Activists call for board president to resign

Nomaan Merchant

A group of former Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board presidents and members called for current president Mary Rita Luecke to resign Monday night.

Luecke said she decided before the meeting not to run for another one-year term. Her current term expires May 1.

During Monday’s school board meeting, community members blasted the board for not approving a larger version of an African-centered curriculum pilot program in March.

Before the meeting, the board had planned to evaluate the process of approving the pilot program. But Luecke said during the meeting the board had decided to delay the discussion after consulting the district’s legal firm, Franczek Sullivan.

Starting next year, District 65 will implement a three-classroom curriculum pilot at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave., where about 60 students will take classes with material geared towards the achievements of black scientists, politicians and artists.

But many black community members wanted to establish an identical version of the program at Kingsley Elementary School, 2300 Green Bay Road. The two-school model, known as “Model A,” was rejected by the board at its March 20 meeting.

Before the meeting, black community members gathered outside the district’s main offices in a rally supporting Model A.

“Tonight, we will remain vigilant and unified,” said Oliver A. Ruff, a former district student and a retired principal of a Waukegan school. “High expectations. No exceptions. No excuses.”

During the meeting, dozens of parents, activists and former board members blasted the board for ignoring the needs of black students.

“To be quite honest, I’m so embarrassed to see the conduct of all of you over a basic issue,” former board member Lisa Kupfeberg said.

Activist Tracey Wallace stressed action by the black community to address the ongoing disparity in test scores between black and white students.

“We need to stop asking you to do the right thing and start telling you what needs to be done,” Wallace said.

Several speakers accused Luecke of failing to lead the board and losing the confidence of the public.

“Last month’s board meeting was an embarrassment to our community,” said former board president John Chatz, who added Luecke treated Superintendent Hardy Murphy with “deep and disturbing respect.”

Luecke resigned in 2004 after a previous board term. She disagreed with a board decision to extend Murphy’s contract for three years.

The outgoing president defended her decision to introduce a third, smaller version of the curriculum pilot proposal during the March 20 meeting, saying she was trying to reach a compromise on the board.

The introduction of “Model C” led to a formal complaint made by the Evanston chapter of the NAACP to the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

“There was not, as presented to this board, uniform support for the program,” Luecke said. “I for one never intended to have the kind of reaction that bringing Model C to the board had.”

When asked outside the meeting about her reaction to the calls for her resignation as president, Luecke smiled and said, “I don’t agree with their reasoning.”

The selection process for students into the pilot program was also announced Monday. Students will be assigned selection numbers based on class size guidelines, staffing and racial and gender balance. Priority for selection will be given to students at Oakton. Board members also weighed a draft of procedures to evaluate students in the pilot.

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