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District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton spoke candidly about the recent behavioral situation at Haven Middle School and identified specific areas where the administration can  improve during a Fifth Ward meeting Thursday, April 28.

“There’s so many things I would like to say, but I’m gonna try to package this so that they could make sense,” Horton said to the audience of virtual Fifth Ward residents at the start of his talk.

Fifth Ward school seen as new slate

He talked about Haven as always being challenging for students and pointed to the new Fifth Ward school, scheduled to open no earlier than the 2024-2025 school year, as an opportunity for students to do better. He spoke about 30 minutes during the two-hour monthly virtual gathering.

“We see a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re bringing our babies home, they’re coming back to the Fifth Ward school,” Horton said, adding that the district is working to make sure to hire staff that reflects the school’s student population. 

Fifth Ward Alderman Bobby Burns reminded viewers the new school is an opportunity “to start from scratch” and build an institution to serve parents, students, teachers and administration. 

“Leadership is changing at the top and at all levels of most of our institutions,” Burns said. “These shifts are happening because the community, which we are all a part of…  expressed that there are really unique, pressing and urgent challenges that need to be dealt with.”

Both Horton and Burns criticized the media coverage of the recent violence at Haven.  Horton admitted there are issues surrounding accountability for the administration and educators, but said the media coverage was unfair. 

“I gotta just say that the stories and the way these things are being told. It’s not balanced. It’s not equitable,” he said. “And again, individuals applying shortcomings to our leadership is not the way for us to really do this work.”

Horton talks about failures

Horton said the district owns there have been issues at Haven “for a while.” But the administration had put additional resources in place this year, thinking it would be sufficient.

These resources included adding a third assistant principal, a school counselor and hall monitors. But Horton said it wasn’t enough because school officials didn’t calculate the dual post-pandemic trauma of both teachers and students, which included the social stagnation of middle schoolers returning to in-person classes. 

“So you got 13- [and] 14-year-old students who haven’t been in this full-time school since they were” 10 or 11 years old, Horton said. “That’s an issue.

“What we did not do was … have a strong enough system designed so that we can support all of the mishaps that potentially could arise.”

Horton said that out of the approximate 2,100 infractions, 1,300 were reported by 26 of Haven’s 87 teachers. This, he believed, demonstrated that the problems were concentrated in a small group of teachers.

Horton said 46 students were the cause of 75% of reported incidents, and 33 of those were Black. Thirteen of those Black students have Individualized Education Plans. These IEPS are state-approved plans for children diagnosed with special needs, meant to ensure the proper resources are in place for the students to succeed. 

The majority of the students involved in the infractions were Black or Latinx – in a school with only three Black teachers, Horton said. This will be something the administration considers as it puts new staff in place in the new Fifth Ward school. 

Horton also said there was a gap in reporting first infractions. When those are reported, there is normally a call to the child’s home. But Horton said the bulk of the calls that should have been made for first or second infractions were not, and administrators did not follow up. This meant more severe infractions seemingly came out of the blue because when teachers did not report the smaller incidents, no one had a sense the problems were building.

“It’s an adult issue, [administration] had no system for monitoring our expectation [that teachers should file early reports],” Horton said. 

Horton listed several other failures the administration identified, including building stronger relationships with Fifth Ward organizations that can help connect with struggling students, such as the city’s Youth and Young Adult program and Family Focus. 

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. “The majority of the students involved in the infractions were Black or Latinx – in a school with only three Black teachers, Horton said. This will be something the administration considers as it puts new staff in place in the new Fifth Ward school. ” WOW. Let me get this straight. Horton is saying that Black & Latinx students should only be in a school with Black or Latinx teachers. These infractions were due to the White teachers being there. I raised my Latinx boy to respect ALL of his teachers no matter their skin color. It’s called AUTHORITY & RESPECT for AUTHORITY.

  2. Haven teachers are for the most part, a committed and dedicated group of people who show up every day to teach and lead our kids. The very least Horton and the D65 board can do is support teachers and help to foster an environment that is supportive and uplifting. Instead, Horton refuses to take accountability for any of the issues. He continues to blame teachers which only adds to the confusion and resentment.

  3. Attitudes and behavior emanate from the top down, and the buck stops with the Superintendent.
    On Sup’t Horton’s watch, there has been a huge drop in the student population. District 65 has lost dozens of excellent teachers, principals, and the good will of much of this community. He has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars without regard to the financial or educational well being of our schools, including paying $400,000 to a consultant from Kentucky to redistrict our school boundaries, a function that is the job of his administration. He has described as “a miracle” his plan for funding a new 5th ward school that will cost the district a fortune and, after it’s all paid, may well end up with the district not even owning the school. That’s an irresponsible financial decision, not “a miracle”. He does not appear to support integrated schools, nor an integrated staff. He blames every educational problem on racism and white privilege. Our community has been co-opted by a Superintendent who is not held accountable by the School Board. What a travesty!
    Mary Anne Wexler

  4. The media coverage has been very fair. Those people in the building are well aware of that fact.

    Again Horton takes every single opportunity he can to blame teachers. It’s very sad that it’s this way. The AP was brought in and doesn’t really deal with discipline. The counselors were hired to be academic counselors but were thrown into putting out fires daily. The hallway monitors had zero training and showed up completely unannounced to the staff, which I’m sure is also the teachers’ fault.

    Can anyone explain why they are hiring this principal for this school that’s at minimum two years down the road, by this summer? They are cutting teaching positions yet hiring more admins. Admins for schools that don’t even exist yet.

    1. It’s very helpful for a principal to be in place as early as possible to help organize the learning environment, hire staff, and set the culture from the very beginning. I would be alarmed if they weren’t hiring for the role as early as possible.

  5. Is, “ bringing our babies back home,” code for segregation or is it providing an additional resource for special education?

    1. I have very much enjoyed the recent well written articles on a variety of topics by Debbie-Marie Brown.
      Yet I too take issue with some of the content reported from last week’s virtual 5th Ward meeting:
      -how is “bringing our babies home” an effective response to the emotional and behavioral needs of acting out students at Haven?
      -what is Superintendent Horton implying when he emphasized that the reported concerns about student behavior were made by a “small percentage of teachers” (actually 26/87 teachers who made these reports is almost a third of the Haven faculty).
      -and most difficult for me to accept was his complaint that “individuals applying shortcomings to our leadership is not the way for us to really do this work”. Of course our leaders (be they governmental or educational, paid or even volunteer) are to be challenged in how they work to address issues in our community. It comes with assuming a leadership role!