Change Agents S1 E28 Caroline County Public Schools web

The Change Agent

Dr. Devon Horton 

Superintendent of Evanston/Skokie School District 65

The Objective

Actions with a lasting impact on education.

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Show Notes

In this District Spotlight, Dr. Devon Horton, Superintendent of Evanston/Skokie School District 65, details how his district is actively working to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, reduce student suspensions, and use data to lead to actions that will impact their schools for years to come.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint.  Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 28

Title: District Spotlight: Evanston/Skokie School District 65

Subtitle: Actions with a lasting impact on education.

VoiceOver (00:02):

ChangeAgents in K-12 motivating transformation in education is presented by SchoolMint, featuring in-depth conversations with top educational leaders, we are committed to the advancement of education through research exchange, idea sharing, and enlightening discussions. Are you prepared to be a change agent?

Dr. Chris Balow (00:22):

Welcome to the podcast ChangeAgents in K-12. I have an awesome guest for us today to spend some time with, we are going to be spending time with Dr. Devon Horton who is the superintendent of Evanston Skokie school district number 65 in Illinois. Dr. Horton has been the superintendent since June of 2020 in Evanston Skokie. And before that he served as chief of schools for the Jefferson County school system in Louisville, Kentucky. However, he began his career in Chicago public schools where he was a middle school teacher for 10 years becoming a principal. He then transitioned to the central office in 2014 in East St. Louis, Illinois schools. And he served as the deputy superintendent there before moving on over to Jefferson County, Dr. Horton's done some amazing things in his career. And for example, he is implementing a district wide racial equity policy, including prioritizing restorative practices, monitoring equity-based goals to measure school improvement. And his work also has, uh, worked on teacher development and retaining great teachers and working with local universities to create a pipeline. So some great things happening, please welcome Dr. Devon Horton.

Dr. Devon Horton (01:47):

Good morning, Chris. Thank you. I'm excited to be here and have an opportunity to talk to you about some of the great things that's happening here in Evanston/Skokie 65.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:56):

All right, well, let's start off, uh, Devon, by telling us a little bit about your district.

Dr. Devon Horton (02:02):

Sure. Evanston/Skokie 65 is a K eight district that sits right North of Chicago. It's a community that, um, it, we pride ourselves here on the diversity, but it's also a community that has went beyond just the diversity, but really putting in efforts to change outcomes for students in our most marginalized population. Most notably, uh, what you've probably seen or read about about Evanston is that there's a reparations, um, piece that was just passed here. Um, about a month ago, a little less than a month ago, or for, uh, for African-American generational African-Americans who live in a fifth ward here in our community where they're able to receive some funding, um, due to what has happened over the years and over the decades and this community. So that kind of gives you some idea. We are big on supporting our LGBTQ plus families and communities, of course, our Latin X and our African-American. Um, we're big on supporting all students, uh, ranging from, we have, when we speak about diversity, there's at least 40 different languages spoken within our schools, uh, which says a lot for our community. Uh, and we have a very strong Jewish community as well, uh, that sits here in our city and we're home of, of Northwestern university, uh, which is, uh, which, uh, which is a prestigious, uh, university in one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. So that's a little bit about Evanston/Skokie.

Dr. Chris Balow (03:30):

Great. So how large is your district?

Dr. Devon Horton (03:32):

Yeah, we have roughly 8,000 students, um, in the high school district, uh, has about 3,500. So all of our students feed into the high school.

Dr. Chris Balow (03:41):

Okay. So you have, uh, that number of students to how many schools do you manage?

Dr. Devon Horton (03:46):

Um, eight, we have 18 schools.

Dr. Chris Balow (03:49):

18 wow.

Dr. Devon Horton (03:50):

Yeah, 10 are elementary, K five, one a pre-K building. We have two specialty schools, one for special education and then one student, one building that houses students that have residential, um, they're living in a residence and then we have three traditional middle six to eight and two magnet schools that are K through eight.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:11):

Okay, awesome. Awesome. Sounds like a really fun and interesting, but yet challenging work.

Dr. Devon Horton (04:19):

Yes. I'll put challenging first. Definitely.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:22):

Yeah. Awesome. Um, so in your district, tell us, give us a little bit of sense of your, your leadership teams and your structure at the district level.

Dr. Devon Horton (04:32):

I'll start with what our board, the state of Illinois. We have seven board members, um, myself, uh, with cabinet superintendent. There are, um, there are nine cabinet members. Uh, we have, um, assistant superintendents for schools. We have two of them, one for our elementary and then one for our middle schools and our specialty schools. We have a deputy superintendent. Um, we also have an assistant supe for HR assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction and an assistant superintendent of student services. And then, and then we have our CFO, we have our director of communications and our director of research, assessment and assessment, uh, serving on here on our cabinet as well.

Dr. Chris Balow (05:15):

Oh, very good. I used to have that job myself in Research and assessments. So I know that gig pretty well. Um, do you have a sense of some of your major, major goals on your strategic plan that that you're focused on?

Dr. Devon Horton (05:28):

So right now we're getting ready to watch, um, an RF, an RFP to redo our strategic plan. The strategic plan ended and 2020, uh, I joined right after that and of course the pandemic hit and it was really not a lot of good time, not a lot of time to do that, but we do have what we call a miracles framework. And as miracle's framework is grounded in, um, eight components, uh, and our major pieces of that, we have motion towards equity and under that equity pieces, there are a lot, there's a ton of work. I can talk about that a little later, we have an improved instructional methodology, which is around our teaching practices. We have rigorous course of study, of course that's around curriculum and design and assessments. Uh, we have attract and retain high quality staff. We know it's important to attract the staff, but we also must retain those that we have. Um, which is really more important. Uh, we have our commitment to accountability. You know, accountability takes form in many ways and sometimes it can be used as a bad word, but it's something that we've committed ourselves to, uh, being accountable to this work. Uh, there's the, uh, learning environments that support student success. So this is around, we have restorative communities, as you mentioned in the Bio, we have a very, uh, robust, uh, process for social, emotional learning. Uh, and then of course, when, when students return, there's more work to be done, um, for the fall, uh, that around the SEL, we have the, uh, expected targets driven by results. We know you can not move outcomes and change the trajectory of students who've been marginalized without setting goals. And then the found this final one is sound fiscal stewardship. This is the one that I would say that's major for us right now. We're in the process of doing a major we're approaching our structural deficit issues here. Uh, and so in our district, when we talk about priority with the emotion towards equity, we have a ward in our city that's predominantly African-American and now Latin X as well, where the school was removed from that community, uh, back in the late sixties. And, and so the diversity of the city, unfortunately it has fallen on the backs of black students, uh, and Latin X students have to be bused to the other schools. So they don't have a neighborhood school that is, we're doing a really aggressive student assignment plan. Um, in other words, people use the redistricting term, but we have a committee that we're forming. We'll be about 30 members of staff and community members will go through a year long process of meeting twice a month. Uh, looking at survey data, looking at our master facility, planning all of these things to redesign and identify, uh, the goal is to build a school in the fifth ward. Right. That's historic.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:06):

Yeah. It really is. And what a difference it would make for those families? Yes.

Dr. Devon Horton (08:11):

So we just we're, we're on that journey now.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:14):

Awesome. Well, you know, Oh my gosh, there's so much there to unpack Devon, just so many cool, amazing things you're working on. We definitely don't have enough time to go into all of it. Um, because I know you and you have so much depth and detail behind all of that. So let me just start the with, um, something kind of struck me about financial stewardship. Um, you know, a lot of superintendents I've spoken with lately have been talking about that and in your district, uh, what's your inflow and outflow of students, uh, in, in terms of, has the student count bears directly to your financial stability?

Dr. Devon Horton (08:53):

Yeah. So if this wasn't the pandemic year, I would say we are, we've been pretty stable for the last seven, eight to 10 years, if not more. Um, but this year we lost about 500 students due to the pandemic. Uh, but we are also anticipating those students returning, uh, and many are starting to transfer back in, not, uh, we opened our doors in February, so we are anticipating that, uh, so our, our numbers will probably remain pretty solid. Um, the 500 out of 8,000 students is, is significant, but it's, I I'm, I'm anticipating at least regaining 300 more of those students back.

Dr. Chris Balow (09:31):

Well, that's great news. And it speaks to the quality of the education in your district. A lot of district leaders are facing declining enrollments exacerbated by the pandemic. So glad to hear that. Well, you know, you talked about some of your pillars, um, the eight pillars, or I forget the term you used exactly.

Dr. Devon Horton (09:51):

Miracles. It's an acronym. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (09:53):

Okay. Um, teaching practices that you, you really want to build, um, best practices in, in your instructional pedagogy. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Dr. Devon Horton (10:04):

I was just, I would be remissed if I didn't say that, um, our teachers here are great, um, and they've been very open to, um, to, uh, supporting and even working to improve the, the, the art and the science of teaching. Um, we have this, these, this framework that we're using that was built when I was working in JCPS and, uh, and we're using these six instructional systems. So around the teaching itself, um, we are actually, um, making sure that our principals and APS are getting into classrooms will high frequency, uh, and, and, and under the success criteria for system six itself is really locking in, on identifying these common instructional strategies. This year. We did not spend the time to develop and, and select these strategies, but we did create the culture of getting into classrooms with feedback ongoing, and the teachers were great. Our administrators are great. They receive feedback really well. So for this upcoming school year, we're going to identify some common strategies that we'll use so that the language can be the same, right. Uh, when you go into a classroom and you want to help teachers or even leveraged teachers that are doing well to help others to improve their practice is it's really great for us to be able to have a common language that we can speak to. Um, and so I, we haven't adopted a strategy or the strategy techniques yet, but we will be doing some of that work, uh, coming up late in the later part of the spring. And I'm excited knowing that we now have the culture of getting into classrooms, giving feedback, but now adding this level of which strategies make sense to move the learning.

Dr. Chris Balow (11:38):

Yeah, that's, that's fantastic. And, you know, teaching is such a difficult profession and with all the things that teachers have faced through the pandemic and some of the new challenges they're gonna face when dealing with students' social, mental health needs, um, my opinion is that teachers really need strong coaching and, and, and folks that they can collaborate with to, to land on these great strategies.

Dr. Devon Horton (12:06):

Yes, that's correct. Uh, something with our SEO work, we're going to be hiring, um, some additional, um, mental health practitioners to help with building the programs, but also giving our students as well as our staff, um, another, an outlet, right to receive this type of support. Um, we are, this is probably the first time in this country, or even a long in a long time where we've all been through to some degree, the same challenges, experience, and death and sickness and justice disconnect from the world, uh, through due to the pandemic. So we're definitely conscious of that. Another thing that we're going to be doing that's important is building, um, what we call these academic skill centers. We know that the pandemic, while we were all impacted by it in a negative way, it is impacted certain populations quite differently, right. Um, and so far African-American families are Latin X families. And even our white families that did not have the means to, um, have a family member sitting home and helping them, or maybe even using the pod design. Um, we're going to create these academic skill centers at, in our schools. And an ASC is pretty much imagine this. I'm just going to try to summarize it. Imagine having a, not a Kumon for real, but a Kumon type design inside of your school, where students who can, can go Monday through Friday, there'll be assigned. And they, don't only just, they don't just receive support and numeracy and literacy, but they also receive support in executive functioning. So you show me a student does well organized to take great notes. That's not doing well in literacy and math. And then I'll show you some, that would be a unicorn. A lot of those skills don't go hand in hand. And so we want to be sure we are equipping our, um, our students with that in, uh, in this community. We have a, uh, again, Northwestern university, we have Oakley community college. Uh, we are in Chicago is right at the foot of us. So we have a lot of universities where we will be able to reach out to students to come and work in our, in our academic skill centers to help, uh, that loss that was there before the pandemic, and as it has now worsened, um, to be able to give them that additional time and additional support.

Dr. Chris Balow (14:20):

Yeah, that's fantastic. Um, yeah. You know, earlier you talked about, you know, the, the teachers are really on board with, um, getting feedback and coaching, and, and I know in our previous conversations, we've had personally, you have a very robust coaching model in your district and someone you and I know very well once said, um, that, uh, he's never seen anyone evaluated into better practice. It's all about, you know, coaching and, and having a growth mindset and, and, and being comfortable in, in that process of feedback.

Dr. Devon Horton (14:59):

Yes, I definitely, uh, I definitely agree with that, with that quote in that statement, um, evaluations, um, yeah. You know, you have some people that can leverage those to help improve, but more importantly for our teachers, I don't want teachers to be intimidated and feel like they're going to lose their job. Right. Cause right, right away, you put up, you put up this wall when you feel like it's based on, you know, if you're going to be able to survive and eat and live. So it's really about coaching for me and in our coaching model and that system six you've heard me speak about, um, we use a platform, um, that has been, uh, really helpful for us and this platform, it allows our administrators, our principals APS, even central office staff. When they go into classrooms to be able to, to provide feedback to teachers that are, that's not intimidating, but that's consistent. And you can always go back and look at the feedback that's been given over the course of a school year to these, to these teachers. And we take this feedback and we use, we look for trends and these trends can then be used to create professional development pathways for the following year for schools, or certainly, yeah. And again, this is the first year of us doing it, but I can honestly say, um, by the time we reach the middle of February, we had over 7,000, for 18 schools over, 7,400 classroom visits between principals and APS with our teachers with feedback. Um, yes, there's more room for us that we got to improve. And, uh, some of the feedback, right. I definitely understand that we definitely have to improve on how we're looking at the trends to create the professional development or the fact that our teachers and our administrators stepped up to this challenge during a pandemic and were open to it, um, means a lot to us. And it says a lot about the community.

Dr. Chris Balow (16:50):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Um, well, that's just fantastic. You know, the research I've read about instructional coaching is that there's really, it's one of the most powerful and impactful things that, that school districts can engage in to improve those that, uh, rigorous instruction and best practices. And while. So I would encourage other district leaders to reach out to you and learn about your, your instructional coaching framework, uh, and feedback system, because, um, everyone could benefit from that.

Dr. Devon Horton (17:22):

And I liked the fact that you're saying so that the coaching and the feedback, right, those are two different pieces. So I'm glad you said that, right? The feedback is what's been happening when they're going in and giving them, giving them that feedback when they go into classrooms. Um, and then the coaching is when you collect enough of the feedback, right. To bring your teachers together, to have these discussions. And that's something that we talked about this spring been able to launch, but what else reopening and bringing our students back in, we pause because there was something that was missing from our process, and that is the common strategy to common language. So for the new school year, we will have those pieces. And then those, the feedback will lead to the coaching, which will also lead to high yielding professional development is really meaningful for our teachers.

Dr. Chris Balow (18:04):

Yeah. It's, that's amazing. And you know, the one thing I've read too, that, that, uh, that kind of coaching and system of feedback and support is really important for retaining teachers. Yes. Um, because they feel supported, they feel, and the impact on their efficacy. If I, if I feel I'm effective as a teacher, I'm going to really dig into my job and enjoy it and be motivated.

Dr. Devon Horton (18:33):

Yes. I agree with that. Uh, you know, and then it also takes shifting administration and a lot of districts have done this already shifting administration from management and operation to instructional leaders. Uh, it doesn't have to be as hard and as challenging as it sounds right with those systems of how you design it, developing a common language, it gives it a, so if your, if your background is social work and you're in, you're an administrator now, and the principal, we can equip you with the strategies that don't necessarily lock into the curriculum or standards as much, but you can still help your teachers leverage strategies within the classroom to move those things. So, um, that is definitely important. And teachers will stay when they know that they feel supported. I do believe this too. Um, Chris, I've read this somewhere as well. Um, teachers don't quit schools, they typically quit the principal. Um,

Dr. Chris Balow (19:33):

I've read that too. Yeah. And, and, uh, working in the private sector now, I used to be an education that, that people quit their jobs because of their boss, not because of pay necessarily. Um, one of the things I read in your bio that that was really interesting is your work in the district. You've seen increases in test scores and so forth, but also, uh, reductions in suspensions in particularly students of color. And that's something that's troubled me for my nearly 40 years in education is the disproportionate discipline and suspensions and exclusions of kids. When, you know, to me, uh, throw out some opinion here and based on some research that some of the, some kids just haven't learned the skills to manage their behavior and excluding them doesn't solve the problem you need to teach.

Dr. Devon Horton (20:27):

Yeah. So here's the thing, uh, what I've learned. Um, and a lot of times when schools or organizations put in policies, a lot of these policies are geared to fix the oppressed and not the oppressor. And I'll, I'll elaborate on that. When you're thinking about school policy around a lot of times we're geared to, towards, uh, redirecting students. When actuality, we all know that students don't fail. It's the systems and structures that we as adults create that fail students all the time. So when you're creating policies around discipline. So one of the major attributes for us when I was in East St. Louis, part of our reduction is that we actually, uh, we, we went to become a restorative practice school district across the entire, across the entire district. Now, restorative by itself, isn't the answer, but what that did for us, it curtailed a lot of the ideology that if you violate a school policy, you get suspended. No, we went to a different method and we spent a ton of time focusing on the, on the adults, in the building training and supporting them and getting them to understand why it's not necessary to always go to a suspension is very punitive. And there's a ton of research that shows that punitive, um, practices never improve, uh, culture. It doesn't improve behavior. It's just that they find another way to get around it. And, and, and just being honest, if you look at suspension data across the country, you're going to see that African-Americans and Latin X, uh, families, students are being suspended at much higher rates, much, much higher. And when you flip that, right, Chris, and you look at who's in front of the students teaching, you're going to see that there's, there's some misalignment there, right. And, uh, and, and teacher teachers that look like them, right? I'm not saying that black teachers or Latin X teachers don't suspend black and Latin X students, they do. Right. And th at, at, at the, at a very similar rates, I know there's a start. You have to see yourself in your students, uh, in many instances, and there's an opportunity for us to equip our teachers, right? Teachers are only using the weapons that they're given. If you don't provide them with anything else, you kind of leave them hanging. Uh, and, and, and, and don't give them a choice. And so, um, using restorative practices, one, uh, some other things that we're doing in our district now, where we're working with obey as bullying prevention, that is a prevention model that well, okay. So you see, like, there's like, we're doing that. And then there's the non-violence communication. We understand. Um, oftentimes when we communicate with students, it can, it can accelerate right there.

Dr. Chris Balow (23:15):

Yeah. It can escalate them just by a few words and your, your body stance and your facial expressions, all those things.

Dr. Devon Horton (23:24):

Yeah. So Chris, that is when I say, uh, fixing the oppressed and not the oppressor and oppressed would be in us as a, as the adults, in this case. Like we have to make sure that the adults have the, have the right tools and resources to help students, uh, that may have these other struggles.

Dr. Chris Balow (23:41):

That's, that's, that's just so exciting. Uh, the work you're doing that area, big, broad question here, big picture. What do you think is the most important ingredient for a great education?

Dr. Devon Horton (23:56):

The teacher. I think the, I know that sounds probably cliche or so generic, but the teacher, right. We all know when you talk about effect size, uh, John Hattie's work, right? Greatest effect, size, unbelievably is teacher efficacy. And that's when you get a collective group of teachers that truly believe that the students can learn. And if you have a school or an environment like that, and you're in an elementary school that has a culture of, uh, high efficacy with teachers. And when you move from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade, you experienced this engagement with these amazing teachers. Um, that's exactly how you win in life. I'm going to be honest in my experience, um, coming up and being raised in a, in a really hard, high, high crime community, uh, in the eighties, it was my, it was my teachers. Yeah. I may not remember exactly what they taught me, but I know I learned some things, but also remember how they made me feel right and understand how I was able to move through that school from kindergarten through eighth grade, um, walking out there very confident, um, and, and being connected and reflecting as I was going on into a high school, um, what those teachers provided and instilled in me. And so I think the way this is why you, you, you hear me speak about in my bio, the importance of building our teachers. So retaining the great ones, coaching our ones, the ones who need some support, putting them in position so that they can be their best. It could be as simple as potentially changing a great level or subject. Right. Um, that matters. And then the other part is we know there's a two to teacher shortage in this country, Chris. Yeah. And when it come, what comes with the teacher shortage? Also, it's a shortage of diverse teaching candidates here at Evanston Skokie 65. Um, we don't have a teacher shortage. We can have a vacancy for a fifth grade teacher and have a hundred applicants, but our, but our, but our diversity piece is, is, is not there. So what we're working with Northwestern university and national Louis we're building, um, our teacher residency program. And what exactly is the it's that we're looking for? Individuals who are from the community, uh, who have a bachelor's degree that wants to change careers and go into the field of teaching. And we, they go through a process. We had 20 slots for this first year. We wrote a grant through the Illinois state board of ed. We got the grants and we had 20 slots for residents to come into our district for next school year. Uh, and we have 55 people apply like a physical, a hundred people, attended the sessions to see what it was about 55 apply. And so we're going through the process now of vetting, who we're going to bring in. These individuals will be trained by us for us for four years and in one of our two schools. And so we speak about the efficacy piece, there'll be trained in our two magnet schools. And what we're offering is STEM elementary education that's through Northwestern, and then through national Louis, early childhood emerging, bilingual and special education. So these individuals are going to be trained for a year taking classes in the evenings or on Fridays, depending on the university that the ramp cohort together. And then we will staff and employ them, and one of our schools next year, the following year. Um, but that's part of us introducing those teachers to the culture and the way we do business here in district 65 before versus the other model, Chris is, yeah, you come from this great university, but now we got to spend some time training you and engaging you in how we do here in 65. And so I love the idea, and this is the third, um, teacher residency that I've been a part of building and designing. We built one in East St. Louis, which is going phenomenal. Our partnership was there was national Louis and then were built. I built one in Louisville, Kentucky with the university as well, and that's going amazing. And so I'm really excited to make sure that, um, that we're going to do some great work here. Um, and, um, Evanston Skokie 65 with our residents as well.

Dr. Chris Balow (27:58):

That's amazing. You are so enthusiastic and energized. I know it's going to be successful. So question though, um, so these teachers, um, can become a licensed and certified?

Dr. Devon Horton (28:11):

One year. They'll have a masters and licensed and certified, um, and we pay them a $30,000 stipend.

Dr. Chris Balow (28:17):

That's really awesome. That's really awesome.

Dr. Devon Horton (28:19):

That's a great question too Chris.

Dr. Chris Balow (28:21):

Because we need to, um, you know, the teacher pipelines pretty thin in a lot of places and, and we need to bring in people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, um, for sure. Um, yeah, that, that is really, really cool. And, you know, the, the question we started with was what's the most, the best or most important ingredient for great education. And your answer was the most pithy and succinct I have had from a district leader. You said the teacher two words, and then you described it in such great depth. It was just amazing to me to, to hear that. And I know our listeners will really, will really resonate with that. Um, and part of that too, you know, I've heard so many people, um, talk about it was a teacher that really changed my life or a group of teachers. And, and I've done a lot of reading and research about relationships are so important to engage kids, to get them excited. And you seem to really embrace that.

Dr. Devon Horton (29:27):

Yes, sir. That is legit. Um, there's a, like you said, process a ton of research that shows the relationship piece that really, uh, allows students and teachers to form these bonds that will motivate, motivate the teacher to all go above and beyond and continue to push themselves without the relationship. Um, learning is very, it's kind of like sitting on the computer and doing it online. Right? So those, those relationships are important. And, um, I know that our teachers here, uh, really care about relationships.

Dr. Chris Balow (29:59):

Yeah. It's, and, and it, and it carries over to your, your world of work as well. When, when you care about your boss and your boss cares about you you'll run through a brick wall for that person. Right. Um, it, it really makes a difference when I was a school psychologist, I always worked with the kids with the, the, you know, the troubled kids and job one was establish a relationship that could take months. Some of these kids who have a lot of trauma and lack of trust with adults, but once you get that they will respond. That's correct. Yeah. So anyway, that, that's, that's just so cool. Um, well, let's change gears here a little bit, Devon, um, and tell us, and I read this in your bio, how you use data in, in your district to make decisions.

Dr. Devon Horton (30:49):

So we we've, um, I said, we've come a long way. Um, within the first year, um, they've used data prior to me arriving, and I'm not, I can't really speak to the format, but I do know two things that we're doing this year that we're going very aggressive about. And I believe that it's yielding some, uh, some great, um, results regarding how we analyze data. Two things. The first one is that we now have what we call these reality checks. These reality checks, uh, we bring in, um, school leadership, the principal and the AP, and we have our central office, uh, academic, uh, team that sit in and they go through, after every map test that we take, we look at performance of students overall from growth to attainment. We look at it, everything, we, every piece of data we analyze is reviewed through the lens of, um, sub diverse groups. We look at it through our white students, black, uh, special education, emerging bilingual. Uh, we do that across the board. And w th this process, it takes about, we have about an hour and we take these powerful, deep dives into discussions around what's what's next, right? What action. And how do we improve while this is the first year of this? Uh, we, we are excited about where this can go for next year. We do this three times a year, right? So that is, um, that's one. The other thing that we've done this year, we have the six instructional systems. You heard me speak about system six, but system two really locks. And this is from the work in JCPS, and we're doing it here. It locks in on how are we using data within our schools? So what some of the assistant superintendents have done, um, they started to meet with our school leaders and having these mini versions of reality checks at the school having discussions, but they have their academic coach in there as well. Uh, and they're engaging that way. But the biggest takeaway from this year, what our data is that we have really went, I would say a hundred miles an hour with building a strong PLC culture PLCs were done in the district prior to me arriving, but it was done in pockets this time with, um, with the, you never, you never let a, um, uh, a, a tragedy or bad situation like the pandemic get away without you getting some good from it. And so what we've done on our Mondays, we, every school, they have professional learning communities by grade levels, and they're discussing student data, they're discussing student work. Um, they're looking at re redoing lessons and how to approach the work from a different, a different way. And so those are just two of the, two of the greater way through the greater ways that we're using data right now in our district.

Dr. Chris Balow (33:24):

Oh, that's a, that's really great. Um, I liked the notion of looking at growth and attainment because although some kids may not have hit the bar yet, are they growing? Are they on a trend, uh, to achieve that? And I love your notion of action. Okay. Data can be static. It tells a story, um, but it has to lead to action or why even bother and the PLCs, what a great way to put it into action. So, wow. I really applaud that. Devon, we're almost out of time, and I'd like to close with a question about leadership as a district leader. Um, I have a lot of friends in your role, and it's a challenging, it's challenging work on any levels. And, and it's lonely at times. And, uh, what are some lessons you've learned over the years that you could share with, with folks that may be seeking your type of position?

Dr. Devon Horton (34:23):

Uh, the first one is that I say, um, the work that you do must be systemic. And what, uh, what do I mean by that? Um, this work is not something, uh, the lone ranger. You can't come in and do the work and be the carrier of everything. And the minute you miss a step or you wear yourself out, or you move on to something different, the work just falters, right? So building systems where, uh, the people know how you're thinking, they see the process that you use, and everyone becomes familiar with the process. So systemic thinking, that's the first one second one. The second one is that leadership matters, uh, and who you put in front of your leading your schools or on your cabinet is it's important. Uh, and, and just the title of doctor or whatever those are. That doesn't mean anything it's about the talent and your, your ability as a leader to delegate and also coach and listen to your team. As when you hire individuals, you want to be open, um, to making sure that you bring the right people in, and that you don't have all the answers. So the leadership development piece, and having a pipeline of future leaders for APS and principals as well is important. The third is equity, right? Equity has become such a dangerous word, and I've seen it used in negative ways as well, but that equity piece, do your, do your diligence, be sure assess what equity equity really means, define your terms, um, bring form this committee outside of your board that will help you to move this work, um, when you're doing it and, and being honest and measure, make a plan measure where you're, how you're moving it. And then also the last thing I would say, um, when you're measuring this work, be sure that you make those adjustments like in a timely manner, uh, and keep an equity at the center. There's so much more conversation we can have with the equity piece, but understanding that those three things, um, systemic thinking, leadership, development, and support, and having a lens around equity can really help you as a leader, uh, to move, uh, your district.

Dr. Chris Balow (36:28):

You know, Dr. Horton, I think you should be teaching a course at Northwestern university on educational leadership. Um, Holy cow, off the top of your head, all of that amazing information that that folks can really learn from, well, our time has come to an end, Dr. Horton, but before we go, we, you have to play our little game called this or that. It's simple. Have you heard of this game before?

Dr. Devon Horton (36:52):

I haven't.

Dr. Chris Balow (36:56):

Okay. I say two things. And you tell us which one you prefer this or that. Okay. Very simple. And then you can explain your rationale. If, if you like. The first one dog or cat?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:11):


Dr. Chris Balow (37:11):

While walking, do you prefer music or a podcast?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:18):


Dr. Chris Balow (37:20):

Music. Cardio, or weights?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:22):

Cardio. It used to be weights, but now cardio.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:26):

Facebook or Twitter?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:29):

Um, my, my kids are gonna laugh, Facebook. They say that's for older people, but I have Twitter, but Facebook. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:35):

Isn't that interesting. iOS or Android?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:38):


Dr. Chris Balow (37:40):

IOS. Big party or small gathering?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:42):

Small gathering.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:45):

All right. Uh, I think I know the answer to this football or basketball?

Dr. Devon Horton (37:50):

You might, but, um, basketball.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:53):

Yeah, that was my guess because I know you have a family member who plays a little bit of basketball.

Dr. Devon Horton (37:59):

Yeah. I have a family member. Um, Salen Horton Tucker plays for the Lakers. He's in the second year. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:05):

Yup. I've been following the box, score on him.

Dr. Devon Horton (38:08):

Okay, good good. Root for him. Root for him.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:12):

I will, I will. Um, okay. Do you prefer a hamburger or a taco?

Dr. Devon Horton (38:19):

Uh, that's a tough one. I love them both, but I'll say, I'll say, um, I'll say a taco.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:25):

Taco alright. Do you prefer a tablet, um, or laptop versus a desktop computer?

Dr. Devon Horton (38:32):


Dr. Chris Balow (38:33):

Laptop. Okay. Car or truck?

Dr. Devon Horton (38:36):


Dr. Chris Balow (38:37):

All right. Let's see here. Do you like coffee or tea?

Dr. Devon Horton (38:42):

Tea. I drink tea every morning.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:44):

All right. You and my wife. Meat or vegetables?

Dr. Devon Horton (38:50):

If my wife is not listening then meat.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:52):

Okay. TV or book?

Dr. Devon Horton (38:55):

You know, um, book. Um, I'm an avid reader.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:59):

Okay. Awesome. A horror movie or a comedy movie?

Dr. Devon Horton (39:04):

Oh, that's a good one. Comedy.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:08):

Comedy. All Right. Me too. Ocean or mountains?

Dr. Devon Horton (39:12):


Dr. Chris Balow (39:12):

Ocean. And let's see here last one, toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Devon Horton (39:22):


Dr. Chris Balow (39:24):

Okay. Well, that's good. That's good. That's most of us, uh, take, take the over approach. Well, Dr. Devon Horton, I want to thank you for, for spending time with us and just sharing some amazing information, telling the story of Evanston/Skokie 65 and, and your vision. I think people have learned so much from you today.

Dr. Devon Horton (39:45):

Thank you.

VoiceOver (39:46):

Thank you for listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Find us on all major podcast platforms and make sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show,. Have a story to share? We want to hear it. Record a three to five minute audio pitch detailing your experience in working to become a change agent and why educators need to hear from you. Send your audio files to Join the conversation and help us advance towards the bright years ahead. See you next time.