At the District 65 School Board’s re-organizational meeting on April 22, two Board members abstained from voting in the election of the Board’s officers. They also raised questions about the way Committee assignments were made.
The final results of the recent School Board election were presented, confirming that Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti, and Board members Rebeca Mendoza and Sergio Hernandez were each elected to serve a four-year term on the Board. Each of them ran unopposed.
Superintendent Paul Goren swore in Ms. Tanyavutti and Mr. Hernandez. He said Ms. Mendoza, who was not present, would be sworn in a later date.
Election of Officers
The newly reconstituted Board then elected Suni Kartha to serve another one-year term as President of the Board and Ms. Tanyavutti to serve another one-year term as Vice President of the Board. Ms. Kartha and Ms. Tanyavutti each ran unopposed. Excerpts from their statements of candidacy are in the accompanying sidebar.
Ms. Katha, Ms. Tanyavutti, Mr. Hernandez and Joey Hailpern voted “yes.” Candance Chow and Lindsay Cohen abstained.
After the vote, Ms. Chow and Ms. Cohen explained why they abstained. Ms. Chow said she abstained “as a symbol and call for our leaders to take a more disciplined and focused intent to our work.” She said the Board is “falling short – in particular with respect to equity and opportunity for our most marginalized students,” and “instead of engaging with one another to make decisions on the critical few areas where we should make significant investment, we are trying to be everything and do everything – diminishing our impact and circumventing our responsibility to one another, the District, and the community to make hard, uncomfortable decisions on where to dedicate limited resources, attention and time.”
Ms. Cohen said she abstained from voting “to publicly voice my frustration with the effectiveness of this current School Board, particularly during this school year.
“During this school year, the Board has not given the vision and focus for this District that they have committed to the community. This is particularly frustrating given the collective agreement surrounding the immediate need for change to allow for more equitable outcomes for our students from historically marginalized populations.”
Ms. Cohen added, “I am frustrated by the lack of transparency by Board leadership,” which she said “inhibits our potential as a governing body.”
Excerpts from their statements are in the sidebar below.
After Ms. Chow and Ms. Cohen read their statements, Ms. Kartha said, “I will note that I share the concerns. I think this whole Board shares the concerns about focused priorities for the future and that is why we have asked Dr. Goren to work with us in helping to direct his work and his staff’s work so we can better implement those practices for next year. It’s something this Board has already set forth as a priority.”
Approval of Board Agreements
The Board next considered whether to approve proposed Board Agreements for the coming year. Ms. Chow noted that a section of the agreements called for Board members to act with decorum during Board meetings. She asked that the agreements also provide that Board members act with decorum in emails and other forms of communication with each other. The Board Agreements were approved, 6-0, with that amendment.
Ms. Kartha said she had emailed committee assignments to Board members over the weekend. Ms. Cohen voiced frustration that she was eliminated from the Park School Advisory Committee and said she would like to remain on that committee to provide consistency to the work being done by the committee. Ms. Kartha said one Board member she had assigned to that committee expressed a desire to be removed, so she said she would appoint Ms. Cohen to that committee.
Ms. Cohen, who has been a member of the Finance Committee, asked who had been appointed to be Chair of that committee, how the new Finance Chair was selected, and why it was not someone who had served on the committee for the past two years.
Ms. Kartha said she had appointed Joey Hailpern to be Chair of the Finance Committee. She said, “I will reiterate or state as Board President I have the purview to make the decisions that I believe to be in the best interest of the Board.” She said while Mr. Hailpern had not previously been a member of the Finance Committee, he had attended virtually all of the Finance Committee meetings over the years. Ms. Kartha added that Mr. Hailpern was participating in the interest-based bargaining process with the teachers union, which he trained for, and which training was open to all Board members.
Ms. Cohen interjected, “And which we got an alert to, I think, 22 hours before it actually began.”
Ms. Kartha responded, “I will own that I did not give sufficient notice, but that’s generally the decision making. I believe that’s in the best interest of the Board and Joey was willing and wanted to take that position. So that’s the appointment that I made.”
Ms. Cohen asked, “Is there a particular reason I was targeted?”
Ms. Kartha said, “I, no. I’m sorry you felt targeted.”
When asked by Ms. Tanyavutti why she used the term targeted, Ms. Cohen said she was removed from every single one of the committees she served on and moved to other committees that have more significant meeting requirements without being consulted, and she was passed over for an effective promotion without any sort of conversation about it beforehand.
Ms. Chow, who had been Chair of the Finance Committee for the past year, said she had no problem with not continuing as Chair of that committee again, and said if she had been asked about it, she would have suggested it was time for a change.
“While I acknowledge it’s well within your rights and your authority to make all the Board appointments,” Ms. Chow said, “it has been past experience within the last six years that if there are changes, at least members are consulted or talked to about that and what the circumstances are so we can understand beforehand. So that’s more the frustration I would have.”
When asked, Ms. Kartha said Mr. Hernandez would remain Chair of the Policy Committee.
Candidacy Statement Suni Kartha
In her statement seeking reelection as Board President, Suni Kartha said, “My goals for our Board continue to be to create greater transparency and inclusiveness in our decision-making process, and I would like the opportunity to move progress forward on this work and to use my leadership voice to push for more equitable schools for our students, families, and educators. One of my goals as Board President has been to build trust and collaboration with our educators, to better leverage their expertise and experience in the classroom to improve outcomes for our students. Board Vice-President, Anya Tanyavutti, and I continue to meet monthly with administrative and DEC [the teachers union] leadership, which has resulted in conversations about joint leadership on equity priorities … and an in-depth review of current assessment practices.
“We also are in the middle of interest-based bargaining with both DEC and ETAA, a collaborative process that is leading to deep and productive conversations about how our District can better support educators in order to better support students. Another significant goal that I continue to pursue with our Board is around the District’s equity agenda. While it is important to recognize that removing systemic barriers is persistent, long-term work, it is also important to seek short-term changes to minimize the present deleterious effects of institutional racism ...
“I am grateful to our community for overwhelmingly supporting our schools with the passage of the referendum two years ago, but I am mindful that a structural deficit remains that must be addressed sooner rather than later. I am committed over the coming year to more intentionally and specifically move this conversation forward in a holistic way, including considerations of capital needs, student enrollment projections and school capacities/boundaries, and inequitable busing.”
Candidacy Statement of Anya Tanyavutti
In her statement seeking reelection as Board Vice President, Anya Tanyavutti summarized her background and some accomplishments that the Board had made in the last few years, including detracking of Algebra, expanding the Two-Way Immersion program, adding two new Black Student Success positions, and integrating the District Equity Agenda with the Strategic Plan.
“Additionally,” she said, “in this time we facilitate weekly supervision discussions with the Superintendent and inclusive conversations with our Board colleagues to facilitate well informed priorities and timely feedback and a high standard of accountability as well monthly meetings between DEC, Administration, and Board leadership in order to provide proactive opportunities to discuss needs and shared solutions. Lastly, I actively participate in and contributed to the Board’s work in a number of ways, including sitting on the finance committee, serving as liaison to head start program, King Arts and Willard Elementaries, and attending community meetings and learning opportunities. These roles have entailed providing information to and learning from community stakeholders and prioritizing the growth of our District’s capacity to address factors contributing to historical and contemporary institutional marginalization.
“Lastly, all of this work has been carried out in the spirit of ethical good governance through inclusiveness and transparency. I am committed to continue to model and advocate for those values and practices in District 65. I deeply believe in the value of an inter-disciplinary board that is able to bring our full talents and perspective to the fore by challenging our thinking and pursuing informed solutions in collaboration with a wide representation of stakeholders (administration, teachers, principals, staffs, parents, students, community leaders and residents alike).”
Abstention Statement of Candance Chow
Board member Candance Chow said she abstained from voting for Board President and Vice President “as a symbol and call for our leaders and our entire Board to take a more disciplined and focused intent to our work. … [W]e as a Board are responsible to the community and voters to set our vision and priorities as a District. I believe we are falling short, particularly in terms of setting clear priorities. We frequently and understandably passionately, speak to where we are falling short – in particular with respect to equity and opportunity for our most marginalized students. Their success, I truly believe is the reason we are all here and yet instead of engaging with one another to make decisions on the critical few areas where we should make significant investment, we are trying to be everything and do everything – diminishing our impact and circumventing our responsibility to one another, the District, and the community to make hard, uncomfortable decisions on where to dedicate limited resources, attention and time.
“[F]or the past several years the vast majority of our time [at Board meetings] is spent talking outward or directing the administration to provide more and different information that basically tells the same narrative. We will never have perfect information. Yet, we must as a Board hold ourselves accountable, and make some very challenging but necessary decisions on what we should do differently to prepare our children for high school and beyond, what we need to stop doing, and where we need to double down. Continued ambiguity and indecision on the critical few priorities of the District will result in more of the same – disappointing results and lost opportunity for our children. I ask the Board leadership to enable and require our Board to set a discrete, manageable and evidence-based set of priorities for the coming year and to do that through respectful, honest and hopefully even divergent perspectives where we must come to clear consensus and direct our administration to execute appropriately with our support.”
Abstention Statement of Lindsay Cohen
“I abstain from this vote, and in doing so I am speaking up tonight to publicly voice my frustration with the effectiveness of this current School Board, particularly during this school year,” said Board member Lindsay Cohen.
“During this school year, this Board has not given the vision and focus for this District that they have committed to the community. This is particularly frustrating given the collective agreement surrounding the immediate need for change to allow for more equitable outcomes for our students from historically marginalized populations.
“I am frustrated by how little we have accomplished as a Board. District 65 Board meetings have become little more than public venting of frustration on important topics, accompanied by presentations from the Administration that we each are able to publicly question or comment on but with no actionable, engaged dialogue or ideas on what we as a board can do to lead us forward.
“I am also frustrated by the lack of transparency by the Board leadership although that was promised two years ago during this very meeting. It is clear that there is significant back door diplomacy that is occurring by this Board leadership and I have not been privileged to most of it. Meetings that occur with Northwestern University, meetings that occur with union leaders, meetings that occur throughout the community, meetings that occur with school leaders and administration all go unreported. In the past two years, I have received only a handful of updates regarding any of these meetings, and certainly have not received an invitation to participate. This lack of transparency inhibits our potential as a governing body, it’s not just a petty grievance.
“I implore the current Board leadership ... to act with purpose and truly lead this governing body and help guide our district by creating the necessary vision so that all of our students can achieve academically and flourish as people.”