In an effort to inform Evanston voters about candidates for both local school boards, the RoundTable sent out a standard questionnaire to each person running for a seat on the board. Today, we are publishing all responses from District 65 candidates, which you can find in one place here. (Responses below have been edited for length.) Tomorrow, we will be back with answers from all candidates for Evanston Township High School board.
Early voting begins at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Monday, March 20, and Election Day is Tuesday, April 4.
Provide your educational background, occupation, recent civic/volunteer activities, time you have lived in Evanston and whether you have children attending District 65.
I grew up in Evanston and am a fifth-generation Evanstonian. I went to District 65 schools: Kingsley Head Start, Lincolnwood Elementary School and Haven Middle School. My daughter studied at Haven. I studied fine arts at Parsons New School of Design in New York, N.Y., and economics with a concentration in finance at the City College of New York in New York City. I have been involved in groups in the district focused on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB). I have served as President of the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee of District 65 (BPAC), and the African-American, Black and Caribbean Parent Group (ABC). I continue my equity work as the recently elected executive committee member of the Evanston North Shore Branch of the NAACP.
What do you see as the top three challenges facing District 65 in the next few years, and how would you address them?
The top three challenges facing District 65 in the next few years are the ongoing lagging literacy of Black, Latino and low-income students; support for SPED students and students with disabilities; and a safe, yet welcoming school environment.
The literacy issue with Black students in Evanston is multifaceted. The first part has to do with historic inequities and racism, which can only be corrected by changing policies, removing individuals who uphold systems that inhibit progress, dismantling systems that reinforce harm, and making sure that at every level, municipal, state, and federal, there is legislation to enact change.
The second part is providing language support for Black and Latino children. For English language learners whose primary language is Spanish, the district has made great strides but must increase its number of diverse and culturally aware Latino staff and admins. In addition, the TWI program should not serve simply for students to learn English but should guarantee that all participants will become fully bilingual in all subjects. The Black community in Evanston is diverse, with not only native-born Black Americans/African Americans, but also Black immigrants and refugee families. The district must hire staff capable of supporting the diverse Black population.
Furthermore, not having children tested for learning disabilities at an early age is a contributing factor. Many low-income Black and Latino families are unable to pay to have children tested for learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, which often go undiagnosed until much later in life or sometimes not at all, which is why I have been insisting that the district hire speech-language pathologists.
The last addition that is needed to ensure that the academic/opportunity gap will eventually close is to increase the number of tutors. When I ran in 2021, I suggested that the district provide tutors to students free of cost for families that could not afford them and I still believe that is necessary.
In order to support SPED students and students with disabilities the district must increase the number of trained professionals on staff, including special education teachers, psychologists, therapists and paraprofessionals. The district also needs to be more understanding and inclusive when engaging with parents, because advocating for a child is already challenging, but having to navigate the district and advocate for a SPED child or a child with disabilities is far more challenging, and now imagine a parent from a low-income and/or marginalized community.
With recent issues regarding the increase of violence in the district, a number of parents, students, staff and community members have raised concerns about safety in schools. I would work with school staff and parents, and will garner my personal and professional relationships with community leaders, family and friends to help make District 65 schools safe and welcoming environments again.
Name one thing that you think the current board has done well and one thing that it could have done better in the last three years and provide your reasons.
One thing the school has done well in recent years is implementing the Support for Transgender & Gender Expansive Students, along with the gender support teams. One thing the district could have done better is when dealing with intersectionality take into consideration the diverse immigrant student population, by providing cultural and linguistic translation and support services, in addition to incorporating their culturally expansive terminology or at least seeking to learn more about how Transgender & Gender Expansive Identity translates into other languages and cultures, like in Canada, the appellation two-spirit, which is used by indigenous peoples to describe gender-variant individuals, similar to in some indigenous African ethnic groups.
Over the past three years, enrollment in District 65 has fallen by more than 1,300 students. These numbers were expected to stabilize after the pandemic, but they continued to fall. Do you think declining enrollment is a concern for the district, and if so, what do you think should be done to address it?
Declining enrollment is a great concern. Outside of the pandemic, of course, part of the decline has to do with the cost of living in Evanston continuing to increase. There are also parents who decided to send children to private schools during the pandemic that will not be returning. When I had the opportunity to speak to parents whose children left or who have expressed the desire to leave, responses varied from the cost of living to decreased rigor, the lowering of standards, and children not feeling as if they belong; all of which are issues that could have been addressed if there were more engagement by the district. To remedy these concerns, the district can connect with partner organizations to inquire about resources available that might be able to help some families, and rather than lowering standards provide tutoring for students who are struggling; for the parents seeking rigor there is an option for children to take courses at ETHS.
The latest available data on student math and reading performance shows that proficiency in those two subjects has remained flat, or fallen slightly, since 2015, and Evanston continues to have one of the largest gaps in educational opportunities by race and ethnicity in the nation. What strategies do you want to employ to address those issues that have not already been implemented?
The opportunity gap is the reason I decided to run in 2021 and continues to be the reason, as I stated under response number two, as part of my answer for the top three challenges facing District 65. I will reiterate all of the answers above plus again, the necessity of having children tested early for learning disabilities, because the data shows that there is a disproportionate number of Black and Latino students who have dyslexia but also dyscalculia. Having children tested early at the district level would allow families who traditionally would not be able to afford outside testing to receive the necessary support and services for their children. I would again insist on hiring more professionals that would be able to not only assist children with their reading but also hire speech-language pathologists. Reading to learn by the end of third grade, not just learning to read, is the key.
It is unfortunate that only one candidate addressed safety. That was Ndola Muboyayi. Haven Middle School is a TOXIC environment, yet none of the other candidates address this issue. I have a feeling other middle schools in Evanston have similar issues. I know for a fact that the mayors children no longer attend Haven. Not everyone can afford to transfer to private schools. It appears the current Evanston administrators and school board trustees are in denial.