By Bob Seidenberg
About 1,300 teachers and staff from District 65 gathered at the 65,000 square-foot Quad Indoor Sports for a spirited convocation Monday, Aug. 22, preparing for the start of school.
District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton and Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss were among the leaders addressing the audience, and both brought messages of unity. It was a rousing multi-visual event with music, awards and slide shows. Members of the huge audience represented their school with T-shirts and signs, and everyone stood up, danced, cheered and hoisted signs as the roll call of schools was listed.
In his address, Horton, superintendent since 2020, spoke of the special challenges the district endured during the pandemic. He also acknowledging that there had been infighting but pushed heavily for unity.
“What I’m learning as a leader,” he said, “it’s critical that I don’t get caught up in all of the negative things that’s happening because there’s so many magnificent things happening in our professional life and also in our personal life.”I
“When I saw what teachers went through in the last few years and our staff, it was heartbreaking,” he said. “Teachers across the country, leaders across the country, school systems, let’s be honest we took the burden of this pandemic. We started fighting, forgetting what’s going well. And I want to say to you, everyone in this room, that we are together.”
“I can’t do this job without you,” he said facing a sea of staff members as well as the many members of District 65’s Educators’ Council (DEC), the union that represents roughly 800 educators. “Our team, our wonderful board, can’t. And I hope you know that you can’t do without us. We have to be united because it’s critical.”
The on-screen photographs started with pictures that appeared to date back to the 1800s. The pictures then evolved to show transformation and school diversity over time. Horton said, in Evanston, that “we’re leading, it’s unmatched, around our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.”
“Our schools don’t look that way,” he said referring back to one of the older pictures. “And its critical for us to understand that every single person – including the teacher, the para-pros [para-professionals], the students, the parents that have some connection to these classrooms – that the culture matters. And how we teach, what we teach, it’s all connected.”
‘Beating heart’ of the community’
Biss, speaking before Horton, emphasized the importance of the connection between city and schools, “because the truth is that we are one, the city and school districts, we work hand in hand. We serve the same people and we believe in the same values.
“We, at the city government, with the power to tow your car, we like to think of ourselves as kind of control in this town,” he said. “But the truth is the beating heart of this community is our schools and we are here to do everything we can to help you be the great organization that you are.”
He said that went with the district’s push to reestablish a neighborhood school in the city’s Fifth Ward. “We as a city are here to work hand-in-hand to provide whatever support you need,” he said. “That is critical for our shared value of racial justice. And we are here to thank you for taking that critical step.”
Biss also referred to the the special challenge the pandemic posed for the school district as students returned to the classrooms again.
“Doing that now, helping our young people who lost so much,’” said Biss, and “figure out how do we integrate into life together in a healthy and constructive and loving and supportive way is the most important thing our society is doing now.”