Early voting begins Monday in the city and school board elections, but the race that is most complex is the Evanston Township High School District 202 race, with eight candidates competing for four positions on the board.
The group includes four men, four women, two incumbents, an African-American, a Latino, lawyers, businessmen, a not-for-profit executive, and parents with considerable experience in Evanston youth organizations.
The voters’ job will be to eliminate four of these candidates from consideration and select four to join current board president Mark Metz and members R. Scott Rochelle and Jonathan Baum on the seven-member board.
Evanston Now asked each candidate to tell why they should be among the final four. From their responses, plus information supplied by their candidate websites, campaign literature, and public statements, here is why each contends they deserve your vote, listed in alphabetical order.
ELENA GARCIA ANSANI
An educational researcher and a parent of a seventh grader and a ninth grader, Garcia Ansani says her work “requires me to study all the educational policies that are currently being proposed to understand the impact they will have at the federal, state, and local levels.”
This insight, she contends, “makes me a candidate that could contribute a wealth of information that would greatly benefit the ETHS community at large.”
The only Latino in the race, Garcia Ansani has served as a board member and chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the McGaw YMCA and is also the community outreach liaison for the Evanston Coalition for Latino Resources Board of Directors. She says that her “guidance, encouragement, and commitment for promoting inclusiveness at all levels have made a positive impact within Evanston.”
The son of Greek immigrants to Chicago, Bezaitis credits his ETHS education as “a transformative experience that launched me on a rewarding career path in engineering, business, and high-tech startups. “
Currently the chief operating officer of CellTrak Technologies, Inc., and the parent of three “ETHS-bound” students, Bezaitis holds electrical engineering degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and the Illinois Institute of Technology, as well as an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.
Because each student is an individual, with his or her own set of strengths, weaknesses, interests, motivations, character, personal life, and ambitions, Bezaitis promises to work “to ensure that all of our children have options to craft the academic experience that fits their needs.”
As executive director of the McGaw YMCA for nearly 10 years, a former teacher at Haven Middle School, and an executive with Steelcase, Inc., Geiger feels he has “a particularly strong and broad set of non-profit leadership and for-profit business skills” that will enable him to “get things done” at ETHS.
“I also have a working knowledge of effective board governance,” he says, “and understand the role of a board and responsibilities of board members.”
A graduate of ETHS and Dartmouth College, Geiger noted that ETHS has been a transformative experience for many youth, and he says he “will work hard to see that it is transformative for all.”
Running for her second term on the board, Graham has been persistent in recommending changes to the restructured humanities and biology courses at ETHS so that they are effective for all students. She feels that teachers should have been better trained in differentiated instruction before the changes occurred.
She advocates a return to the Combined Studies model that allows students to show what they’d learned in multiple and diverse ways. “Students could perform in skits, deliver presentations, and otherwise show off their interest and strengths,” she avers.
An ETHS graduate herself and parent of three ETHS-educated students, Graham is concerned that “too many students enter ETHS’s hall without knowing how to write with flair and grace.”
A former Peace Corps volunteer and reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Holt is now director of corporate communications for the Northern Trust Company and the parent of two ETHS students and a sixth grader. He believes that ETHS “should stand as a national model of achievement for all students.”
Holt feels the parent perspective is important “because the school I hear described at the kitchen table is sometimes different than the one described at the board room table.”
A former member of the District 65 Ad Hoc Budget Committee, Holt says that in his career and volunteer activities, “I’ve learned to listen carefully, to have an open mind, to think independently, to ask good questions, and to work as part of a team to solve problems.”
An incumbent seeking her second term on the ETHS board, Livingston feels that her “record of strong and collaborative leadership on the board” distinguishes her from the other candidates and that she has demonstrated that leadership in three key areas: achieving excellence, building relationships, and preserving resources.
A former partner in a major Chicago law firm and a former board member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Interfaith Housing Association of the North Shore, Livingston has served on virtually every committee of the District 202 Board.
In her second term, Livingston says she will urge improved data sharing and collaboration with District 65 as well as more business collaboration and also plans to “see out the evaluation that I brought in for the freshman year changes and the work on the district goals that include measurable targets resulting from my advocacy.”
A former Congressional staff member who served as director of the Iran-Contra investigation and counsel to the Speaker of the House, Miller has also been involved in community activities as chairman of the city’s Ethics Board and president of the Evanston Baseball & Softball Association.
He could not have been successful in these positions, he said, “without the ability to listen carefully and understand, to bridge disagreements on complex issues, and to maintain civility even in difficult circumstances. I would bring those same qualities to my work on the 202 board.”
A graduate of Wabash College with a law degree from Indiana University, Miller advocates a greater collaboration with District 65 “to provide a seamless educational experience from kindergarten through 12th grade.”
Not only is she the only African-American candidate for the board, but Savage-Williams claims to be the “only candidate with direct experience working in a high school” as coordinator of special education at the Northfield campus of New Trier High School.
Formerly she was a school psychologist at District 65 for 25 years and is the mother of two recent ETHS graduates. Because of her background as both a parent and a school psychologist, she feels she understands “how students learn and what motivates adolescents.”
Savage-Williams says she believes that “every student has the right to an education that enhances individual strengths, improves weaknesses, and fosters confidence and self-esteem.”