Evanston Township High School has a strong focus on academic excellence, preparation for college, and extracurricular activites. But there are areas where the next superintendent can work to make things better.
Those were the conclusions of more than 2,000 parents, educators, and students who responded to a survey, or took part in focus groups about priorities for the next ETHS leader.
A consultant from the Alma Advisory Group, which is leading the search to replace Eric Witherspoon, presented survey and focus group results to the District 202 Board of Education Wednesday night.
Witherspoon is retiring at the end of this school year after 16 years on the job.
Choosing a new superintendent is “the most important thing we do” as a board, said President Pat Savage-Williams.
Close to 60% of respondents chose “A safe school and learning environment” as well as “Mental health and physical health/well-being of students and staff” as top prorities for improvement in the future.
“Preparing students for non-college pathways” was another key improvement area, with more than 40% citing that.
While there were no percentages listed, maintaining and increasing the district’s committment to diversity was also mentioned frequently by respondents, particularly stressing the need to hire and retain more teachers of color, and to make sure more Black and brown students get the chance to take advanced classes.
Consultant Monica Rosen said that students of color sometimes feel “there are two different schools at ETHS,” where Black and brown students who are in advanced courses “feel pressure to represent their race or ethnicity.”
Some of the 600 students who responded said they even felt that facilities for advanced classes, which have a higher percentage of white students, are in better shape than other parts of the high school building.
Rosen also said there was a divide among respondents as to whether ETHS should limit the superintendent search to internal candidates only, or look nationwide.
However many candidates there may be, they are expected to be presented for a public live-streamed Q&A in early or mid-May, with the new superintendent chosen in time to take office July 1. Witherspoon retires the day before.
The consultant stressed that the desire to improve some areas should not be construed as a criticism of Witherspoon, who was praised for his “presence and connection with students.”
And as for an overall summation of what the Evanston public would like to see, Rosen’s presentation stated “The ETHS community wants a visionary, socially conscious leader committed to fostering a safe, equitable, and engaging learning environment for all students and staff.”
Piece of cake, right?