Deborah Graham

Central Street Neighbors Association School Board Questionnaire



Deborah GrahamName: Deborah Graham

Candidate for: District 202

Voting address:
2762 Woodbine St.


Years lived in school district: 25

Campaign website:

Campaign phone: 847-475-7290

E-mail address:

Other websites on which you post campaign statements or positions:

Facebook -- "Reelect Deborah Graham for 202"

Campaign Chair: Steven Greenberger

Treasurer: Laura Antolin

Campaign manager or consultant(s):

Jim Bernstein (consultant)

Elective or appointive public or party offices previously held including dates:

Member, ETHS Board of Education, 2009 to the present

What is your primary occupation? Writer/editor

Breifly list your past civic activities. If numerous list here the five most relevant:

  • Co-president, ETHS PTSA (2008-2009)
  • Co-founder, Cherry Preschool
  • Member. District 65 Differentiation and Enrichment Committee
  • Kingsley Elementary School: co-chair of Chess Club for 3 years; co-chair of Teacher Appreciation Week, co-chair of Books and Breakfast program


What subjects have you studied and what experience have you had which will be most helpful to you as you serve on the school board?

As a former co-president of the ETHS PTSA, I have developed strong relationships with many people in Evanston.  My wide network of contacts helps to inform my votes on the ETHS Board of Education.  Before I was elected to the Board of Ed, I served on the School Improvement Team and chaired a committee that focused on personalized learning.  The new Freshman Advisory Study Hall is a culmination of my efforts in this area, but I also believe that we need to provide support for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who undergo their own stress and anxiety, especially in the current economic climate. 


Please list all endorsements you have received so far.  You may also use this space if desired to indicate what you consider to be your principal base(s) of support and why you want voters to consider your endorsements or support base.

I am very proud to have the support of Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl (former member, ETHS Board of Education), Margaret Lurie (another former member of the ETHS Board of Education), Neal Jay Miller (another former ETHS school board members), Boris Furman (yet another former ETHS school board member), Mary Ann Wexler (a former member of the District 65 Board of Education), the Honorable Jeffrey Schoenberg, and the Honorable Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward Alderperson). I also am very proud to have the support of a number of ETHS parents, including those whose children already are graduates of ETHS and those whose students are currently enrolled at ETHS.


Essence of Campaign. Briefly, why are you running and why should a voter give you one of his or her votes? How will electing you make a difference?

My work on the ETHS Board of Education is not finished.  My experience on the ETHS Board of Education for the past 4 years has given me a good perspective on issues at ETHS, including our finances and the components of our instructional program.  As the parent of 2 ETHS graduates, and a current ETHS sophomore, I have seen changes at ETHS since the Board of Education unanimously voted to increase equity at ETHS.  I have been a proponent of differentiated instruction since I served on the District 65 Differentiation and Enrichment Committee.  I know a lot about differentiated instruction from my service on this committee, and how it can be  successfully implemented.  Differentiated instruction was promised to the Board of Education as part of the freshman restructuring plan, but it has yet to be enacted in freshman humanities classes.  I see a great need to address differentiated instruction in mixed-level classes at ETHS so that high-achieving students can be more fully  challenged, and lower-achieving students can receive more of the support they need to succeed in mixed-level classes.  The initial results of the freshman restructuring experiment are discouraging.  54% of African-American students got grades of C or below during the second semester of freshman humanities last year, 45% of Hispanic students received grades of C or below, and more than 80% of white students got As or Bs.  I am very concerned by this data and believe we need to implement differentiated instruction so that more students can improve their performance in connection with the freshman restructuring.  I am very committed to data-driven decision-making, and what the data shows me determines how I vote on the ETHS Board of Education.


Educational philosophy. American education, and sometimes that in Evanston, is variously criticized as culturally biased in favor of dominant or privileged classes or groups and their culture, as too relativistic, as too coddling and mushy, as failing to prepare students for the 21st century economy, or as failing to teach basics, among others. What principal deficit(s) in American or Evanston education do you see, and what will you do as a local Board member to address this?

At ETHS, we long have had a glaring achievement gap that separates white students from students of color.  As a member of the Board of Education at ETHS, I have voted to increae equity at ETHS, but we cannot only focus on equity.  The freshman restructuring is intended to provide more students of color with access to excellence at ETHS.   I fully support the inclusion of more students of color in AP classes; studies have shown that exposure to AP classes helps students to do better in college.   But not all of our graduates are college-bound.  I see a great need for more intensive articulation with District 65 so that a greater number of students are better prepared for challenges they'll encounter at ETHS.  I also see a need for increasing the resources we invest in our Career and Technical Education so that students who opt for work instead of college will be better suited and able to find employment.  We need to focus on both college-readiness and career-readiness.  I share Mayor Tisdahl's concerns about this, and think we need to do all we can to ensure that ETHS students are fully prepared for gainful employment, not to the exclusion of our focus on college-readiness but in addition to it.   


Superintendent. If elected this April, during your tenure you will have one or more opportunities to fire, hire, or extend the contract of a superintendent. What specific criteria, if any, including any quantitative performance criteria, will you use in your decision?

 The ETHS Board of Education recently adopted new goals -- including increasing the results of our students from the EXPLORE test to the PLAN test to the ACT exam; increasing the performance of students on AP tests (increasing the percentage of students who get a 3 or higher on AP exams); and ensuring enhancement of ETHS's reputation so that ETHS can become better known for being the terrific school it is. These new goals will govern our evaluation of the superintendent in years to come. I think that Dr. Witherspoon has done a good job at ETHS and is firmly committed to District 202, particularly in the area of increasing equity at ETHS.  The Board of Ed's new goals will shape my evaluation of the results that Dr. Witherspoon and his administrative team achieves.  I am concerned that we not lose sight of our focus on the excellence for which ETHS has long been renowned, and I would like to see more students of color achieve better results, in terms of grades and performance on the ACT. I know that Dr. Witherspoon is greatly invested in improving the the excellence achieved by ETHS's students of color, but we must also protect the legacy of excellence for which ETHS is renowned. We cannot ignore the impact on our highest-achieving students and to what extent they are truly challenged in mixed-level classes.  I will take all of these issues into account in connection with my evaluation of the ETHS superintendent.  The Board of Education recently extended Dr. Witherspoon's contract, a decision I endorsed.  We must work to ensure increases in equity at ETHS and also work to ensure that our reputation for excellence remains intact, not only for students who already are high-achieving but for all ETHS students, whether in the context of academics or other areas they choose to pursue.  I will hold the ETHS responsible for ETHS's successes as well as area where we have yet to achieve positive results.  I am committed to increasing equity at ETHS but not at the cost of the excellence with which an ETHS education long has been associated.


Expenditures. District 202's most recent posted total budget for all funds is over $72 million – which is over $23,000 per student. District median household income is less than $65,000. Is the current expenditure level necessary and sustainable?

This is a fair question, and the answers are not easy.  At present, a good percentage of ETHS's Insructional Budget goes to boost the performance of lower-achieving students at ETHS.  We have A.M. support programs, after-school homework clinics, AVID, STAE, and Project Excel, all of which strive to improve the performance of low-achieving students. The ETHS Board of Education has a made a strong commitment to increasing equity at ETHS.  There may be some room for savings in our instructional budget in our spending per student, but this would mean reducing ETHS's instructional budget.  I believe that we need to do a thorough review of support programs at ETHS and determine to what  extent they are helping students to improve their performance.   I am commited to data-driven decision-making, and believe we need to do a better job of reviewing what is working and what is not.  


Tracking. State succinctly and specifically what ETHS should be doing the same, more of, or differently with respect to differentiated or mixed-level instruction, tracking, and the honors program, and why.


I am an ardent proponent of differentiated instruction so that high-achieving students can be appropriately, and so that lower-achieving students can obtain the support they need to succeed at ETHS.  Classes that mix students who read at the 40th percentile and students who read in the 90th percentile are a challenge for ETHS's teachers.  We must ensure that differentiated instruction is implemented in freshman humanities classes and in other mixed-level classes at ETHS.  DI was promised to the Board of Education as part of the freshman restructuring plan, but, to date, it has not been utilized, except to the extent that teachers use scaffolding to judge student strengths.


Part of the answer to this question involves diversifying the ways that students present what they have learned.  Students at ETHS  have varied learning styles, readiness levels, interests, and strengths.  Without differentiated instruction, too many classes at ETHS are taught to the middle.  This does a disservice to high-achieving students and prevents many lower-achieving students from being able to succeed in mixed-level classes.  With respect to the issue of honors-only classes, I initially considered voting against the freshman restructuring, but recalled that I had spent my first two years in mixed-level classes at ETHS.  I am very disappointed at the results produced so far by the freshman restructuring.  We need to make these classes work for all students in them, and data provided to the Board of Education in December shows that we are a long way from that.   According to data that the Board received in December, 54% of African-American student are getting grades of C or below in freshman humanities, and 45% of Hispanic student are getting grades of C or below. Differentiated instruction may be part of the answer, but we also may need  to consider other approaches.


One approach I would like to see explored is enabling students to present what they have learned in multiple ways.   With respect to tracking, I am concerned that because of the lack of differentiated instruction, high-achieving students are not always challenged to do their best.  Indeed, a student who participated last year in a mixed-level freshman humanities class recently told the ETHS Board of Ed that these classes are not as rigorous as they might seem to be.  If ETHS wants to retain its record of historically high achievement, we must make sure that our highest-achieving students are challenged to do their best, and that lower-achieving students receive the support they need in order to succeed. Part of the problem may involve the heavy emphasis on writing in the restructured freshman humanities classes because all of the earned honors assessments involve writing assignments.  The wait for differentiated instruction is not over.  Differentiated instruction is a work in progress at ETHS.  There currently are 3 professional development strands devoted to differentiated instruction at ETHS, but we have not yet seen it enacted in  classrooms.  As a participant in mixed-level classes during my first 2 years at ETHS, I recall studying Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Claude Levi-Strauss at the start of my sophomore year. Are ETHS students now prepared for those types of challenging assignments.  That remains an open question, which other board candidates may regard differently.  Unless we differentiated instruction in freshman humanities and other mixed-level classes, our highest achieving students may find their learning compromised, and our lower-achieving students may not develop the reading and writing skills they need to succeed in mixed- level classes.


Cost Shifting. What should the district be doing to prepare for the possibility that some or all costs of pension financing will be shifted to suburban and downstate districts, as they are for Chicago schools?

ETHS has nationally-recognized financial management, and the ETHS Foundation is helping to fund capital improvements at ETHS that otherwise would not be possible.  The bulk of our spending per student goes to our Instructional Budget.  I think it is unfair that pensions costs are paid for the City of Chicago's public schools but not for suburban and downstate school districts.   I recently voted in favor of a joint D65/D202 resolution to oppose shifting pension costs to school districts.  If pension financing is shifted to school districts, the consequences for Illinois' educational system could be very serious.  Many school districts already are engaged in deficit funding.  Should pension-shifting to school districts occur, I believe that our schools will pay the consequences, and the quality of education in Illinois will suffer.  I believe that there has to be some way to create a system that does not discriminate against suburban and downstate districts.  Our publicly elected officials must develop an approach that will not sacrifice the interests of suburban and downstate school districts by shifting pension costs to them.  The state of Illinois has the worst pension situation in the country, but shifting pension costs to suburban and downstate school districts would, I believe, crater ETHS and other neighboring schools by saddling them with a debt that they cannot afford.  As a tax-capped district, ETHS cannot raise our taxes beyond whatever the consumer price index is.  I think our legislators need to figure out a way to ensure fairness to suburban and downstate districts, and not decimate their educational systems, which I fear will happen if pension costs are shifted to school districts.  Illinois currently allocates less to public education than any other state in the nation.  If pension costs are shifted to school districts, Illinois schools, including ETHS, will pay for it -- and pay big.  For the sake of maintaining the education system in Illinois, we simply can't afford to have pension costs shifted to suburban/downstate districts.  Of course, the Illinois legislature diverted pension funds to pay for other projects.  This fiscal mismanagement is flat out wrong, but suburban and downstate districts should not be forced to pay the price for the past malfeasance of our legislators.