Superintendent Devon Horton talks hybrid learning, racial equity goals


Daily file illustration by Carly Schulman

District 65 and District 202 held a joint board meeting on Monday. Members discussed joint literacy programs and next steps to achieve student literacy goals.

Julia Richardson, Assistant City Editor

Even before Devon Horton assumed his role as Evanston/Skokie School District 65 superintendent, he committed to prioritizing racial equity. Now, as D65 prepares to reopen for hybrid learning amid parent controversy, Horton said he’s confident the district’s program will be beneficial to students he deems “high priority.” The Daily Northwestern spoke to him about the upcoming hybrid learning launch, and checked in on his progress toward meeting his racial equity goals.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

The Daily: The District plans to allow all interested elementary students to return to school buildings, as well as some “high priority” middle school students. How are you setting these priorities, and what else are you considering as you lead District 65 into its hybrid learning launch this month?

Horton: We are in the process of getting ready to open our school for the first time in almost a year. We have five different unions that we have to work with. We’ve met about 23 times in bargaining from August up until two weeks ago to actually get an agreement.

My priority is students with free and reduced lunch, Emergent Bilingual and English Learner students, special education and our homeless population. We are happy to say today that we were able to roughly satisfy close to 90 percent of families that wanted to return for our return plan that’s launching on the 16th.

The outlook on all of this is that we are hoping and planning to not return in any form to school the way that we knew it in the past. We know that structure is not working for many of our students.

The Daily: How will the day be structured for students who return in-person?

Horton: For our pre-K through fifth grade schools, there’s an AM and a PM design. In our AM design, those students will have access to be a part of what we call “hybrid plus.” When they get out at 11 in the morning, they then work with a community partner who will stay in our buildings.

For our middle schools, we use the same priority structure. We’re bringing back all of the students who fit one of those priority categories, as well as some additional non-priority students. Each principal had a unique way to identify who got those seats.

So those students will be in school four days a week. The teachers will teach the student that’s in front of them for in-person, and have a group of students that’s home and remote, and we’ve been doing professional development for those teachers moving forward.

The Daily: What have you already accomplished with regard to racial equity in D65, and what are you hoping to accomplish in the future?

Horton: Coming into the district, there’s a ton of work that’s been done around equity.
We’re getting ready to do what we call diversity, equity and inclusion assessments for a cohort of about 100 of our staff members. Each school will have racial equity assessment review teams, where they will be looking at practices inside of the schools around racial equity or curriculum selection teaching strategies and use of data to identify differences between our White, Black and Latinx students and our other populations. This group will be charged with taking our central office vision around equity and moving it to the seats of the students.

We applied for a grant in my first month here through Illinois State Board of Education to build an urban teacher residency with a focus on building teachers that have diverse backgrounds. We are currently in a recruiting stage of identifying individuals who have at least a bachelor’s degree that have the desire to go into the teaching field. They’re going to do training through Northwestern. We’ve identified two schools where they’ll do either stem training or elementary education. They’ll be taking coursework for one full year, so they’ll graduate with a master’s degree, and then we’ll hire them.

The Daily: Where do D65 staff fall in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Horton: This past week was the first week we had about 400 staff members have access to get vaccinated. We’re working through AMITA Health. They reached out to us and told us that they had doses for our staff, so we got that information out within 90 minutes, and two days later we had staff getting vaccinated. Some are getting the vaccine this week, and this will go on, probably, for the next few weeks.

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Twitter: @juliaa_grace

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