It was not a good night Monday for the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board. Outside the meeting room were teachers protesting the lack of a contract, while inside were supporters of an assistant principal with connections to a controversial consulting organization.

The teachers, all wearing red shirts proclaiming their membership in the District Educators’ Council (DEC), the teachers union, staged a noisy rally intended to embarrass the board into reaching an agreement on a new contract to replace the one that expired last month.

It brought a reaction from Superintendent Paul Goren that “we want a contract, too.”

But the real embarrassment came from a steady stream of 17 parents, teachers, and former colleagues of Joshua Seldess, who had been hired as assistant principal of Nichols Middle School, but whose contract was rejected by the board after he had already started on the job.

The story, according to a letter Seldess wrote to his supporters, was that he was offered the assistant principal position at Nichols Middle School in early August, subject to board confirmation.

“Aware of the fact that the District 65 Board had never failed to ratify a contract recommended by a qualified hiring committee,” he wrote, “I began work at Nichols on Aug. 8 in good faith pending board approval at the Aug. 29 meeting. Opening day was around the corner (Aug. 24) and there was work to do to prepare for students.”

Seldess had a premonition for what was about to occur, he said, when he was called to a meeting on Aug. 18 and 19 with administrators who said the board had expressed concerns at a closed session with his background with racial equity work, “specifically my affiliation with Pacific Educational Group, a nationally recognized racial equity consulting firm focused on eliminating racial achievement disparities in education.”

Seldess said that he was told that due to these concerns, “the board elected not to ratify my appointment at that time.”

Then after the Aug. 29 board meeting, he said, he was told that the board had voted 3-2 against approving his contract.

“They offered no further explanation,” he said, “but conceded when asked that their concern pertained to my alleged lack of middle school curriculum experience. Needless to say, this explanation did not align with any of my previous conversations about the board’s questions or concerns.”

Board policy prohibits members from discussing details of personnel matters, but two board members, when asked by Evanston Now for comment, denied that the affiliation with PEG had anything to do with their decision.

Said one: “I can assure you that was not the reason the hiring was not approved.”

And the other commented that “you couldn’t be further from the truth on the reason for nonconfirmation, and would strongly hope that you as a reporter wouldn’t make such assumptions without any evidence of the sort.”

Nevertheless, the 17 persons, including former colleagues of Seldess at New Trier High School and the Oak Park River Forest High School, heaped praise upon Seldess as an ideal candidate for such a position in Evanston, particularly after the board had issued an equity statement last month that would call for someone with just his background as an ideal candidate for the position.

An observer suggested that one explanation for the apparent mixup could be that the present superintendent and his top aides were not in their current positions four years ago when the participation of the Pacific Educational Group was a significant issue in the Evanston Township High School 202 board elections of 2013.

During that campaign, there were criticisms issued about the propriety of Evanston Township High School spending upwards of $350,000 to PEG for consulting services on racial equity. At public forums during the campaign, several candidates for the District 202 board declared they would have voted against those expenditures if they had been on the board at the time.

With elections scheduled for next April, it is not considered surprising that some board members might be reluctant to hire an assistant principal that had links to PEG despite his qualifications and approval by hiring committees charged with the responsibility of vetting candidates and recommending one for consideration by the board.

One of the speakers on Monday was Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson, a Chicago resident who said he worked with Mr. Seldess for six years at New Trier and contended that Seldess is the type of racial equity leader that every district should want to have on its team if it were serious about racial equity.

“If you, as a board of education, claim to want to build trust in communities, specifically in communities of color,” he said, “but decide to refuse to hire someone whose very mission in life is to do exactly that, with a proven track record and supportive racial equity leader colleagues around the country, how is that building trust or showing sincerety?”

Andrews-Hutchinson concluded: “I hope that you will find your way through whatever political or personal entrapments that encourage you to make such an ill-informed decision and see the bigger vision that is before us and live up to the motto that is on your website: Every child, every day, whatever it takes.”

Several other speakers, including Nichols parents and teachers, called for the board to reconsider their action and to take another vote.

Related links:

PEG fails to rouse D202 hopefuls

Board members defend diversity consultant

District 65 racial and educational equity statement

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Or could it be something else?

    The headline reads "Fired before he was hired. Could it be PEG?", but the actual article quotes two board members emphatically denying that is the case. What are you trying to achieve? Please be more objective or offer proof of your assumptions.

    1. Transparency

      It is clearly understood that the status quo of Evanston's school system is not ready for the progression and commitment in bringing up the standards to which should be each and every educators goal in matters of their profession.  It seems that the curriculum of Nichol's School  does not fit the experience and training in equality that the candidate has bought to the table.  To hire and then be let go is a statement within itself that proves that there was a majority vote to uphold the character that has existed in the Evanston educational system.  According to the results of testing, graphs, and general insincere attitudes of dispair. that there is a double standard of thinking among the so called professionals that control the miseducation of certain students.  It is certain that until the status quo will relinquish the superiority of their controlling factors that equality  will only be the American dream but not a reality for all.  If this is not what appears to be true, then submit to the public certain standards that are required to be a part of their group.  A few of us already know.   

  2. Clearly there is another

    Clearly there is another angle to this situation; I applaud the board for respecting the confidentiality of this personnel decision and for not simply caving to special interests' attempts to unfairly frame the activity. 

    Also being fully aware of the consistent, if not growing, achievement gap between whites and non-white students in D65 — I would support the board's position to do something different than what has been tried in the past and clearly failed.

    1. Josh Seldess
      Principal Harries and District 65s assistant superintendent for schools, John Price, recognized the real deal when they met Josh and subsequently offered him the assistant principal position. I knew Josh for over 10 years in my role as the art department chair at New Trier. If ANYONE has dedicated themselves to racial equality and social justice in education and sensitizing others to same, it is Josh. He worked tirelessly and respectfully at the helm of a concerted effort to make New Trier educators more aware of bias and racial inequalities in public education.

      Why not give the benefit of the doubt to those who serve in school administration and who have dedicated their lives to the education our young rather than a BOE who are elected from other walks of life and may not be aware of a quality individual when they see him/her–this rare man of exemplary character and integrity who has walked the walk of racial equality every day that i knew him ( and who is an accomplished educator as well)?

      I only wish that Josh had been at Nichols when my daughter attended from ’99-’02…but then New Trier would have missed out on Josh’s outstanding contributions there.

      Wake up Nichols BOE! Take heed and respect the opinion of your seasoned administrators.

      Stephen Murphy
      Evanston resident

      1. Job description and duties — D65 wide role?

        We all can certainly applaud a person who dedicates themselves to "racial equality and social justice in education and sensitizing others to same."  But what does a middle school assistant principal at Nichols need to do?  What does the job description state are the essential functions and tasks for this job?

        Perhaps the elected Board is looking for someone with a broader or different range of experience for that job.  As I understand it, the assistant principal has extensive dealings directly with students. In a middle school, that means dealing with preteens and teens from about 11 through 13 years old.  I would not conclude that the D65 Board did not see this candidate as a quality person but rather they are likely considering job requirements and comparing those to experience.

        Is there anyone or any department at D65 that takes the lead on racial equality, social justice and sensitivity to these issues?  It would seem that that role would be a districtwide position to make certain that such principals are implemented and followed in all schools.

        1. flummoxed

          Josh Seldess was selected as the candidate put forward by the administration for ALL of his qualities–from a field of 15.  We should trust in the assistand superintendent of the District and the principal of Nichols and conclude that what they saw in this educator/leader was who they deemed the best all around candidate. For the BOE to undermine and undo the recommendation of the administration after the 11th hour — leaving this educator wiith a stellar career without a job — is an outrage.

          Josh served with distinction as a history teacher and then as the Freshman Boys Advisor Chair at New Trier–in the latter role working extensively with approx.1,000 boys and their parents each academic year –students just a year older than the 8th graders at Nichols. He then served as history dept. head at Oak Park/RIver Forest. His dedication to racial equality and social justice in education is IN ADDITION to his decades of professional experience. 

          In the letter above, the writer states that in the role of assistant principal, a leader has extensive dealings with students. Josh has this experience in spades. True to his nature, he would set the tone of a safe, just, and respectful learning environment for ALL students, parents, and the wider community in his daily interactions at Nichols. 

          Stephen Murphy

          Evanston Resident

          Former Nichols School parent

          1. Sorry but can’t agree based on the information available

            I have had many disagreements with the D65 School Board's decisions in past years. But based on the limited information that the Board can disseminate and the limited information available otherwise, I cannot conclude that the Board made the wrong decision.

            Consider this: it appears that this candidate has no experience as a middle school administrator.  While his work may be laudatory, it is the Board's responsibility to determine whether a candidate is the best fit for the job and its responsibilities.

            There is no doubt in my mind that D65 wants to pursue and further racial equality and social justice.  Perhaps those who made the recommendation on hiring were extremely impressed with and swayed by the candidate's tremendous experience in those areas, as anyone would be.  I am certain that he is a quality person with skills as a teacher, advisor and social justice advocate.  But the Board has the final say and perhaps a middle school assistant principal needs more broad-based administrative experience in a school district.

            Is there a place for this candidate at D65 headquarters in leading racial equality and social justice efforts for the entire district?  That seems like a job that fits well with his experience and skill set.

            Would this candidate be willing to waive all confidential information and make his full credentials and the rest of his application file (reference letters, etc.) available for public view? The Board cannot do that without his permission. Lacking that information, it is difficult for a person with no or limited information about the candidate to conclude that the Board must be wrong.

          2. Except…

            The people who would actually work with Mr. Selduss, Mr. Harries, Mr. Price and the hiring team at Nichols,  gave Selduss their vote of confidence.  They wanted him as part of the team at Nichols.  Dr. Goren accepted their recommendation and forwarded it to the Board, expecting that it would be respected.

            The Board, which has no experience in middle schools (except for Ms. Garrison)  are second guessing the Nichols team and the Superintendent.  This Board has been known to hire people with limited experience.  Specifically, Dr. Goren, who had little recent school district experience. How is Selduss so different?

            Something is not right here.  We will probably never know what. This is embarassing.  It smacks of Board overreach and micromanagement.  Board mandate is policy and finance.  I wish the Board would get to work on the most pressing finance topic, the teacher contract.

          3. This is a repudiation of Dr.

            This is a repudiation of Dr. Goren's leadeship and if the board members who voted against this appointment don't understand that they are not too bright.

            It was not the board's place to micro manage the hiring decision of the Nichol's principal and the superintendent's office. But this is what they did for the first time in memory and so they sent the message that D65 staff are not competent to select and hire.

            There are two narratives floating around Evanston and neither by accident. One around PEG and the second around the candidate's qualifications. A candidate chosen above 14 otherwise competent and qualified candidates.

            This is a classic and all too frequent example of a board over stepping its bounds. The board's job is to manage the superintendent, not to do the superintendent's job. By taking this extraordinary step on what is a middling hire they have undercut the authority of the superintendent. 

            At a time the district is still healing and struggling with a labor contract three board members choose to thow gasoline on the fire. I hope each suffer the same fate as Mr. Selduss, put out of work at the very worst time possible.

          4. The Board has the authority but that could be changed

            If the Board did not have the authority to approve contracts, then it would be overstepping its bounds.  But it specifically has that authority.  Please feel empowered to ask the Board to give up that authority.  Perhaps they will.

            What we need are facts, not accusations.  A fabulous person engaged in fabulous work is not a fit for every job. 

            Please ask the candidate if he will authorize the School Board to release his complete application file.  If the facts show that the School Board was all wrong, then we can decide what to do next.

            But if the candidate will not authorize that release, we will not have all of the facts and we must abide by the School Board's decision.



          5. The board has the authority

            The board has the authority to approve contracts. At issue is how the board chooses to use its authority. To date the board has approved every contract recommended by the administration.

            Your arguing that the candidate was not a fit for the job and calling into questions his qualifications. 

            The principal and assistant superintendent have more experience in hiring for academic middle school positions and evaluating academic qualifications than the board. They concluded the candidate was a fit and qualified.

            The board chose to set aside the expert opinion of the administration it hired and overturn a decision based on its own evaluation. Even though its credentials to evaluate academic personnel are scant.

            The board has the authority. But it doesn't know how to use that authority responsibly. And in setting precendent on personnel hiring which has always been to approve staff's recommendation they have taken the district into new territory and compromised the leadership of the superintendent. And they just made it harder for every principal in D65 to do his or her job.


          6. Authority does not = rubber stamp — let’s see application file

            Having the authority means the right to say yes or say no.  Just because the Board said no this time does not mean that the members do not know how to exercise that authority. 

            Also, I am not questioning the candidate's qualifications.  I don't know what they are as we have only snippets. Rather, if we the public are being asked to take a side (and it certainly looks like we are), I would need more information. How about the candidate's application file?

            I strongly encourage the candidate to authorize the Board to release his complete application file. Then we would have all of the information that the Board had. If the Board was wrong, it will be easy to see from that information.

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