Imagine if the combined student population of Haven and Chute Middle Schools went from the current 1,460 to zero.

That’s about how many students Evanston/Skokie District 65 has lost since the 2016-17 school year.

The dramatic, ongoing decline, from around 7,560 students K-8 to approximately 6,100 now, was a major focus in a recent forum for District 65 Board of Education candidates. Three board seats are up. And with only two incumbents running, that means at least one newcomer will be elected.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

There were actually two aspects to the declining enrollment question: Why it’s been happening, and can anything be done to reverse the trend.

The four candidates taking part in the event, incumbents Sergio Hernandez and Mya Wilkins, and challengers John Martin and Nodona Muboyayi, all agreed that the loss of students is a concern.

Hernandez said District 65 has seen a “30% drop in the black community,” and added that “we’re losing our diversity, and that’s something we don’t want to see in Evanston.”

Sergio Hernandez.

Hernandez said the high cost of living in Evanston is driving out families, something which is beyond the control of the school board. He added that a citywide effort to increase affordable housing is needed.

Hernandez also said there were “families who were upset with us and moved to private school,” especially during the pandemic.

Wilkins, the other current board member, agreed regarding the high cost of living, and also cited general demographic trends of people having fewer children, and families leaving while District 65 went to remote learning during part of the COVID pandemic.

Mya Wilkins

Wilkins also said the board needs to “address the misinterpretation out there that District 65 is not focused on quality.”

She said there should be outreach to families who left, to “invite them back.”

Muboyayi also agreed that Evanston’s cost of living is a big reason for the decline.

Martin said while it may be easy to speculate what’s behind the shrinking student population, he said there should be “exit interviews with families who leave,” to find out why they’re departing. Martin noted that this is done in Wilmette.

Despite declining enrollment, District 65 has seen something else on the rise — the number of administrators getting a district paycheck.

The moderator noted that in recent years, District 65 has grown from 46 administrators to 60, while both the number of students and teachers has dropped.

Martin said increasing administrators while “seeing deep declines in student enrollment” along with cutting teaching positions is “not the right approach.”

John Martin.

Martin said “teachers feel left out of the process,” of what he described as a “top-down” approach to management.

He said that “teachers are crying out for help” and it’s not coming from the district.

Hernandez, the current board president, said the administrative increase was actually done to help teachers, by transferring some of their duties to others.

“We heard from educators that they need some of their responsibilities taken off of their plate so they can do their jobs.”

He also said that District 65 is bucking the nationwide trend of teacher shortages by having a teacher residency program to train future educators, plus another program to let paraprofessionals earn teaching degrees.

Wilkins, the other incumbent, said that “in order to make transformational change, you need to have the support and resources to be able to do that, and sometimes that means added administrators.”

Muboyayi said certain administrative increases can be justified, but the number of teaching positions should not have been cut.

Ndona Muboyayi.

To learn more about the candidates’ backgrounds, and see what they had to say about other issues such as equity, finances, and the 5th Ward school, you can watch the debate on the League of Women Voters’ website, Then click the link to the District 65 forum.

While four candidates participated in the forum, a fifth contender backed out, even though he is still running.

Last week, Omar Salem, a teacher at Niles North High School, posted on his campaign site and on Facebook that while he is absolutely still running, he “will not be participating in any campaign events moving forward … to prioritize spending time with my family.”

While stopping in-person campaigning less than three weeks before the April 4 election is pretty much the opposite of what candidates generally do, Salem said his positions have been stated in other previous events, and voters can still contact him individually.

Evanston Now did try contacting Salem to ask about his non-campaign-event decision, but we have not yet heard back.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Didn’t Omar also just quit the Housing and Community Development Committee which he worked on with Karla Thomas? Any idea of his record on that committee? Was he aligned with Karla Thomas and Devon Reid? Does he think by hiding his position he will breeze through? I have to say I liked him before he basically ghosted us and started hiding his views. This obtuse behavior raises more suspicions than it does if he would just show up and share his views.

    1. No clue about his involvement on that committee but I wouldn’t take his absence from events as an attempt to hide his views. He has been very clear on his views, which to me line up more with the incumbents. At this point there seem to be two camps- the “re-elect incumbents” and “oust the incumbents” side. But there are three seats, and only two incumbents and two candidates that are outwardly anti-current board. Everyone needs a third vote and that would be Omar. He is basically guaranteed a spot so why not spend time with his family before his term starts.

  2. The teacher residency program is a great idea, but it hasn’t been successful and certainly hasn’t been monitored by the incumbents for quality. Hernandez definitely shouldn’t be using it as a speaking point.

    They simply do not hold Horton accountable for anything.

  3. So much gaslighting from current board. You had a chance, now time for something new. The kids are depending on this community to save the schools. Look at the data, not the rhetoric.
    Vote, vote, vote.

  4. Myself along with so many other families I know left the district during the mishandled pandemic and don’t plan to return. Many went to private schools, moved to places where the schools stayed open or to places where the cost of living was equivalent to the quality of education.
    Nobody asked us why we left and nobody seemed to care. Honestly it seemed like if you didn’t agree with the district’s extremist positions and policies, they were happy to see you go- and probably still are.

    For our family personally, we did not think our academically gifted kid would be challenged or that anyone would care that he was bored in school. We also couldn’t afford to waste what was quickly becoming years on remote learning and still keep our jobs.

    I’ve seen no indication that academic standards have improved enough or that teachers are happier or that the kids with emotional and learning needs are getting help or discipline. It looks increasingly like we won’t be returning. Unless maybe Martin, Mboyayi and Salem can turn the boat around.

  5. The sitting Board members both mentioned the high cost of living in Evanston as though the basic necessities of life like groceries are cheaper in adjoining suburbs. Both of them voted to increase the District’s tax levy by the maximum amount last December to support the ever growing and bloated Administration. That is not something which makes Evanston more affordable, even for renters as that increase will be passed on by landlords. And by pining for more affordable housing (something the District can’t make happen), they are both saying that it is out of their hands and have no ideas about what to do.

  6. Lots of people I know left because they didn’t want their kids racialized every minute of every day. Especially the mixed race and multicultural families. But families with white Kids too- how could we ever advocate for their needs without being called a white supremacist? And we didn’t want teachers to be called racists or their friends to be called racist if we disagreed with the school board. Put an anonymous call out for people to share stories about why they left and how painful it was and put them on Horton’s desk. And he will toss it in the garbage.

  7. Given that it is the norm now for board members to quit mid-term (we have had three resignations since the last election), you have to hand it to Omar.

    He’s putting a unique spin on that pattern by essentially resigning before he’s even been elected!

    1. This is actually one of the major reasons I’m not voting for any incumbent. The Board’s collusion to skirt the Democratic process by resigning and then essentially installing proxies with less baggage (thus easier to re-elect) is a major red flag for me in terms of the integrity of the current Board.

      Other reasons they won’t get my vote include – churlishness with anyone they disagree with; degrading the norms of polite conduct with the parent community; refusing – outright refusing – to hold their hired Superintendent and his team accountable for anything; waving away the decline in enrollment with half-baked and speculative theories that aren’t supported by data; increasing spending without increasing oversight; taking credit for things they have no role in; offensively couching draconian and anti-community/anti-collaboration behavior in anti-racist terminology; allowing – and encouraging in some cases – proxies to viciously smear and demean people on social media (this is a big one for me – their behavior reflects the worst aspects of the political culture Trump exploded, and they are behaving as badly as any of his most extreme supporters).

      Why would the city re-elect people who can’t engage in simple, polite dialogue and clearly answer simple, well-intentioned questions? They need to go.

      1. Thank you for mentioning the behavior on social media. Once again they are circulating a bizarre pamphlet written in an odd Jane Austin style that is just straight-up bullying on social media. A current board member who used to be a principal of a school has not just liked these posts but loved them. At this point maybe we should put the Evanston kids on the board since I think they behave more responsibly and ethically than most of these so-called adults.

        1. The online Jane Austin pamphlet is an example of how childish the incumbent side has become in this race. I cannot believe this is coming from Evanston adults. The people who wrote it and continue to circulate it on social media sites parents join to learn about pediatricians and kid hair cuts in Evanston is nothing short of bullying. Their behavior only motivated me to campaign harder to get the incumbents out. We are raising children here, people. We can’t behave like them!

      2. Yes, agreed, my wife is a member of one of those D65 online groups and the behavior by some of the folks on there is just appalling. Any comment that deviates from the approved “party line”, regardless of how sensitively or thoughtfully framed, immediately gets e-shouted down. Unfortunately, this means that only the one opinion is heard because folks who hold alternate views don’t voice them for fear of being attacked and bullied. Who needs that? It’s abhorrent.

  8. I just wish there were better alternatives running for the Board. I researched all the members and it’s hard to envision any real change even after the election.

    1. I think John Martin would at least ask harder questions at meetings and actually push for some more oversight in how the district is operating.

      The community needs at least one person who isn’t going to blindly rubber-stamp everything the front office puts in front of them.

      1. That’s the way I saw it too.
        The incumbents don’t deserve a second chance to continue supervision of the D65 downslide.

    2. I give the non-incumbent candidates credit for putting themselves out there, especially Ndona Muboyayi who’s signed herself up for a second round of slander and burn the witch hysteria Evanston style. Until the citizens of this town make it clear they will not tolerate illiberal trashing of other candidate’s ideas we will never have a good selection of candidates for school board or city council.

  9. I keep hearing the excuse of high cost of living driving out families being cited by D65 Board members as a primary reason for the cratering enrollment. Here, but also in Sergio Hernandez’s Q&A with Evanston Roundtable, where he brings it up on two different occasions to explain away this problem. While high cost of living is definitely an issue for the Evanston community at large, it is one that a) the D65 school board has zero authority over or ability to impact, and b) doesn’t begin to explain why enrollment is down 19% over this time period. From the recent data I’ve seen, the school age population in the district hasn’t dropped by anywhere close to 19%. Hmmmm, that seems to suggest that there must be something else at play.

    So, maybe stop the handwaving about issues that, while they may be real, aren’t related to the question at hand and instead engage in some introspection about what has been happening recently in D65 instead. I won’t hold my breath!

  10. Elections have consequences. And the declining enrollment mirrors the declining test scores district wide. Home property values will shortly follow.

  11. If the district stopped labeling every child by race and gender then perhaps it would have a chance to allow the teachers to instruct math, reading, and real science. Anyone that dares to speak up is labeled a racist and intolerant. Stop teaching the children to hate themselves and each other. Affordable housing won’t fix your problems but you can continue to be blind and push that as a solution.
    You need to fix the problems that you’ve created. The most relevant factors have to do with curriculum and school performance. The severe push for left wing curriculum is definitely a driving force to turn away potential or current students and their families. Evanston does not allow dialogue but instead attacks any opposing viewpoints as intolerant.

  12. Reading this i am waving the white flag of defeat Getting this school district back on track for academic excellence is not going to happen. Mr Hernandez’s response to declining enrollment is 1. We are losing our Black community. We are losing our diversity 2. There is a high cost of living in Evanston 3. Families were upset with us during the pandemic ( Notice the lack of any ownership) Ms Wilkins agrees with Mr. Hernandez that 1. the cost of living is very high in Evanston. 2. Families are having fewer children and 3. The “misinterpretation “ that District 65 is not focused on quality. (It’s not misinterpretation) Now the final reason I have lost all hope in the district are the comments from Ms Wilkins and Mr Hernandez regarding the large increase in administrative positions. He says “We did this to help the teachers” She said “in order to make transformational change sometimes you have to add administrators “

    1. I think it is easy enough to see the progressive ‘transformational change’ taking place over the past few years of this administration and the direction of this change is clearly south, by objective academic performance measures as well as by the lived experience of many students and parents.

      We are headed toward a greater hollowing out of the middle, who will seek private schools (as we did) or move to school systems that deliver better results for comparable taxes. Left in E-town will be those who can afford to pay for private schools, those who cannot afford to leave (or who are fleeing from worse), and those with no children of primary school age. The true believers will also remain here in D65, but how many is that (many liberal peoples’s personal limit is when progressive policy aiming for the supposed greater good is adversely affecting their own kids)?

      1. I am an educator in D65. I happen to be white. I feel similarly as “Transformational Change”, in that I consider myself to be very liberal minded but the district’s recent policies and practices, I feel, seem to further divide instead of just educating and incorporating. I have been ostracized and low key bullied by students of color for being “racist” and my white privilege this, and the “gatekeeping” of culture, etc… I was considering moving to D65 with my family and school aged children. It’s unfortunate because I have always wanted to live in Evanston but I will not be reinvesting my hard earned dollars in the community I loved and where I spend my days. I will not put my children in an environment where they feel as if they have to walk on eggshells and be paranoid constantly about if they are saying the right thing or not. Evanston has gotten too extreme and the current school board has made some awful decisions, many feel. Why was Horton and his entourage given so many more years? Based on what?? I could go on and on about how Horton has many building admin under tremendous stress and of course all of that trickles down to we teachers and students.

        At the same time, independent and reading for pleasure is out the window. With the risk of sounding old fashioned, we really need to “get back to basics”. The teaching of grammar is nearly non existent. At least we somewhat “teach” and practice civics, unlike the rest of the country. Pretty much all of the joy is gone from teaching. We are working with children! Isn’t that tragic that there is so little joy in schools? It doesn’t have to be this way!
        Those comments by the board members in reference to the massively bloated and top heavy admin over there at JEH, what a crock! More admin to relieve teachers of some of their responsibilities? It’s more like they need to create more work for us and for the building administrators to create and analyze more and more and more data so they can justify all of their six figure, cushy positions.
        Let’s be more sensible, people, and make our schools a joyful place of learning for all students and staff. Please vote for responsible transparency and for true building of community in a true democratic fashion. Thank you.

  13. Let’s be honest here….high cost of living is not responsible for the declining enrollment. Skokie, Wilmette, and Oak Park/River Forest have not seen the declines that Evanston has seen in public school enrollment. Let’s stop using that as an excuse. The reason so many families left is they could not get their kids IEP services they so desperately needed, quality of education has decreased and lack of trust in district administrator. Those are the only reasons for the decline.

  14. The data speak for itself. The District 65 is hemorrhaging kids/families — not because people are not having babies anymore, not because of housing insecurity and most certainly not because they’re thrilled with the direction of the District. The pendulum has swung too far. We were asleep at the switch and the town nutters took the wheel. Just look at the behavior exhibited online not only by spouses of D65 Administration members, but also existing D65 BOE members and their proxies. It’s obnoxious, childish, abhorrent — acting like people on the verge of a breakdown; acting like the fascists they claim to hate so much. Maybe it’s because they know that their gig is up? Maybe it’s because they know that the house of cards is tumbling down? I think everyone in this town needs to ask the question: why are they fighting, gripping so hard. WHAT IS IT THAT THEY FEAR LOSING? Because I’ll tell you one thing: it’s most certainly not about the kids. Most of the existing board members spend very little time if any in the 5th ward….learning/helping/supporting the kids/parents/caregivers that they profess to care so much about. They only show up for photo-ops or when they need a fake survey completed; or if they need a vote.

    I truly hope that everyone is talking to their neighbors, friends, parents — urging them to vote and to vote for change. The incumbents need to go. Read & subscribe to the substack “FOIA Gras,” read the articles written by local press…’s beyond me how anyone can look at what is happening here and think — “yeah, let’s vote these current people back in, they’re doing great!”

    Vote for Muboyayi, Martin, and Salem for D65 Board. If you left D65 and still live in Evanston, if your kids no longer go to D65, if you don’t have kids and live here — you too….please, for the love of all that is good vote the incumbents OUT.

  15. If the cost of living in Evanston is one of the primary excuses how do they explain the fact that the local private schools are bursting at the seams with growing enrollment as a result of the D65 exodus?

  16. Would love for Evanston Now to conduct its own interview/poll as to why families left D65.

    1. I agree. I would also love for Evanston Now to conduct an exit poll for all the teachers leaving D65.

      1. I wish there was someway to elicit feedback from teachers NOW. Teachers rightly fear retaliation but their views really count in this decisive time as the District teeters on a precipice

      2. Let me guess, the district’s response to Teacher exit polls that are critical of the administration’s policies: “the teachers that chose to leave could not or would not center racial equity in their practice”.

      3. Every year, D65 teachers and staff complete a 5 Essentials survey to determine admin-teacher-student relations and perceptions. Here’s Haven’s from last year ( We just completed our 5E’s a few weeks ago so expect those results this summer. This should give you a good idea on how parents, teachers, and students view each other and the instruction.. Very interesting..

        1. Thank you for sharing this! There is some alarming data in this survey, especially as it relates to school leadership. Thanks for your service as a teacher in the district.

          What really stands out from a parent perspective is the 17% survey completion rate. This means that only a handful of parents completed the survey. Even though the statewide rate is terrible, this survey is a critical tool for schools to measure the cultural health of their building.


          1. The problem with the 5 Essentials Survey is that it requires you to register to take it, so it’s not viewed as anonymous feedback. And in this totalitarian environment we’re in where if you disagree with the slightest on the leftmost policy proposals you instantly get labeled as a racist, there is going to be a lack of feedback.

    2. I agree. I would pay to allow Bill “the thrill” Smith to have the resources he needs to reach out to all the teachers + administrators + parents who left.

      How amazing would that be? I mean we all know the answers as to why but to actually have it in print with facts & data behind it would be great.

  17. Nope. I know I sound like a child (and maybe I am) but if all of the incumbents get re-elected I am pulling my kids out of District 65. Life is short. My job is to advocate for my kids. This town has lost its mind and apparently never had a soul.

  18. The board member has FAILED our children by acting like a “FAN CLUB” instead of doing the job that they were elected to do. No questions are asked, no demands are made, no results… just a lot of nod, wave and applause to an incompetent superintendent and his administrator friends that have been bleeding out the district with their salaries and unnecessary positions . Seems like the new motto is D65 every child, every day, take what you can $

    No, Ms Wilkins, there’s absolutely no argument for the increase in administrative positions…it actually should be a “hiring freeze”. Tell me how are they supporting the students from central office when there’s not enough teachers, paraprofessionals, staff…when they are receiving their education in buildings that are so old that need maintenance and a good deep cleaning, with bathrooms that reek of pee and sometimes, not even toilet paper is available so the poop smear on the walls are noticeable, in classrooms that are small and lack of light, serving kids unhealthy and unbalanced meals, denying services to kids that need them (because it’s too expensive), kids with IEPs that have not received services or accommodations, how is this conductive of learning? Tell me how are they helping from the distance?

    And please Ms Wilkins, I’m not sure you have kids in the district, because if you did you would be as equally concerned. It’s not a perception that the quality is bad, is a REALITY!

    And No, Mr Hernández, the majority of people have left because they have move to another suburb or city or because they can pay for private school. Because it’s painful and heartbreaking that the education the kids are receiving is less than mediocre. In the past years they have changed the math curriculum 3 times (and not for the better and certainly not cheap, all while the curriculum director has a very juice salary) they have a science curriculum that maybe (if you are lucky) the kids will see 1% because let’s be honest there’s no STEM whatsoever, there’s no challenge, no creativity, no thinking outside the box. Ask about geography, history ? Yes..they have no idea…you know why? Because they don’t get instruction!!! There are not enough teachers and those that are here are trying to pour their hearts into it even when they are being called racists and asked to take classes because of their “white privilege”, terrified to speak because of retaliation (because yes, we all know it’s true)
    And I’m going to ask you, you say you are Hispanic yet you have done nothing for the Hispanic community…wait, I’m lying, yes you have…you have done harm! You kept quiet and sided with the administration when a principal called Spanish language “GIBBERISH” and you didn’t stand up when they said that the Latino parents where being used by “white parents” and were bullying the principal. The community doesn’t forget.

    Current board supported by a group of people including a certain wife of a D65 “white privileged” administrator that keeps harassing the community and that it’s starting to look more like a cult…shhhh don’t say anything, don’t complain because we are all about equity and diversity and race and we are so “woke”

    The district hasn’t raised the bar, they have lowered it and even after doing that, the scores are still not improving, the gap it’s still there. The curriculum that focus in reading, math and writing…guess what? Not even in that are excelling, are all kids reading at grade level?

    If you made it here…Evanston, wake up! We need a board that can challenge the current administration without fear of being called racist. Do it for your kids or for your taxes or the future or education, but do it, go vote.

  19. Once again, I can tell you why we and some of our friends have left-Horton and the Board’s hyper focus on racial politics and dividing people instead of bringing us together. Nothing is getting better as they burn the house down in the name of equity. Lowering standards and how they have treated teachers while handing out admin jobs and leadership roles to buddies is sickening. We pulled our child out and he is doing great at a private school that respects teachers as equal partners and hasn’t forgotten why they exist-to educate our kids.

  20. Hernandez says, “the administrative increase was actually done to help teachers, by transferring some of their duties to others.” As a teacher in D65, I’m curious as to which of my duties have been transferred to someone else. To my knowledge, my workload has only increased with this administration – along with the number of administrative positions filled by people who rarely step foot in the schools.

  21. As parents who had children in D65 since 2008, we moved our youngest child in 2021 after watching the district’s educational quality and civility decline over many years while consistently seeing our concerns over this fact dismissed and disparaged by district leaders. The extended school closures and the absurd in-school but online classrooms were the final straw, but hardly the only one.

    Until D65 returns its focus to teaching and learning as opposed to everything but the needs of students and teachers it will continue to lose both, and our community will suffer the consequences. Don’t let this board pass evade responsibility for its failures. Vote for change.

  22. I left Evanston after 40 years in part because I had absolutely no confidence in the District 65 school board. I was planning on buying a new home and feared a substantial increase in my property taxes. Allowing a $ 500,000 security contract for a superintendent was beyond irresponsible. Building a new school with the existing buildings in poor repair made no sense. I saw many other problems including the falling enrollment. Can’t run government with people with their own personal agendas. I love Evanston and gave 1000s of hours of my personal time to the city. I am saddened by the current situation.

  23. HUMMMMMM, 18% decline in students. What % decline in school budgets/property taxed??????????? Just asking. Clay

  24. Thank you to the person who asked the question “Is Omar a proxy for Stacy Beardsley and Karla Thomas.” That is not a question one should ask about Omar only, it’s a question that should be asked of every candidate. If you spend time tracking the campaign for D65 board in the discussion forums online, and if you talk with teachers in the District, you will quickly learn the importance of this question. It’s high time that Evanston came to a reckoning around the outsized, Mike Madigan-like influence that Stacy & Karla (Starla) have on D65.

  25. As another family who left D65, I echo many of the concerns listed here. It seems like the district’s primary mission is to help raise political activists and radicalize kids at a young age with complete disregard for the actual education. You’re not fostering an environment of inclusion when you sow an environment of racial animosity. My kids do not need to be reading books that tell them whiteness is a bargain with the devil. You’re not helping anybody with an equity initiative when you focus so much on equal outcomes that driving down top performers is not a problem so long as the results get more equal. The strategy used to be to try to give a helping hand up to those in need, but lately it seems like the district’s strategy has been shifted to push down the successful by making kids feel guilty and fill them with self hatred and loathing at a young age. This also hurts others as well, because when you tell a group that they are under systemic oppression and will be perpetual victims, you teach them a mentality of hopelessness and giving up.

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