In recent months, Evanston/Skokie District 65 has hired education consultant Ann Cummins Bogan to strengthen partnerships with the District Educators’ Council – the union representing District 65 teachers – and the central administration and individual building principals and assistant principals, a move school board members discussed at their meeting Monday night.
Cummins Bogan, an Evanston native who still lives in town, said she taught in the classroom for more than 20 years before entering school district consulting. Now, her work mainly involves partnering with districts across the country to help develop relationships between rank-and-file educators, their union and district leadership.
At Monday’s board meeting, she spoke about how partnerships between educators and district management can improve morale, accountability and shared goals, which can then manifest in better student performance, she said. Cummins Bogan has attended staff training events, conducted needs assessments at certain schools and met with three principals over the summer.
Now, her work turns toward new priorities for this year, like helping build a central communication plan that ensures all staff, families and other stakeholders are on the same page about what is happening in the district and where the district’s work is heading.
“What we really want to move to is the union and the management sharing responsibility for educational goals, student outcomes, the equity work and that commitment to equity,” Cummins Bogan said.
“We’re working on ways to communicate to ensure all stakeholders are informed. … I think there’s a lot of interpretation of the way things happen, and if we can figure out some central way to broadcast as effectively as possible, we can help folks stay up to date on the efforts and the intentions behind them.”
Reacting to her presentation and vision for the district, board members said they were optimistic about the future and excited for a fresh start this school year after a chaotic and tense return to the classroom in 2021.
While answering questions from the representatives, Cummins Bogan said the access to administrators, teachers and meetings that the district has been willing to offer has been “amazing,” and she also added that patience while going through the process of building this partnership will be key moving forward.
“I think what I heard, at the core, is that we really want to establish relationships and create that safe space to collaborate,” school board President Sergio Hernandez said. “We can’t do this work alone. The administration can’t do it without the school board, the school board can’t do it without our educators and staff, our staff can’t do it without our families. So whatever we can do to get folks in a room and to coordinate efforts … is critical.”
Kim elected board vice president
Earlier this month, the district announced that board Vice President Marquise Weatherspoon had resigned, effective immediately. Weatherspoon first joined the board in June 2021, filling the vacancy left by Rebeca Mendoza, and she was elected vice president this past April, succeeding Biz Lindsay-Ryan.
At Monday night’s meeting, board members unanimously elected Soo La Kim as their vice president to replace Weatherspoon. Kim filled a vacancy on the board in April 2020 before being elected to the position in 2021. She is the assistant dean of graduate programs at Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies, and she has called Evanston home for more than 15 years.
“I’m saddened that Marquise could not be here with us. I think hers was such an important voice on this board, and I know we miss her presence,” Kim said. “But I’m humbled by my board colleagues’ confidence in me, and I will do my best to support and to draw inspiration from my predecessors in this role.”
In the meantime, applications to fill the vacancy left by Weatherspoon are available online and due by 4 p.m. this upcoming Friday, Sept. 2. The board will officially appoint the new member at its next meeting on Sept. 19.
As of the start of the new school year, which opened on Wednesday, Aug. 24, the district’s enrollment was 6,592 students, Superintendent Devon Horton said at the beginning of Monday’s board meeting. That represents an increase of 3% from the 6,393 students enrolled last year, and this fall is also the first time the enrollment has increased between school years since 2016.
Prior to this year, the district experienced a precipitous decline in its enrollment from a high of 7,559 students in 2016-17 to a low of 6,393 students in 2021-22.
Additionally, the district currently has two teacher vacancies and 22 paraprofessional vacancies, Horton said. To acknowledge the commitment and sacrifices made by district employees, the district is paying a $500 bonus to all returning staff members, including teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians and more, he said, which will be paid out around winter break in December.
Hernandez also acknowledged two current students in the district who are recent victims of gun violence, including a 13-year-old girl shot in the neck at a backyard party on Fowler Avenue in July and a 5-year-old boy shot in the head in Rogers Park on Sunday, Aug. 28. The boy, a kindergartner at Willard Elementary School, remains in critical condition at Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago.
The board held a short moment of silence in honor of both students and their families.
“We continue to deal as a country with violence, and unfortunately, some of the victims are just so young,” Hernandez said. “We have a kindergartner who is fighting for his life right now.”