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March 15, 2023
A year after conducting the search for a new superintendent, ultimately landing on Dr. Marcus Campbell, the Evanston Township High School District 202 School Board now looks to push a new set of initiatives, centered around goals of literacy, post-college plans, racial equity and social-emotional learning.
In addition to these goals, ETHS has navigated numerous conversations of late. Discussions around in-school truancy, metal detectors and other weapons systems and more have shaped the trajectory of board meetings thus far this year.
The Evanstonian spoke with the four candidates who are running for the three open four-year terms on the school board. Mirah Anti, a current board member and Director of Equity & Inclusion at Highland Park High School and Deerfield High School District 113, is running unopposed for a two-year position on the board as well.
Two of the candidates, Monique Parsons and Elizabeth Rolewicz, are running for re-election, while Leah Piekarz, former counselor at ETHS, and Kristen Scotti, a disabilities advocate, look to become board members for the first time.
Below, find profiles of all four candidates. Early voting for this election and all elections begins on March 20, while Election Day is April 4.
The community of Evanston has been a perpetual part of Monique Parsons life. She is the current Vice President of the District 202 Board of Education, and is running for a third term. Although she now strives in her work as a public official, she has many other roles in the community that brought her to this position. She is the President and CEO of the McGaw YMCA, and she specializes in youth development. She has sought to illuminate and diversify voices in the community, and become a part of the solution, with the goal “to promote a school of culture that centers our students’ well-being.”
“I am really concerned about creating a safe, welcoming and belonging environment that affirms, that’s inclusive for all students, family and staff,” said Parsons.
Parsons is deeply rooted in Evanston and believes in a strong sense of community. She was born and raised in town, attending Walker Elementary School and Chute Middle School. She attended high school in Cincinnati, Ohio for creative and performing Arts. Subsequently, she moved back to Evanston after college. She remembers feeling herself represented by local authority figures, as well as being held to high expectations in regard to achievement and behavior in school.
“I remember just being loved by my family and my community,” said Parsons.
Her previous campaign began when she noticed her voice as a single mother was not being accurately reflected in decision making. She believes that the board is very responsible for student achievement and its actions should be reflective of this.
It takes becoming competent, culturally competent, to understand what equity really means and then to also create an environment that is welcoming and belonging for those that are most marginalized or feel left out.
— Monique Parsons
Her biggest draw into ETHS was her son’s excellent experience at the school. After what she found to be a great experience for him, Parsons wants to help create that experience for all students that enter ETHS. She believes that, regardless of identity or extenuating circumstances, every child that walks through the doors deserves the best ETHS has to offer.
“We’re teaching them all the same way because we value you,” said Parsons. “It takes becoming competent, culturally competent, to understand what equity really means and then to also create an environment that is welcoming and belonging for those that are most marginalized or feel left out.”
Running for a third term, Parsons has been a part of an effort to improve locker room conditions for students, as well as an initiative to address literacy in the district. Recently, she advocated for all community members’ voices to be factored in when revising the board’s agenda. This helped ensure equitable administrative goals that were aligned with the community’s values.
One major goal Parsons has is to promote community engagement, whether that’s talking with families of students or working closely with District 65. The hope is that this will better the ETHS student experience and create an environment conducive to learning.
“The goal is to make sure that we provide an equitable and excellent education at ETHS, that we promote school culture that centers our students’ wellbeing, ” said Parsons.. “[We need] to provide fiscal accountability and transparency, but also to strengthen community engagement and partnership.” This goal has been sustained throughout her time on the board. Looking forward, she hopes to accomplish her overarching goal of creating a sense of affinity and belonging for every student.
“My vision is to make sure that every child feels like we’re taking care of them. And if we’re taking care of them, we’re providing what they need. And it’s not just about my child, or someone you know, it’s about all of our children in this very small community,” said Parsons. “Because we can do it in this community, and students can say that they belong, not only at ETHS, but every place they go.”
When Elizabeth Rolewicz first moved to Evanston in 2013, she was not expecting to begin a life in politics. Rolewicz was simply a mother who wanted to give her children the best education and opportunities possible. Then, she noticed disparities and injustices in the community.
“I was hearing from the community that Black and brown students, in particular, were not reaching their highest possible achievement,” Rolewicz said, “I became interested in that topic, and I wanted to be a part of it and support the schools and network.”
Despite only being involved with ETHS and the surrounding community for four years, Rolewicz has played a substantial role in various Evanston volunteer organizations and school districts. Before the 2019 school board elections, when she was elected to her first term on the District 202 School Board, Rolewicz balanced working at her independently owned multi-media artistry studio, helping young girls develop confidence and life skills as a Girl Scout troop leader and being a certified foster parent for children in need.
Currently, Rolewicz is working with the community to try and fix injustices she has seen in the Evanston area.
“I’ve completely committed myself to the Evanston community and to ETHS as a school,” she said.
Rolewicz graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film/video and photography arts while also minoring in women’s studies. While completing her degree, Rolewicz continued to find ways to pursue her passion for community service.
“I’ve always found [community service] as very fulfilling work,” she said. “It is certainly a priority in my life.”
When initially elected for the ETHS school board more than four years ago, Rolewicz ran on a racial justice platform.
“Every single student deserves to benefit from the outstanding growth opportunities that abound at ETHS – but far too often, where we come from predicts who we become,” Rolewicz said on her campaign website.
Only when all students are able to succeed can we see overall improvement in the school.
— Elizabeth Rolewicz
Rolewicz is aware of her privilege and hopes to utilize it to help further fair education policies for students of color and students with learning disabilities. Throughout her four-year term, she prioritized students “with the greatest need” so that the district can see improvements across the board.
“[The school board] needs to stay on the course of improving outcomes for our Black and brown students and our students with IEPs,” Rolewicz said. “Only when all students are able to succeed can we see overall improvement in the school.”
Rolewicz plans to use surveys to assess the functionality of the board’s current plans use the data provided directly by students to formulate new ideas to improve the weakest areas.
One such change that Rolewicz has been able to help implement was hiring Dr. Marcus Campell as the new superintendent in 2022.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve got a lot of community input, and through that, we were able to reach out to the community, conduct surveys and talkback, and even host the community interview of Dr. Campbell as a candidate,” Rolewicz said, “I’m proud of what a thorough process we went through in order to get community feedback in the hiring process.”
Rolewicz’s goal as a member of the school board is for students of color to feel a sense of belonging in ETHS. The student summits are one way she hopes to promote this feeling.
“Some work I’ve been particularly proud of is the expansion of the student summits and how well they’ve been attended. Students get so much benefit from [the summits], and I feel like it fosters a sense of belonging. I hope that by showing students that they belong [at ETHS], they’re able to reach their highest potential,” Rolewicz said.
Community and student input is at the forefront of Rolewicz’s mind as she makes plans for the future of district 202.
“I want everyone to feel like they have a place here and a voice,” she said.
Ultimately, Rolewicz hopes that through her position on the school board, she will be able to bring change that will benefit students in need and bring District 202 together as a community.
“An ideal ETHS would be where everybody feels like it’s their school and realizes that they are a crucial part of the community.
In the mid-1990s, Kristen Scotti was a student at a West Chicago Community High School. Yet, unlike many of her classmates, Scotti experiences several chronic conditions, including ADHD, autism, a connective tissue disorder, as well as dysautonomia. These conditions have permanently altered the way Scotti navigates life, especially within school environments.
“I was the quiet neurodivergent person. It was internalized. So I was kind of just forgotten about in school,” said Scotti. “I have a connective tissue disorder, and I also have dysautonomia. They started manifesting as you get a little bit older, more teenage age instead of when you were born, which made high school very difficult.”
Like many people who experience similar disorders and symptoms, Scotti has been faced with ableism since her childhood, making it difficult to cope and adjust to traditional school environments. As a disabled person, she has been forced into a life of self advocacy, something that disabled students today are incredibly familiar with. Due to the extra challenges disabled students face, many often take non traditional schooling paths, which is something Scotti has experienced.
She did graduate high school but didn’t immediately go on to college. She and her family simply couldn’t afford it, and it just wasn’t feasible at the time. Scotti moved out as soon as she graduated, but it was difficult to get and maintain jobs without a college degree. She often had to work two positions to afford necessities like rent and food.
“For several years, it was more odd jobs,” Scotti said. “I would usually have a primary job and then jobs for supplemental income. I was a paralegal for a law firm, I worked in a courthouse for a while, I was a credit manager for a trucking company for a good while. Those were my more constant jobs, and then I had a whole lot of random stuff like telemarketing and stuff like that.”
It took until she was 29 for Scotti to move on to college, first doing night classes at a community college. Initially, she just wanted to get a degree and a decent job. Then she took an astronomy course with another professor whose class she loved. That class would change her life.
“He talked about these NASA opportunities, these research opportunities you could do, and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to apply for that,’ not thinking I would get in. I got a short internship thing. It was an aerospace scholars program. I got into that, then I applied for another one, and I got that too.”
Scotti started doing microgravity research, taking multiple rides on parabolic flights that simulate anti-gravity to conduct research. She continued doing this, eventually moving into material science. Scotti got involved in the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the largest scholarship provider in the United States, and she ended up winning a full-ride scholarship to Northwestern University.
“The process was I was supposed to submit two essays to start with to determine if they were going to recommend me,” said Scotti. “I was really insistent I wasn’t going to get in, and I was really busy with finals. So I only actually submitted one. I didn’t even realize I had submitted it, and then I got a call back that I was recommended. I needed to hurry up and finish the other essay, I was shocked. So I submitted the rest of my essays, and then I got a call that I won. That was probably a core memory for me.”
According to Scotti, Northwestern, as good of a school as it is, isn’t the most accessible university. The campus is very spread-out, complicating things for disabled folks. In lab science specifically, it is challenging when dealing with a disability.
Beyond her challenges, Scotti has done very well academically while at Northwestern. In 2016, she was selected as an Undergraduate Awards regional winner in Math and Physics for her paper Ice-Templating in Microgravity: Toward the advancement of environmentally responsible materials processing – on Earth and in space. The research was about making porous materials, specifically using microgravity, to understand how gravity influences the process of making these structures to make them more environmentally friendly and better on Earth.
“I definitely wouldn’t say I’ve thrived,” said Scotti. “It’s more been survive than thrive. I can’t say that I would recommend this for somebody because Northwestern isn’t great for disabilities. Some majors are worse than others, and lab science in particular is very tough. So it’s just been surviving.”
After moving to Evanston, Scotti had a child, who, now a junior, has helped her understand that the problems she faced growing up neurodivergent are still present. This motivated her to run for a District 202 school board position.
“I’ve seen some of the great equity work that’s being done at the district. But I’m seeing that it could be better with more of an intersectional lens. I can add to that,” said Scotti. “My top priority is looking at suspension data, because disabled students are getting suspended way too much. A very close second priority is revamping the assistive tech program because, in a lot of classes, students aren’t getting what they need.”
Scotti wishes to leave no child behind at ETHS and District 202.
“I watched a lot of board meetings over the years, and it’s discouraging to watch people celebrate metrics when there’s a 99 percent graduation rate because, you know, that one percent that are not graduating, these are students, these are humans, these are people. I cannot be okay with that unless it’s 100 percent,” said Scotti.
Scotti wants to make small changes to get ETHS as close to perfect as possible regarding disabilities. While ETHS does offer some resources for disabled students, these resources are often only accessed through means of self advocacy by the students themselves, which is a cycle that Scotti would like to break. By being the representation that disabled students need, she hopes to bring these issues to the frontlines of discussions surrounding student success and well being. According to Scotti, nothing is ever perfect, but there is massive room for improvement that needs fixing here at ETHS and beyond.
“The alternative,” she said. “The alternative is terrible. It’s a life of struggling in a lot of cases. I look at the data in my community, and I want it to get better. I mean, in the worst-case scenario it’s life or death. In a slightly better scenario, it’s prison. This is not a joke.”
In the past few years, ETHS has been toeing a line many high schools are forced to walk: the often-treacherous balance of academic performance and the prioritization of student wellbeing. It seems that every administrative action the school takes tips this scale too far in one direction or another– every issue sometimes feels like a lose-lose scenario.
District 202 school board candidate Leah Piekarz believes the root of this issue is a disconnect between administrative higher-ups and the student body.
“I think students need to feel seen and heard and not feel that they shouldn’t be seen and heard,” Piekarz said. “We need that input. We need to know what teachers’ experience is. But I think we also probably have to balance that with maybe some evidence-based research on what is working and what’s not working.”
Having retired from ETHS just last year after working for 21 years as a counselor, Piekarz feels she is uniquely qualified for this position. In her mind, occupying such a role for such a long time has helped her forge relationships not only inside the building but in the greater Evanston community.
“I’ve become a part of the community,” she said. “I’ve worked here. I live here. My husband also has lived in the community and worked at the high school for over 30 years. My two stepchildren graduated from [the] high school. So what I think that means is that I really do understand what happens on the inside of ETHS.”
Piekarz grew up in Western Springs, a suburb of Chicago around 20 miles from the city. Her first job in education was as a Spanish teacher in Chicago’s south suburbs, where she worked for seven years prior to earning a Master’s Degree in school counseling. Her first exposure to Evanston was through an internship at ETHS. She was immediately drawn to the town, which she attributes to the similarities Evanston shared with where she formerly worked.
“I did my teaching on the south side. It had a diverse student body, a very working-class neighborhood,” said Piekarz. “I felt like [Evanston] was a pretty progressive district and had a unique mix of diversity. And I was really drawn to that.”
Piekarz sees her experience as a counselor setting her up to deal with student wellbeing–both physical and emotional-if elected to the school board.
For Piekarz, one of the most paramount facets of student well-being is mental health.
“I have a first-hand view of the mental health crisis and just how important social-emotional learning and support is,” she said. “I lived through the pandemic at the high school myself, and can really see how that affected students and staff and our community.”
I have a first-hand view of the mental health crisis and just how important social-emotional learning and support is.
— Leah Piekarz
However, since ETHS returned from its Covid-induced hiatus, mental health hasn’t been the only aspect of well-being at the forefront. On December 16th, 2021, two firearms were recovered by an ETHS resource officer. Earlier this year, another gun was found on the premises, an attempted kidnapping occurred just blocks from the school, and a man was shot outside of the McDonald’s on Dodge and Dempster with ETHS students present. Piekarz emphasized how firmly she believes that physical and emotional safety go hand in hand. That said, she knows such disastrous incidents must be addressed: “We are sadly at a point where we do have to look at– what is our weapons detection system?” Said Piekarz. “I sadly think that we’re just at a point where we can’t not consider that.” Nevertheless, Piekarz was repeatedly keen on clearing the air of any misconceptions about her stance. In her words, “I also don’t want people to feel like they are under constant surveillance. I don’t want people to feel policed at school.”
When interviewed last year on the subject of her retirement from counseling, Piekarz remarked that she wanted to enjoy some relaxation in her new-found time. Now, less than a year has passed and she’s running for school board. For Piekarz, her love for the Evanston community made her unable to walk away from serving it. Though she enjoyed her– albeit short– time away, certain events on the national scale drove her to get involved in local politics.
“I think this is where what’s happening outside of ETHS and in our larger community in our country has affected me. I think that as we see what’s been happening with the political divisions in our country– what’s happening in Congress. What’s happening across the country, in some cases in schools and school boards. What’s happening with DeSantis in Florida,” said Piekarz, referencing the Florida governor’s recent ban on the AP African American studies class. “It can be overwhelming and can make you feel very disillusioned. And so it seems like I just felt like the thing you have the most control over is your immediate environment. Your local community. And so rather than stand back and be disillusioned and be upset, you’ve got to be part of the solution. You’ve got to get involved.”
According to Piekarz, the principle buoy of her candidacy is a genuine love for ETHS and the Evanston community, one that can only be fulfilled by public service.
“We can create change, and we can do better,” she said. “We can always do better.”