A bumper crop of recently hired Evanston Township High School employees, most of whom were selected via a new interview process administrators say supports the District’s equity vision, was introduced to the School Board at its Oct. 12 meeting.

In all, 26 people were hired this year, after a large group of retirees made their exit from the District last June. The full range of functional areas, administration, faculty and staff have hired new employees, and a wide range of academic departments benefited as well.

“We are highly selective [in our hiring practices], and we are trying to become even more selective in inviting people to join this ETHS family,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon in his opening remarks.

“To insure that we are hiring people who reflect the diverse makeup of our student population, we changed the building hiring practice,” said Toya Campbell, director of human resources. She said that in addition to participating in the selection process that takes place at the department level, as it did in the past, top candidates for positions in the District this year were also interviewed by Assistant Superintendent/Principal Oscar Hawthorne and Director of Academic Supports Chala Holland.

During the revised interview process, Mr. Hawthorne and Ms. Holland said they sought to identify candidates who “best exemplified commitment and passion for working in a diverse organization like ETHS and [were] dedicated to serving a diverse population such as ours.” Ms. Campbell said, “This practice supports the Board’s equity vision and the District’s goal for raising the achievement of all students while eliminating the racial predictability of achievement.”

Before introducing the assembled new hires to the Board, Ms. Campbell said one half of the group are “teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff of color.” Later, Ms. Campbell told the RoundTable that 55 percent of teachers, counselors and administrators hired were minorities.

Previous years have seen a smaller percentage of minority hires, for example in 2008-2009, only 27 percent of new teachers were minorities, according to the school statistical report for that year. Ms. Campbell told the RoundTable that overall, 44 percent of District employees are minorities and according to the 2009-2010 district report card, 27.8 percent of teachers are minorities. Ms. Campbell said that the new hires represented a positive step in the direction towards having a teaching staff that more closely reflects the ETHS student population, which is 54.1 percent minority according to the 2009-10 District report card.

Since the spring of 2008, the District has been working with the Pacific Educational Group (PEG), which has conducted workshops and retreats for the Board and employees from every functional area to discuss race and privilege and their effects on student achievement. According to administrators, selection of employees is an important part of the equity work, and PEG staff were consulted for input to the interview process.

“We are taking a strategic approach to identifying and hiring employees who have top-flight credentials and who also have a passion for being part of the equity work that is so vital for all our students at ETHS,” Dr. Witherspoon told the RoundTable via email. “Our commitment to equity is a commitment to putting in place structures, procedures, instructional practices, student supports and policies that benefit all students attending this highly diverse and enriched school environment.”  

Ms. Campbell told the RoundTable that, among other things, candidates were asked how they defined equity and what their experience was working with the targeted needs of a minority student population. She said that the ability to talk about race was also important.

“If you can’t talk about race in an interview, how can you talk about it every day,” Ms. Campbell said.

Mr. Hawthorne offered further information about the process to the RoundTable.

“We were looking for people who would be teachable, even if they didn’t have all the tools yet for this kind of work,” he explained. “We were looking for people who were able to express their connection to our particular community and who understand our diverse student population.”

Mr. Hawthorne said, “We heard some powerful personal stories” in which candidates “expressed their commitment” and “how their backgrounds and life story influenced their choice of profession.

“It was tough to narrow it down to one person (for each position),” he said. “It usually came down to who had the stronger content background.”

Although the new hires were distributed across the school, the history, science, student services and world languages department each had three newcomers.