The person likely to become the next superintendent of Evanston Township High School says the school needs to work with the Evanston Police Department, and did not advocate removing school resource officers from ETHS.
However, Marcus Campbell told a panel of students that “we have to look at the model” to see if there is “a different way the school can engage” with the police, because an “either/or” of officers vs. no officers in school is “very problematic.”
Campbell, the long-time ETHS principal, is the only candidate as of now to replace Eric Witherspoon as superintendent. Witherspoon is retiring at the end of this school year following 16 years in office.
So barring a completely unexpected shock, the District 202 Board of Education will name Campbell to the position later this spring.
Still, as part of the process, Campbell answered questions from a half dozen students, and 15 adults during separate Q and A sessions on March 31.
The district is asking community members to watch those sessions, and let the school board know what they think of Campbell’s answers.
Campbell grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and told the student panel that being a Black person with police in that community was not always easy.
And now, Campbell said, he is raising two Black sons, and he sometimes “worries about them wearing a hoodie” when they go out.
At the same time, Campbell said as ETHS principal, he has been “privy to some very difficult situations we have faced as a school,” such as the December incident when two loaded guns were discovered in the building, the school was locked down for several hours, and three students were charged with crimes.
Campell said the two uniformed ETHS resource officers were very involved in resolving that situation, and said “I don’t see law enforcement itself as a problem.”
ETHS, he added, “can and should have some sort of healthy partnership with police,” which is grounded in equity, and in understanding what it can mean for some students who may react negatively to seeing police in school.
Campbell said the police-in-school model should be evaluated to see if there is a better way of doing things, but did not call for removal of officers from the building.
“If you sever the ties and something happens in school,” Campbell noted, “the first thing some people will say is you got rid of the SROs and maybe they could have made a difference.”
Campbell said that his “core value going into education was to be a role model for children, particularly for Black males, because I saw so many of my [childhood] friends in difficult situations.”
Several of the students, both Black and white, said having a Black superintendent would be “very empowering,” in the words of one, for the entire community.
And in the adult panel, one participant noted that if Campbell is, as expected, appointed as superintendent, both Evanston public school districts would have a Black person in the top administrative position. (Devon Horton is the superindendent of District 65).
Rabbi Rachel Weiss, a panel member, said Campbell should be “bold and daring” if he becomes the leader of District 202.
Campbell said he will try to continue the positive work done by Witherspoon, but would blaze his own trail as well.
A student questioner said “Dr. Witherspoon was universally respected by everyone. How will you fill those shoes?”
Campbell said that Witherspoon’s guidance and mentorship are big reasons he’s under consideration for the superintendency right now, and that Witherspoon was the first to suggest that he could become a district leader in the first place.
But, Campbell noted, “I will say respectfully that I will fill my own shoes.”
Both Q and A sessions, along with a public survey form, can be found on the ETHS website.