Opening Statements at the LWVE, PTA Council, and ECF Forum

On March 14, the Evanston/Skokie PTA Council, the League of Women Voters of Evanston and the Evanston Community Foundation sponsored a forum for five candidates for the District 65 School Board who are vying for four positions on the Board. 

Ms. Chow was not able to attend the forum due to a prior family obligation, and the moderator read an opening statement that she submitted. Each of the other candidates had an opportunity to make an opening statement, answer eight questions posed by the sponsors and the audience, and make a closing statement.

The questions related to views on redistricting; ways to improve relations between the administration and teachers; how much uniformity there should be in the administration of the various schools; how candidates would balance calls to protect certain programs from difficult cuts, when all are worthwhile programs; whether they should act if they believed the administration was moving in a wrong direction; gifted programs; the percentage of the achievement gap due to systemic or institutional racism; and if they would be open to a charter school in the District. 

This article sets out the candidates’ opening statements. For their answers to the questions posed, please see a video of the forum available on the both the LWVE’s and the RoundTable’s websites.

Anya Tanyavutti participated in the forum, but is running unopposed for a two-year term on the Board, and for that reason her opening statement is not set forth below.

Statement of Candance Chow

“Thank you to the League of Women Voters and PTA Council for holding this forum.  I am sorry that I could not be present but had a made a commitment to my daughters about six months ago that I could not compromise. I am seeking re-election to the District 65 School Board because I believe much good work is happening in our schools, and we need to continue and accelerate this progress. 

“I bring experienced leadership, extensive knowledge of finances and educational best practices, and passionate advocacy on behalf of children and families to the Board at a time when these qualifications are more important than ever. I currently serve as President of the Board and most recently served as Chair of the Finance Committee, Strategic Planning Board Liaison, and member of the Joint District 65/202 Committee.  I have advocated for expanded partnerships and services for our students and families as a leader on the community schools advisory board, the Community Partners for Affordable Housing advisory board, former co-chair of the Health, Safety and Wellness Committee for Evanston Cradle to Career, and as a founding member/advisory board member of COPE (Caring Outreach by Parents of Evanston).  

“My top two priorities for the coming four years include 1) ensuring academic success for all students through a whole child focus, and 2) achieving financial stability and accountability for equitable outcomes.

“These priorities encompass what makes our schools special and treasured assets of this community. I am committed to working with the Board and community to overcome our financial challenges and come out positioned to deliver the excellent educational outcomes all of our children and families deserve.

“It has been an honor to serve our schools, students and families for the past four years. During my tenure, I have advocated for changes to our disciplinary policies that have resulted in 70% reduction in lost instruction for students, increasing community partnerships that has doubled our reach and improved impact of summer learning programs, and recommending a holistic set of progress and outcome metrics to hold the Board and Administration accountable for student success.  

“D65 is at a pivotal point in terms of both our financial stability and in our ability to maintain and accelerate the progress being made for all children. I believe my experienced leadership, ability to assess and make difficult decisions, and passionate advocacy on behalf of children and families are more important now than ever. Our work must continue and I will be an effective, thoughtful and extremely hard-working board member to ensure it does.”

Statement of Nicholas Korzeniowski

Mr.  grew up in Winnetka, went to New Trier, and attended college at the University of Kansas before returning to the area. He worked for Apple before managing technology departments and networks at public school districts in Long Grove/Kildeer, Winnetka, and Wilmette. He is currently the Network System Administrator at Skokie/Morton Grove School District 69. He is married with one child whom he hopes will attend the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center.

“I am a Cisco Certified Network Associate in routing and switching. I’ve got a lot of expertise at a high level of technology. In my work in recent years, I’ve explored very deeply this notion that curriculum and technology should be considered the same thing.

“Technology is not something you roll in a cart. That’s not how you produce students who are competitive in the modern age. It needs to be deeply vertically integrated into their curriculum, and I’m happy to say I’ve succeeded in doing that – to one extent or another – in every district I’ve worked in. I’d like to bring that to District 65. It’s all too common that technology winds up being something that we aspire to and we don’t necessarily achieve.

“And there’s a large budgeting reason there as well. Should we get the referendum passed, the budget will come off the credit card and onto the operating budget. That’s a good thing. But most people don’t have the first clue on how to budget for technology.

“I actually had experience navigating that and I can help do that and can help us avoid another budgetary crisis. In doing that we will free up resources that would otherwise go into that crisis. I am a strong advocate of having these resources go directly into closing the achievement gap and larger issues or equity.”

Statement of Joseph Hailpern

“I’m a lifelong Evanstonian. I have lived here for the past 31 years. I grew up going to Timber Ridge for kindergarten, then Walker, Chute and ETHS. I met my wife at ETHS. Aside from a short mistake to Los Angeles for a couple of years, now we’re right back to where we started. We have four children, two of whom are at Walker and two who are not in the system yet, but they will get there.

I’m seeking an opportunity to serve on the Board for them, for our family.

I’m a lifelong educator, as a professional. I’ve spent the last decade as a school administrator in the North Shore. Before that I taught. I started my teaching career here in Evanston at Kingsley School. I’ve worked in affluent communities; I’ve worked in diverse communities; I worked in the classroom, in the trenches. I’ve also worked from, some say might say, on high in the principal’s office.

“I get the grind that our educators are put through, and the current climate in our country, the current tension around education funding, the dysfunction in Springfield, things that are making the job for educators so burdensome and hard when it’s already so complex. [These] are part of the reason why I want to get involved in governing and Board policy.

“I think there are things that we can do that help tell teachers and help tell our community what our values are. I’m referring to how we spend money, how we make decisions about programming. [These] are all things that are critically important and they all have to do with what we say about equity and access for everybody and what we say about opportunity for kids no matter where they start their educational career and afford them that opportunity.”

Statement of Sunith Kartha

“I have lived in Evanston since I first came here many years ago as a student at Northwestern University, and after moving to Chicago where I obtained my law degree, I moved back to Evanston in 2001. I have two children, one at Orrington and one at Haven. I’m finishing up my first term at the District 65 Board of Education. I’m seeking another four-year term.

“Four years ago, I was drawn to serve on the Board because of the racial inequities I saw in our school system. It’s the tale of two District 65s. Some parents and students I talked to speak highly of their experiences in our schools and believe that District 65 is a shining example of the best that Evanston has to offer. And some people and students that I talk to are frustrated and feel unseen and unheard and don’t believe that District 65 is serving their families well. Too often the salient difference between the story tellers is their race. And, this is not acceptable.

“Today, we are on a path to address systemic inequities in our schools. In the fall we adopted a racial and educational equity statement and we are on the way to developing an equity policy.

“We are now explicitly focusing on the development and well-being of the whole child with School Climate Teams that are ensuring that our schools are safe and supportive spaces for our students, their families, and our staff.

“So this is an exciting time to be part of District 65, and I’m proud to have played a part in getting us on this path.

“But now it’s my priority to ensure that we continue this journey in a robust and meaningful way. It’s also an uncertain time for District 65 with the referendum question on the ballot and unprecedented deficits looming. We need experienced leadership that can help us navigate the District and the community to [make] important, intentional, difficult financial decisions.

“I am committed to working toward greater transparency in our decision-making process so that the community can feel that they have been heard and can trust that we are representing the community’s interests.”

Statement of Lindsay Cohen

“I am running for the first time for a seat on the District 65 School Board. I grew up in Wheeling, Ill., with a lifelong belief that education is always the solution. For me it’s a solution on getting from sharing a bedroom with my sister in a small town to being a successful entrepreneur and although I still share a room, this time it’s with my husband.

“I owe my belief in education to my parents, who advocated for me and my two younger siblings. What we didn’t have in money, we had in perseverance. I also owe my commitment to education to my grandmother, who taught me that education was something that nobody could ever take away from you.

“My personal commitment to education allowed me to put myself through Northwestern University, with a lot of help financially. I made it through an honors program in mathematical methods and social sciences and economics. When I graduated I worked as a pension actuary for three years before I turned toward marketing and entrepreneurship. On this path, I also obtained my MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, with a focus on finance, entrepreneurship, and marketing. As an entrepreneur, I have started and sold two businesses. … My last business was an online AP test prep company that I sold to the Princeton Review.

“I believe my financial acumen, my creative problem solving, my willingness to explore new ideas, my analytic aptitude will be a positive addition to the School Board.

“I’m running for the School Board this year because I want to help ensure long-term financial sustainability for the District and ensure that all of our tax dollars are being spent wisely. I believe my background will ensure that will happen.

“I’m also running because I love Evanston … I think Evanston is a truly special place, and there is no reason our schools can’t be the best schools in the country for all of our students. I believe together we can create safe schools that are welcoming to all of our children, teachers, and staff, where each child is getting an education that will help him or her to be a success in life, regardless of race or income.”

With campaigns winding down to the April 4 General Election and early voting having already begun, the RoundTable gave District 65 School Board candidates a final opportunity to distinguish themselves. Incumbents Suni Kartha and Candance Chow are running for re-election in a field of five vying for four positions on the District 65 School Board. Lindsay Cohen, Joey Hailpern, and Nicholas Korzeniowski are the other three candidates. Their responses, which were limited to 250 words, appear below. The RoundTable edited some responses for clarity and other reasons.

Anya Tanyavutti, who was appointed to fill the term of Jennifer Phillips, is running unopposed for a two-year term.

Ms. Chow

I am seeking re-election to the District 65 School Board because I know what a difference education can make, and what a difference there is between feeling you are strong and capable versus not having that feeling. My mother instilled in me from an early age how important getting an education would be to my future. She was not able to complete high school, struggled to provide for us, and knew she wanted more for me.  After my Mom, my teachers and principals showed me best what could be possible. I want to do my part in ensuring every child in Evanston/Skokie sees that same possibility for their lives. I bring excellent problem solving skills, deep understanding of our schools and families, and an unwavering commitment to doing whatever it takes to get the job done for our students. I ask for your vote so we can continue this work together.

Ms. Cohen

I believe that my personal and professional experience demonstrates my qualifications.  But qualifications don’t get people excited to vote. I am asking for your vote, because, as a mother of a child in District 65 and two more on the way up, I will work tirelessly to ensure public education is protected and improved for all of Evanston’s children. I will do that by working to build bridges and not walls between community groups, by engaging in hard conversations respectfully with an eager ear, a sharp mind, and a welcoming heart. I will do that by promoting transparency through regular communications with parents and community members. 

I will also ensure that we make wise decisions for our students and for all of Evanston. My analytic aptitude will be useful in Board discussions around analyzing results and being able to quickly understand what questions to ask of the Administration. I will use my finance background to make sure we are getting as much as we can out of every revenue dollar. I will help find creative solutions to the problems we face and to help promote the success of each student, so each child can reach his or her own personal potential. We need to be laser-focused on setting our children up for success in this rapidly changing world. As a tech entrepreneur, a mother, and a firm believer in public education, I’m your gal to make that happen.

Mr. Hailpern

I am a proud father of four and a product of the District 65 schools. I live with my wife in the Walker School community and have lived within the district for 31 years. Serving the community on the School Board is just one way of repaying the District that served me so well as a young child and student.

As a career educator, I understand the relationship between the Board and the District administration. My goals are simple: I want to increase equity and access, particularly for groups that have a history of being marginalized in society. I am committed to the Evanston tradition of an engaging and welcoming school environment for all children, including children with disabilities or learning differences. I also believes that the Board should support teachers and administrators, while maintaining high expectations for them as professionals.

I have extensive experience implementing a school budget, and I believe that fiscal responsibility is an important factor in the long-term health and safety of the school district. I am inspired by Native American culture and by the Iroquois’ Seventh Generation Principle. The constitution of the Iroquois Nation reminds leaders that with every deliberation, they must consider the impact on the seventh generation, “even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” The act of careful consideration will benefit Evanstonians for generations to come. I am excited for the opportunity to serve my neighbors and fellow community members.

Ms. Kartha

I believe very strongly in public education – in its power to shape kind and caring citizens and in its responsibility to be inclusive and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and grow. I have a vision for District 65: a vision in which all students are embraced for who they are; who are recognized for the talents they bring to school every day; who are celebrated for a wide array of accomplishments, not just those that can be measured on a test; and who have an equal opportunity to succeed and flourish in our schools. To help District 65 achieve this vision, I offer an unwavering commitment to equity. I will work hard to ensure that the equity policy we are poised to adopt is comprehensive and is translated into an action plan that will mean real changes in the way we do business, so that we can make positive changes in the lives of children. I offer a commitment to transparency. I will continue to push for openness and accountability in Board decision-making, and I will ensure that our discussions reflect the community’s voice, including the voices of those who are historically unheard and underrepresented. I offer experienced and dedicated leadership for our community, our schools and our children.

Mr. Korzeniowski

I will be a diligent servant for our students’ best interests and prioritize fiscally responsible practices and equal treatment to offer all students the opportunities they deserve. I’ve been managing highly successful technology departments in local K-8 districts for years, and want to bring that experience home to District 65. I have managed district-wide budgets in hard times and can help steer us out of the financial crisis from which we’re beginning to emerge.

I have a deep understanding of what it takes to properly marry curriculum with technology so that our students are equipped to compete and excel. With this experience, I can help guide us toward meaningful growth, closing the achievement gap, and wise management of precious resources. While the District 65 School Board is currently overwhelmingly represented by North Evanston neighborhoods, I am proud to be not just the only candidate on the ballot from the Third Ward but also the only one from all of South Evanston. I would be honored to represent South Evanston and serve all fellow Evanston families on the District 65 School Board. From Howard to Isabella, I will serve all students.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...