School Districts 65 and 202 joined together for the second annual “State of the Schools” event, on Jan. 28 at Evanston Township High School. Dr. Paul Goren, District 65 superintendent, and Dr. Eric Witherspoon, ETHS District 202 superintendent, provided updates on their District’s accomplishments and challenges.

Dr. Goren spoke of District 65’s new five-year strategic plan, the “road map to guide our work” and the updated mission statement. He gave examples of the District’s creativity, citing the expansion of STEM opportunities, Haven’s student-led plays, and the chess tournament at Oakton School. He talked about the District’s support of social and emotional learning and the work being done around restorative justice.

As for the District’s challenges, Dr. Goren spoke first of the budget and a “multimillion dollar deficit” possible for fiscal 2017. He assured listeners that the District is “focused on transparency” and “looking for efficiencies” and will “engage the community” in solutions and planning. He also pointed to flat achievement scores and the achievement gap. “I’ve heard your concerns and share your deep sentiments.” To address these challenges, the District is better targeting interventions, improving school climate including efforts to diversify the staff, and strengthening partnerships with the community. “With challenges comes opportunity,” said Dr. Goren, and this is a “unique time” for District 65. “I look forward to the exciting work ahead.” 

 Dr. Witherspoon said that ETHS is meeting a wider range of student needs as total enrollment has increased from 3,238 students in 2014-15 to 3,322 students this school year. Special Education enrollment is at its highest in five years, he said, and there has been an increase in enrollment among students of color, with Latinos the fastest growing group. He touted the variety of course offerings, and the honors, AP and national certification programs and provided an overview of resources available to students.

As did Dr. Goren, Dr. Witherspoon identified the achievement gap and uncertainties at the State level as challenges. “We will keep this District financially solid no matter what the State throws at us,” he said.

Both superintendents emphasized the importance of working together and with all parts of the community to give students the life skills needed to succeed. Here in Evanston, “we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk,” said Dr. Witherspoon also noting that both he and Dr. Goren have children and grandchildren in the two districts and that they are “satisfied customers.”

Both Superintendents Goren and Witherspoon discussed the first Joint Achievement Report produced by District 65 and District 202. The report reiterated the importance of strengthening collaborations in areas such as literacy, financial sustainability, and key administrative partnerships. Ongoing collaboration with the City of Evanston, Northwestern University, Oakton Community College, Evanston Cradle to Career, and numerous community groups were also included among the strategies for success.

The event concluded with a question and answer session led by Janet Webb, a retired Evanston school teacher. The Superintendents answered a variety of questions, either submitted in advance or during the event. Key topics of interest from submitted questions included the achievement gap, college graduation rates, alumni engagement opportunities, the impact of the state’s budget impasse on school finance, and assessments.

A special edition of the Superintendents’ Spotlight video, which premiered at the event, highlights the collaborative efforts between both Districts. It can be found online at https://youth.be/T-0CEaxR4kE.