D65 residents seek a ‘visionary’ superintendent in upcoming search

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Sneha Dey/Daily Senior Staffer

Anne Noland and Debra Hill of BWP and Associates Consultants. The firm has a history with leading superintendent searches in other communities.

Sneha Dey, Web Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 residents want a “visionary” superintendent committed to racial equity and restorative practices, according to a community report. 

Through surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews, about 1,040 participants were asked about the district’s strengths and challenges as well as the next superintendent’s desired characteristics. Anne Noland and Debra Hill, of the superintendent search firm BWP & Associates consultants, presented a summary of the 295-page report to the D65 board meeting Monday. 

“The attempt was to have us listen to one another,” said Hill. 

District strengths include excellent teachers, student diversity and a community wide commitment to equity, according to the report. Lack of cultural diversity, an inequitable distribution of funds and an unfocused curriculum were some of the district challenges residents hope to see addressed. Interpersonal skills, knowledge of climate issues and communication skills are among the qualities district residents are looking for in the next superintendent. 

Individual responses were included in the report. Students quoted in the report consistently brought up a need for staff diversity. 

One Nichols Middle eighth-grader emphasized the need for students of color to see models of themselves in the classroom. Student names were not included in the report.

The firm recommended staff diversity, academically rigorous programming directed at gifted students of color and more administrative support to improve general morale. 

Board President Sunith Kartha questioned whether additional programming was a priority at the moment.

“I’m not sure I saw that as highly reflective as the need to…retain black teachers, the need to address the achievement gap,” said Kartha.

The search comes after former superintendent Paul Goren formally announced his resignation in June. Goren, a long term resident, served as superintendent for five years. Stacy Beardsley, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, was appointed as interim superintendent for the summer break. 

Phil Ehrhardt and Heidi Wennstorm now serve as co-interim superintendents for the 2019-20 academic year. 

At the meeting, students and educators pled the board to prioritize climate literacy and equity-focused candidates in the search. 

In 2015, only 28 and 27 percent of black and Latinx students met English and Language Arts benchmarks on the PARCC test, while 54 percent of white students in District 65 met those same standards. In 2018, only 15 percent of black students and 20 percent of Latinx students met ELA benchmarks. 

Adult educator and Evanston resident Wendy Yanou said when her oldest son attended Oakton Elementary School in 2002, the reading pullout groups were almost all white.

“I would hear these are the students who tested into these levels…it wasn’t statistically possible,” Yanou said. “Our students of color don’t have time to wait.”

Two of the ETHS students who led the climate march last Friday, stressed the need to add climate education into the curriculum.

The new superintendent is scheduled to be announced in January.

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