Anya Tanyavutti leaves District 65 Board of Education after six years


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

Devon Horton became the superintendent of D65 in June 2020.

Anya Tanyavutti stepped down as a member of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education at its Monday meeting. 

The board also swore in Tracy Olasimbo, Family Engagement Coordinator at Evanston Public Library. Olasimbo will replace Marquise Weatherspoon, a former board vice president who resigned in August.

Tanyavutti served on the Board of Education for six years, including two years as president and three as vice president. She has said she was likely the first Black woman to be board president.

At the meeting, Tanyavutti said she came to the district hopeful. But, after her two-year-old child heard racist comments at daycare, she said she began to realize the gravity of District 65’s racial achievement gap.

“The District 65 educational caste system, the human rights violation, had been normalized as good schools,” Tanyavutti said. “‘Good for whom?’ I wondered. Were we so irrelevant that our harm and exclusion, right before everyone’s eyes, was irrelevant?”

That incident motivated her to join the board, filling the vacancy left by Jennifer Phillips in 2016. In her early days, however, Tanyavutti said she felt dismissed and ignored.

Over her time on the board, she said anti-racist work took off through initiatives like Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, LGBTQ+ Equity Week and Latinx Heritage Week. She also pointed to the creation of parent groups like the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, the African American, Black and Caribbean Family Group and the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee as indicators of progress. 

“We have planted and nurtured the seeds of eliminating the gap in opportunity to achieve in District 65,” Tanyavutti said. “Our early childhood outcomes two years in a row are not predictable along the lines of race out of [the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center].”

Now, Tanyavutti said she will work in youth development and focus on her own writing projects moving forward. She recently applied for the empty 2nd Ward City Council seat after former Ald. Peter Braithwaite retired in July, but City Council appointed Ald. Krissie Harris instead.

Current Board President Sergio Hernandez, who stepped into Tanyavutti’s former position in April, called her an inspiration.

“You are the perfect board member,” he said. “You were able to find the time and the strength and you’ve been able to be unapologetically incredible for equity across our school district.”

Superintendent Devon Horton echoed his comments, praising Tanyavutti’s push for equity and thanking her for leaving the district in better shape than when she found it.

“I came in saying I’m a disruptive leader, but I didn’t know disruptive until I met you,” Horton said. “Seeing the way that you’ve led our Board and this district through your governance through your relentless approach to be equitable in everything that we do.”

The Board will have 60 days to fill Tanyavutti’s seat. The replacement will serve until elections in April 2023.

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Twitter: @avivabechky

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