Administrators and board members for Evanston/Skokie School District 65 addressed ongoing concerns about climate, culture and involuntary teacher transfers during a Curriculum & Policy Committee meeting held Monday, May 9.
In recent weeks, parents and teachers have expressed unease about the district reassigning dozens of educators, including several teachers who have spent more than a decade in the same building, to new schools for the 2022-23 academic year. During a town hall with parents and guardians at Haven Middle School last Wednesday, May 4, Principal Chris Latting explained that the district needed to reshuffle many teachers to consolidate classrooms because of declining student enrollment.
And at Monday’s committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Andalib Khelghati – who directly informed most of the impacted teachers about their transfers on April 29 – added that District 65 is already set to lose 52 educators at the end of this year through resignations, retirements, leaves of absence and non-renewals.
In partnership with the district’s business office, the Human Resources department ultimately identified 22 total positions across all district schools that could be eliminated to address the district’s reduced enrollment, according to Khelghati. Superintendent Devon Horton said he and other leading administrators for District 65 started working on teacher reassignments in December to avoid laying off any employees.
Aside from the resignations and retirements taking place this spring, Khelghati and Horton said that reshuffling a number of teachers was necessary to achieve proper staffing levels for each school and department. Overall, the district transferred 33 teachers involuntarily and seven teachers voluntarily, according to Khelghati.
“It was really one of the toughest things I’ve had to do, and we recognize the challenges it places on a community or an educator who’s been in a position for many, many years,” Khelghati said. “And we recognize the sacrifice involved, but as a result of that, we’re able to successfully ensure that 22 teachers did not lose their jobs this year.”
Several District 65 teachers have told the RoundTable recently that when they found out about getting transferred to a new building, administrators told them they should feel “lucky” because they were still keeping their job and did not have to reapply. One teacher also said the administration recommended she obtain a second teaching endorsement or certificate for “increased job security.”
Latting told Haven families at last week’s town hall that any teachers with only a single endorsement needed to move to a new school because, beginning in the fall, all Haven teachers will have a dual endorsement that allows them to teach both science and social studies, for example.
“This is not a time when we want to be actually laying off teachers,” Khelghati said. “We actually want to be doing our best to grow, recruit and keep our team, and so I feel like that, personally, was what kept me straight in the arrow in terms of the process because it doesn’t bring anybody joy to move somebody.”
Horton and board member Anya Tanyavutti commended Khelghati, District 65 Educators’ Council (DEC) President Maria Barroso and the rest of the board for their “unprecedented collaboration” in working together to plan and communicate the teacher transfers.
“To be honest, a lot of these shifts could have been made a couple years back,” Horton said without elaborating on how or why the district could or should have transferred teachers during previous years.
Principals of individual schools have spent the last week reaching out to their new educators from within the district to welcome them, according to Khelghati, and representatives from HR and DEC met with every impacted teacher last week to answer any questions.
Restorative practices and a ‘Parent University’
Earlier in Monday’s meeting, Horton and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Terrance Little also laid out plans for expanding the use of restorative practices and conversations to address student behavioral issues.
According to a curriculum review memo included in the meeting agenda, Dean of Culture and Climate Elijah Palmer and Director of Special Services Anna Marie Candelario helped train different groups of teachers in crisis prevention and restorative practices last month.
Additionally, four schools in the district will undergo intensive “responsive classrooms” training, which includes a two-day workshop for school leaders this summer. After that, the entire staff of each school will participate in four in-person trainings and three remote sessions to learn more about restorative justice and crisis response and prevention.
A spokesperson for the district did not respond to a RoundTable query requesting the names of the four schools in the program.
As part of increased investments in restorative practices, the district is partnering with the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy and the Robert Crown Community Center to improve student outreach and relationships, according to Little.
In previous interviews, a number of teachers have told the RoundTable that formal, restorative conversations between a student who acted out in some way, the teacher involved and an administrator have simply not taken place this year, despite every teacher employment contract with the district requiring such discussions to take place.
Rather than focusing on punishment for students who break rules, restorative practices allow teachers and students to go over what exactly happened and how the student can learn from their experience going forward.
“I know in some buildings, folks have been committed to doing responsive classrooms for a while, and some folks are just kind of getting started,” board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan said Monday.
Horton also added that the district is in the process of creating a “Parent University,” where families can get training in restorative justice and crisis intervention. The project is designed to improve relationships between parents, teachers and administrators, he said.
“We’ve been in a more reactive place on some of the family concerns, and I would love to see us be in a more proactive place,” Lindsay-Ryan said.