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This is a very special time as summer comes to an end. The opening of school signals a new beginning for the children and their families along with the educators and support personnel who make up District 65. We cannot be more excited to welcome our students and their families to the 2014-15 school year.

Over the past 12 weeks since school ended we have been preparing diligently for the new school year. Teachers have attended summer seminars; department heads have been ordering books and materials; maintenance staff have been cleaning, repairing and getting classrooms ready; principals and district leadership have been planning for the year ahead; and students have done their parts by reading daily throughout the summer months.

I have spent time in our schools and visiting with community members and leaders since I landed in mid-May. It is evident that there is deep support and passion for the public schools of Evanston and Skokie, deep belief that our communities thrive when we have strong public schools, and there is a sincere commitment to see that every child in our system benefits every day. On behalf of all of the employees of District 65, I thank you for the trust you have in us. Please know that we will do whatever it takes to help all students reach their highest potential.

I have also been working with the wide range of colleagues who provide supports for children and their families – the youth service agencies, the social service providers, colleagues at Northwestern, City staff, and our elected officials. We all recognize that learning occurs in school and out of school, before and after school, during the school year and in the summer, in family settings, community settings and school settings. We also recognize that we cannot do it alone – that there is a synergy between of all us who serve children and families that ultimately makes a difference in the lives of all children and in contributing to the livelihood of our communities.

The year ahead comes with tremendous opportunities as we implement the Common Core State Standards, continue our work on Community Schools, and engage with community partners on efforts to support young people in Evanston and Skokie from cradle to career. We will spend time engaging the school community, our board and the broader community in the development of a strategic framework that will guide the district for the years ahead. We will continue to work with and develop even stronger ties with our colleagues at ETHS in District 202 as we work together to provide rich opportunities for all children. And we will take on the challenges that face us in a transparent manner – the evident achievement gaps between students from  different socio-economic backgrounds, and the gaps between those from different racial and ethnic groups. We will explore new alternatives to suspension that provide the proper balance of support and discipline. We will learn more about instructional strategies that are culturally relevant for a diverse community of learners, and we will report regularly on our finances and potential financial challenges.

John Gardner, the influential secretary of Health, Education and Welfare who helped craft President Johnson’s Great Society and the founder of Common Cause and the Independent Sector, wrote in 1961 – “We don’t even know what skills may be needed in the years ahead. That is why we must train our young people in the fundamental fields of knowledge, and equip them to understand and cope with change. That is why we must give them the critical qualities of mind and durable qualities of character that will serve them in circumstances we cannot now even predict.”  (John Gardner, “Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too?” (1961)

Our job within District 65 is to focus on every child, every day to do whatever it takes to give all children those critical qualities of mind and durable qualities of character. Our job is to support our community partners as well so that we support our children and their learning wherever and whenever it occurs. We at District 65 are ready and eager to take on these responsibilities. We thank you for the opportunity to serve our children, our families, and our communities.