Devon Horton.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton told Evanston 5th Ward residents Thursday night that students from the ward “have always had challenges” at Haven Middle School.

“We see light at the end of the tunnel,” Horton said, adding that with the planned opening of a new 5th Ward school, “We’ll be bringing our babies home.”

The superintendent, speaking to the virtual ward meeting from his basement, where he said his wife was telling him to stay after he came down with COVID-19, conceded that the district “didn’t have a strong enough system in place” to provide supports for students who were involved in fights or other disruptive behavior at the school.

Haven parents and teachers this month have protested what they say are unsafe conditions there after a teacher and a staff member were injured during student fights.

Horton said 46 students — that’s just over 5% of Haven’s enrollment — were responsible for 75% of the 1,300 disciplinary infractions reported so far this school year.

Thirty-three of those students, he said, were Black. That’s about 20% of the Black students at the school.

Another nine, he said, were Hispanic. That’s about 8% of the Hispanic students at Haven.

Most of the minority students who currently attend Haven live in the 5th Ward.

Horton conceded that current Haven students will have graduated by the time the planned new school opens. But Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said the move could still benefit their younger siblings.

The 5th Ward school, Burns said, would provide “a wonderful opportunity to start from scratch” with what’s been learned about restorative justice, differentiated instruction, parental involvement and the community school model.

Horton said 26 of Haven’s 87 teachers have reported disciplinary infractions this year, and noted that only three teachers at Haven are Black.

The superintendent said the trauma students have experienced during the pandemic has been a major factor in discipline problems at the school.

“Eighth grade students, the last time they had normal school was in 5th grade,” Horton said. “We’re hearing about this across the country,” he added, “that students are quite a bit behind in the social art of their development.”

Horton also said the district had failed to make use of resources from other organizations in the community.

“Family Focus tried to do outreach, but couldn’t get into the building,” he said. “At the building level and the central office, we have to own that, we didn’t capitalize on resources for students.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. “We have to own…” is still a long way from “I as the head of the district have to own…”

  2. “Eighth grade students, the last time they had normal school was in 5th grade,” Horton said. “We’re hearing about this across the country,” he added, “that students are quite a bit behind in the social art of their development.”

    That’s sad – feel terrible for the kids.

    I hate to blame and point fingers from a computer but they botched the last 2 years for these kids. They could have been in school all of last year. The year 2020 I’m more understanding about but 2021 they could have all been in school.

    I hate to keep saying “look at the catholic schools” but seriously, they stayed open the entire time. I repeat … they stayed open the entire time. I can’t say it enough.

    I feel terrible for kids in special ed classes. They are already behind to begin with – the last 2 years just obliterated any progress they had going. Those are the kids that need to be in school. Those are the kids that need someone (other than a parent) on them at all times, talking to them, watching them, teaching them, etc etc. That didn’t happen for 2 years.

    Black, white, orange, brown, whatever you want to identify as … the kids got shafted the last 2 years by D65 and it’s really sad. I take that back, it wasn’t 100% D65, it was the politics of the world that shares the blame as well. We’re letting national issues effect local issues. Also – let’s be Evanston and not Chicago. It feels like Mayor Biss does whatever Mayor Lightfoot does, it’s like he doesn’t have juevos to say “You know what, the Science is showing me that kids aren’t as effected by Covid and in our area, no kid has died from Covid. So, we’re going to keep the schools open for them. Everyone has to mask up and follow Covid protocols but we’re still going to open the schools”. Makes too much sense right?

    I’ve said what I’ve said and now it’s time to act. We need these kids in more sports and activities. Whether they’ve played before or not, whether they are good or not. We need to find them on the streets and talk to them, get them out to the parks, get them running around with other kids. Male or female, they or them, whatever … they need to be in sports. That’s another huge missing piece of the puzzle that nobody is talking about. Sports and activities are HUGE for children and kids are joining them less and less each year. That’s a pandemic in itself.

    I’ve volunteered my own time to coach youth sports (for free) and I am also donating money to youth sports to make it free for most children, if not all. I call on all of you who are reading this to do something to give back to these kids. Don’t talk about color or gender, they’re kids, that’s all that matters. That’s all we need to focus on.

    It starts now. Let’s get it done.

    Frank Sabotka ‘Legend of the Docks’

  3. The early start times and long, expensive busing instituted by Horton in middle schools like Haven are the most egregious example of his poor leadership and the likely cause of student problems. The results were entirely predictable, based on education research carried out in scores of countries all over the world during the last 110 years.

    I told him about this the first time I met him shortly after he took over — and he turned his back on me and refused to discuss the data, which I subsequently sent a referenced summary of.

    The D65 school board needs to be voted out of office for it’s incompetent oversight of a clearly incompetent administration.

  4. So segregation with a 5th ward school is the cure to the problems at Haven?—-interesting

    1. Well, the conceit is that not having to leave their neighborhood will solve all of their problems. Of course, Haven is like 1 mile from the 5th Ward, so …

  5. I am a professor of social work who has worked with low-income youth of color for 40 years. I am also the parent of three children of color, 2 Native American and 1 African American. What concerns me is the lack of science-based action as soon as this was evidently a problem, and the focus on racism and racially segregating students as though that will solve the problem when it does not. Yes racism is a problem and yes race-based microaggressions in schools need to be seriously and persistently addressed. But there are plentiful,proven educational methods for teachers and staff to address implicit and explicit bias. Why are those not a focus of D65 intervention and conversation? Instead it seems racism is being weaponized as a distraction so incompetence and lack of accountability are not a focus of attention.

    Regarding Haven, a few more counselors and training some staff in Crisis Intervention is not enough – there is no social or educational science to suggest that it could be. Consider this:
    1. the 5% of youth who are fighting match CDC and worldwide statistics about adolescent violence – this is to be expected and should have been prevented a lot sooner; and it is not because of the color of their skin that they are fighting, nor is it because of COVID.

    2. the primary causes of youth violence, around the world, regardless of color or nationality, are primarily poverty; secondarily, trauma due to inadequate medical care, mental health care,and/or child abuse or neglect in which children are not protected, and learning disabilities that have not been adequately responded to by educators so as to preserve children’s esteem and skills for employability; What is being done about those known causes in D65? The D65 IEP process has been hampered to the point of legal noncompliance, and is still not working as it should to help children who need special interventions.

    3. Yes racial microaggressions and racism in education are horrifically serious problems, and they have demoralized my children and I have had to help them cope and preserve their dignity — but you cannot tell if someone is racist by the color of their skin or where they live. My daughter in D65 was targeted by racist microaggressions by two white teachers, a Black staff member and a Black teacher, and an Asian teacher. She has also been cared for in her time in D65 by staff and teachers of all races. My son experienced racist microaggressions by white students and a white teacher but also had many white teachers who believed in him and a Black special education specialist who really helped him. In our youth work in Chicago we have seen racist microaggressions and police brutality against low-income African American youth by teachers, staff, and police of all races.

    4. You can reduce student acting out by not making them start school before 9:00 am, as the EU knows; by including Peace rooms in schools so students can de-escalate, better social assessments and intervention planning, one-to-one care, involving parents without judging them, giving parents school-based support groups so they can help their youth manage conflict. Yes restorative justice works – why has it not been implemented sooner since we have known that it works for over 20 years? The Peacemakers Program and Roots of Empathy have been known to reduce aggression for almost as long. Personally I have found it shocking that D65 has not implemented, nor is it planning to implement, these evidence-based interventions systematically. If you really care about the students, you will make use of the science, it does work.

    5. A single neighborhood school is known not to be a substitute for sound, evidence-based interventions. Why is it touted as though it is the solution when any serious educator or social scientist can tell you it clearly is not? Who will benefit from the new school — the person doling out the contracts, or the youth? How many youth will go uncared for by D65 before you finally get going with real science?

    Youth violence is eminently curable. I have known many youth myself who went from tackling a peer, or trying to bring guns or knives to school, to being awesome community organizers and then on to college and graduate schools as social workers. That could be part of the D65 story, but it will not be unless the leadership is serious about putting their resources into interventions that really work.

    1. I just wanted to thank you for this thoughtful, data driven response. I tend to agree that simply building a school and counting on that to solve the harm caused by generations of poverty, domestic trauma, un supported learning disabilities and structural racism is not going to fix the problem. It’s actually pretty dismissive of kids to think that way and I had much higher hopes for Dr. Horton.

    2. “Instead it seems racism is being weaponized as a distraction so incompetence and lack of accountability are not a focus of attention.”

      And what about Brown v. Board of Education? Segregation is now the answer?

  6. Actually the 5th ward is quite diverse with nearly equal numbers of blacks and whites (39% white and 41% black) and sizeable Hispanic and Asian populations. Northwest Evanston is the area with a diversity proven, not the 5th ward.

    1. Hi Sylvia. You appear to be using population numbers for the entire 5th Ward, or some approximation of it.
      The proposed 5th Ward school attendance area consists almost entirely of the western portion of the 5th Ward — the section west of Green Bay Road — also known as census tract 8092.
      That tract is 52% Black, 26% Hispanic, 14% White, 2% Asian and 6% multiracial. The school board has intentionally excluded the eastern portion of the 5th Ward, mostly in census tract 8093, from the planned attendance area of the “5th Ward School.” Were it included, the populations served would be more reflective of the population of Evanston as a whole.
      However, the proposed 5th Ward School attendance area is more diverse than, for example, tract 8089 in far northwest Evanston, which is 3% Black, 5% Hispanic, 82% white, 5% Asian and 5% multiracial.

      1. Bill, this is very helpful. I think an unspoken aspect of the new school is that it radically increases the possibility that a NW side Elementary school will eventually close, leaving another neighborhood – a neighborhood without Board representation – with an empty school building.

        But, as evidenced by Dr. Horton’s comments, he only believes he represents one neighborhood of the city – a city he doesn’t even live in.

  7. Can someone explain why the Superintendent is calling out the race of students who are causing trouble in a public? It seems entirely irrelevant and potentially harmful.

    Given the fact that the VAST MAJORITY of students of all backgrounds are not getting into trouble, why would you emphasize identity as a factor or even bring it up?

    The only reason–which seems pretty clear from his subsequent comments about “the babies”–is to support the administration and the board’s far-out segregationist agenda.

    One thing that was never discussed during the board’s decision to re-segregate the schools is what the actual impact might be on students based on unbiased, objective research.

    I would draw the attention to a new article in the American Academy of Pediatrics professional journal that shows that Black students in more segregated schools are more likely to report behavioral problems and engage in risky behavior like underage drinking.

    Again, we have a school board that is off the rails and guided by a vacuous identity politics that has little basis in empirical evidence that student outcomes will be improved by their short-sighted policies. Their ideological blinders are set to not only bankrupt the district, but have negative outcomes for the students they allegedly want to help.

    It is a disaster and hopefully next year’s board elections can see some sensible people get elected in time to turn things around.

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