Evanston Township High School Principal Marcus Campbell addresses the School Board after the announcement that he will succeed Eric Witherspoon as the next superintendent of ETHS District 202. (Screenshot via ETHS YouTube)

At a special school board meeting held at Evanston Township High School on Thursday evening, April 21, the District 202 Board of Education officially announced that current ETHS Principal and Assistant Superintendent Marcus Campbell will succeed Eric Witherspoon as superintendent, effective July 1. Campbell is set to become the first Black man to be superintendent in the high school’s 139-year history.

In their comments during the meeting, many board members said they had received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from the Evanston community about the possibility of Campbell becoming the next superintendent at ETHS.

“Thank you to the community, thank you to the students, thank you to the teachers and staff and everyone for allowing me an opportunity to serve in this way,” Campbell said Thursday night. “I am looking forward to ETHS in the years to come, and to continue to be the national leader that we are, setting the standard, leading the way and innovating. We’re all students, and high schools and districts all over this country can continue to learn from us.” He ended by repeating a statement often made by his predecessor, “So it is a great day to be a Wildkit.”

In the fall, Witherspoon informed the board of his intent to retire following this school year after 16 years at the district’s helm. The school board hired an education consulting company, Chicago-based Alma Advisory Group, to help in a nationwide search for Witherspoon’s replacement.

In early March, the board announced that it had identified Campbell as a “top candidate” for the job, and parents, students, teachers and community members conducted interview panels with him late last month. On Thursday night, School Board President Pat Savage-Williams read some of the comments that students, parents and others wrote following those interview panels, in which the participants called Campbell the most experienced and thoughtful candidate and praised him as “responsive, receptive and vulnerable.”

“You are so deserving. You are so loved,” Board Vice President Monique Parsons told Campbell. “You are so ready for this role, and I am so honored to lead alongside you. I can’t wait, because the community has yet to see your brilliance. And I’m excited for you, but I’m more excited about what this means for our children and our community, and I hope they understand how wonderful and how amazing this decision is.”

After comments from the board, Witherspoon also had a chance to reflect on his working relationship with Campbell, and he said he loved watching Campbell train every day to build the knowledge and expertise to be a successful superintendent.

“I can honestly say that tonight, knowing that Marcus Campbell will officially be succeeding me as superintendent, is a dream come true for me,” Witherspoon said. “I recognized and saw in Marcus, when he was in his 20s, a future superintendent. … You have moved through the ranks, and I know that in my mind, that is the way to prepare as a superintendent.”

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Campbell attended Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy, a selective enrollment high school in the West Englewood neighborhood.

He said that it was when he was a junior at Lindblom that he discovered his desire to become a teacher, after conducting a lesson in his English class about the 1942 novella The Stranger by Albert Camus.

As a senior, Campbell received an Illinois Golden Apple award for aspiring educators, then went on to get an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois with a major in English and a minor in African American Studies.

Campbell has worked at ETHS in a variety of roles since 2001. He spent 10 years as an English teacher before becoming the Director for Student Supports and Racial Equity.

From there, he quickly ascended to Associate Principal, and then Principal and Assistant Superintendent, which has been his position at the school since 2013.

While working as a teacher and a leader in the ETHS community, he also received his master’s in social and cultural foundations in education from DePaul University and his doctorate in educational leadership from National Louis University.

Incoming District 202 Superintendent Marcus Campbell, left, clasps hands with District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton on Thursday night. (Photo by David Wartowski)

During the interview panel conducted last month with student representatives from ETHS, Campbell said he wants to center the experience of students and the ETHS education around four main pillars: social-emotional learning, equity, postsecondary planning and literacy.

He also highlighted the importance of a superintendent’s proximity and presence in the community throughout all the interview panels, saying that relationship building and the courage to have open and honest conversations with students, parents and teachers is a top priority for him.

“There is no learning without vulnerability, and there is no vulnerability without safety,” Campbell said during the interview panel with parents and community members. “Fostering an environment where students and staff can be their authentic selves, show up however they want to show up, [that] is a safe learning environment.”

Witherspoon will formally retire on June 30, a day before Campbell will take over as ETHS superintendent. Previously, Witherspoon also led school districts in Iowa and Indiana. During his time at ETHS, he developed a strong reputation for being student-centered, and his customary greeting, “It’s a great day to be a Wildkit!” has become a phrase practically synonymous with Witherspoon himself.

He also pioneered several controversial and noteworthy initiatives over the last 16 years, not least of which was an effort to de-track students, enrolling most ETHS students in the general education curriculum when they first start at the high school instead of starting some on an honors path and others in regular courses. When the RoundTable asked Witherspoon for the advice he would give to his successor, he said loving the job is always the most important part of being a superintendent.

“Love the job, and love the students,” Witherspoon said. “And if you do that, you’re going to have the kind of career and joy that I have found for 33 years of being a superintendent. Most superintendents don’t last for 33 years, and right up to this moment, I’m still not counting the days because I still find joy every day, because I love these kids, and I love the work that I’m doing.”

This story has been updated to correct the description of Marcus Campbell’s pioneering leadership role at District 202.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. Congratulations and best wishes! Glad to have these important positions filled with internal candidates!