After spending upwards of $20,000 in consultant fees and expenses to conduct a nationwide search for the best person to assume the superintendency of Evanston/Skokie School District 65, the board found him living on Madison Street, in the heart of the district, and eager to get to work.
Dr. Paul Goren has lived with his wife and three kids in Evanston for more than 16 years, yet the former social studies teacher has been working with teachers, principals, school boards, parents, and students across the nation, including California, Texas, Minnesota, and Illinois, for decades, in preparation for this capstone of his career.
Speaking from his office in Chicago’s Greektown, where he is transitioning from his current duties as senior vice president of CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), he told Evanston Now that he expects his first official day on the job to be May 19, but that prior commitments to his family will mean he actually settles down in his new office at 1500 McDaniel Ave. for the long haul on June 16.
Even so, that’s about two weeks before the board’s target start date of July 1, made possible, in part, by the fact that there is no move involved for him and his family from another community.
Goren readily admits that his wife, Gwen Macsai, a graduate of Nichols Middle School and Evanston Township High School and former producer for National Public Radio, is largely responsible for the family settling in Evanston.
Although he considers himself a product of racial integration, Goren was born into a family that lived in an all-white section of Chicago, between 83rd Street and 87th Street, that changed dramatically to a virtually all-black community in the early 1960s.
But his parents stayed in the community “because they liked the community,” he said, and in 1968, he was one of only three remaining white students in the entire school.
In his office today, Goren proudly displays class pictures from his elementary school years (see photo above) that show him to be one of only a handful of white students in a predominantly black environment.
When it came time for high school, Goren was admitted to an alternative public school in Chicago—long before they had charter schools– that had open walls and no grades.
“So I got into college with no grades and no grade point average, but with an eclectic set of educational experiences,” he said.
What he learned from that experience, however, is that “there’s a possibility to do really innovative, interesting, engaging ways of doing teaching and learning in a school system like Chicago.”
When he graduated in the class of 1976, Goren was admitted to Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he majored in political science and was elected twice to be a student member of the school’s Committee on Educational Policy.
Thanks to his public school experience in Chicago, he was selected to serve on the Committee on Black Student Life at Williams.
Following college, he taught 8th grade social studies at a small private school in Sacramento, Calif.
“I don’t know that I ever worked as hard as I did as a first- and second-year teacher,” he recalls.
From there he went to Austin, Tex., to work on his masters degree in public affairs at the University of Texas-Austin, where he was a student of former U. S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, who was teaching a course called “Jordan on Ethics.” While in her class, Goren wrote a paper on “Education and Social Justice.”
In 1983, he returned to California and worked in the research, planning, and assessment division of the San Diego public schools for nearly four years.
He took a break to attend Stanford University, where he completed his Ph.D. , then returned to San Diego as part of the team that did the long-range strategic planning for facilities in San Diego and also helped design a year-round school policy.
He joined the National Governors Association staff in Washington in the Education Policy Studies Division in 1994. While there he met his wife, Gwen, and they were married in 1994 and lived in Washington for another year.
Although Goren and his wife were enjoying the heady and exciting life of professionals in the nation’s capital, “I had an itch to get out of the policy world and into the world of practice,” he said.
So off they went to Minneapolis and a position as deputy superintendent of schools, focusing on policy and strategic services. It was here that the policy wonk became enmeshed for three years in the practical problems and challenges that come with being a school superintendent.
“I had about 14 different departments reporting to me in Minneapolis,” he said.
As a member of the senior policy cabinet, Goren was largely responsible for the operational side of the school system—budget, finance, student accounting, research and evaluation, the compliance office, the contract negotiations office—and it involved dealing with parents, teachers, and principals on a regular basis.
When an opportunity presented itself to come back to Chicago, where both Goren and his wife still had family, they reasoned that a move to this area would bring family back to family, enabling the cousins to interact with each other and with their grandparents.
The Gorens moved to Evanston, as he assumed a position as director of child and youth development at the MacArthur Foundation in 1998 and as senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation, making grants in the education field, in 2001.
He was executive vice president of the Consortium on School Research and was interim chief of the Chicago Public Schools Office of Strategy, Research, and Accountability.
At CASEL, which he joined in 2012, he works with eight urban school districts around the country “at the intersection of academic growth and healthy development” practices for students.
Goren’s summary of his professional experience and education to date: “It’s been an interesting journey of policy, practice, and research.”
The new superintendent spent 12 years on the board of the Youth Organization Umbrella and recognizes the vitality that exists in Evanston with non-profits that supplement the school district in providing opportunities for youth at all levels to succeed.
He says he has already developed a working relationship with the high school, the youth organizations, the YMCA, the YWCA, and Northwestern, and he looks forward to collaborating with them all.
“We’re not going to get absolute agreement on everything,” he said, “but as a community we can learn and discuss and come up with the solutions that are going to be best for the largest portion of the community.”
As for the students, he hopes that the district can foster that level of excitement that encourages them to want to come to school each day as each student, whether they go on to college or pursue a different course, will find his or her own pathway to prosperity.