I could not be more excited to welcome our returning staff, students, and families back for a new school year and to extend a warm welcome to our new educators and families! My ties to the Evanston community run deep as a 20-year resident and in service to the community as District 65 superintendent over the past four years. I raised my children in our public schools and continue to marvel at the wonderful things that happen every day. I love these first days – the genuine feeling of excitement fueled by the passion and outstanding work of our teachers, administrators, and support staff.

Our classrooms, playgrounds, and hallways come alive every August. Our schools make up an ecosystem of wonderful children, engaged family and community members, and dedicated staff members who approach their work with compassion and care. As we open the year, I encourage all of us to bring our best selves to D65 each and every day. At a time when the rhetoric at the state and national level is so negative and divisive, we must remain committed to ensuring our schools are welcoming and inclusive of all members of our community – where the work of our educators and the relationships they build with students and families is valued at the highest level. We must always assume the best in one another and remain positive despite any challenges that come our way.

As we start the 2018-2019 school year, we will focus on the various component parts of our D65 ecosystem. Each part is unique yet together they thrive fueling the growth we intend. In order for our ecosystem to thrive, we must ensure that our schools – through culturally relevant teaching strategies – serve all members of our diverse student body; that we instill ideals of professional respect and positive intent throughout the system; that teaching and learning is tailored to the needs of each student; that restorative practices are a go-to strategy; that racial equity remains top of mind; and that every student and adult who walks through our doors feels welcome and valued. This is our focus for the year and years to come. If we work together as a learning community committed to these practices, our students will achieve at the highest levels.

Our racial equity learning is a key component of this ecosystem and has the potential to make a significant difference. In order to support this work, we set a goal to have our entire teaching staff participate in Beyond Diversity – a transformative seminar on issues of race. This week, we met our goal. Yet, this is only the beginning of our journey as we continue to expand opportunities for staff and families to join SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) cohorts. When my daughter started at Oakton 16 years ago, I could not have imagined the dialogue and deep reflection on race currently taking place in District 65 and across Evanston. Let me stress, without hesitation, I have an unwavering commitment to continuing this work, to engage our multiple communities in courageous conversations on race, and to use racial affinity groups and the Beyond Diversity protocol to consider our work through a racial equity lens in ways that will serve all children and especially those from historically marginalized communities. 

Within our ecosystem, I have thought a lot about how all of our children can succeed at the highest levels. As educators and community members, what do we need to do to create the conditions for success for all students? These conditions and opportunities must go beyond the calls for students to be college and career ready. I am equally concerned with what we as educators, and as residents of Evanston and Skokie, must do to ensure that all of our students are set up for success, specifically when they land at Evanston Township High School.

At its core, District 65 must provide all students a rigorous instructional program complemented by an emphasis on social emotional learning that promotes relationship building between staff, students, and families. We must build routines that welcome and engage our students. We must recognize and honor the unique strengths and assets that all students bring with them to school, emphasizing a growth mindset. While  assessments, such as MAP, are only one indicator of growth, they are an important tool for educators at the elementary, middle, and high school level to assess student understanding of concepts, determine how to best use instructional time, and to provide feedback loops in order to fully engage students in learning. When students are prepared to achieve their best, they will find success in high school and beyond. Our students need to hear this message from educators in our schools and from family and community members at home. 

For our D65 ecosystem to thrive, we must stress culturally relevant practices that embrace rigor, relationships, and routines that create the conditions for success. And, we must work together as a community to ensure success for all students. In that spirit, we must follow the African proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. We will go far, and we will go together to make a difference in the lives of all students. I wish all of our students, families, and staff all the best for a successful school year.