The teacher residency program logo.

District 65 is looking for teachers who have never taught.

“These are career changers with other life experiences,” says Devon Horton, superintendent of the Evanston/Skokie school system. “They have the itch to teach,” but have been doing something else.

So Horton has created a program called CREATE, the Collaborative Residency for Achievement and Equity. The first 20 residents will be chosen next month for the upcoming school year, from among more than 50 applicants.

Candidates range from recent college graduates, to mid-career professionals, to retirees looking for a new challenge.

Unlike traditional teacher training, where student teachers are in front of the classroom for only a quarter or a semester, a resident teaches for an entire school year, under the guidance of an experienced educator.

“There’s an art and a science to teaching,” Horton says. “We train them while they’re in the classroom.”

Not only that, but District 65’s teacher residents are paid. The $30,000 salary makes it easier for a resident to give up a different job in order to pursue the dream of teaching.

As part of the program, each resident is enrolled in either Northwestern University or National Louis University, and receives a master’s degree after wrapping up the year. College classes begin in the summer, and are also held at night or on Fridays. Residents are teaching Monday through Thursday.

“This is a partnership between the universities and the school district,” he says.

Besides the degree, teaching residents also land something else critical … a job.
No need to send out dozens of resumes. District 65 will hire the residents if they successfully complete the program, and give them a four-year contract.

With 50 to 60 teacher retirements or other departures per year in the Evanston/Skokie schools, Horton says there will be plenty of room for the newcomers. In fact, he says one reason to have the residency program is to head off a teaching shortage which some other districts are already facing.

“We will place them strategically throughout the district,” he says, filling areas of need, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), or emergent English language learning.

While District 65 has 18 schools,only three will be residency training sites, Bessie Rhodes (grades K-8), King Arts (also K-8), and Hill Early Childhood Center. With several residents in each building, Horton says, the teachers-in-training learn to collaborate with fellow residents and with full-time teachers.

The superintendent is passionate about the program. When he was a new principal at Wendell Phillips Academy in Chicago, 60% of the teachers had gone through residency. In both East St. Louis and Louisville, where Horton held administrative positions before coming to Evanston, he established residency programs in the school systems there.

Horton says educators who have other life experiences can connect to their students in important ways. For example, someone who used math in their job can explain “reasons why we need to know the Pythagorean Theorem,” versus the concept just being part of the curriculum.

One goal of the program is to attract more minority candidates. While only 22% of District 65’s teachers are Black or Hispanic, the percentage of Black and brown students is double that. “We need to get a higher number of teachers who look like our students,” Horton says.

But whatever the teacher may look like, Horton says it’s critical that in a diverse community, “we also want candidates who are equity centered and understand multicultural education.”

Horton says as a child growing up with a single parent in a challenging low income community, “education changed and saved my life.” He can reel off the names of his elementary school teachers. The hope now is to use teacher residency not just to train educators, but also to nurture inspiration.

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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