Incumbent Tracy Quattrocki is running for re-election to the Evanston-Skokie District 65 school board. Here are her answers to the questions Patch posed to every District 65 candidate.
1. How long have you lived in Evanston?
I have lived in Evanston for most of the last 32 years. After graduating from ETHS, I moved away to attend college and graduate school but moved back before the birth of my first child, who is now 16.
2. How long have you served on the District 65 board?
I have served on the District 65 school board for the last 4 years.
Click here for information on the other District 65 candidates.
3. What would you say are your greatest accomplishments as a school board member?
I believe our current board has made meaningful contributions to the academic experience of the children in this district. We have worked hard in collaboration with the administration, the teachers and the community to achieve the following milestones:
- Academic Achievement—Four years ago, our achievement report focused primarily on the number of District 65 students who met or exceeded expectations on the ISAT. Since then, we have worked with the administration to expand the scope of our report by analyzing various assessments (including ISAT, MAP and Explore) in more meaningful ways. We have set a significantly more rigorous standard, Career and College Readiness, as our benchmark, and have looked at average scale scores to measure overall growth, rather than focusing only on the number of students meeting a single benchmark. With better data available now than four years ago, we have a more accurate picture of our academic profile. As such, we are able to determine where our initiatives are succeeding and where they are not. This understanding is critical to allocating resources most effectively in order to boost achievement for students with special needs or limited English proficiency, engage our more advanced learners, narrow the achievement gap, and address our other challenges.
- Community Feedback and School-Based Surveys—Data from these surveys, combined with our enhanced achievement report, has allowed the board to rely on more than anecdotal information when highlighting areas of success and addressing areas of continued concern. We can see from various sources what is going well in our schools: our teachers are identified as our primary asset, along with a strong curriculum, a positive school environment, and better communication. We have also identified areas in need of improvement: consistency in discipline, more parental involvement, and improved minority achievement. The surveys also clearly point to the need for increased academic rigor in the middle schools, and more enrichment opportunities for students in all of our schools.
- The Writing Curriculum—Research suggests that an emphasis on writing across the curriculum greatly improves literacy skills at all levels. The board has urged the administration to adopt strategies to increase the quality of student writing, e.g. to introduce critical essays in younger grades and to emphasize writing opportunities in subject areas other than language arts. We have also asked the administration to incorporate into the curriculum more systemically the basic skills needed for good writing by focusing specifically on the fundamentals of grammar and spelling.
- Finances—With the recent negotiation of a successful four-year teacher contract, our district is forecasting a balanced budget for the next three years. We have managed to keep our staff largely intact while surrounding districts have faced severe cuts. Yet as we budget beyond the next cycle, we must keep in mind and, to the extent possible, plan for the very real possibility that Springfield could follow through with plans, as other states have done, to shift the pension liability to local school districts.
- Teacher Appraisal System—I believe a collaborative approach to developing the appraisal system in our district is fundamental to its success and will benefit all stakeholders. To this end, we have provided guidance and set clear expectations that we will work collaboratively with the teachers and administration to roll out a fair and equitable teacher evaluation system that uses data in a careful and reliable manner.
4. What do you think are the biggest issues for District 65? How would you address those?
Our challenge as a board in the immediate future will be to write, with the help of the community and the administration, a new strategic plan for the district. This plan must draw upon the data we have mined from both the expanded achievement report and the district and school-based surveys. It must also reflect the implementation of the common core state standards, and it should be tied to the goals set by the board with the input of the community. In developing the strategic plan, I believe the board must focus on the following areas:
- Pursuing Academic Excellence—Academic achievement in our district remains high, well above our peers across the state. But our achievement profile is, and must remain, the single most important focus of our board. Through better analysis of assessments, we are now able to identify more accurately where our interventions and programs are succeeding and where they are not. For instance, although our achievement gap remains an area of concern, our interventions for some of our struggling learners are clearly paying off. Yet while we are boosting achievement by 4th and 5th grade, we are not necessarily holding onto our gains by the end of 8th grade. Moreover, our most recent MAP scores indicate that students in the lower quartile are meeting their expected growth targets more often than those at the upper end of the achievement spectrum. It is my hope that by looking at the data more closely, we can meet the needs of all students more effectively, thereby increasing student achievement across the academic spectrum.
- Supporting our Teachers and Instructional Programs—We must work hard to ensure that differentiation is implemented effectively throughout the district. Given that differentiation is the foundation upon which all other instructional initiatives rest, it is vitally important that we do this well. With differentiation successfully in place, our inclusion initiative, RTI and the writing curriculum have a far greater chance of success. Although our various educational initiatives have greatly enhanced the odds that every child will meet his or her academic potential, they have also added stress to the classroom and increased teachers’ workloads. To help ensure that our teachers are not overwhelmed by these added demands, we must provide them with the resources they require to address the academic, social and emotional needs of every student. For instance, co-teaching and common planning time must be available to support inclusion in classrooms. And when trimming the budget, we must keep in place necessary supports for our struggling learners, including students with limited English proficiency and those with special needs.
- Continuing to Strengthen our Middle School Curriculum—Our students’ success in high school and beyond depends upon ensuring that they are as prepared for high school as possible. Feedback from our school-based surveys indicates that, while the curriculum is appropriate and engaging for middle range students, more challenging work is needed for advanced learners. Although we have seen recent improvements in the delivery of instruction, we must continue to increase and calibrate carefully the rigor of our middle school curriculum. For example, we should introduce more complex texts that will better prepare students to tackle the reading required in freshman humanities at ETHS, which can include not just Homer and Shakespeare, but challenging contemporary writers such as Salman Rushdie and Lorraine Hansbury. In short, our middle school reading and writing program should provide a stronger bridge to the high school curriculum.
- Hiring, Developing and Retaining High Quality Teachers—One of our district’s most important assets is the quality of our teachers. The district must support teachers not only through clear communication and collaboration, but also through professional development and the infusion of resources directly into the classroom. Teachers must be allowed to balance the need for student assessments with the freedom to teach creatively and effectively. We must also recruit and retain the best teachers possible, and resist limiting our applicant pool to less experienced candidates.
- Investing in the Early Years—Research suggests that attention and academic progress in the early years are critical to boosting achievement over the long term. In our current strategic plan, we have set the goal for every child to read at grade level by 3rd grade. I believe that we should target more effectively children who are struggling in the early grades and address particularly the issue of summer loss for children at risk. Foundation 65 supports a summer reading program that addresses just such a need, and I believe we should capitalize on that work and redouble our efforts to boost achievement in the early years.
- Exploring Virtual Consolidation Between District 202 and 65—For many years, our community has questioned whether the two-district model in Evanston best serves the needs of our schools, both financially and academically. Although we have made strides in our articulation practices, particularly on the transition from middle school to high school, many believe our students would benefit from greater alignment of curriculum and assessments between the two districts. Accordingly, several independent committees have explored the possibility of consolidation, but every time we have hit the same financial roadblock. Thus, rather than continuing to retread old ground, I believe we should instead explore a third model, virtual consolidation. This approach, if implemented effectively, has the potential to provide the benefits of consolidation, without the financial downside that full-scale consolidation would bring about.
- Using Technology Effectively—The district has invested heavily in technology in recent years, and is now embarking on an ambitious, five-year technology development plan. As we expand our use of technology and research best practices, though, we must ensure that we put it to good use and explore the ways in which technology can impact the educational experience in the classroom. Specifically, technology has the potential to greatly expand the possibilities for differentiation and inclusion through more individualized curriculum delivery. We must also develop consistent standards for technology instruction that are aligned throughout the district.
- Integrating the Arts—Reflecting a broader national trend, we have seen in Evanston a growing recognition of the importance of arts in education. Research also suggests that the arts promote and enhance early literacy skills. Unfortunately, we have also seen arts funding in our schools decreased due to budgetary shortfalls. In spite of these financial challenges, I believe the board and the administration must find a creative approach to integrate the arts into the classroom at every opportunity. By reaching out to community partners, integrating arts into our core subject areas, and shifting resources that exist within our schools, I believe that a re-investment in the arts will build stronger school communities and ultimately boost the academic performance of our students.
5. How will you balance finance constraints with the need for more space in the district’s aging buildings?
Our board has exhaustively studied enrollment projections and options to address our space capacity needs. I believe we have settled on a cost-effective way to respond to our growing student population, while at the same time introducing needed updates to our aging buildings. With new additions at Haven and Nichols, we are addressing the projected increase in enrollment for our middle school population. For the remainder of our building needs, including safe entryways for all buildings, air-conditioning, and roofing and masonry, we must carefully prioritize our projects to stay within our debt-service capacity.