23 replies on “Donna Sokolowski: Why I retired from District 65”

  1. This letter is focused on the frustration felt by the author while dealing with change, but it doesn’t at all address the actual topic of racism in our schools. Why?

  2. First, this letter and many comments ignore comparably high levels of racism at D65, the role of parents, teachers and principals in sustaining racism at D65, and the enornously high salaries paid to scores of D65 administrators who do virtually nothing about poor instruction, misandry and racism at D65.

    For years, D65 teachers and principals, have mistreated young students of color. They reportedly expelled young boys from school at ages, 5, 6 and 7 for being children. They virtually ignored them in the classooms, and at times, reportedly called armed police to the classrooms to arrest 6-7 year Black boys under guise of removing a public safety threat. Clearly, some D65 teachers do not want to teach Hispanic or Black children. Many live in all White neighborhoods outside D65 and have never been around students of color. The test scores reflect the teaching bias.

    Racial epithets and hostile conduct have permeated D65 classrooms and school playgrounds and the teachers have been silent. But they have no problem warning parents about boys playing “shooting” games in school yards.

    Undeniably, D65 teachers and principals treated parents of color like second class citizens while ensuring White parents received red carpet treatment and had access to all special privileges and summer program information. There was NO teacher or principal accountability for failing to provide Black and Hispanic children equal opportunities to succeed at D65. White parents were silent and many White families flocked to enroll their kids into D65 because of their “good” schools. Their White privilege allowed them to control the PTA and push an agenda that woefully ignored mothers of color, who mostly have full time jobs, and further marginalize students of color.

    Now today, these same actors have fueled hatred for Dr. Horton and spared numerous death threats against him and his family. Not one teacher or principal has issued a letter denouncing death threats against him. Their silence is l tacit approval of the hate and racism that permates D65.

    Meanwhile, he is paid less than previous White superintendants at $227K. Nobody questions the $200K paid to the Dep. Supt, or the $180K salary paid to the Asst. Supt for Curriculum or the $180K paid to Asst. Supt. For HR, the $170K paid to Asst. Supt. for Middle Schools, the $165K paid to the Asst. Supt. For Student Services and their collective roles in the climate of marginalization, overspending, and the poor academic outcomes at D65.

    Granted, the “woke” oriented new curriculum changes are problematic. I agree with some concerns that they encroach upon topics that should be left to parents and push orientation and identity agendas that are not only age inappropriate, but destructive to many families and notions of universal respect for human dignity. But if parents had done their job by teaching children how to respect others, voting for school board members that value high academic achievements, and held teachers and principals accountable for teaching all D65 children, D65 would not be suffering right now and falling behind other like districts.

    In short, where was the parental outcry and faculty/principal letters when data revealed that Black and Hispanic kids from rich families in Evanston perform poorly at D65? Where was the complaints when mothers yelled racial epithets at other mothers picking up their kids? Where was the outcry when Evanston police followed Black husbands around D65 schools when picking up their kids without just cause? Where was the outcry when D65 teachers called armed police officers to classrooms on children barely old enough to be potty trained? There wasn’t any. So why now?

    1. I wanted to address something you mentioned that is continuously brought up which are the “death threats” to Dr. Horton. I was curious about this and the “hate crime” reported on last January by a D65 board member – the same week the RoundTable published an article showing Dr. Horton has called certain parents white supremacists in emails urging the district to re-open schools. So, I pulled those police reports and found that while Dr. Horton’s staff submitted several threatening emails, the Evanston police found none to be death threats or a crime and from what I recall, they did not believe any were coming from local residents. They called Dr. Horton several times to follow up yet he never replied. The emails – while aggressive – were certainly not what I was expecting. Nor was the police report the that board member filed in January which led to a long email to parents and an emergency board meeting discussing the board and admin’s safety. If fact, this police report was even more underwhelming – the board member apparently left her car unlocked and then cleaned it before the police arrived. It all begs the question of if we are being duped by the board and admin whose success desperately depends on all of Evanston believing we live in a racist and dangerous community. Food for thought.

  3. I am deeply saddened by this article. My children, now in their early 30s, survived Districts 65 and 202 due to many incredible teachers. I was deeply involved in D.65, serving on the first strategic planning committee and the Committee that worked to design the TWI program. As the parent of a child with a learning disability, the elimination of reading specialists is incredibly troubling. It’s the impact of one on one interactions between a child and a caring, effective adult in the classroom that affects a child’s life, not more administrators and consultants. The answer is to get involved—find teacher-oriented school board candidates and support them—and VOTE!

  4. A sad story. Dist. 65 is bigger and better than this. 1968 Evanston first district north of Mason Dixon Line to voluntarily desegregate. 1972 I was appointed principal of Dawes School. 21 schools. One of only 2 principals hired outside the district, the second principal of Dawes, Dr. Nichols was the first principal (18 yrs). I retired in 2003, 31 yrs. Very proud. Mary Ellen Wilson, first black teacher at Dawes. Eddie Lee Sutton, first black teacher to graduate from NU in speech therapy. Our speech therapist. A proud tradition of great teachers, Dixie Ford, Florence Flader, Pat Rodez. Lucy Liebling, Harriet Sorenson, Cathy Mantonya. And then more recent Susan Arenberg, Nancy Zordan, Sue Jicha, Laura Kier, Mabel Williams, Barbara Berg, Pam Butterfield, Pat Savage Williams, Gail Wilcinski, Patrice Prescott, Ross Burrel, Victory Kadish. etc. So many!

    Many great teachers. I worked for 7 Supt. Was fired once. Loved my job and the people I worked with.

    A great school district, a great community, worth the fight.


  5. Many of you are asking “Where is the school board?” and the answer is: in the drivers seat! Mr. Horton is only doing exactly what they hired him to do. The current school board president and a few other current members were on the board when they decided to oust our previous superintendent, Paul Goren, and give him a severance package worth nearly $100,000 despite our budget constraints, to leave. They are also the board who hired Devon Horton, who hired many new central office personnel costing our district hundreds of thousands more. But he would not have been able to do this without the board approving his budget to do so. Also, if you don’t like him having an LLC on the side, he also had to get that approved by the school board, and the school board president approved it.

    The changes we’ve been seeing in our schools the past few years have been mandated by the school board and it’s Mr. Horton’s job to carry it all out. And while they have noble goals of eradicating the achievement gap, it seems like they’re not going about it with the right approach. Their practices are causing a toxic work environment, which caused the teacher’s union president to advise teachers to take mental health days off Monday & Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which caused teachers to do so, which caused school to be canceled due to lack of staffing, which caused two days of missed learning – because let’s face it, students and teachers are pretty checked out by the end of the school year where they added the two days on.

    So despite the districts goals of helping students, we can see by cause and effect that they are hurting them. And that is just one example out of many.

    Please VOTE carefully in the next school board election in 2023. Research candidates and find out what they stand for instead of just voting for the candidates who have the most yard signs and bumper stickers. Our kids are paying the price!

    1. One thing that has never been clarified about the superintendent relates to the investigation Channel 5 did back in 2013 into his tax liabilities. At the time of the investigation he owed more than $60,000 in unpaid taxes and fees to the City of Chicago related to a variety of properties he owns in the city.

      It is unclear if he ever has paid any of this money back, but a simple search of public documents shows the City of Chicago just won a judgement in court in February 2021 against him for several thousand dollars.

      $60k is a lot of money to owe to one creditor. Of course, he also gets paid a lot of money–other than the 202 superintendent, he is the highest paid public official in Evanston.

      As someone in a position of controlling a $151 million budget, it would be useful to have basic questions answered about his personal debts and liabilities given what is known from public records and previous press reports. His active side gigs from his consultancy also give rise to questions.

      Of course, this would have been a question he would have had to have answered publicly during the hiring process if the board had an open search where candidates could be evaluated by the people who pay their salary through our taxes. But the board only brought in the one candidate and hired him before informing the public.

      I am not implying that the superintendent is doing (or has done) anything unlawful. But I would question the judgment and values of a richly compensated public servant who can’t be bothered to pay property taxes. It is especially ironic in the superintendent’s case given his supposed concern for “equity” and the fact that the chronically underfunded Chicago Public Schools are dependent on property taxes for their operation.

      It really doesn’t inspire much confidence.

      Here is the Ch. 5 investigation: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/chicago-workers-owe-city-millions-in-unpaid-debt/2049839/

  6. How much longer do we need to witness Dr. Horton and the current school board’s destruction of D65 before we make a change? Time to wake up Evanston.

  7. This is an excellent article but it points out many faults that go back decades. D#65 has for decades, been a top-down leadership with the voices of seasoned educators completely ignored. I retired with 35 years in the district & know full well of what I report. Valued programs have been ignored, unfunded, dependent on charity or outright just erased so that huge salary raises could be given to upper administration & more of their ilk hired & paid for. One assistant superintendents’ salary & benefits could have completely & generously funded my entire department!!!! Outside consultants with no teaching experience are useless & yet the district relies on their ‘fake expertise’ instead of listening to when the teachers tell the admin what is needed. The idea that the Chicago mess should be a mold for Evanston/Skokie is idiotic. Another long-standing practice that should be completely dismantled. Yet, history continues to repeat & repeat & repeat. That these vapid & destructive practices have gone on for so long is a terrible shame, a mistreatment of the children & a stain on the community.

  8. I will not mince words, The Superintendent Dr. Hortan is a manipulative racist that plays the race card to further his career as a “Woke” district leader caring less about all students and caring more about getting his narrative that all students do not matter only ones that can make headlines i.e. blacks and latinos. I cannot for the life of me understand how the school board sits on their hands while good teachers are being forced out by this man and the horribly run district. Evanston is known throughout Illinois as the district who loves to pat themselves on the back for being what they call progressive, but in all actuality this endless talk of race and how we are different broadens the gap of racial relations… the bottom line is skin color has no effect on a person’s life its how they are raised strong leaders around them like teachers, parents ect.

    Enough is enough!! Wake up and change this District for the better and stop playing the race card for everything that fails!!! It hasn’t worked it never will work worry about education family values and loving one another.

    Because pretty soon as a parent we will be teaching our own children because there will be no teachers left in this district.

  9. Having been the parent of 3 grown children who went through District 65 &
    202 I was very sad by the school boards and Dr. Hortons ‘s decisions. Many outstanding teachers and staff have left as well as over 800 students. Reading specialist no longer exist putting more pressure on classroom teachers to do this work. My 3 Grandsons left District 65 and as sad as that was it was the only way to get the quality education the district had been known for. Parents need to wake up!

  10. I have known many D65 teachers and principals as my three children went through Dewey and Nichols. Many of them were smart, very hardworking and did an excellent job.
    From the comments I just read, it sounds like wokeness and top-down management philosophy has taken over the administration. Board of Education WHERE ARE YOU???

  11. And while all this is going on and District 65 teachers are being left to feel voiceless and disrespected why is the superintendent of District 65 spending time as a consultant to
    District 28 Northbrook in a private business enterprise? I have seen mention in District 28 newsletters of focus groups, teacher interviews, parent meetings and paraprofessional inquiries so all would be heard as a part of choosing a new Northbrook superintendent. Why are these processes not being used here in Dr. Horton’s own district?? I wonder who has sanctioned this. Where is the school board?? It was appalling to hear in the national news that school here in Evanston needed to be closed down due to staff burnout. What is going on? Why are we seeing an exodus of top educators and administrators? As a former Dewey parent and neighbor whose property value has been solidified by an excellent local school, I am shocked and disheartened to hear of the mistrust and unhappiness of staff in District 65. Perhaps our superintendent should be focusing on the job he was hired to do and not moonlighting elsewhere as a consultant. I am deeply concerned as a retired teacher and neighbor that our excellent local principal and staff have been left to feel disrespected and unheard while the person in charge is offering voice to all in his side gig. I was shocked to hear that reading teachers were eliminated especially when so much instruction has been missed due to the pandemic. Where is the school board? Most important who is standing for children and making sure their educations are not being compromised while the adults in charge figure it all out?

  12. Let’s remember that the current superintendent was hired without any public input under a cloud of secrecy.

    During previous hires going back to the last century multiple finalist candidates were brought to town and there were multiple open meetings with the public and other mechanisms for the public to provide feedback on the candidates.

    When the current superintendent was hired, the board only brought in one person. They didn’t even have a slate of candidates to present to the public. To make matters worse, the candidate was not named nor was there any opportunity for the public to give feedback on the candidate.

    We only learned who the superintendent was going to be after he was offered the job.

    This shows the board’s contempt for the public and makes for greater skepticism about the administration’s actions.

    I think the fact that we are seeing such widespread teacher discontent is partly a consequence of the poor process that was implemented by the board for determining the District’s leadership.

    1. Unfortunately it seems that ETHS/District 202 is following the same path as far as input with hiring a new superintendent. Dr. Witherspoon announced his retirement September 13th and the D202 school board has yet to hire a search firm, ask for any input from parents, students or the community. Until parents start demanding better for all our children, they will get away with what they can without transparency.

  13. This is powerful. As a D65 parent, I was very appreciative of her commitment. Still, this letter seems to unfairly target the Black male D65 supt when the facts clearly indicate he receives instructions from the school board, and, that there is a widespread bias problem across the D65 leadership. He seems to be the only leader she specifically blames while she remains silent about the incessant racialized achievement gap and famed marginalization of Hispanic and Black children, especially boys, at D65. The “blame the Black guy” approach to solving problems is not only unfair and dangerous, but integrates D65 into the fabric of the darkest and most prejudice facets of American history. Our children deserve better.

    1. Correct. Dr. Horton is black.

      But what is being presented is the idea of when is manipulation and lying to professionals ever an acceptable form of conducting any form of business ethics? How is that a way to build relationships and trust in any community?

    2. Thank you, Vincent Jones. I agree that “The ‘blame the Black guy’ approach to solving problems is . . . unfair and dangerous” and reflects very poorly on D65

  14. The 2021-2022 Compensation Report provides evidence of some significant salary changes. One district official even received over a $20,000 increase. These raises are justified through a ‘change in workload.

    Yet building admin and classroom teachers barely get cleaning supplies provided for them to keep their spaces ready. Shameful. The rich always find a way to get richer.

  15. Basic questions- Who’s responsible for hiring/firing D65 personnel, including Superintendent? When is the next school board election?

  16. It took courage for my former principal, Donna Sokolowski, to write this. I’m not surprised. She was and is a strong and fair leader. I taught in district 65 for over 30 years and am saddened by what’s happening now.

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