The Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board held its first public discussion about the search for a new superintendent on Monday, May 22, a little more than a month before current Superintendent Devon Horton is set to depart for a new job in Georgia.

Board members largely agreed they need to announce an interim replacement for Horton by the end of the school year in early June so that teachers and staff are not left in limbo as they leave for the summer. The board also backed the idea of hiring a firm to conduct a more extensive national search for Horton’s permanent replacement.

But one question that came up was the district’s longstanding requirement for the superintendent to live within District 65 boundaries. Board member Joey Hailpern suggested revisiting that contract provision during the process of hiring the next superintendent.

“There are lots of superintendents, or superintendent candidates, in the area that would be interested in the job, but don’t want to move their family, perhaps,” Hailpern said at Monday night’s meeting, adding that a candidate wanting to live outside Evanston is “not a deal-breaker” for him.

From left: District 65 board members Biz Lindsay-Ryan, Mya Wilkins, Omar Salem, Soo La Kim, Sergio Hernandez and Donna Wang Su. Not pictured: Joey Hailpern Credit: District 65 website

As of right now, Horton’s existing contract with the board requires him to live in the district “to establish a strong presence and to be an active participant in school and community activities.” In comparison, the Evanston Township High School board’s contract with Superintendent Marcus Campbell, who was hired in the spring of 2022, does not mandate that Campbell live in Evanston, a board member confirmed to the RoundTable.

Support to eliminate requirement

Monday night, Hailpern’s fellow District 65 board members offered general support for eliminating the residency provision of the contract moving forward. That kind of requirement could add stress to a superintendent’s job duties and prevent them from being able to unplug while at home, according to Vice President Soo La Kim and Biz Lindsay-Ryan.

“The reality of doing this work is there’s a lot of resistance. There’s a lot of threat for us. There’s been a lot of threat for the superintendent,” Lindsay-Ryan said. “I think to have someone be able to do their best work, they need to go home and be able to turn off so they can recharge and return, and not get stopped at the Valli [Produce grocery store] and not get stopped at their kid’s soccer game, or whatever else.”

For his part, Omar Salem, the newest member of the board who took office earlier this month, said his experience as a teacher showed him some of the positive value of having administrative leadership live in the community where they work. As an alternative, the board could offer some financial incentive for the new superintendent to still live in Evanston, he suggested.

Search firms and interims

In the past, District 65 has opted for recently retired interim superintendents who have the experience and knowledge of school systems to adjust quickly. But this time, Hailpern said he would like to see the board choose a younger interim who could potentially be a candidate for the permanent job as well.

Once an interim is in place, though, the board will have to turn its attention to possibly interviewing and hiring a search firm to lead the hiring of Horton’s eventual full-time replacement. Board members on Monday tentatively supported using a search firm as part of the process to ensure clear communication with local families about the hiring timeline and possibly conduct a community engagement process, featuring interviews with students, parents, teachers, staff and other community members.

“I would be in favor of having a search firm, possibly putting out an RFP [request for proposal], making sure that whatever agency we’re working with understands our community and our focus on equity as we’re looking for our next leader,” said board member Donna Wang Su. “I also just think there would be value in the interim going around our community, getting to know different student groups.”

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton
District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton, shown here, will leave for a Georgia school district at the end of June. Credit: ETHS YouTube

Job searches in public education have also changed significantly over the past five years or so, according to Lindsay-Ryan, which might mean that the board has to keep candidates anonymous until revealing the finalist or finalists for the position. Teachers and administrators likely will not want to risk their current employment by making their candidacy known publicly, Salem added.

Thanks to Horton

Prior to the superintendent search discussion Monday night, several parents, teachers and community members came out to the board meeting and thanked Horton for his time and his work in Evanston before he leaves for Georgia.

“I applaud you for advocating for and providing leadership, racial equity, integrity, improved standards and accountability,” Oliver Ruff, a longtime Evanston resident and educator, told Horton. “Leadership encompasses haters and supporters, and I’m sure out in the community we have haters and supporters for you. You must forge ahead knowing you did your best with the time and circumstances with which you worked.”

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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. Not requiring the Sup’t to live within the geographical boundaries of the District 65 Evanston/Skokie school community is a TERRIBLE idea! Living outside of the School District would distance him from our schools, our citizens and our community.
    Again, it’s a TERRIBLE idea!
    If a Sup’t doesn’t want to live in Evanston, she/he should not be in charge of Evanston schools!!
    The School Board should have dismissed this suggestion out of hand!
    Mary Anne Wexler

  2. Removing the residency requirement so that the Superintendent is … not responsible to answering questions from citizens? Please. It’s part of the job. If you don’t like it, don’t become Superintendent. It pays almost $300k for a reason.

    I’m going to guess they already have someone in mind and that person does not want to move to Evanston.

    1. I agree. Evanston is too unique and needs someone living here to understand the environments of the different areas, the various needs of the students and parents, to provide the best leadership possible. A hands on commitment for the betterment of all students.