Five candidates for the Evanston Township High School board laid out their priorities in front of some 25 people during a Thursday evening forum hosted by the Evanston League of Women Voters.
The incumbents, Vice President Monique Parsons and Elizabeth Rolewicz, are competing against challengers Leah Piekarz and Kristen Scotti for three four-year spots on the board. Incumbent Mirah Anti, who was appointed to her seat in 2021, filed as a write-in for a two-year term, essentially securing a victory as long as she gets one write-in vote since she is the only candidate vying for the spot.
Thursday’s forum offered a chance for each candidate to publicly discuss their goals and approach to education, and some quickly made clear the platforms they were running on during their opening statements.
“This school is not safe for most disabled kids – disabled kids, disabled Black kids, disabled Latino kids, disabled trans kids, disabled Black trans kids – it’s bad,” said Scotti, who herself is neurodivergent and disabled and has a disabled child at ETHS. “We’re talking about bare minimums that are not being met. Disabled kids are suspended at the highest rates. Disabled Black kids are suspended at disgusting rates.”
Scotti described the situation for families of students with disabilities as “a constant fight,” with their required accommodations frequently going unmet.
Rolewicz agreed, noting that academic performance and engagement are the lowest among students in special education with individualized education programs. Across the board, all candidates spoke in depth about a need for deeper investments in mental health, social-emotional learning and safety at ETHS, so students can feel comfortable participating in class in the first place.
That theme of tackling root causes came up again and again, particularly when candidates were responding to a question about student safety and the issue of students being caught with guns at school. Every candidate said they opposed installing metal detectors outside ETHS entrances because of the negative impact those devices could have on the school’s culture and climate.
“We need teachers to feel protected. We need students to be able to learn with a clear mind,” Parsons said. “So whatever decisions we make as a board have to balance well-being and humanity with protection at the same time.”
Piekarz floated the possibility of looking into some kind of smart technology that could be used in unique circumstances to identify weapons, but Scotti responded by saying that, as a researcher and Ph.D. candidate in materials science, she has seen serious functional problems with weapons smart technology.
Asked by the forum moderator about the relationship between ETHS and District 65, especially in the wake of last month’s joint board meeting where the two districts moved away from their previous shared literacy goal, candidates said they saw the connection between the two boards as stronger than ever.
Parsons said she agreed with the decision to move toward a new goal for literacy, rather than sticking to an old goal that she thought was not working, and Anti added that the two districts remain in alignment on all their goals.
“D65 has taken on a more holistic approach to analyzing students … seeing how our students are doing, including their well-being and their social-emotional [state] and their extracurriculars, in addition to their academics,” Rolewicz said. “So I feel like we actually have a pretty good thing going with District 65 right now.”
When identifying their top priorities, most candidates mentioned a mental health crisis that youth across the country are facing as they continue to recover from pandemic isolation.
Scotti, in particular, highlighted a need for more resources and outreach to the LGBTQ community and students experiencing housing insecurity at ETHS so they can also feel welcomed and feel like they belong.
Anti described today’s kids as “hatched at home.” She said the onus is on the ETHS faculty and staff “to level up” by re-engaging and re-socializing students, so they can feel more comfortable in their learning environment and achieve more success in their classes and activities.
“All students and staff need to feel safe in school, not only physically, but emotionally. And that means not just looking at technical solutions, but looking truly at our issues of culture and climate in our school,” said Piekarz, who recently retired after 21 years as a counselor at ETHS. “Students need to feel that they have a space at ETHS, that they belong. Student voice must be elevated.”
Was there any discussion about academic achievement? For example, increasing the number of National Merit Scholars?
How could someone make a campaign for D202 board about achievement?
I feel like we are playing the shell or cup game here, where you hide something under a cup and keep switching so the person playing has to guess where the object is. Atone meeting we are told the two districts aren’t having a joint literacy goal. Then we are told 50 per cent of the students coming into ETHS need remediation. Then we are told the numbers of administrators are rising while enrollment is declining In this article all the candidates agreed the connection between the two districts is as strong as ever Keep moving the cups/ shells