Dr. Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of Evanston Township High School District 202 since July 2006, announced that he will retire in June 2022. The District 202 Board of Education approved the notice of retirement at the board meeting on Sept. 13.

District 202 Board of Education approved the notice of Dr. Witherspoon’s retirement, effective in June 2022. (Photo by Nate Perry)

“I know how many people count the days until their retirement, but for me this is bittersweet… I leave completely loving this school and this job,” Dr. Witherspoon said in his official announcement during the Superintendent’s report at the board meeting.

A lifelong educator, Dr. Witherspoon started out as a high school English teacher and was previously a director of a high school gifted education program, assistant principal, acting principal and assistant superintendent. Prior to coming to Evanston, Dr. Witherspoon was a school superintendent in Iowa and Indiana. He was named Iowa Superintendent of the Year in 2001-02.

His 16-year tenure at ETHS accounts for nearly half of his long career as a superintendent of schools for 33 years.

“I think… it’s hugely fitting because I really do see this as the capstone of my career. I see this as where I was able to build on my past successes, my past experiences and come to a school district and really bring to fruition what I believe is important in a school. The equity mission, the anti-racist mission, the making sure that it’s a school for all young people. Making sure that there are not racial issues that hold some students back… We work very hard on that,” said Dr. Witherspoon.

He credited the board of education for adopting goals and for having “updated, reinforced and reaffirmed” the equity statement that was adopted prior to the current complete board.

“It’s a joy working with you,” he said, addressing the board.

“I know it’s going to be a joy working with you for the remainder of the school year. And thank you to all the former board members and all the people I have worked with here who have truly made it possible for us to move ETHS along as we have,” said Dr. Witherspoon.

Dr. Witherspoon can often be seen connecting with students before and after school. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

He thanked his wife, Cynthia, whom he met in his first administrative job as an assistant principal. “We’ve had quite a journey together,” said Dr. Witherspoon.

He also thanked three now retired ETHS colleagues, all of whom attended the board meeting: Kim Rapp; his first executive assistant; Kathy Miehls, his first communications director; and David Futransky, who was president of the Teachers Council when Dr. Witherspoon came to ETHS.

Board president Pat Savage-Williams formally accepted Dr. Witherspoon’s letter of intent to retire as of June 30, 2022.

“I feel like we’ve been extremely fortunate to have you as a leader in our district and in our community…I could say so much about how you have transformed this district. You have demonstrated for our community and for the country how to identify and respond to institutional, systemic racism…

“Dr. Witherspoon, I know that you work tirelessly behind the scenes to advance this cause… While doing that, academic performance has increased for all of our students. The enrollment of students in advanced placement courses continues to rise, especially for Black and brown students,” said Savage-Williams.

Under Dr. Witherspoon’s leadership, the graduation rate has increased, and ETHS has been recognized by U.S. News and World Reports and The Washington Post as ranking in the top 2-3% of all ranked high schools in the nation.

“We appreciate how you’ve guided our district and modeled… how to lead with integrity and compassion and dignity,” concluded Savage-Williams in her acceptance of Dr. Witherspoon’s pending retirement.

With equity and anti-racism as the hallmarks and foundation of his superintendency, Dr Witherspoon led the de-tracking and restructuring of the freshman experience and the earned honors model that aimed to  increase rigor and expectations for all ETHS students.

The implementation of strategies led by Witherspoon have helped ETHS demonstrate growth in key areas: curricula and academic supports, programs and services that include social/emotional supports, partnerships and collaborations with Northwestern University and Evanston Cradle to Career, and Joint Achievement Report with District 65.

Under Dr. Witherspoon’s leadership, some of the District’s initiatives elicited negative as well as positive reactions, including the restructuring of the freshman humanities program and the earned honors model. There was also criticism of ETHS officials from some parents and community members during the COVID-19 pandemic, when ETHS remained closed as some other Illinois high schools began to reopen. However, Dr. Witherspoon has maintained throughout his superintendency, that he listens to and considers all voices and concerns, and he is widely considered a proponent of equity in education.

He has embraced fiscal stewardship during challenging economic times in Illinois. The district has achieved a balanced budget every year since Witherspoon came to ETHS, annually winning the top national budget and accounting awards and receiving the coveted AAA bond rating.

Striking the balance between preserving the historic architecture of ETHS and creating a 21st-Century learning environment, Dr. Witherspoon helped to ensure that facility upgrades and long-term strategic initiatives would benefit students for decades to come.

By partnering with the efforts of the ETHS Foundation and Alumni Association, ETHS has focused on students having access to resources and facility upgrades during Dr. Witherspoon’s tenure. These include a Geometry in Construction site, science research center, literacy lab, science labs, planetarium, wellness center, athletics and physical education spaces, Central Library, entrepreneurship center, the Hub student success center, labs for auto technology, advanced manufacturing, and engineering, and auditorium upgrades, along with increased energy efficiency,

Looking toward his retirement, he said, “I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and so I’m looking forward to how I will move that ahead to continue this work in a productive way. It is exciting, while at the same time, pretty daunting.

“I will probably say time and again this year, and for many years to come, ‘It’s a great day to be a Wildkit,’” said Dr. Witherspoon at the conclusion of his remarks.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.