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The end of a beautiful summer is nearing and another school year is upon us. I hope that everyone had an enjoyable break filled with relaxation and fun with family and friends. I salute our community partners who did a tremendous job of providing enriching activities and fun for the whole family. We kicked off the summer with Read to the Rhythm hosted by the Evanston Public Library, enjoyed movies under the stars at our local parks, embraced the creativity of Evanston youth at the Y.O.U. summer showcase, and came together as a community for the COPE and PTA Council school supply drive and fundraising initiative. With your support and generosity, over $15,000 was raised to purchase supplies so that our students could start a new year ready to learn and prepared for success. The response of our partners and community members to meet this pressing need was spectacular. I am truly proud to serve as Superintendent of District 65 and to represent a community dedicated to the education of all children.

Last August, we began the school year inspired by our commitment to every child, every day, whatever it takes. These words have become deeply rooted within our organizational culture and represent a deep commitment of our faculty and staff. We have learned that in order for our students and our schools to be successful, we must work together – doing whatever it takes, every day, to reach every child. This commitment was demonstrated last week when a group of teachers, administrators, and educational support staff returned from their summer break early to collaborate on a special welcome back video for their colleagues. Under the direction of Matthew Hunter, a gifted vocalist, performer, and music teacher at Chute and King Arts, our District 65 “choir” sang their own rendition of “Lean on Me.” As I listened I was truly touched and inspired by this ensemble. A group representing schools from across the district, many of whom didn’t know each other, came together with a powerful message filled with trust, friendship, understanding, and camaraderie. It represented our collective promise to listen, learn, and lean on each other for support. This video was shown to nearly 1,200 staff members as part of our opening of schools festivities. I hope that you, too, will join in our excitement for a new school year and commit to working together with our District 65 team to make a difference in the lives of our children.

As we continue the implementation of our strategic plan, we have many opportunities for growth and continued success. As a district, we remain focused on high quality teaching and learning, developing and sustaining a thriving workforce, embracing family and community engagement, fostering a safe and supportive school climate, and maintaining financial sustainability. The district has identified a set of metrics to measure progress as we implement the strategic plan and are currently in the process of setting targets for growth over the next five years.

This year’s achievement data, while not at the level to which we aspire, offers some encouragement. After several years of decline, our achievement scores have flattened and in some cases improved slightly in reading and math. However, there is still much work to be done. It is critical that we set targets that are understandable, usable and aspirational in order to support the level of growth that we need to attain. We will monitor the data closely and regularly to determine whether we are making progress on our goal of closing our current achievement gaps while raising performance levels for all students.

There are also challenges that lie ahead which we must tackle with transparency and creativity to ensure we are addressing the needs of all students. With looming budget deficits coupled with financial uncertainty at the state, I had to make several difficult decisions last year to ensure the district remains fiscally responsible and on-track to achieve our goals. I did not make these decisions lightly nor did I do so without understanding the ramifications of my actions whether they were reductions that had impact at the school level, at our central office, or in the support services necessary to operate the district.

My promise, whether on budget issues or other decisions that may be considered controversial, is to listen, learn, and to do what is in the best interest of the children and families we serve. I look forward to continuing to engage our staff, families, and community members in discussion around these and other important issues.

As part of my opening of schools message to staff this year, I shared the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” A new school year is marked with excitement and the potential to accomplish great things. As we continue to work together, to lean on each other, I know we will go far. I wish all of our students, families, faculty, and staff a wonderful school year. Together, we will make a difference for all children.