHS. I support a broad-based approach, including better lighting, cameras where appropriate, gang intelligence and interventions, visible security, and student-led dialogue and awareness efforts to combat violence.