This week during closed-session meetings, the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board is reviewing and discussing applications for the opening on the board left by the departure of former Vice President Marquise Weatherspoon. 

Weatherspoon resigned on Aug. 8, effective immediately, and President Sergio Hernandez previously announced the board’s intention to appoint a replacement at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Sept. 19. The RoundTable reported the names of the 13 Evanston residents who applied for the job last week.

Students leaving King Arts School (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

The RoundTable obtained the applications through a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the district. In them, most applicants highlighted an interest in advancing District 65’s work in equity, inclusion and antiracism, and many of the candidates also wrote about their focus on school safety and clear communication between school leaders and families.

What follows are the highlights of the responses from every community member who applied.

Erin Booker

Booker is the preschool director at the Lincoln Park Cooperative Nursery School, and she has an extensive background in early childhood and elementary education. She highlighted teacher recruitment and retention as a high priority during the so-called “great resignation,” when so many school districts across the country have struggled to maintain their workforce. Booker also described the role of the board as providing “guidance, support, and sometimes an alternative perspective” to the superintendent. 

“I want to know why there is so much teacher and administration attrition,” she wrote in her application. “Once the board has an understanding of the issue(s), I would want the board to create policies and procedures to address and reduce this.”

Chanelle Brown

Brown is a visual merchandising manager for Target and a volunteer with nonprofit Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), where she works with low-income mothers of color providing mentorship and learning experiences. When thinking about her potential role on the local school board, she wrote about her direct experiences, as a single mother, with the challenges of raising a young child during the pandemic.

Additionally, Brown said she would prioritize representation for low-income families and increased mental health resources for students as they continue to grapple with social and emotional challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Equity must remain a focus of the school if we hope to continue to make change, not just having Black and Brown parents participate in school-board discussions, but having their lived experiences inform and impact decisions being made,” Brown wrote.

Joan Chiao

Chiao is an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern, and she is active in the local and national PTA boards and with the district’s PTA Equity Project. When explaining her interest in serving on the school board, Chiao wrote about how the board plays a vital role in building community across all parties involved in Evanston public education, including parents, students, teachers, administrators and staff. 

She also argued that each board member has an obligation to listen to all perspectives in the community and represent their constituents. Chiao wrote that her primary goals would be “to develop educational and community leadership, to build strong school-community partnerships and to broaden the community perspectives of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Robert Easter

Easter is the managing director of the Central Piedmont Investment Group, and he also works with a number of local nonprofits and initiatives, including the Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council, the Evanston Community Foundation, Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development (LEND) and Foundation 65. Previously, he was a school board member in Bibb County, Georgia.

In his application, Easter mentioned safety, life skills, fiscal responsibility and equity as the most important issues for the district to address in the coming months and years. 

“Each student brings different skills, challenges, backgrounds, perspectives, behaviors, and needs to school every day,” he wrote. “Board members and district leaders need to support and ensure that school administrators meet these unique combinations and provide a positive, safe, and welcoming environment in all schools and district facilities.”

Jo Ann Flores-Deter

Flores-Deter has two kids in District 65 schools and is a longtime youth engagement worker with nonprofits like Communities in Schools of Chicago and Children’s Home and Aid. She is also currently the assistant site manager for a music education program as part of the Ravinia Festival.

Among other priorities that she outlined in her application, Flores-Deter identified her main goals as addressing racism in the school district, improving culture and climate for the middle-school grades, especially, and expanding dual-language programs and services for families who don’t speak English.

“Everyone needs a fair and equitable education,” she wrote. “I would like to be the voice for those who may not have one or those who need help due to language to have one.”

Tammytha Johnson

Johnson is a senior broker for AON in Chicago, and she has served on the board of directors for both Foundation 65 and Evanston Scholars. She was also the PTA co-president at Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies for three years.

In her application, Johnson wrote that she views the board as the voice of the community and a liaison between district leaders and families. She also highlighted her goals as closing the racial opportunity gap, advocating for equity and inclusion and improving communication with Evanston parents and caregivers. 

“No one should be guessing or trying to figure out what District 65 is doing,” Johnson wrote. “There should be an ongoing Q&A format, where questions are answered via email or by phone in a timely manner.”

Jenna Morgan

Morgan is an executive assistant at a law firm in Chicago, and she has been involved with the Lincoln Elementary School PTA and the White Antiracism Group of Evanston. In her application for the board vacancy, Morgan said she wants to play an active role in defending the district’s equity and inclusion work against right-wing attacks on history and identity curriculum, for example.

Additionally, Morgan said she would back Superintendent Devon Horton’s strategic plan and priorities if selected for the job.

“The district and community need to repair the harm that was done by the events that took place at the end of the 2022-23 school year,” Morgan wrote. “The conditions that resulted in the episode of white rage at the April 2022 Board meeting and noose-hanging remain and must be addressed in the coming year. We need to ensure that Black students, families, staff and faculty not only feel safe, but are able to thrive in our schools.”

Sharon Riley Morris

Morris is an early childhood educator who works for Right At School, an organization that provides before- and after-school child care for District 65 families. In her application, she expressed a desire to serve on the board because it “is the foundation of our students’ education and safety,” and she also argued in favor of placing more multicultural centers in school buildings and possibly instituting school uniforms.

“I am in a position to be a voice for the students and the board because I am young enough to know what motivates students but also old enough to help provide foundation and vision to their motivation,” Morris wrote.

Tracy Olasimbo

Olasimbo is the family engagement coordinator for the Evanston Public Library and an equity consultant for organizations like YWCA Evanston and the Anti-Defamation League. She attended District 65 schools herself and is the parent of a current District 65 student.

In her application, she said she wants to help improve performance for Black and Brown special-education students in the district and to “address the blatant and subconscious racism that our students and families have to deal with on a constant basis.”

“I will be operating from an antiracist and equity lens when engaging the community and with decision-making,” Olasimbo wrote. “As a board member, we should make sure we are publicly supporting each other and the superintendent while also holding each other accountable.” 

Christine Percheski

Percheski is an associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, and her research primarily focuses on economic and health inequities and public policy related to those topics. She wrote in her application that she would bring her experience in statistics and data analysis to the board in hopes of improving community feedback for the district.

Percheski named her goals as a board member as “addressing systemic racism in our schools, narrowing educational gaps by race/ethnicity and social class, ensuring that all children and families are safe and feel respected in D65 schools, retaining and supporting experienced teachers and staff, and adjusting to changes in enrollment patterns (including stopping enrollment flight from D65).”

Notably, she was also the only applicant who said she would likely not run for the school board in April 2023, when the vacant seat is up for reelection.

Omar G. Salem

Salem is the professional issues director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a former teacher and coach at Niles North High School in Skokie. He is also a representative on the City of Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission, and he has a daughter in kindergarten in District 65.

Among other things, Salem wrote about the importance of affirming each student’s identities and interests to help them feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment, and he said his values align closely with the current board and superintendent.

“Evanston is a community that people from all over the country (and world) move to for many reasons,” he wrote. “The same should be true of educators. We need to make sure that the educators in District 65 have working conditions, benefits and salaries that are second-to-none so that we always attract the best.”

Henry Wilkins

Wilkins is a finance manager for Reynolds Consumer Products in Lake Forest, and he founded the Stem School Evanston nonprofit organization. He also serves on the board for nonprofit Youth and Opportunity United. 

In his application, Wilkins championed Horton’s work on equity and inclusion as superintendent thus far, particularly the board’s approval of a Fifth Ward neighborhood school that is currently scheduled to break ground in 2023 and open in the fall of 2025. He also highlighted his experience in financial management as an asset for fiscal stewardship, and he advocated for improved communication between the district and Evanston’s Black community.

“Oftentimes, it is said that you will know the priorities based on where the money is spent,” Wilkins wrote. “Dr. Horton has delivered stellar results when it comes to tackling longstanding inequities such as the lack of a Fifth Ward school for over 50 years when it was presumed it could not be done due to budget constraints.”

Mya Wilkins

Wilkins is the executive director of market research at JPMorgan Chase. In District 65, she has worked as a PTA Equity Project representative, and she helped create an affinity group for Black parents at Walker Elementary School called Black Students Achieve.

In terms of her interest representing the community on the school board, Wilkins said she wants to use Evanston’s diversity to the district’s advantage to show “how a school system can get all students to meet standards even when there is a diverse student body.” Additionally, Wilkins identified hiring qualified and experienced educators and providing them with the necessary training and resources to succeed as a top priority. 

“It is almost impossible to come to the best solutions without fully understanding all of the perspectives of stakeholders,” she wrote. “While the well-being of students is paramount and should be at the center of all plans and decisions, listening to all stakeholders and community members will help the district come to the best decisions.”

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...