District 65 offices at the JEH Education Center.

Even though the first shovelful of earth has not yet been turned, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is going to hire a principal soon for the new 5th Ward school.

The $40 million, K-8 building will not open until the 2024-25 school year, but the new principal will help plan instructional, community relations and staff development activities between now and then.

The new facility will fill the void of not having a neighborhood school in the 5th Ward. The previous school was closed decades ago, with the predominantly Black student population bused to other schools around town.

The job description on the District 65 employment application site says the new principal will also “Research the history of the school community and develop a plan to prominently display that history and community legacy in the school.”

The principal will also “develop a plan for naming the school” unless the Board of Education makes the decision.

The school board’s decision to build a 5th Ward school is among many items outlined in the district’s semi-annual “Miracles” report separate from the jobs posting. The just-issued “Miracles” document covers what the district lists as positive academic, social and financial achievements in the 2021-22 school year.

To say that 2021-22 was a challenge is an understatement at best. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, discipline problems at Haven Middle School, nooses found near that school, racist email and phone messages sent to school officials, and the $500,000 bodyguard contract for Superintendent Devon Horton all added up to a year that many are happy to now see in the rear-view mirror.

In fact, in the “Miracles” report, Horton says 2021-22 was “by far the most challenging” year in his two-decades-plus in education.

Devon Horton.

However, the “Miracles” document also contains nearly 20 pages of positive achievements, including Academic Skills Centers, a tutoring program established to help students make up scholastic losses incurred during the pandemic.

The report says those centers helped improve test scores, particularly among Black students in math.

The report discusses the district’s response to COVID-19, and says that more than 120,000 tests were given, with a positivity rate of only 1.01%. There were also several vaccination clinics for children.

The new student assignment plan, which includes the 5th Ward school, was also a major change adopted in 2021-22 (to take effect in 2024-25). The redistricting plan also closes the Bessie Rhodes magnet school building and transfers that program to a “school within a school” in the 5th Ward building.

The report says the new attendance boundaries will “address historic inequities that continue to most significantly” impact students of color. It notes that this is the first boundary review in nearly 30 years.

Some of the changes will no doubt be applauded by everyone in District 65, such as the upcoming addition of a 4th and 5th grade sports program.

Others, no doubt, will be controversial.

But the superintendent makes it clear that change will be a constant.

Many things are working now, he says, and the community must honor those who “pour their heart and soul” into what they are doing.

But he also adds that “there are areas that are cracked, that are not serving the best interests of the students, … [and] those have to go.”

“It’s time for some serious excavation,” Horton says. “Put on your hard hat on and let’s go, D65!”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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10 Comments

  1. Where is the money coming from to hire and pay a principal for a school that doesn’t even exist yet? The money for the building itself was to come from the decreased busing to a 5th Ward school. Dr. Horton is letting go of reading support specialists but he has the cash to pay a friend (and no doubt it will be someone he knows) to be a ghost principal? Do the hard work to educate all children in our district, Dr. Horton. Hiring and naming a new school is easy, and our kids deserve more.

  2. Get ready for a cps re-tread with AUSL connections, antagonist attitude toward teachers and literally no track record of results… hired in the dead of night with no transparency.

  3. I am a major critic of the board and of Horton but I will strongly argue that adding a school in the fifth ward is a real major concrete win for equity in Evanston. Everyone should be able to walk to their local school in this city. Opening a brand new school seems like a ton of work, so hiring a principal this far out seems reasonable to me, someone has to coordinate hiring/recruitment, curriculum, culture, working with the community, planning schedules, etc all that stuff. Lots of work to be done. I commend Horton and the Board for this (but I’m still not voting for them!)

    1. I wish that were correct, but given past history, it is most likely due to getting more incompetent cronies on the gravy train while there is still time.

      1. That does seem to be what’s going on.

        Things may well change next spring when the present school board is replaced by voters (hopefully). In the meantime, money will spilled like water everywhere in case the fun ends next year.

  4. It is actually possible to support a 5th ward school and not support Horton, who seems to enjoy publicity and private security a bit much.

  5. Why does a school that won’t exist until 2024 need a principal now? Isn’t there someone in the vast current administration who can handle community history research and pick a name for the school? Why pay someone over $300,000 to do that?

  6. So let me get this right…we are going to pay someone for two years to develop untested, unproven curriculum instead of licensing such curriculum which has data behind its effectiveness? Is that really our plan?

    And even if you’d say such curriculum doesn’t exist to buy, the point remains. We are literally putting our kids through experiments here in Evanston. Is no one outraged? Leave the experiments to professional academia with grant money and data tracking. Imagine if we just came up with our own local COVID vaccine. Would you send your kids?

    1. I don’t think that’s the plan at all. The majority of the curriculum in the new school is mandated by the State of Illinois, not the local district. I’m sure it’ll have a D65 Equity flavor but this isn’t some kind of special project. You guys are all being really dramatic about this. It takes a lot of work to staff up a school, organize all the curriculum parts, interact with the community, etc. You need someone to do that work and 2 years to me doesn’t sound unreasonable, the hiring and recruiting alone is going to take at least a year.

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