New District 202 school board members elected from crowded field

Yard signs of District 202 school board candidates fill a lawn outside 1900 Sherman Ave. Bill Geiger, Gretchen Livingston, Doug Holt and Patricia Savage-Williams won the election.

Oliver Ortega/The Daily Northwestern

Yard signs of District 202 school board candidates fill a lawn outside 1900 Sherman Ave. Bill Geiger, Gretchen Livingston, Doug Holt and Patricia Savage-Williams won the election.

Oliver Ortega, Reporter

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Thousands of Evanston residents took to the polls Tuesday to vote for Evanston Township High School District 202’s school board in a hotly contested race that featured eight candidates vying for four positions.

The candidates campaigned on a slew of polarizing issues, including the school’s “detracking” curriculum, diversity training and taxes.

Election results show how razor-thin the winning margins were, with new board members Bill Geiger, Doug Holt, Patricia Savage-Williams and winning incumbent Gretchen Livingston combined getting just less than 60 percent of the vote.

Livingston, who got 15 percent of the vote and was second after Geiger’s 17 percent, said she was happy with the results, pointing to her leadership on the board as the reason behind her victory.

“I’ve been campaigning full-time for this volunteer part-time job,” said Livingston, an attorney and incumbent board member. “But I think my record on the board, especially work on passing the three-year goals plan and the freshman year course changes, was key.”

Elena Garcia Ansani, who came in sixth, would have been the first Latina ever elected to the school board. Her campaign was built heavily on addressing Latino issues, reflecting ETHS’s growing Latino population.

ETHS’ “detracking” initiative was a controversial topic during the election. The school was put in the limelight in 2010 when the board approved a plan to offer “earned honors” freshman humanities courses — meaning students can only get honors credit if they meet certain academic benchmarks — in an effort to broaden the variety of students in classes and address the achievement gaps between white and minority students. This school year, the freshman biology classes were changed to a similar “earned-honors” curriculum.

Candidates planted themselves on both sides of the issue. Incumbent Deborah Graham voted for implementing the “earned honors” curriculum for freshmen humanities but against expanding the effort to include freshmen biology classes. She and other candidates, including Livingston, cited a lack of research on the structure’s effectiveness as reasons for caution. But Ansani and Savage said they support both measures and argue the efforts will help close the achievement gap.

ETHS’ teachers’ union endorsed five candidates: Ansani, Savage, Geiger, Livingston and Casey Miller. Teachers’ Council president Bill Farmer said the group did not endorse Graham because of her vocal criticism of the school’s curriculum and a poor interview. He chalked up the unusual competitiveness of the race to issues such as detracking and diversity training, pointing to how things were much calmer in Evanston/Skokie School District 65, where four school board candidates ran unopposed.

“There’s sense of dissatisfaction with the administration, and while the candidates are relatively similar, there are certain parts of the community backing certain candidates,” Farmer said.

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