Dr. Debra Hill, left, and Dr. Anne Noland presented the Community Engagement and Profile Report to the School Board on Sept. 23.    

On Sept. 23, Debra Hill and Anne Noland, representatives of BWP and Associates Consultants, presented a Community Engagement and Profile Report to the District 65 School Board. Drs. Hill and Noland and Mark Friedman, their colleague, are assisting the Board in the search for a new Superintendent.

The 295-page report presents data and information gathered from administrators, teachers, parents, students and community members  to use in developing a list of the top 10 Strengths of the District, the top 12 Challenges facing the District, and the top 11 Characteristics and Skillsets that the community would like to see in the new Superintendent. After discussing some changes to certain items on the lists on Sept. 23, the Board approved the lists, as amended.

The list of Characteristics and Skillset the community would like to see in a new Superintendent will be used in ads for potential candidates; it will be used by BWP in selecting five or six candidates to submit to the Board to interview; and it will be used by the Board in selecting a new Superintendent, said Dr. Hill.

Dr. Hill said BWP used a general frequency distribution strategy to analyze the information gathered from 1,041 people who participated in interviews, focus groups and a survey. The top 10 or 12 things that emerged as themes in analyzing the strengths of the District, the challenges facing the District, and the characteristics and skillset that the community would like to see in the new Superintendent were included in the lists.

A total of 186 people were either interviewed or participated in one of the focus groups, said Dr. Hill. Of these people, the report reflects that seven were Board members; 71 were District administrators, teachers or staff; 59 were seventh or eighth graders at District 65; 10 were in a parent focus group; eight were education community partners; two were in an affinity group; and two were local officials. In addition, 26 people attended a forum that was open to anyone in the community.

In addition, BWP administered a survey that was open to everyone and could be filled out online or on paper in either English or Spanish. Overall, 856 people responded to the survey, said Dr. Hill. Of the respondents, the two main groups were parents and teachers; 611 said they were parents of a student at District 65, and 134 said they were teachers. 

A total of 62.7% of the survey respondents identified as being white, 14.0% black, 5.7% Latinx, 6.3% multi-ethnic, and the balance in another ethnic category.

The interviews and the focus groups were each geared to gather information about what people thought were the significant strengths of the District, the significant issues or challenges facing the District, and the characteristics or skillset the new Superintendent should possess in order to be successful.

Top 10 Strengths

The profile report lists the top 10 strengths of the District that emerged from the interviews, focus groups and surveys. The strengths are not listed in priority order. They are: “Excellent teachers and administrators who are very hard working; Diversity (socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, LGBTQ+ status, religious, ability, and immigration status) in the community population; Supportive and engaged parents, community, and community partners; Commitment to addressing issues of racial equity, restorative practices, social justice; Great students; Resources; Positive reputation; Community stability – many return and stay; School programs and academic rigor; and Community cares about good education.” 

Top 12 Challenges

The top 12 issues or challenges facing the District identified in the report, as revised, are:  

• “Implementing  social justice and restorative practices,

• “Resources and equitable distribution of funds trying to service a diverse economic community and economic shifts,

• “Curriculum – not focused enough, too many initiatives – needs to include environmental  studies,

• “Programming – provide Brown and Black students with equity in opportunity to achieve, early childhood, special education programs and educational options,

•“Academics – the opportunity gap resulting in disparate outcomes for Brown and Black students while continuing to improve outcomes for all students,

 • “Personnel – more cultural diversity within staff that reflects the student population (with a focus on recruiting and retaining more Black educators), central office and school connections, top heavy administration,

• “Climate, culture and morale – overall and especially of teachers and need for building administrative support,

• “Communication at all levels,

• “Consistency and visibility of leadership – both administrative and Board,

• “5th Ward – lack of neighborhood school,

• “Facilities.” 

Again, the challenges are not listed in priority order.

Several changes made by the Board from the challenges as originally proposed by BWP include, changing one challenge originally stated as “Provide academic rigor for Brown and Black students” to “Provide Brown and Black students with equity in opportunity to achieve;” by folding a stand-alone challenge stated as “Special education programs and educational outcomes,” into a challenge stating, “Programming – provide Brown and Black students with equity in opportunity to achieve, early childhood, special education programs and educational outcomes;” changing one challenge stating, “Conflict with parents and pressure groups” to “Conflict with parents and opportunity hoarding;” changing one challenge stating, “Leadership – both administrative and Board,” to “Consistency and visibility of leadership – both administrative and Board.” 

The top four challenges identified by survey respondents were the achievement/opportunity gap (70.2%), curriculum and instruction (57.2%), financial management (44.6%), and community relations (28.3%).

Characteristics/Skillsets of a New Superintendent

The top 11 characteristics and skillsets the community would like to see in a new Superintendent include a wide range of characteristics and skills. As revised, they are:

• “Understanding of and commitment to high levels of achievement for all students, especially those of color,

• “Background as an educator with teaching and administrative experience and in working with special needs, multilingual, and early childhood populations,

• “Visionary – can inspire and bring others along, 

• “Good communicator in both written and verbal areas with political savvy in relating to all facets of the community including students,

• “Student centered – works for what is best for students 

• “Experience in working with diverse student and community populations in racial, cultural and economic contexts,

• “Racially conscious and can demonstrate a commitment to and success in working on issues of race and racial equity, cultural competency, social justice, restorative practices,   

• “Personal qualities – confident, dedicated, sincere, focused, thick-skinned, honest, organized, fair, ethical, strong and can say no,

• “Interpersonal skills – collaborative with a variety of stakeholder groups, can build good relationships, good listener who gets input, is accountable, exercises good judgement, approachable, cares, trust builder,

“Knowledge of issues related to climate justice and desire to integrate with the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan,

 • “Leadership skills – team builder, can go against the norm, strategic in planning and systems thinking (including long-term financial planning) and visionary, innovative, holds others accountable.”

In addition to these characteristics and skills, the report lists 10 other things the community would like to see in a new Superintendent: “Has experience – classroom – diverse requirements – suburban/urban – similar district size; Doctorate is nice but not essential, but should have some advanced study; Should live in or near or be willing to move in or near; Will make a commitment to the District’s work on racial equity, social justice and restorative practices; Needs to have knowledge of educational trends; Needs to realize District history; Can listen and respond to the voices of all; Will be able to work collaboratively and cooperatively with the Board; Will be fiscally responsible; Bi- or multilingual.”

Next Steps

Dr. Hill said there are 20 applicants for the position of Superintendent so far, and 17 have completed their applications. BWP will use the profile of characteristics/skills in advertising for the position, and BWP’s representatives will continue to seek out potential candidates.

The deadline to submit applications for Superintendent is Oct. 6. As applications come in, the BWP team will review them and conduct background checks. The team will winnow down the field to about 10 to 12 people who best meet the Superintendent profile and interview them between Oct. 13 and Oct. 19. The team will then present a list and information on about five or six candidates to the School Board on Oct. 28. This will take place in closed session.

The goal is to provide the Board with “a diverse pool of outstanding candidates who are seriously interested in serving as your next Superintendent,” said BWP.

The Board will conduct interviews of these candidates in closed session meetings on Nov. 12, 13 and 14. “This is the screening. It’s the first round,” said Dr. Friedman at a previous meeting.

On Nov. 18, the School Board is scheduled to deliberate on the five or six  candidates in closed session, and then narrow the field to two or three semi-finalists. Dr. Hill told the RoundTable she anticipated that the Board would make its decision selecting two or three semi-finalists in open session, so the community would know who the semi-finalists are at that time.

The two or three semi-finalists will each spend a “Day in the District” on Dec. 2, 3 or 4. Community members will be able to provide input concerning the candidates at that time, and the Board will have an opportunity to interview each candidate at the end of the day on which they are visiting the District. The Board is tentatively scheduled to deliberate on the candidates in a closed session meeting on Dec. 5.

After a final candidate is selected, the Board or its representative will negotiate a contract with the selected candidate, and then vote to approve the new Superintendent and the Superintendent’s contract on Jan. 13.

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...