Supt. Devon Horton and Board President Sergio Hernandez at Monday night's District 65 board meeting.

Whoever takes Devon Horton’s place as superintendent of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 might not have to do something Horton and his predecessors were required to do: Live in the district.

Horton is leaving at the end of June to become superintendent of the DeKalb County, Georgia, school system.

At Monday night’s District 65 Board of Education meeting, board members talked about the search process for finding a new top administrator.

One option kicked around (with no decision made yet) was to drop District 65’s residency requirement for the superintendent.

That rule is specifically spelled out in Horton’s contract, with language explaining why: “The Superintendent shall maintain residency within the boundaries of the School District,” the contract states, “to establish a strong presence and to be an active participant in school and community activities.”

But the idea that “you work here, you live here” may not fly any more with the current board, some of whom were on the panel that hired Horton under the very residency requirement which might now be dropped.

Board member Biz Lidsay-Ryan said “the level of intensity of being superintendent entails being invovled in rhe community whether you like it or not.”

Recalling hostile and racist messages Horton received earlier in his three-year tenure, Lindsay-Ryan said the superintendent “needs to be able to go home and recharge” due to the “level of resistance and threat” which can exist, and that could mean living outside of the district.

Board member Joey Hailpern he is open to discussing the residency rule, noting “it’s not a deal-breaker for him” if it’s dropped.

And Omar Salem, the newest board member, said while he “sees some value” in residency, it might be a good idea to offer an “added stipend” if the new superintendent lived in the district voluntarily.

“Combat pay,” Salem said, with a laugh.

As a group, board members seemed in favor of hiring a search firm to find candidates to replace Horton, as opposed to doing the search themselves.

The board also hopes to name an interim superintendent before Horton leaves. The board will handle that search.

Half a dozen community members spoke to the board, praising Horton’s work with District 65.

Horton will make $325,000 as superintendent of the much larger DeKalb County system, a $62,500 raise over what he is making in Evanston.

Besides the pay bump, Horton will also get something else in his DeKalb County contract — a requirement that he lives within that county.

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. I hope they do drop the residency requirement. Although where a prospective superintendent intends to live can be a consideration. For example, if a candidate lived 1000 miles away and would only be in town on days when there were board meetings, that would be an issue.

    If a candidate lived in the part of Skokie that was not in D65 then they would be just as available to engage with the community as anyone.

  2. How can these people say this after part of the reason they kept schools closed during the Covid lockdown was citing that teachers didn’t live in town

  3. “Going home to recharge”? There was absolutely no evidence that the messages Horton received came from within the community. Horton received those messages because he did an interview with the Wall Street Journal which is a NATIONAL publication. He wants to burnish his national credentials? Fine. But the Board shouldn’t use it as an excuse to drop the residency requirement.

  4. Wow! They found yet another way to lower the standards while passing blame that it’s just another hazard in the fight for equity.

  5. “Combat pay?” Yeah, that’s hilarious, Mr. Salem. A superintendent making six figures needs combat pay. Not the teachers who continue to work in hostile unsupportive environments, not the students & their families who are consistently failed by this district, not the team of dedicated staff at JEH that are forced to work for a corrupt at worst sketchy at best administrative team that’s draining the coffers of the district while continually failing the students, offending the teachers/building staff and destroying the parent/caregiver/guardian-school bond/relationship. Not funny, Mr. Salem. Not funny at all.

  6. As the ‘Skeptic’ says above, the only reason there was anything bordering on ‘harassment’ was largely a result of Horton’s own actions.

    He first got on Fox’s radar in August 2020 after he announced on a public Zoom call that “black and brown students” would be given priority on in-person learning as schools began to reopen in fall of 2020.

    Of course that was an irresponsible thing to say and he had to walk back the comments once they were reported in the media.

    What it showed me is that Horton was not “ready for prime time.”

    This stems from the completely flawed and secretive search process that they used to appoint him in the first place. Unlike the previous superintendents who were publicly vetted as part of groups of finalists who came to town to meet the community, Horton’s name wasn’t released until he was hired.

    The process was akin to the College of Cardinals releasing the ‘fumata blanca’ coming out of the Sistine Chapel once a Pope has been selected.

    Had his name been released he would have instantly come under scrutiny for his lack of experience and questionable financial dealings.

    Maybe he was better than the rest of the pool of candidates? Who knows? The public was never given any names at all.

    The one thing that is quite troubling this time around is that it appears that the board is paving the way for another secretive hire. The argument back in 2019–echoed again last night–was that you get the “best candidates” when you have a secretive search.

    Well, the argument is complete bollocks with regard to Horton since he was part of numerous public searches in 2019 and had no problem applying to Evanston.

    Goren and Murphy were both competent superintendents and came from public searches.

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