At the District 65 School Board meeting on March 18, Shannon Lang and Laurie Haverkamp presented a grim picture of things happening at Dawes Elementary School. They each have children at Dawes and are co-presidents of Dawes PTA. When they spoke, about 40 Dawes parents in the audience stood, showing their support. 

“We stand before you today advocating for much needed resources for Dawes Elementary School. … The lack of consistent leadership at Dawes has taken its toll on our beloved community, our teachers, our families and our students. We will be on our fifth principal in five years.”

They said they are “grateful” for the interim principal, and “We also believe wholeheartedly that Dawes teachers are the best in the District. Their dedication to our Dawes Eagles goes unsurpassed.”

They said, though, “This year Dawes has seen an increase of students with intense behavioral challenges that require additional strategies and supports to meet their needs and maintain safety for all students and staff.

“Teachers have shared with us their concerns they are facing on a daily basis: loss of instruction time in class, specials, PE, etc.; safety in the hallways during transitions, in the gym, on the bus; loss of preparation time because teachers are monitoring students that may pose a danger to themselves and others; constant distraction that creates a challenging teaching and learning environment; shortage of staff that is CPI [crisis prevention] trained in de-escalation techniques and can safely contain and support students.

“One of Dawes teacher’s assistants has already been injured this year. In the same respect, students have gotten injured as a consequence of thrown objects or just being in close proximity of a student who is struggling and becomes unable to control their actions.

“Students are having to evacuate classrooms because of impending student danger and witnessing students that are yelling or screaming or being physically aggressive.

“The overarching theme is that Dawes keeps receiving more and more students with extreme social and emotional trauma without the supports in place to take care of such students.”

Ms. Lang and Ms. Haverkamp noted that the District is in the process of hiring a permanent principal for the school and they listed the qualities that they would like to see in a new principal. They also said the PTA was asking for four things: 1) an Assistant Principal, 2) more teacher’s assistants, 3) more personnel that are CPI Trained, especially in de-escalation techniques, and  4) an additional social worker.

Jeanine Brownell, a Dawes parent for 10 years, also spoke. She said, “We have the most hard-working, well-intentioned staff that frankly goes above and beyond, day in and day out. But they simply don’t have the staffing, resources, and leadership to be effective.

“I ask that you look at the need, not the numbers. Dawes has a TWI program, three self-contained special education classrooms, 30% of the students are English language learners, and a majority of families qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch. We may be a relatively small school by our numbers, but the need is large.”

She said, even the most able principal will not be able to address the needs at Dawes alone. “Dawes needs an Assistant Principal and more support staff, like an additional social worker,” she reiterated.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...