ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon – "Spoon" – and Willie take time out for a photo at the "Wild for ETHS" benefit April 2. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

Throughout his 16-year tenure as superintendent of Evanston Township High School District 202, Eric Witherspoon, affectionately called “Spoon” by many ETHS students, has been widely recognized for his educational leadership. Witherspoon, who announced last fall he planned to retire at the end of the school year, was honored April 2 at the ETHS Educational Foundation benefit party, “Wild for ETHS” at Robert Crown Community Center.

More than 200 community members gathered to celebrate the superintendent’s achievements and legacy and help raise funds to benefit all ETHS students. In an interview with the RoundTable, Witherspoon made it clear that although he will be entering a new phase of life, he and his wife, Cynthia, will not be heading away from the place they call home.

“As I reflect on the coming evening, I am so excited, because it reminds me again of the wonderful 16 years I’ve had here,” he said. “It reminds me of the wonderful people that have become my friends, and it reminds me why we’re staying in Evanston, to stay connected to this beautiful community.”

Witherspoon received the inaugural Crystal Spoon Award, presented by ETHS Foundation Board President Rick Kolsky.

From left: ETHS Foundation Board President Rick Kolsky, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon (holding Crystal Spoon Award), Foundation board member Kevin Mack and Foundation Executive Director Joanne Berstche. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

There were rounds of applause as Kolsky read the award inscription, “With gratitude for furthering excellence and equity in education for all ETHS students, championing a stronger and more impactful ETHS Foundation, and inspiring alumni and the wider community to transform the ETHS campus.”

Kolsky said Witherspoon represents “a monument to inclusive, 21st century secondary education. … Eric’s vision was instrumental in the foundation’s initial formation more than a decade ago, and he has been a tireless champion and resource to the board, both as a fundraiser and as an advocate for transformative capital projects.”

Kolsky credited Witherspoon with helping the foundation deliver a wide variety of diversity, equity and inclusion projects, including the ETHS Literacy Lab, all-gender locker room, Automotive Technology Lab, Advanced Manufacturing Lab and construction site for Geometry in Construction.

Cheers erupted when Witherspoon accepted the award with the phrase he has come to be known for throughout the Evanston community: “Well, it’s a great day to be a Wildkit.”

He thanked the ETHS Educational Foundation Board, staff and volunteers, as well as guests and community members for providing the support “that is so vital to keep this work going.

From left: Anne Kolsky, “Wild for ETHS” Committee member Donna Frett, Gene Frett, ETHS Foundation President Rick Kolsky and Bob Slaughter enjoy the event. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“This school is a family … I really mean that,” he said “And when I say that to the students, they embrace that. … It’s a family and not all high schools in the country have that kind of a feeling.

“I consider it the greatest honor of my life to have been part of this school, to be a Wildkit. And to know that my wife, Cynthia, and I will remain in the community after I retire, because we want to continue to find ways to give back to this wonderful community. Go Kits!”

Witherspoon’s last day as superintendent is June 30.

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.