Niles West & Niles North PAC Holds School Board Candidate Forum


Candidates for District 219 Board of Education had the opportunity to participate in a forum to discuss their reasons for wanting to be elected to the board.

By Wyatt Zwik and Lexi Lee

Six board member candidates were interviewed in a student moderated forum hosted by the Niles North and Niles West PAC as a way to be introduced to the D219 community. The students chosen to speak were both Niles West and Niles North student government members. This was an opportunity for the community to ask and listen to the answers of all of the individuals in order to become more informed voters.

Candidates include Rebecca Abraham, Robert General, David Ko (incumbent), Jill Manrique, Nashra Mohammed, and James Specker. Abraham, Ko, Manrique, and Specker are running as a slate, meaning that they are all running together and in support of one another. Every time a candidate spoke, they had one and a half minutes. They first began by introducing themselves and their platforms.

The first to speak was Abraham, whose qualifications include serving on various non-profit and activist boards.

“My name is Rebecca Abraham, I live in Skokie and I’m a mom of two. My children are Miles and Maggie. I’m a registered nurse, and my specialty is in critical nursing and ICU nursing. I also specialize in case management policy and quality. I currently serve on the Family Services Commission for Skokie, was a delegate to the 2019 Democratic National Convention, I’ve been an advocate at the state and federal level for progressive healthcare legislation, that benefits working people and nurses. I have also been advocating and legislating for women and children in Illinois for vaccine and public healthcare. I am a member of the Skokie Parks Outreach Committee, I have a worked as a political fellow for a gubernatorial campaign in Illinois. I have multiple board memberships on 501(c)4 organizations, and I am a formal board member of CHIME, the Chicago Center for Music Education that promotes music and arts education around the Chicagoland area.”

Robert General draws heavily on his experience as an educator in the district and his prior job as a three-sport coach.

“I’m Bob General, I’ve spent 12 years working as a para-educator and special educator at Niles North. I also coached three sports at a high school downtown called Walter Payton College Prep. I’ve been working with kids in the community since 1999, that’s when I and my wife moved here to raise our five kids. Four of my kids have already graduated from either Niles West or Niles North, so I have a great connection with the school, I’ve seen it as a parent, as an employee. I love the kids, I love the district, I love diversity. I just want to be able to do my part to give my own perspective on board matters. I think it’s a unique perspective,” General said. 

Incumbent and current school board president David Ko hopes to continue his progress with D219 and further prepare students for their futures.

“My name is David Ko. I am a board certified chiropractic physician and acupuncturist. I have lived in Skokie for about 25 years minus the fact of going to college and school.  I have two children, one’s about to be four and the other one is currently two. I am also a graduate of Niles North High School, class of ‘97. Currently, I am the only incumbent that’s actually the school board member and school board president. I’ve been serving this wonderful board and this wonderful district for six wonderful years now, and my goal is to make sure continuity develops, as I am the only incumbent running. I just wanted to talk briefly about some of the things that we’ve been doing that’s been great for our students, such as talking about making changes to career readiness, getting things for minority students’ achievement networks and gaps. Our goal for the past four years has been just working hard and continuing to grow and to change some of the things that we’ve had going on.  

Jill Manrique has spent much of her life working on non-profit boards and wishes to apply that experience to support diversity within the district.

“I just wanted to thank the Niles Board and Niles PAC’s and the students who worked so hard and put so much effort into keeping our community informed. My name is Jill Manrique and I am running for District 219 school board. I was very fortunate to have such a diverse background that allows me to connect with many different worlds than mine. I’m a woman, a mother of three, a member of the Latinx and Jewish communities. I’m a fighter for women’s rights, a committed advocate for social justice. I’m a former board member for the only LGBTQ rowing team in the midwest that actually rows right here in Skokie. Those connections along with many more that I’ve cultivated in my non-profit career allow me to be a bridge between the board and our communities. I’m running for the school board because I know I have the energy and my perspective and my experience are really reflective of the community in which we live. It’s abundantly clear to me, and I’m sure it’s clear to many of you as well, that the lack of diversity in our elected officials does not reflect the diversity within our community. We’re making progress, but as a board member, I promise to push that even farther. The schools are a foundation for our community, and whether we have children that go to those schools or not,” Manrique said.

Mohammed is only 18 years old and a graduate from Niles West class of 2018. Rather than being seen as too young with a lack of experience, Mohammed hopes to take advantage of her age and fresh perspective if admitted as a board member.

Being a recent graduate, I believe we need a fresh perspective to lead D219 in the future. I believe people from my community need an advocate and that people from my age group need an advocate. I am running for District 219 since I believe that education ties in very closely with the vitality of our community. I have a strong belief in public service, and I want to serve the public good. The biggest qualification I hold is my experience as a recent graduate of Niles West High School, one of the schools I’ll be responsible for if elected. I think it’s very important to have someone with an inside perspective with the impacts of the policies forced upon students to be on the board. In this time, experience matters. And with my experience, I will work hard to make sure your kids, my peers, our community members will not only leave District 219 with an amazing education but also as creative and mindful thinkers of society who are curious, enthusiastic and civic-minded. There are remarkable students graduating every year, and I want to make sure students are ready for the future. I ask you to give new voices a chance. Thank you so much,” Mohammed said. 

Specker is a strong advocate for the community and hopes to bring his career experience to his job on the board.

“My name is James Specker, I am a resident of Skokie, my wife and I are the proud parents of two wonderful daughters, and we couldn’t be happier with the decision to move to this district. I am a public policy and government relations professional by day, night, weekends and some holidays as well, with my expertise in corporate practice and healthcare policy. Specifically, I direct the national legislative and regulatory policy strategy for a non-profit organization. I am here today because I have been a lifelong advocate of community and constituent and engagement which really is the driver behind my career choice. I also believe it is the responsibility of those with certain skills and experience to use in a purposeful way. For example, I have served on a number of non-profit community boards.  My professional experiences have given me strong negotiating skills, a high level of policy and contract analysis, management and relationship building with municipal, state, and federal agencies and government,” Specker said.

The Q & A portion of the night quickly followed introductions, as candidates gave their insight into what they hope to do with the district and its policies.

This student ran D219 School Board Candidate Forum provided great insight into the visions of the future candidates. The elections will take place on April 2nd, 2019. Be sure to register to vote and bring two pieces of ID, one with a current address when registering.

The whole forum can be viewed here.