Evanston Township High School may be one of the top academic high schools in the United States, with a high number of students taking advanced placement exams and heading off to college.
But one thing at least some community members would like to see is more attention paid to kids who may not be college-bound.
A virtual community forum was held Wednesday night, with consultants asking what qualities respondents would like to see in the new ETHS superintendent, and what issues that individual should prioritize.
Current superintendent Eric Witherspoon is retiring at the end of this academic year, after 16 years on the job.
Most of those commenting had very favorable things to say about ETHS.
Regina Stevenson, who has two children at the school, said ETHS “has an abundance of resources,” which she “has not seen in other school districts.”
“Those things blow my mind,” she added, noting the new superintendent needs to maintain what is outstanding about the school.
But room for change and improvement were also mentioned.
Neil Gambow, who chairs the Mayor’s Employment Advisory Council, said there needs to be “more honor paid to work-based learning.”
Not everyone is going to college, Gambow said, adding that ETHS is “not very advanced” in providing training for those whose career path may not include a university.
Even for those who are college-bound, Gambow said work-based learning can be “life changing.”
Parent and teacher Viashali Patel said, “A lot of kids feel pressure to be on the college path,” and a new superintendent should try to make sure there is “less stigma” for those choosing a different future.
Continuing focus on equity and reducing the racial achievement gap were emphasized by several parents.
David Soglin said there are “two schools within a school,” with often different outcomes depending on race.
However, Marion Macbeth said there is a problem generalizing that “black children do not necessarily have a positive experience.”
“It’s not two schools in one,” said Macbeth, a retired teacher who tutors minority students. “It’s one school with different kids.”
Another parental priorities for the new superintendent is supporting teachers and staff, “the soldiers on the ground,” as one participant put it. Recruiting and retaining more minority educators was also seen as important.
Consultant Kathleen Shiverdecker, of the Alma Advisory Group, said that while the expectation is that the new superintendent will be named by the school board in May, it is still early in the search process, and she could not nor would not reveal any names of potential candidates.
One questioner asked if ETHS principal Marcus Campbell is one of those hopefuls, but Shiverdecker said she cannot divulge whether he is true or not.
While there were only about 20 people in the virtual meeting, the consultants have talked with other stakeholders including employees and will hear from a student group on Thursday.
School superintendent is a stressful position with intense public attention and pressure. Witherspoon was able to succeed in that environment far longer than many school leaders do.
Deciding who replaces him may be the most important decision the school board makes in a long time.
One parent summed up the qualities a new superintendent should bring: “Vision, drive, ability — and a thick skin.”