Four candidates for the Evanston Township High School District 202 School Board election answered questions about the challenges faced by ETHS at a forum Wednesday evening.
Staley Palmer, Monique Parsons (an incumbent seeking reelection), Elizabeth Rolewicz and Stephanie Teterycz participated in a 90-minute question-and-answer session sponsored by the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership. Several dozen voters were in the audience at the Chute Middle School auditorium.
The candidates generally agreed on such topics as the role of the school board, issues facing ETHS and equity, but their opinions on the following four issues may serve to help distinguish between them.
Disparity in discipline of African-American students
“Yes, it’s a concern but I’m proud that the disparity has dropped over the past ten years as a result of a change in disciplinary strategies,” said Parsons. “Teachers still struggle with subjectivity, such as what is ‘disruptive’ behavior.”
Parsons also encourages student involvement in setting discipline policy.
“There are cultural differences that can be interpreted differently and we need cultural literacy,” said Rolewicz. “For example, a student may come from a culture in which you don’t make eye contact with authority figures but a teacher might see that as disrespectful.”
“A teacher needs to learn where students are coming from, especially if they come from outside the white cultural norm,” she said.
“How do we shift and change the dynamic so we don’t drive every interaction to the ultimate negative outcome with a policy of zero tolerance,” said Teterycz, who favors restorative justice or transformative justice practices.
“We need to determine how the discipline policy affects students, determine what is working and find other solutions,” said Palmer.
“Race continues to predict outcome,” said Rolewicz. “The administration has been trying for over a decade to move the needle, but in academic outcomes black students still fall behind white students by four academic years. We need to figure it out until it’s done.”
“ETHS is exceptional and 100 percent equity-focused,” said Teterycz, but “equity is something people buy into at various levels. We need to channel the equity lens into the fabric of ETHS,” so that everyone can be successful.
Staley focused on the amount of money spent per student. “Despite the investment and changes and restructuring, why are we not seeing the return on that investment?” he said. “We have adopted an equity statement but are not seeing the return on investment that the community expects.”
“We need to create and cultivate an environment to make sure every student is prepared for college and career,” said Parsons, but the achievement gap continues to be a barrier. “We can’t make decisions without using the equity lens, and need to make sure that when students leave ETHS they are ready.”
Issues between Districts 202 and 65, including disparities in reading proficiency
“By the time students get to the high school it’s difficult to catch up on reading proficiency,” said Teterycz. “We need to look at the issue holistically and work with the board of District 65.”
“As a public school teacher I support District 65 teachers,” said Palmer. “We need to not point fingers. Improving literacy is not just the responsibility of the reading or English department.”
“There’s no common measurement for reading comprehension of students between the districts,” said Parsons. “There’s not the same sense of urgency to make students reading [at grade level] when they get to ETHS. I’m not pointing fingers, but none of us are successful if any child is left behind.”
Rolewicz said she sees the problem as compartmentalization between ETHS, elementary and middle school and preschool. “That leads to finger-pointing and blame; we should consider the whole child experience, including the experience before the child enters kindergarten.”
“By the time they get to high school we have only 3 and a half years to turn the bus around, to educate them and get their reading up to speed,” she said. “We need to go back to ages zero to five. The problem only gets worse when they get to kindergarten.”
Relationship between ETHS and Oakton Community College
All four candidates said they support the dual credit program through which ETHS students can get credit at both the high school and OCC.
Parsons said she hasn’t focused on the OCC relationship but wants address accessibility. She suggested that transportation is an issue and would like to see OCC open a satellite location at ETHS.
Rolewicz, who attended Rock Valley Community College, wants to destigmatize community college. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
“So many students at ETHS are college-bound,” she said, “I want to strengthen the relationship with Oakton and make sure that students who are not interested in a four-year college leave ETHS with the skills to earn a living wage,” even something like Microsoft Office certification.
“It is inexcusable to graduate from ETHS into a life of poverty,” she said.
Teterycz said she has worked in college preparation programs at Northwestern University. She said that ETHS students are able to take summer classes at Northwestern at no cost and would like to explore the same options for Oakton.
“One of the biggest barriers to college is access, both physical and financial,” Rolewicz said. “To help resolve financial issues,” she said, “have some Oakton classes housed at ETHS.”
Four seek three seats on D202 board (12/18/2018)