In uncontested election, D65 school board candidates say they’ll focus on equity


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board president Suni Kartha at a meeting. Three school board members are up for re-election, though none will face challenges.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

Despite running in an uncontested election for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education, acting board vice president Anya Tanyavutti said she plans to use the campaign season to be “transparent and inclusive and honest” with the communities she serves.

Tanyavutti is one of three board members up for reelection on April 2, along with board members Sergio Hernandez and Rebeca Mendoza. All three elections are uncontested.

“I see any election as an opportunity to have a conversation about the direction of policy work in our community,” Tanyavutti said. “Whether it’s contested or not, I intend on having those conversations.”

Henry Wilkins II’s daughter is in third grade at Walker Elementary School in District 65. He said some board members have been vocal about inequality and is excited to see those members be re-elected.

But Wilkins said he wishes there were other candidates running in the April election to “light a fire” and ensure that “the current school board isn’t complacent” about equity issues.

“Because there isn’t any competition and because there isn’t a candidate running against the current school board members, it makes it difficult to bring issues to the front that are around equity,” Wilkins said.

He said his primary concerns include overt racism in schools, ensuring teachers are culturally competent to teach students of color and addressing inequitable bussing in the 5th Ward.

Tanyavutti said the board prioritizes transparency and inclusivity of stakeholders when it comes to forming policy. The board has focused its attention on how to provide support to create an emotionally and physically safe “curriculum, culture and climate” for students from marginalized backgrounds in District 65 schools, Tanyavutti said.

The seven-member, locally-elected school board strives to consider the interests of all students it serves, said Adeela Qureshi, the school board secretary.

“We are serving one of the biggest populations that don’t have a voice, which is children and students,” Qureshi said. “It’s very essential not just to have a board, but to have a diverse board because that’s reflective of the students and the community that we serve.”

Qureshi said not having contested elections is a common occurrence — there are often the same number of people running as there are available seats on the board. In the 2017 election, there were four available seats and only five candidates running.

Nicholas Korzeniowski had originally filed papers to be nominated to the school board ballot, but board president Suni Kartha — acting as a voter, not board president — filed objections to the nomination due to issues with the paperwork.

Kartha said the portion of the paperwork where the circulator attests to witnessing the signatures of voters for the petition was missing. Korzeniowski will not appear on the ballot in April.

“That was just such a glaring problem that and it seemed to speak really to the heart of fraud issues,” Kartha said.

She added that having an uncontested election gives the board “continuity” in their work with racial equity in education.

“(Racial equity has) been a focus of mine since I joined the board six years ago, but I would say this board, in particular, has really prioritized that,” she said. “It’s a focus of us holistically, certainly the majority of the board.”

Tanyavutti said much of her work on the board has been centered around equity, but she emphasized that lots of issues that have come up in the board’s discussions are ongoing processes.

Seeing these concerns develop into policy in the future is one of the primary reasons why Tanyavutti said she is seeking reelection.

“I feel energized by continuing to be connected to our community and continuing to support policies that help our community live up to its highest ideals for itself,” Tanyavutti said. “I would like to be of support as long as I have something to contribute to that conversation, and I feel like I still do.”

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