On March 31, the District 65 School Board appointed Dr. Paul Goren as Superintendent of School District 65. It is anticipated that he will take on his new duties within the next few months.
In this article the RoundTable gives a glimpse of how Dr. Goren says he will lead the school system forward, in his words “a school system where we produce young people who experience the joy of learning, and have the skills to succeed in the next stages of their education, including the social and and emotional skills needed to be a good neighbor and an active citizen.”
This article was prepared based on an interview with Dr. Goren, together with his comments at public forums on March 19 and his written submission to the School Board. Dr. Goren’s background and experience are summarized in an accompanying article.
From the Start: Listening and Learning
Dr. Goren told the RoundTable that when he begins as superintendent of District 65, and even before the start date, “I really want to do as much listening and learning and perspective gathering as I can. I don’t want to enter in saying, ‘I live in Evanston, my kids have gone to school here, so I know everything.’ I really don’t.”
He says he would like to gather input from young people “who are synced in the system” and to talk with Dr. Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of District 202, about setting up a few focus groups with graduates of District 65 who are now at Evanston Township High School. He said he would like to talk with parents, teachers, principals, and administrators at both District 65 and ETHS, and with the broader community, including non-profit organizations, the faith-based community, busnesses, the hospitals, and Northwestern University.
“One of the things that I am really excited about is engaging the multiple voices of the community.”
High Expectations/Forging a Path to Move Forward
Dr. Goren says as superintendent he will focus on several issues. “First, all students deserve the best possible educational opportunities available,” he says. “We must first and foremost set high expectations for all students so that they have opportunities to succeed and will succeed at the highest of levels. We must also intentionally and aggressively address the achievement gap that exists.”
He says he will take “some deep dives” to learn what programs District 65 is currently providing, where there is potential to do some things slightly differently, what comparable schools around the country are doing, and then summarizing: “Given where we are, where can we move forward in the short run and what do we need to do over time?
“It’s like doing a substantive audit of who we are and what we’re doing and how would we move forward.”
“One of the things that’s attractive about the job is we’re right at the start of developing a new strategic plan for the District,” Dr. Goren says. “And that work is so important to do. It sets the milestones and the goal posts that you’re striving toward over time.”
In developing the strategic plan, he said, “There is a need for community engagement, community dialogue on what we want and what we need for our schools and then how do we move forward.
“A big part of my responsibility is to engage the broad community so that our work can reflect what is needed.
As part of this effort, Dr. Goren says, he will be “working hand in glove with Dr. Witherspoon and our colleagues at ETHS, making sure there’s a seamless pathway that one takes from birth to early childhood, to District 65 and into District 202 and then out into world of work and career.”
Building Teacher/Administrator Capacity
Dr. Goren says, “I will focus directly on building the capacity of principals, teachers, and support staffs to support high achievement and continuous improvement. Outstanding education is provided by top-notched teachers and principals, and supported by committed administrative staff.”
He says it is essential to “pay attention to the folks who are really providing education at District 65, the teachers, the principals, the support staff, the coaches, the instructional leadership and to really think about and understand their issues and concerns and how administrators can provide supports.”
He adds that the District should “build upon the professional learning that goes on in the District so we can be intentional to meet the needs of the community.”
“I really want to work on building a culture of support, engagement and transparency, where we use the pronouns ‘we,’ and ‘our’ for the school district, rather than ‘they’ and ‘them.’ This will take time to develop,” he says.
“For me, it’s building a broad based team in schools and the central office that will work together, tackle hard problems, agree to disagree when we have to, and then work together with our partners in the community.”
“I look at this as a deep partnership,” he says.
Dr. Goren adds that he would be a “real advocate and very intentional” in hiring new teachers, and will pay attention to how teachers are doing in the first three or four years to make sure the District is keeping the best teachers. Human capital “is the name of the game,” he said, adding that he would draw on his many contacts throughout the country in an effort to recruit great teachers whose diversity reflected that of the student body.
Best Instructional Practices
Dr. Goren says he “will emphasize teaching and learning focused on 21st century skills to prepare students for success in high school and beyond.” He says it is important to understand how young people learn, how teachers and principals learn and how to use data in a way that will promote continuous improvement.
He says he will pay attention to how “we use formative data to make the superintendent better, the principals better, and engaging kids better.”
“We will engage district educators in professional learning that stresses best practices in instruction, the use of technology, and in differentiated instruction and project-based learning.” He adds he supports incorporating social and emotional learning and the arts into the curriculum.
Safe Schools and Fiscal Responsibility
“I am committed to leading a system that stresses efficient and effective operations management ensuring that resources are focused on where they belong, i.e., in the classroom,” says Dr. Goren.
“We have to start with making sure the schools are safe and secure,” he says. “That is absolutely the promissory note we have to give to every parent.”
With respect to the District’s projected budget deficits, Dr. Goren said he would first examine the projections to make sure the projected deficits are “actually what we think [they are].” In addressing deficits, he said, his “guiding principle” would be that “all of the focus has to be on the classroom” and preserving “what’s having success.” If there were no way to address deficits without having a detrimental impact on instruction, he said he would go out for a referendum.
Partnering/Creating a Learning Ecology
Dr. Goren says he welcome the opportunity to collaborate with ETHS, saying the collaboration is “essential.” The school districts’ Joint Literacy Goal that all students are proficient readers by the time they graduate from ETHS is an “interesting and essential” conversation on how to start with children at birth and develop their skills all the way through high school, he says.
He says the District should be taking advantage of all the community organizations, the faith-based communities, the City and Northwestern University to create what he calls “a learning ecology” – a culture of learning in the community that envelops kids in their everyday activities, in and out of school, to engage them in academic, social and emotional learning.
He supports the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative and the Community School Initiative being partnered with the Youth Organization Umbrella and the McGaw Y at Chute Middle School. He supports developing more partnerships with Northwestern University.
“One of the great joys of this work is when we can see there is great joy and engagement in the young people that we serve,” says Dr. Goren. “The fun and the value of going to school because it’s really engaging and an interesting place, is something all of us want to strive toward. Kids should be walking out of school saying, ‘Wow! That was good. I learned something today.’
“I want to be able to celebrate that all of the time.”
“It will be a distinct privilege to serve as the next superintendent of the Evanston and Skokie Public Schools,” says Dr. Goren.