Editor’s note: This story has updated with details on Omar Salem’s election night work.
Omar Salem, a parent of a kindergartener in District 65 and a teacher at Niles North High School, took the top spot in the school board election race Tuesday night, winning the most votes of any of the five candidates.
According to unofficial results, Salem won 6,485 votes, or 24.68% of the total in a five-way contest for three open seats. Salem, who serves as the professional issues director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, was working at Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson’s victory party Tuesday night and not available for interviews. In a questionnaire he filled out for the RoundTable last month, he identified working conditions for educators, an equitable and research-based curriculum and capital improvements to buildings as his main priorities for the district moving forward.
“Students need to feel safe and supported in our spaces before they are able to lower their affective filter and access new and challenging ideas,” Salem said on the questionnaire. “All of the adults interacting with students help to accomplish this and have the capacity to support even further when they themselves are supported.”
He will join incumbents Sergio Hernandez, the current board president, and Mya Wilkins, who was appointed last fall, on the board for the next four years. Wilkins finished as the second-highest vote getter, with 5,835 votes or 22.17%, while Hernandez claimed the third and final open spot with 5,111 votes or 19.45%.
Challengers John Matthew Martin and Ndona Muboyayi missed out after falling to fourth and fifth place, with 18.87% and 14.82%, of the votes respectively.
The winners will immediately have a major task on their hands: finding the district’s next superintendent. Current Superintendent Devon Horton announced Tuesday afternoon that he is the sole finalist for the same position at the DeKalb County School District in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.
That school board is expected to approve Horton’s official appointment later this month.
“It’s going to be a very, very tough loss for this community,” Hernandez told the RoundTable shortly after his victory Tuesday night. “I think we have issues in this community in regard to letting people of color who are leaders be their authentic selves and lead authentically. I think that’s something that, as a community, we need to work on. So, it’s a huge loss, but I wish him great success in his new opportunity.”
The new board will come together to elect a president once again this month, and Hernandez said he hopes to maintain that position.
For her part, Wilkins said she is grateful to Evanston voters, families and community groups for supporting her through the campaign and helping win election for the first time after her appointment just over six months ago.
“It really makes me feel energized that people support the things that I want to do,” she said. “I think [Horton] did great work for our district. I’m sad to see him go, but I’m confident we’ll be able to continue the work because it’s not about one person, and I know the people who are on the school board are committed to continuing the work.”
Evanston Township High School District 202
Meanwhile, over at Evanston Township High School, incumbent and current board Vice President Monique Parsons finished the night in the top spot with more than 7,000 votes, according to unofficial results. She is the president and chief executive of the McGaw YMCA, and this will be her third consecutive term on the ETHS board.
“I’m excited our community elected a school board that will partner with our superintendent to prioritize the wellbeing and success of our students,” she told the RoundTable. “I’m grateful for the affirmation and trust earned from the community to be re-elected.”
Newcomer Leah Piekarz, a retired ETHS counselor, and incumbent Elizabeth Rolewicz, who has two kids in District 65, finished in second and third, respectively, good enough to join Parsons for a four-year term on the board.
Incumbent Mirah Anti will also return for another two years after running as a write-in candidate.
“I know the school. I’ve worked in education at ETHS for 21 years, so I really do feel like I can be in a position to both celebrate what ETHS does well, but also have an idea of what we need to improve,” Piekarz said. “And I really do know what’s going on, and I hope that’s going to be really good for the board. And I’m glad that people value that.”
In responding to a similar candidate questionnaire from the RoundTable, the ETHS board winners celebrated the hiring of Marcus Campbell as the new superintendent to replace Eric Witherspoon, who retired last year.
They also identified topics like safety, equity, mental health and post-high school planning as keys to success in the future.
“I want to say to the other candidates: you all did a great job and had very successful campaigns, and thank you for supporting our students,” Rolewicz said. “I’m looking forward to serving all our students, and especially our most marginalized students. We have a lot of work left to do.”