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. Tomorrow, we will be back with answers from all candidates for Evanston Township High School board.

Early voting begins at the Morton Civic Center on Monday, March 20, and Election Day is Tuesday, April 4.

Sergio Hernandez

Sergio Hernandez, Jr. Credit: Evanston Live TV

Provide your educational background, occupation, recent civic/volunteer activities, time you have lived in Evanston and whether you have children attending District 65.

I am a husband and father of three boys; two at ETHS and one currently attending Chute Middle School. I am a 25-year veteran bilingual educator with an M.S. in elementary education from NIU, an early childhood advocate and currently the equity lead at the Illinois State Board of Education. I was appointed by the governor to serve on the Illinois Early Learning Council Executive Committee. I also sit on the executive board of the Youth Job Center and was a board member at Latino Resources for five years. I have also served as a volunteer with Evanston Latinos.

What do you see as the top three challenges facing District 65 in the next few years, and how would you address them?

An increase in our homeless student population will require our school district to build the capacity of our educators and staff to better serve them and their families. The district will have to work with its institutional partners and community organizations to identify wraparound services to ensure their basic needs are met so they are ready to learn and achieve academically and socio-emotionally.

Declining enrollments, as seen in school districts locally and across the country as a result of the pandemic, and driven by high cost of living here in Evanston that has pushed diverse families out prior to the pandemic, will require several cross-institutional as well as internal strategies to address. The school district will have to work with the city to identify and coordinate affordable housing options in order to keep the diverse families we have here in Evanston. The school district can also strengthen recruitment efforts with local early childhood providers to help us bring up our numbers in kindergarten registration, as well as reach out to families who have left the district.

The impact of the pandemic on social emotional as well as the academic outcomes of our students has been devastating and there is still much work to do to close the opportunity gap for all of our students and specifically our Black, brown and working-class white students. Current strategies such as high-impact tutoring, the new, culturally responsive social studies curriculum and reading curriculum based on the science of reading, and Algebra for All that provides all students access to rigorous instruction will help us address current academic performance issues. 

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 good thing the board has done in the past three years is to embark on the long overdue Student Assignment Process. The process, which is in its second phase, continues to engage stakeholders from across our school system and Evanston, and will allow us to right-size our district and optimize our educational programs for all students and families, and specifically, our most marginalized students and families.

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 enrollments have been a concern for quite some time not only locally, but nationally. Our community has lost a large percentage of our Black population in the past few decades and although there is a slight uptick in the Latino population, many are being forced out due to the lack of affordable housing in Evanston. On top of this, we have de facto segregation, where some of our more privileged families are disenrolling their students from our schools and choosing private schools, which also contributes to the decline in enrollment. As I mentioned in the previous question, we need to work with our institutional partners, like the City of Evanston, Northwestern University and community organizations to address the root causes of declining enrollments. 

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?

I would like District 65 to build on the promising results we are seeing in closing the socio-emotional and academic racial predictability gap in our early childhood programs. Our Pre-K students are performing well not only in early literacy and math, but also in gross and fine motor, and socio-emotional development. I am excited about the new K-2 reading curriculum that will be adopted which will focus on the science of reading and address the needs of our struggling readers and readers with dyslexia. I also want District 65 to work with D202 and Northwestern University to explore how transitions across the educational continuum (e.g Pre-K to K, elementary to middle school, middle school to high school) impact socio-emotional and academic outcomes.

I would also like for District 65 and District 202 to develop joint goals that move beyond the narrow and ineffective joint literacy goal and provide more expansive measures of student academic and socio-emotional growth, as well as evaluations on the effectiveness of current educational strategies and practices in advancing better academic and social-emotional outcomes for all students.

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Duncan Agnew

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...

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