Survey: D65 needs visionary leader committed to racial equity

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Debra Hill and Anne Noland of BWP & Associates.

A summary of survey responses says Evanston District 65 residents want a visionary, collaborative student-centered leader, committed to racial equity and high levels of academic achievement for all students, for the next superintendent.

The School Board Monday night reviewed a 296-page summary of comments from the community gathered in a series of meetings, interviews and focus groups as well as an online and paper-based survey.

Debra Hill and Anne Noland of BWP & Associates, the superintendent search firm selected by the board, presented the results. 

“We received 855 survey responses,” said Hill, “which is huge in a district this size. Usually we’d expect 300 to 400.” Demographically, 63% of survey respondents were white and 37% people of color.

“Over 1,000 people participated” in the survey and meetings, she said, “which is excellent compared to the usual response we get.”

All participants were asked the same four questions: 

  • Describe the significant strengths of the district.
  • Describe the significant issues or challenges facing the district.
  • Describe the characteristics or skill sets the next superintendent will need to possess in order to be successful.
  • What other ideas would you like the Board of Education to consider when selecting the next superintendent?

After analyzing every response, which are listed in the report, BWP provided a list of 10-12 answers to each question that Hill said represents the opinions of about 80% of respondents.

District strengths include excellent teachers and hard-working administrators, engaged parents, diversity in the schools and community and commitment to addressing issues of equity.

Challenges identified include cultural diversity and racial tensions, unfocused curriculum that lacks a  climate change component, the achievement gap disparity between white students and students of color, special education programs, poor morale among teachers, lack of a community school in the 5th Ward and facilities in need of an upgrade.

The new superintendent, respondents said, should be visionary, collaborative, good communicator, student-centered,  have a background as an educator and demonstrated commitment to issues of race and racial equity, social justice and restorative practices. 

In reviewing the report, board members made tweaks to the summary to reflect their own reading of the responses. Anya Tanyavutti, board vice president, wanted to be more inclusive about the elements of community culture, including race, immigration status, gender identity and other characteristics.

Board President Sunith Kartha questioned the need to add special programming for gifted students, saying that was not the most important issue for the board to be focused on.

Other changes were made to add a challenge to recruit and retain black educators and emphasize that improving academic achievement for black students includes special education.

Information about the vacancy is available online and applications are due by Oct. 6. A slate of finalists will be presented to the board on Oct. 28, with interviews in November and December and a vote to select the new superintendent in January.

Related story

D65 sets process for superintendent searches (7/19/2019)

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Comments

Equity alone is a false mirage

A school superintendent is a complex and difficult job.

Hopefully the board will look for a candidate who is a leader, a manager, a coach, a motivator, and someone who can think independently, can communicate, understands finances, demands educational excellence and promotes equity throughout D65.

But equity for equity's sake and equity alone is a false mirage.