Every first Tuesday in April of odd-numbered years, Niles Township residents can vote to elect candidates for the D219 Board of Education. In the upcoming weeks, residents will have this opportunity, and there are seven candidates. Three of the seven are seeking reelection, and are Joseph Nowik, Naema Abraham, and Richard Evonitz. The other four are Kathleen Weiss Boyle, Elana Jacobs, Irena Petryk and Ross Sawyers.
All seven candidates were present at the D219 School Board Candidate Forum, hosted by Niles West and Niles North’s Parent Advisory Councils (NWPAC & NNPAC). Students from Niles West and Niles North moderated the event, and through Zoom, community members and members of the Niles Township Federation of Teachers and Support Staff (NTFTSS) were welcome and encouraged to attend.
“I was honored when I was asked to host the board forum a second time with a group of peers from Niles West and Niles North. It was a fun experience meeting new people and working with the parents when planning it out. The forum itself went very smoothly, and we are pleased with how it turned out. We hope that this helps inform voters on the positions these board members have, and we hope this will increase voter turnout,” junior class president Sam Philips said.
“The forum was a great success. After weeks of discussing questions and the logistics of the forum, it finally all came together. From a student’s perspective, it was interesting to hear from the candidates and to see what the future of the school board will look like,” junior Hita Bharwad said.
There was no Q & A portion for the spectators. Instead, the candidates answered questions ranging from their thoughts about returning to in-person teaching to their stance on racial equity/social issues.
District 219 has made a set plan to return for in-person instruction starting March 1. The candidates were asked if they agreed with the Return to Learn plan, and if there were any changes, they would want to make to the current plan.
Petryk answered the question by saying that she felt students should be allowed to return as long as everything is within the guidelines and following strict safety measures, but also expressed her concern for the students staying home. “I really want to make sure that we’re not just focusing on the kids who are in hybrid learning, but also the kids who are continuing with remote learning and ensure that every student has that same level of high quality education,” Petryk said. Petryk is a Niles West alum and currently a student at Northwestern University. She’s running as a student with the perspective and input from her time at West. As a board member, she wants to proactively address issues that she’s noticed.
Abraham also answered the question and voiced her thoughts on the topic. “I would’ve liked to seen us give all students the ability to either come to school or the option to stay home [earlier],” Abraham said. She recognized that some students adapted really well to remote learning, while others could not, and is appreciative of the plan to return. Abraham is an incumbent and a Niles North graduate who originally ran to represent the large Assyrian communities in both schools.
The candidates were also asked about the negative side effects of remote learning on students and teachers, particularly the social-emotional toll and strain that it’s been taking on them. Boyle suggested adding licensed clinical social workers to staff. “We should have organized individual activities for the students who are at home as well as encourage the students who attend class in person… Establishing challenges and having them meet weekly in online group gatherings to share group experiences [will help],” Boyle said. She’s also in support of installing daily class affirmations “so that everyone knows that they are not alone.” Boyle is running to help the community and is committed to helping the teachers, taxpayers, administration and the board.
Questions surrounding Covid were not the only ones asked during the forum. Numerous questions were asked about social issues, including racism and LGBTQ+ concerns in the district.
“The makeup of the current staff reflects the community 20 years ago. There is a terrific opportunity that is coming as staff members are starting to retire… for the district to very thoughtfully think about how they are approaching retention and acquisition of diverse candidates,” Evonitz said when answering a question related to racial equity. Evontiz is a Skokie resident and was first elected in 2017 and is now seeking his second four-year term.
““One of the things that is absolutely critical to making sure that all students, but in particular trans and non-binary students feel included, is to include role models in the curriculum, to focus on and introduce all students to important and influential trans and non-binary humans,” Sawyers said. “[We need to] provide models of success for all students.” Sawyers is a college professor with children at Fairview. He is also on the Appearance Commission for the Village of Skokie.
When it came time to answer how they would use their power if elected to protect students, staff, and the community from hackers and the hate speech that appears as a result, Jacobs, a high school classroom specialist STEM teacher and second-generation Skokie resident, who is passionate about education and promoting community interactions believes that implementing security initiatives is critical. “Hacking is an inside job, so keeping ears on the ground for students having a conversation,” is something that Jacobs believes will be of tremendous help. “Even if it is online, it’s just as harmful and hateful. We should implement the same response in D219 and in the K-8 middle schools,” Jacobs said.
At the end of the forum, everyone spoke about what they are proud of in the D219 community. “I am really proud of us changing our mission statement when we shifted from a college-ready mission to one where we embrace diversity and individual student needs,” Nowik said. Nowik has been a board member for the past six years and a part of D219 since 1986, and wants to help with the district’s finances, and hopes to help students be college-ready.
Residents can participate in the election on April 6, 2021.