District 65’s search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), presented its “Leadership Profile Report” to the School Board on Dec. 16. Board members said the report, which summarized views gathered from 253 persons in personal interviews and forums and 1,462 persons in an online survey, provided valuable information not only to shape the desired characteristics for a new superintendent, but also to guide the Board in developing a new strategic plan.

HYA obtained the views of 253 persons, including School Board members, administrators, community members, teachers, parents, students and support staff, in private interviews, many small group sessions and four community wide forums. Representatives of more than 30 Evanston organizations and institutions were invited to share their views in small group settings or in the four community-wide forums in an effort to gather views of all demographic and interest groups in the community.

HYA’s report summarized strengths of the District, challenges facing the District and desired characteristics of a new superintendent. Summaries of stakeholder comments fill more than 100 pages.

Strengths of the District

“The community’s commitment to and longstanding support of public education; the many outstanding teachers and staff that serve the students and parents; a focus on the whole child; a rich art, music and drama program that is integrated into the curriculum; and the socio-economic, racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity of the student body are seen by almost everyone as providing an enriching experience for students and staff alike,” says HYA’s report. “The community has high expectations for its school system.”

Several other issues were cited as both strengths and areas needing improvement: the special education program, the Two-Way Immersion program, the emphasis on differentiated instruction, the teacher evaluation system, the collaboration with Evanston Township High School, the facilities improvement program, the early childhood program, and professional development.

The District is also supported “by a long list of community partners,” says HCA’s report. “In both a ‘people way’ and a monetary way, Evanston is a ‘resource rich’ community.”

Challenges Facing the District

HCA grouped the challenges facing the District into two broad areas.

First, “The most frequently cited issues by almost everyone were related to diversity, notably the achievement gap between test scores of black and white students. … The community and staff are proud that progress has been made on this front, but almost everyone speaks to the need to eliminate the gap.” This is one challenge facing the new superintendent, says HCA.

Coupled with this are “inevitable tensions that arise in an educated community with many diverse voices. On the positive side, HCA said, “The community consistently espouses a strong belief in providing all students with equal opportunities, and making sure all students are treated equitably, with attention to their individual needs.” But, HCA says there are some “emotionally charged issues with racial overtones that community members raised.” These include the African-centered curriculum, the proposed new school in the Fifth Ward, the hiring of more minority staff, the focus on differentiated instruction rather than tracking, expansion of the early childhood program, and the need for more resources in some schools in light of the demographics of those schools.

The second biggest issue raised was a need to change the District’s “internal culture.” HYA says staff focused on “morale,” ” top-down decision making,” “lack of recognition for a job well done,” “a lack of trust,” and “a climate in which some staff are fearful of reprisals for speaking up.” Another challenge facing the new superintendent is to build “a climate of trust, openness, transparency, and collaboration, while still making decisions that can move the District forward toward a common vision.”

Some other challenges which many individuals mentioned include: facilities, holding staff members more accountable, the need to relook at attendance-area boundaries, the importance of a balanced budget, and hiring a more diverse work force.

Desired Characteristics

Several broad themes emerged on the desired characteristics. “Large numbers of people seemed to want a superintendent who was honest, collaborative and trustworthy,” said HYA. “They want someone who will be an active part of the community, and who is visible, approachable, charismatic, fair, and caring. They also want a strong communicator (and listener) who can advocate for all the District’s children, and will learn about the District before advocating for more change.”

With regard to skills, HCA says the community wants someone “who is willing to take risks, along with someone who can galvanize stakeholders toward a common vision. They want a superintendent who is an active part of the community and will build more community partnerships. … Above all, they want someone with cultural competency and relationship-building skills who can relate to all the District’s constituents.

“There was a general consensus that experience in a larger and more diverse school district is essential, along with classroom teaching and principal experience.”

HYA said the survey results supported these themes. By a wide margin, the number one desired trait listed by administrators, teachers and support staff, was a superintendent who could “foster a positive professional climate of mutual trust and respect among faculty, staff, and administrators.” Parents ranked this the third of 25 possible traits.

Board Comments

Based on the community’s input, HYA prepared a draft one-page document listing 19 characteristics of a new superintendent in a bullet-point format. Board members decided on some language changes, and HYA said it would circulate a new draft to the Board for their final approval.

The District will seek someone how can collaborate, foster trust, demonstrate fairness and equity, promote high expectations, recruit and retain outstanding teachers and staff, hold employees accountable, effectively build teams, and who is creative, has a strong educational vision, understands instruction, and possesses financial savvy.

The District is also seeking someone who has a solid track record of success, a track record of success with issues around diversity and bringing disparate groups together, a solid track record of developing partnerships with business and community organizations, and a background with community involvement.

HYA plans to use the characteristics in an ad for a new superintendent that it plans to place before the holidays.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...