If last week’s school board elections were litmus tests on where residents in Oak Park and River Forest stand on a range of racial equity-related measures implemented in River Forest School District 90, Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 and Oak Park and River Forest High Schools District 200, the results are in.

The three incumbent D90 school board members responsible for implementing curriculum changes, committees, policies and procedures designed to address the district’s racial opportunity gap — such as racial bias training for staff and board members, and a racial equity policy — were reelected.

Ralph Martire, the current D90 board president who ran for election to the D90 board in 2014 on the need for establishing a racial equity policy to govern River Forest schools, was elected to sit on the D200 school board — just in time to help them implement their own racial equity policy.

Meanwhile, Gina Harris, the top vote-getter in the D200 race is an Oak Park teacher and national union leader who ran on a platform of ramping up the district’s focus on restorative justice and implicit bias training, as well as on the need for a strong racial equity policy and procedures that integrated the interests and concerns of the high school’s teachers.

Three highly involved parent-leaders within D97 were elected to the school board to help execute the racial equity policy that the board approved in March — a policy that those parents helped draft and that the current D97 board president, who was reelected to another term, voted for.

In River Forest, voters reelected incumbents Barbara Hickey, Richard Moore and Calvin Davis to the D90 board and chose Kathleen M. Avalos to serve an open 2-year term on the board in a race that, of all three elections, featured the clearest philosophical divide on equity between some candidates.

The three incumbents pointed to a range of curriculum and policy changes designed to “move all children in the right direction,” Moore said. 

Some residents in River Forest, however, expressed concern during the election that some of those changes were too swift and would potentially destabilize and dilute the learning of D90’s high achievers.

“My idea of equity is investing to bring the bottom up without putting limits on the top,” said Steve Lefko, Avalos’s only opponent for the 2-year board seat. 

“That statement has implicit bias,” Avalos said. “That’s not good language … we’ve moved away from describing kids as rabbits and turtles, because that’s offensive.”

Davis said that some River Forest residents “only speak of the top 15 percent” of students in the district. “What about the other 85 percent? We speak of all the students and everyone.”

Avalos defeated Lefko, taking 63 percent of the vote. Hickey, the top vote-getter, claimed nearly 25 percent of the vote while Moore and Davis garnered 22 percent and 16 percent of the vote, respectively.

In Oak Park, challenger Jung Kim was the top vote-getter in a field of five candidates vying for four seats on the board. Kim garnered 25 percent of the vote, followed by challengers Cheree Moore and Gavin Kearney, who garnered roughly 23 percent and 21 percent of the vote, respectively.

During interviews last month, Kim, Moore and Kearney — all of whom have experience serving on PTOs in the district — said that the district could improve how it communicates and engages with families, particularly those who are marginalized by race, income status, ability and other factors.

Incumbent Holly Spurlock said that she looks “forward to an opportunity to work hard on behalf of the students, staff, families and community to implement the recently approved equity policy and fulfill our commitment to meet the needs of all of our students.” 

The D200 board elected two new members. Gina Harris led a field of six candidates for three open seats on the board, with roughly 22 percent of the vote. Incumbent Sara Dixon-Spivy was just behind Harris, with 21.5 percent of the vote. Martire, currently the D90 board president, garnered just over 18 percent of the vote.

Dixon-Spivy, who is entering her second term on the board, worked closely with Martire on D200’s Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee, and the Tri-District Committee on Equity, which entails Districts 90, 97 and 200 regularly meeting to discuss ways of collaborating to help improve equity across districts.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

Join the discussion on social media!