Board elects president in 7-0 vote

Nomaan Merchant

Mary Erickson was elected president of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board in a special meeting Monday night.

In an unusually calm and brief session, Erickson took office after a 7-0 vote and will serve as president until May 2007. She has served on the school board for nine years.

Erickson takes leadership of a board that has faced months of turmoil and infighting. Many local residents have called for the resignation of some or all of the board members.

Concerns about the ability of the board to work with Superintendent Hardy Murphy have plagued the district. In March, the board enacted an African-centered curriculum pilot program that was half the size of the model Murphy supported.

During board meetings since then, dozens of community members have spoken to support the curriculum and have made their presence felt, applauding and shouting during speeches.

Monday night’s special meeting was sparsely attended, however, because little suspense surrounded Erickson’s election.

The new president said her main goal is to enhance communication between the board and the superintendent. Many local residents have criticized the board for micromanaging Murphy, a concern Erickson said is valid.

“The duty of the board president is to ensure that the board and the superintendent have a close working relationship,” Erickson said. “We need to be clear on what we want.”

She also said board members need to work together more.

“A lot of us have different viewpoints on things, but the big thing is good communication,” Erickson said.

Erickson also said she hopes to speed up board meetings, which often continue into the early morning.

She thanked retiring president Mary Rita Luecke, who remains on the board. Erickson predicted rough times ahead but said she would “head off these moments when (she) can.”

She also said she wanted the board to work toward making the pilot program a success, even if some members supported a larger model.

“We accepted Model B,” Erickson said. “Now it’s time we worked on implementing Model B. We know our direction, we’ve made our vote and we’re going to go from there.”

The board also unanimously re-elected Julie Chernoff as vice president and introduced a new chief financial officer, Mary Brown.

Brown, who directs business services in River Trails School District 26 in Mount Prospect, Ill., said she looked forward to joining the district.

Murphy said Brown had experience “in all aspects of business management.”

The board also declared this week “Staff Appreciation Week” and finalized a new school calendar.

Erickson said the board would postpone appointments for board subcommittee chairs until its next meeting.

Monday’s meeting was only 30 minutes long.

“Are we done?” board member Jerome Summers joked as people headed toward the doors.

The board will meet next on May 15 at 7 p.m.

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