If one were to peruse the reader comments on this website, they’d think that the hiring of a consultant on race relations would be a major issue dividing candidates in the race for the Evanston Township High School District 202 School Board.

That did not appear to be the case at the first confrontation of all eight candidates at a campaign forum sponsored by the Central Street Neighbors at Haven Middle School Wednesday night.

Moderator Jeff Smith asked the candidates for the April 9 election what they thought of hiring the Pacific Education Group (PEG) several years ago by the district to conduct workshops about the effect of race on the teaching of high school students.

Called “courageous conversations,” these workshops were designed to sensitize teachers, administrators, board members, and others about the cultural challenges that affect African-American students at school.

The two incumbents in the race, Deborah Graham and Gretchen Livingston, said the choice to hire PEG at ETHS was not a board decision, but that if it were proposed today, they would vote against it.

Graham noted that PEG training was divisive for the community and that “to foster that kind of divisiveness is a mistake.” Instead, she said, the community should focus on pre-school opportunities for all youngsters.

Livingston said she objected to PEG’s “exclusive focus on race” and that she would not hire them again.

Pat Savage-Williams, a school psychologist and coordinator of special education services at New Trier High School’s Northfield campus, admitted to participating in PEG workshops in that north shore community, but said the district where she works is confronted with different racial challenges than Evanston due to its overwhelming white majority population.

In the New Trier environment, however, she found it to be “a tool for difficult conversations.”

Most of the other candidates, while not objecting strongly to the idea of gaining a better understanding of racial issues, were not inclined to support hiring PEG again for District 202.

William Stafford, the chief financial officer of District 202, told Evanston Now that the board approved contracting with PEG on Oct. 13, 2009, and that the vote was unanimous, but that as of December, 2012, the board was winding down its relationship, that it has no current contract with PEG, “and only minor expenses this year that are also phasing out.”

On other issues the candidates expressed admiration for the high school, several of them calling it “transformative” in the lives of its students, but vowed to pursue policies that would enable all students to reach their potential, whether it was preparation for college or for a technical or vocational career.

In addition to Graham,Livingston, and Savage-Williams, the candidates appearing at the forum included Elena Garcia Ansani, Andy Bezaitis, Bill Geiger, Doug Holt, and Casey Miller.

Top: The candidates (L-R) Ansani, Bezaitis, Geiger, Graham, Holt, Livingston, Miller, and Savage-Williams.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

Join the Conversation


  1. D202 Candidates and PEG

    Why aren't there any Latino or African American men running for school board?

    And what was with the awful community turn-out for Born Yesterday on closing night?

  2. Two good questions — here’s some food for thought on one

    Until I did an internet search this morning, I didn't know that the high school put on the play Born Yesterday last weekend.  I don't have children attending ETHS so, not surprisingly, I don't get any communication from or information about ETHS activities.

    Our family was out of town for the four-day weekend created by D202 and D65 (last Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday with no school).  Based on our contacts with other families, many of them were going out of town or had long-set plans for that four-day weekend. 

    Given that, I wonder if it was a good idea to schedule the performances when many families were out of town or had prior plans.  But I can understand from the student and teacher perspective, this is a sizeable commitment and it would be nice to have performances at night when there is no school the next day.

    So sorry that I wasn't aware of a community opportunity.  Based on what I found this morning, it looks like it would have been a good performance as we like seeing plays and musicals.  And we would like to support ETHS and its students in their artistic endeavors.

    But when people didn't know that a play was being offered or were out of town for a school-scheduled long weekend, they couldn't attend.

  3. PEG irrelevant

    Even though it is the number one issue for a handful of Evanstonnow readers, a $300,000 contract (spread out over multiple years) out of an annual budget of $73 million dollars is not worth the time Jeff Smith gave it last night.

    1. Sorry, but you are wrong

      The money spent on PEG is money wasted. But it's not the amount compared to the total budget. It's the shameful teachings of PEG that have the potential to damage our students and ETHS for years to come. And it's not a handful of Evanstonnow readers who are concerned. Just watch the election results. I predict that certain candidates are are affiliated with PEG or have taken wishey-washey stances on PEG will not prevail. Kudos to Jeff Smith for highlighting an issue that defines who we are as a community — a place where we pay snake oil salesmen to peddle racist teachings or a community that considers and cares about each individual and the diversity that each person brings.

      1. Wasted time
        Yes, $300,000 + should not be ignored, but the other issue is the amount of time spent by Administrators and Teachers in PEG seminars.
        We can never recover this lost time. Can someone please share with me any data from PEG that shows improved student outcomes because of their work at any school in the country. PEG has been around for 20 years and i have yet to see any information or analysis that suggests improved outcomes for students.

        The reason that PEG is relevant to the D202 election is that some candidates are willing to pursue and engage frivolous organizations that are willing to “sell” our community and others a “solution to our problem.” Remember the musical, “The Music Man?”

        The relevance is that yesterday it was PEG, and tomorrow it will be another organization or effort that will take time and resources away from evidence based programs that can improve student outcomes for all students, especially underperforming students who need the extra assistance.

        We have significant and important issues to address at ETHS.
        That’s why we need to elect responsible, considerate and thoughtful school board members to ETHS.

        It was clear from last night that Elena Ansani, Bill Geiger, Casey Miller, and Pat Savage-Williams support PEG.

        It was also clear that Andrew Bezaitis, Deborah Graham, Doug Holt, and Gretchen Livingston do not support PEG.

  4. Couple of Questions


    How on earth can Graham and Livingston claim that they did not choose to contract with PEG, yet Stafford, the CFO stated that the Board voted unanimously to contract with PEG?

    Graham and Livingston – problem here. Trying to cover your tracks? 

    The question is of your judgement and decision making capabilities. You voted to hire with PEG.  You spent $350,000 on PEG.  That in my judgement disqualifies you from getting my vote.  And I hope anyone else's vote.  You run on your record, and your record of voting for PEG shows me poor judgement in this initiative.

    Also, I would challenge any candidate that voted for PEG (Livingston and Graham) to please justify why they spent that money and then please illustrate the improvements and results attained via PEG.


    Savage-Williams to this day has not come out regarding her position on PEG.  For or against?  Saying you participated in PEG workshops in a different environment (New Trier) has no bearing.  What does have bearing is your post on PEG's blog spot and  your willing participation to support PEG in that blog post (and the use of White Supremacy in your post).  Savage-Williams is dodging the question.   

    Heck, I am single.  No kids, but am a TAXPAYER.

    For those of you have do have kids, and in D202 – pay close attention.  The PEG issue is paramount and a huge looking glass into what kind of board members we will elect in April.

    1. Out of state PEG Summit and Mini Summit for Savage-Williams?

      From the public posting on the Pacific Education Group website, it appears that Ms. Savage-Williams traveled to California for what was billed as a 5-day PEG summit there: Ms. Savage-Williams is listed as attending the following: "Time: October 29, 2011 to November 2, 2011 Location: WESTIN ST. FRANCIS HOTEL Street: 335 Powell Street City/Town: San Francisco Website or Map:… Phone: 415.346.4575 Event Type: summit, conference Organized By: Pacific Educational Group Latest Activity: Oct 29, 2011"

      Here's the webpage.

      Thus far, her comments have focused on attending a PEG training session that made it sound as if the session was held at or near her workplace in Illinois.

      Ms. Savage-Williams, did you travel to California to attend the PEG October-November 2011 Summit there? And it also appears that you attended another PEG "mini summit" in Minnesota in February 2011. Is that accurate? If so, were those trips required by your employer or did you elect to travel to attend those programs?

      Being told that you must attend a course at or near your workplace is one thing. Traveling out of state for two conferences on your own initiative (rather than being required by your employer) appears to reflect a high level of interest and enthusiasm for the subject.

      And you're right — Graham and Livingston seem to be in full-on waffle mode on PEG. I will not vote for them because if the CFO says that the Board vote for PEG was unanimous and they were on the Board at the time, they voted for PEG.

      They made a bad choice on approving PEG and now won't admit that their votes were included in the unanimous Board vote. I had thought that I would be supporting Graham but not any more. I don't like the double talk. But as always, the candidates are invited and encouraged to provide facts, including telling us that the CFO was wrong on that statement.

      1. Insert sound of crickets here

        Ms. Savage Williams, any comment on these questions?  Did you attend two PEG conferences out of state on your own initiative, rather than required by your employer?   

    2. About that ‘unanimous’ vote…

      Details are important.

      Was the unanimous vote for paying the bill on a contract for which they did not vote,  or actually approving of the contract?

      1. Clarification of the unanimous vote

        Good question. I forwarded your query on to CFO Stafford (who is also the board secretary) for a response. Here is his reply:

        "Ms. Graham and Ms. Livingston are correct in that they did not initially vote to hire PEG.  A school committee lead by the Teachers Council selected PEG to conduct a needs assessment at ETHS on race and student achievement.  

        "At the March 23, 2009, Board of Education meeting, at which time neither Ms. Graham nor Ms. Livingston were on the board, the board discussed this assessment and the administration outlined the staff development training that would take place in the future with the assistance of PEG. 

        "As to the October 13, 2009 meeting I was mistaken in that the vote was on paying a bill and not on voting on a PEG contract.  I am sorry for that  misinterpretation… Board members have generally not objected to voting for paying specific PEG bills."   

        1. Stand corrected

          I stand corrected in my original post based on this latest information from Mr. Bartling. 

          Approving payment for a service is one thing (as it appears Ms. Livingston and Ms. Graham did).

          Approving the engagement and hiring contractually with a vendor or service is another thing.

        2. Clarification of the unanimous vote


          What you are saying is that an administrator inserted himself into a political campaign by misrepresenting the truth in a way that made current board members look like they were fibbing to the public?

          Then said…  my bad?

  5. Clear Divide among Candidates on PEG and Restructuring

    Were we at the same forum?  There was a clear divide among the candidates between the fans of PEG (Ansani, Geiger, Savage Williams) and those concerned about both PEG's cost and its ideology (Bezaitis, Graham, Holt, Livingston).  (Beats me where Miller comes out.)  Interestingly, there was pretty much the same divide on the PEG-inspired "restructuring":  Bezaitis, Graham, Holt, and Livingston all agreed on the need for more data to see if this works, while Ansani, Geiger, and Savage Williams seemed willing to proceed on faith.  (Once again, who knows where Miller comes down.)

  6. PEG contract just tip of iceberg

    While the $300,000 paid to PEG is troubling enough, please be aware that the checks written directly to PEG by ETHS barely scratch the surface of ETHS's total expenditures (in dollars, and faculty and student time) on PEG-inspired initiatives.  ETHS employs a "community liaison" focused on "racial equity" who seems to spend most of his time generating and running PEG-like activities .  Also, based on a PEG recommendation, ETHS employs an administrator with a specific responsibility for "racial equity."  (Note, "racial equity," not "equity").  And ETHS pays PEG-trained lead teachers to provide PEG-inspired "professional development"  to their colleagues.

    In addition, my children have been required to participate — during regular classroom time — in activities taken directly from the PEG playbook.  This has even happened in AP classes. 

    Recently, ETHS has taken students out of the building for full-day workshops that follow virtually the same script that other posters have described for adult PEG workshops.  For example, students have been grouped by "affinity groups"  — i.e., race  — for portions of these workshops.  Imagine how the non-white, non-black, non-Hispanic students at these workshops felt when they were consigned to the affinity group for "other."  Being labeled essentially "miscellaneous" has got to be really great for a student's sense of self, no?  No wonder many of the student participants in the first of these sessions refused to attend the second one.

    1. For all students, erase PEG’s influence at ETHS now

      Thanks for highlighting what many of us suspected but did not know — PEG's teachings have taken root at ETHS.  More Evanston residents need to know what's going on.

      Bravo to those students who stood up and said that they would not continue to be part of putting other students in a "race only" box.  And yes, how nice of this so-called "diversity education" company to put students in an "other" box.  That's a true reflection of how sensitive PEG is to individuals.  PEG could not care less about the individual.

      Students at full day, out of the building workshops on this junk?  I can hear the money flying out the window with resources devoted to staffing, transportation, off-site facilities, group meals, PEG involvement, etc., etc..  And what a wasted day for the students who should be spending the time in a classroom.  No wonder we have fallen behind dozens of countries in education.  We ship our students off site for a day (and more — there was a second session at least) to participate in this nonsense.

      What will it take to get the Board to realize that they are harming our students and their achievement by following PEG's teachings?  We must erase all signs and influences of PEG at ETHS.  That's what candidates need to address.  Will the candidate agree to reverse all PEG-inspired programs?  That's what I want to see.  I do not want ANY student humiliated in these racist exercises.  Any staff member who focuses on diversity needs to deal with all aspects of diversity.

      Can parents inform the school in writing that they don't want their students to participate in any workshops that are founded on Critical Race Theory or PEG teachings?  If my child was at ETHS, that's what I would do and I'd take them to a museum for the day. 

      The more that I hear, this is not the place that I want to send my child in the near future.  The Board has allowed this travesty to go on long enough.

      PEG — OUT of ETHS


      1. Keep PEG

        Bravo, eh?  Did anyone check to see the race of the students who did not return?  One of the students who did return for the second workshop said she was one of only six returning white students.  What does it say that the only students who did not want to participate were white?  Do you really think they didn't return because they opposed putting students in a "race only" box?  Did you ever talk to a student of color?  Those I have spoken to suggest that their existence is often determined by only race.  And what does it say that the six who did return had a transformative experience?  To me, it says that PEG's orientation is necessary.

        1. Students of color

          You said "Did you ever talk to a student of color?"

          I assume you mean talk to a 'white' student.   As you should have learned from your physics class, white is [all] colors.  Everything else is an absence of one or more wave length/frequency of the  spectrum.

          You should get the terms straight to avoid confusion.


          1. Avoidance

            Way to avoid the question and spew science.  I hope you don't talk to any students of color or non-color; I'd hate for your attitude to be passed on to them.  In art classes, . . . actually, I'm just going to pray for us all.

        2. Yes, bravo

          Have you ever attended any of the PEG sessions?  Please read the comments of those who have.  No student anywhere should be subjected to the junk that PEG peddles. 

          I have talked to plenty of minority students who do not feel that their entire existence is determined only by race.  They see themselves as individuals.  Unfortunately, plenty of students ages 14-18 are likely not to stand up to such nonsense.  So bravo to those who did not return, no matter what their race. 

          No opposition to quality diversity education.  Complete unwillingness to accept that the answer is to support Critical Race Theory sold by PEG.

        3. Not true-try again

          This is not true.  I know several stidents who did not return who were previously placed in the "other" group.  I also know some whites who didn't like being catagorized and a couple of african-americans who didn't like being sterotyped!

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *