Leah Piekarz, D202 board candidate, talks mental health and school safety


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

Leah Piekarz. Piekarz is running for election to the Evanston Township High School District 202 Board of Education.

Aidan Johnstone, Reporter

Leah Piekarz worked as a counselor at Evanston Township High School for 21 years, advocating as a union leader and helping start a program to set students up with career-oriented classes.

Now, having retired last summer, she’s running for a four-year seat on the Evanston Township High School District 202 Board of Education.

“I really do want to serve … and keep contributing to the success of what’s happening at ETHS,” Piekarz said. “It’s an institution that’s at the core of our health in the community.”

Piekarz said she’s running on a platform highlighting college and career readiness, student voices and school safety. She also plans to address equity and inclusion, social and emotional learning and faculty and staff support, according to her website. 

Piekarz said her experience as a school counselor — including as lead for 12 years — gives her unique insight into ETHS students’ mindsets.

I know a lot about the ins and outs and the functioning of the high school,” Piekarz said. “I think it helps to be able to really ask some critical questions and understand what’s being presented to the board.”

Among those questions, she said, should be ones on how to improve school safety.

She said ETHS should look for school safety solutions beyond traditional or technical ones like metal detectors, which ETHS staff have said they’re considering. Piekarz said she’d be hesitant to add detectors because of how large ETHS is. Rather, she said she wants to focus on prioritizing students’ mental health.

“Just as important is why students feel unsafe,” Piekarz said. “We have to look at the root cause of why we’re in this situation.” 

Lisa Oberman, a retired ETHS English teacher and member of Piekarz’s campaign committee, said Piekarz appeared very calm and level-headed when working with students.

“She was great with her kids, never gave up on a kid,” Oberman said. “She’s the same way with adults, too.”

Along with being a school counselor, Piekarz was also a Teachers’ Council executive committee member — which is ETHS’s equivalent of a teachers’ union — and was a member of the Council’s executive board for 18 years.

Piekarz said she often led collective bargaining for the union, aiming to improve work conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.

Bill Farmer (WCAS ’03), ETHS science teacher and former president of the Teacher’s Council, said Piekarz was an asset to the council.

“She’s a really thoughtful collaborator,” Farmer said. “She is really passionate about trying to make ETHS live up to its vision of equitable education for all students.”

Piekarz said board decisions in the past have often left out student perspectives. To address that, she said she aims to listen to the Evanston community and incorporate the thoughts of students and parents into her leadership. One idea she suggested was holding more Student Voice Forums, which are annual events hosted at ETHS where students bring their ideas and suggestions to school board members. 

Piekarz said she wants to be a part of the Board of Education to give back to the community that she considers home.   

“Getting to know individual students and families and their lives and feeling like you could, in some way, have a positive impact has been … really good work,” Piekarz said. “Working in ETHS, I just have really become a part of the ETHS family and the greater community.”

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