Protest signs at the board meeting.

A standing-room-only, sign-waving crowd of educators and parents told the Evanston/Skokie Board of Education Monday night that they are sick of fights and other behavior problems at Haven Middle School, and they want something done about it immediately.

“Stop the lecturing and lead with concrete actions,” Haven parent Marlin Milner told the board members. “Your final exam is right here, right now.”

While recent altercations at Haven led to such large crowd showing up, there was no doubt that conditions at the school have been percolating for a long time.

Amber Evey-Schmidt is the Haven teacher who was knocked to the ground earlier this month after she heard an apparent fight in progress and stepped out of her classroom to see what was going on.

Haven teacher Amber Evey-Schmidt

Evey-Schmidt said she was “blindsided” by a student, and was forcibly kncked down.

The student apparently did not mean to hit her, said Evey-Schmidt, who ended up in the hospital with minor injuries.

But still, Evey-Schmidt said that based on what’s taken place at Haven, “I was not surprised this happened, only surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.”

A music teacher, Evey-Schmidt received everyone’s undivided attention when, at the board meeting, she sang the Whitney Houston hit, “Greatest Love of All,” to symbolize her concern and her hope.

It was a tune that Evey-Schmidt sang in her eighth grade talent show. “I believe the children are our future,” the song begins. And when Evey-Schmidt sang those words, the room was otherwise silent.

But mostly, it was a tense and occasionally raucous meeting, as crowd members sometimes booed school board comments, or laughed in complete disagreement, or even blurted out comments.

Board Vice President Biz Lindsay-Ryan told the audience “you have a sign which says ‘We Deserve Respect.’ We want it too,” she stated.

“Our children are watching us all the time,” Lindsay-Ryan added.

“Welcome to our world,” rang out a voice from the crowd.

Board President Anya Tanyavutti said, “We share a concern over safety at Haven, physical and emotional safety.”

She said the district is “up to date with the necesssary deployment of resources” to maintain a safe building.

She also acknowledged “decades of culture and climate problems” at the school, and said that Black and brown students had historically faced discrimination and “acts of violent racism” at Haven over the years.

She said it’s wrong to “criminalize a bunch of middle school children.”

But the board president’s historical frame of reference did not go over well with the audience.

Milner, the parent with two Haven students, is Black,and told the board that “my family is one of the ones you claim to be talking about when you talk about equity.”

But Milner said he was tired of being lectured to week after week.

“Some have couched this issue in racialization, gender expression and sexual orientation. What about safety?”, he asked.

“It’s not what are you theorizing,” he said. “It’s not what are you planning.” It’s “what are you doing right now” to make Haven safe for students and staff which mattered to him.

In a community message last week, Superintendent Devon Horton outlined a number of steps previously taken to improve conditions at Haven, including the hiring of more counselors, hall monitors, and an additional assistant principal.

Other actions, he said, are coming, such as training at least eight more Haven staff members in Crisis Prevention Intervention, a way of defusing tensions before fights begin.

However, some speakers said more should have been done long ago.

Kate Robinson, a Haven parent, said, “Smiling at each other now that the mask mandate is lifted is not going to fix this problem.”

About a dozen adults addressed the board, as did two Haven students, who have gotten more than 450 signatures from their classmates, demanding safety improvements.

There have been “numerous fights,” as well as kids being “slammed against doors and walls,” they said.

The students called for even more hall monitors, and also said “student voices” must be heard when safety measures are discussed.

“Haven,” they said, “can be so much more than a school with a bad reputation.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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17 Comments

  1. The Board continues to demonstrate that they have no real interest in the difficult work of governing and managing our schools. Mr. Milner is right – they continue to lecture the community like we are their students, not critical stakeholders. They talk of partnership and dialogue, but literally can’t deal with an evening of community feedback. Under their watch all we get are excuses, lectures, lack of transparency and fleeing families.

    Dr. Horton – who walked out during public comments without pausing the comments – continues to demonstrate that he does not really care about the Evanston community. That his contract was extended without extensive community input is outrageous.

    1. Agreed. The lack of accountability of the District 65 Board and especially Superintendent Horton is outrageous. I’m so glad to see that the community is fighting back. It is your right as parents to force him to do his job or if he is unable, to step down.

  2. Haven is not the only school Dr Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies had the same incident not to long ago where skokie police was called. We only recieved an email from the principal saying that a student safety was jepordize and the student called the police. D65 should start seen this is problem in all school and the safety if students and staff ahould be a priority. I can assure you as a parent my 1st grader has seen worst of how kids act violent and the school has refused to do anything.

  3. The Dewey Elementary environment has tanked since Dr Horton took over D65. The new leadership at the school is inexperienced and unaware of what goes on. Most significantly, they have lost the respect of the students and teachers, which does not bode well for the future of the school. Dewey parents talk much more now about moving out of Evanston, and while part of that is a result of the pandemic’s impact on people’s lives, the most frequently stated reason is the deteriorating situation at the school since Dr Horton took over (private school is not an option for most families). And that doesn’t bode well for Evanston in general.

  4. Voting and calls for resignation are important tools, but a word of caution to this community. They board will pack the ballot with sympathizers, so we must identify the candidates who will enact real change and accountability. It’s not enough to simply “vote for anyone but current board members”. You must actively vote for the other side. Educate yourself. Don’t vote for someone you don’t know their stance and record.

    There are cracks in this wall. Keep pushing.

    1. Agree completely. I voted for the sitting board members. Colossal mistake. Won’t happen again.

  5. Horton and the school board that hired and recently gave him a big contract extension have an agenda: they think the way to close the black/white achievement gap is to root out teachers and principals for being insufficiently “anti-racist”, unless they completely tow the line on supporting the new administration. They all read Kendi’s book and decided that this must be what the problem is. Many principals have quit or taken early retirement, Horton brings in his CPS crowd and now Joey Halperin blames all problems on the white parents who haven’t sufficiently embraced these new leaders. Wow.

    How long will we need to wait to see the results of this grand experiment? Is there any reason to believe that this theory has any chance of success?

    And most of all was this ever something the taxpayers and parents asked for? Did the school board members ever tell us that this was their plan for Evanston schools?

    Elections are coming next year: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    1. We regret purchasing here in Evanston when we should have gone north for what seems to be actual education instead of an anti-racism woke agenda that seems to have taken over D65. What matters to us more than anything is that our kids get the highest quality education in Math and the sciences. Our taxes are way too high for this substandard education. This District now has two more parents involved to push back and we will help vote these board members out.

  6. Such amazing comments! Right on target.

    The utter lack of empathy by the board, and Dr. Horton’s almost pathological inability to accept any criticism of himself or his cronies, is a major warning sign. We cannot stop putting pressure on this board or this superintendent and administration.

    For this man to walk out on a teacher is unconscionable but unsurprising; it’s part of a pattern.

    It’s the same disrespect and narcissism that he’s repeatedly shown to teachers, staff, and parents.

    Jerry Succes has been removed from his position by one of Horton and one of his cronies to settle another crony in his fourth spot in a single year. What benefit does this bring to the students? None. Instability and silence, opacity and intransigence.

    Again, it is not racist to call out facts that point to incompetence or malfeasance. The gaslighting that we receive from the board, the administration, and their proxies does not make it racist to speak out against corruption or identity politics.

    We must absolutely vet and validate any person who runs for the board before voting for them; if we just knee-jerk and vote for anyone else, we run the risk of doing even more damage than the current board and administration.

    Once that removal is achieved, then it is time to begin the process of removing Horton and his cronies so that the district can hopefully begin to heal and stop the hemmorhaging of students and teachers to other districts and private schools.

    We can only hope that it’s not too late.

  7. We are pulling our D65 elementary student next year for private school because: 1) we can; 2) we are sick of the unwavering focus on TALKING ABOUT equity and the adoption of BLM political activist curriculum, while the focus on gold old fashioned education is an distant afterthought for our students. We moved to Evanston for the sterling reputation of District 65, which has been trashed since Dr. Horton became superintendent and are choosing to pay tuition for a private school in lieu of walking our child two blocks for a district school. What the district is doing isn’t addressing the learning chasm, and it is amazing that things had to get to this point at Haven (the point where families and teachers won’t tolerate downplaying the severity of what is going on) for the district to stop talking and started actually DOING (allocating desperately needed resources) to address it. This superintendent and this school board are failing ALL of our students with neverending lip service. They aren’t listening to our district’s excellent and experienced educators (who appear to be in the midst of a mass exodus as a result of all of this), they are out of touch with most families (except the ones that agree with their radical approach to shoving political activism down our children’s throats)…all we want is a return of sanity and a focus on learning, support for children who need it, clear boundaries of acceptable behavior (which serves all children), consequences to enforce those boundaries, and support for our teachers (which would would start with actually believing they deserve to be at the decision making table (instead of a stream of outside consultants) with the superintendent and board as they are where the rubber meets the road). Dr. Horton doesn’t seem to care about our community (a district superintendent should be required to live in the city they serve and their children should be enrolled in the district to show their investment in our community), our brand new principal (first year) has done nothing to foster community this year and seems very inexperienced, and we are just fed up with the racial politics. How about less talk, more action to help the students who are struggling, and more focus on education, which will serve every student, including those that need it most?

    1. This is so very true. The new administration is hurting our community, and has done nothing to address the problems they said they would. D65 used to be a great district with common sanity, but that is not the case now. We need to keep the pressure on D65 and remove Dr. Horton and the other radical board members that keep the radical agenda in place.

  8. We too are pulling our child from D65 next year. It is an utter disgrace what this board and Horton have done to this community. They love to blame covid for everything but not once was re-opening the schools on the board agenda last year! When will our leaders and board take responsibility? I did not vote for these board members because having a single voice for a school board is never good. They are “yes” people to Horton instead of asking questions. I am disappointed that every board meeting is watching the board members and Horton patting themselves on the back!

  9. I have a huge issue with Anya Tanyavutti’s reasoning. It suggests that to right the wrongs of the past, we should allow this unsafe behavior to continue. The reality is the kids that are engaging in this behavior feel completely out of control. There are no boundaries or expectations for behavior anywhere. Do kids that feel safe engage in these behaviors? No, they do not. School is a place that can provide boundaries and teach usable life skills and prepare them for a future. The lack of response on this issue instead provides the opposite effect. The board seems to be stoking the fire and using these kids as objects to project their anger at all historical wrongs as a form of payback. Boundaries, rules, expectations and consequences are not equivalent to criminalizing. These kids are our most vulnerable and yet the district is failing them by not ensuring a safe learning environment.

    In addition, dropping phrases such as violent racism as a means to shut down dialogue is totally unacceptable. She’s illustrating that she has no interest in solving this issue and it seems neither is the superintendent or the entire board. But, maybe that’s the point. Using rhetoric to push people into their corners so no meaningful change or constructive discussion occurs. Is this what was promised to the Evanston community?

  10. Yes and Yes! I’m reading all of your comments from my house in AZ and nodding my head YES! It is time you awesome parents and teachers fought back against D65 and the awful school board. I’ve said it before, 3 years ago my son was told to check his “white privilege” at the door at Nichols and we MOVED! Never mind he’s 50% Puerto Rican….they just saw him as another awful white boy and me as a racist mom when I wouldn’t allow him to attend the “anti-racism training” the first Wednesday of every month. Instead I took him to Pilsen to visit the Mexican art museums and to the MSI and a variety of other Chicago cultural exhibits. We saw it coming- the equity lens, restorative justice, lessons on being anti-racist, BIZ and her issues with white men. NO WAY were we sending our son to ETHS when they were teaching kids that white people are “oppressors”. Stand up and take your school back! We used to love Evanston when EVERYONE was equal. It’s heartbreaking to see the hardworking students and talented teachers go through this. I pray you vote OUT the administrators who don’t care and VOTE IN the people who want to see everyone, regardless of skin color, treated equally. My son wasn’t and that’s why we left. Never judge a book by its cover….it’s a lesson D65 administrators need to learn.

  11. A family member teaches at Willard and the situation there is bleak.
    The principal is basically absent, not building a relationship with parents, students or teachers.

    One student (at this primary school) is violent and has injured fellow students and at least one teacher. Nothing has been done and teachers are scared for the safety of children and parents.

    There are never enough subs which results in classes of students spending the day together with insufficient supervision and no real learning occurring.

    Special needs children are not getting the legally required services – in particular the minority students whose families don’t know how to advocate for their children to ensure they are getting services.

    The teachers are ALL looking to leave the school – and many already have.

    A culture of fear is in place with any attempt to speak up for teachers, staff or students resulting in retaliation from the administration.

    It is sad that my family had to move out of D65 to ensure a great education. It would have been wonderful to stay there but the warning from experienced teachers there was worth listening to and we are glad to be in a different district.

    1. You may as well be talking about Dewey. What you describe happening at Willard is exactly what is happening at Dewey. I couldn’t have said it any more accurately. Every. Single. Word. It’s very distressing for teachers and families alike. The leadership Dr. Horton placed at Dewey is very inexperienced and we find it troublesome. Families and teachers are afraid to call it out for fear of being called racist, but really we just want to call out the incompetence and lack of care. It has nothing to do with race. This is what happens when a district values identity politics over an actual public education.

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