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.
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!”