District 65 candidates speak at virtual forum about education plans


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

Candidates for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education discussed their hopes for the school district during a forum Thursday.

Astry Rodriguez, Senior Staffer

Candidates for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education spoke about their plans for the district at a virtual forum Thursday hosted by Evanston Live TV.

Sergio Hernandez, president of the District 65 board, and Mya Wilkins (Kellogg ’06), a current school board member, were both present. So were challengers for the board Ndona Muboyayi, John Martin and Omar Salem. 

The candidates responded to questions from Evanston Live TV moderator Maleika Gardner and local residents. 

“For the past nearly 50 years, our children have not been getting what they should,” Muboyayi said. “The academic achievement gap has been getting increasingly worse, and there have been more and more excuses made.”

Many candidates have children in District 65 schools. All have jobs in education or are on the board, besides Muboyayi and Martin.

Salem said his experiences as a teacher qualify him to push for equitable education.

“In education, I’ve done it all — I’ve been in the classroom as a leader, I’ve been in the classroom as an assistant, I’ve been with students all over the spectrum,” Salem said. 

Evanston resident Larry Murphy asked candidates what inclusivity in education looks like to them. In their replies, candidates mostly focused on implementing racially diverse curriculums. 

Wilkins said equity goes beyond the books present in a classroom. 

“It really begins with acknowledging and understanding how things are the way they are, and what disadvantages people might be facing and why,” Wilkins said. 

Martin said there is a strong need to hire more Black male teachers.

All candidates agreed history curricula must teach more about Black history beyond slavery. To them, it should also include contemporary race relations, Black culture, contributions Black Americans have made to the country and experiences of Black people within and outside of the nation.

Muboyayi said Black history should not be limited to certain subjects. 

“From the time we start to teach anything in schools, I believe Black history needs to be incorporated in all of it,” Muboyayi said. 

All candidates also emphasized increasing early childhood education options to prevent students from starting their education behind their peers. 

Candidates discussed their thoughts on how to prevent gun violence in schools, agreeing that practices such as using metal detectors and patting students down can discourage students from feeling comfortable and welcome in schools. 

In the 2021-22 school year 64% of students suspended in District 65 were Black, despite Black students only being 25% of the district student population. 

When discussing the district’s disproportionate suspension rates for Black students, all candidates said the trend is due to administration biases toward students. Candidates agreed that remedying the issue requires looking into students’ social, emotional and academic well-being.

Hernandez said the board created a safety department with managers who coordinate emergency responses with the police and fire departments. They have concierges for every building and a home pass system that keeps track of anyone visiting schools.

“If children do get suspended, we discourage out-of-school suspensions, we really try to do in-school and ensure that children are continuing to get educated,” Hernandez said. 

Martin and Wilkins also discussed how they’d facilitate students’ transitions to Evanston Township High School from District 65 schools, emphasizing the importance of increased communication between the schools. 

Wilkins suggested that students who have made the transition should mentor those who are approaching their own. 

All candidates said they’re in favor of students learning about topics currently scrutinized by parents and Republican politicians such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights, which Muboyayi said contributes to students’ positive self-images. 

“The inclusion and equity that we can show in our community is absolutely something positive that we should continue moving forward,” Martin said. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @Astry_tpwk

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