Incoming school board members took their formal oaths of office Wednesday morning, May 10, as District 65 prepares to tackle major projects, from a new Fifth Ward school to hiring a new superintendent.
Newcomer Omar Salem and incumbents Mya Wilkins and Sergio Hernandez officially began their four-year terms, having promised to stabilize the district’s enrollment numbers, improve academic outcomes and address a long-standing gap in academic performance among local students by race and income status.
How to tackle racial disparities in the district and a loss of more than 1,000 students over the past five years were key themes throughout the campaign. Both Salem and Wilkins pinpointed community engagement and proactive communication with parents and families as areas of focus to help the board gain Evanston’s trust.
“The board hasn’t always adequately communicated why changes were made, or what to expect, to the school community,” Wilkins told the RoundTable during the campaign.
Salem is a teacher at Niles North High School but is currently on leave working as a professional issues director with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the statewide union for educators. Wilkins is a market research director with JPMorgan Chase, while Hernandez is a former classroom teacher who works with the Illinois State Board of Education’s equity office.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also unanimously re-elected Hernandez and Soo La Kim as president and vice president, respectively. In an earlier letter notifying the board of his intent to run, Hernandez said he looked forward to leveraging fellow board members’ strengths “to change not only our school system, but to also sow the seeds of fundamental change across all of Evanston’s systems and institutions.”
“I promise to be a servant leader in this position, and to be intentional in listening, collaborating and engaging our community collectively, next to each of you, to continue our work to fundamentally change the way we educate our children and engage the families we serve,” Hernandez wrote.
Under Hernandez and Kim’s direction, the board will continue to work with the city and a district architect to put finishing touches on a design for the new Fifth Ward school before construction begins. Board members also are tasked with appointing an interim replacement superintendent and eventually launching the national search for a permanent hire. Current Superintendent Devon Horton in early April announced his plans to resign on June 30 to become superintendent of the DeKalb County School District in Georgia on July 1.
I hate to sound negative but what the new board intends to do, “improve academic outcomes and address a long-standing gap in academic performance among local students by race and income status” sounds to me like “déjà vu all over again.” The gap is LONGSTANDING for sure!! I came to this country in 1966 and there was a huge gap then and there is still the same one today! And it has become a routine to address it but it never changes! Should I transcribe here what D65 board member Judith Sirinsky said about the gap in 1991?
What I don’t see here is addressing the fact that kids brains are at their highest activity from birth to somewhere during the first years in school and District 65 should be engaging them in LEARNING! Being good readers before 3rd grade, for example. Preparing them to be ready to fulfill the rigors that will be presented to them in high school! To excite them about the possibility that they could one day go to college! To learn about science! Kids D65 age are more than smart very early. The responsibility –and it is huge—from the board to the taxpayers of Evanston is to REALLY fulfill the promises they issue when they are running for the board.
And I feel that I must say that I do not like that Omar Salem is part of the teachers union. I am of the same framework as FDR who warned about the danger of public employee unions. His point was that the taxpayers don’t actually negotiate with the public employee unions and there is a great danger of those unions actually capturing legislators and other government officials through campaign contributions and other means.
Which is exactly what happened in the 90s when the TAXPAYERS who FUND the schools asked for a referendum to decide whether to unify the districts and the referendum was DENIED precisely because of the unions. It was a scandal in that all the other districts in Illinois where the same students attended both districts were granted that choice and Evanston was the first in history to have that choice denied. Today when we watch the disconnect between D65 and ETHS that so many kids need to take REMEDIAL courses, where neither superintendent is responsible because “it is the other guys’ fault…” Evanston would be much better off if we had had the opportunity to decide on a joint district with one superintendent RESPONSIBLE for what goes on in the one district. We don’t have that kind of responsibility today even if we pay enormous salaries.