LMNOP: It is a series of letters that many schoolchildren learn from the song of the alphabet. But when Devon Horton attended high school as a junior high school teacher, he learned that his student could not identify “M” in the dictionary. Horton said he asked the educator to oversee the program how he should help him.
The teacher’s answer: it’s not our problem.
Horton, slated to become superintendent of Evanston / Skokie School District 65 in July, said that this moment inspired him to work in education.
“Hearing a teacher – working on a summer intervention program – saying it did something to me,” said Horton. “I knew it then, just then and there, and I graduated in elementary education when I went to college.”
Earlier, he said that his mother raised him to prioritize education. Horton grew up in Robert Taylor Homes, a popular housing project in Chicago, before moving to the Jeffery Manor neighborhood.
He added that his mother was an “active parent” who allowed him to attend the Culver Military Academy, a college in Indiana, after graduating from high school.
“I really say that my leadership skills happened to Culver,” said Horton. “And being the third highest level African American cadet was really powerful.”
Horton attended Jackson State University for his degree. After graduating and joining the workforce, he lived with his sister Latrice Madkins, who said he could see his passion.
“That first year of teaching, he would go home with these books and bags and talk about these children,” said Madkins. “He always had this group of students that he honed and really talked about all the time and his efforts to make them better.”
His first job was at the Bouchet Elementary Math and Science Academy, where he taught for five years before moving to the Benjamin E. Mays Elementary Academy in 2005. When Patricia McCann, principal of Mays, interviewed him, he said he had asked not to go to any other job interview because she was so impressed. Now, he said he is “proud peacock” to be appointed superintendent.
CJ Johnson, a former colleague, said there is no one better at building Horton’s relationships.
“Devon has always gone beyond his players and students,” Johnson said. “To date, they continue to reach and still connect. I have seen fantastic parents not doing for their children what Devon has done for his students. “
One of the children who drove was Kennrith Foster. When he was in fifth grade, Foster said that Horton insistently asked him if he wanted to join the basketball team. He described, laughing, how he would react by running away from Horton. But once he entered, he decided to stay.
Foster said he was having fun at home in middle school, and although he wasn’t his teacher, Horton said he noticed he missed school quite often. When Foster was not in school when a science project was due, Horton went to Foster’s house and found that the sixth year of elementary school did not have the materials to complete it. Horton pushed him to buy what he needed, but Foster said he didn’t stop there.
“He practically welcomed me from that day forward,” said Foster. “When he left me at home, he realized that my environment where I lived was not the best for me, and right then, it was like, ‘Hey, I see that your situation is not the best here, you would like come to stay with me for the rest of the school year? “
Eventually, Foster stayed with Horton until the eighth year. He said that Horton became a model and father figure in his life and grew a lot during that time.
Horton said he wanted to help students beyond schoolwork because many of them are brilliant and only need support.
“I realized that every student had special talents and it was my responsibility as a teacher to really cultivate and grow those talents,” said Horton. “Children don’t care about reading and math if they know you don’t care about them.”
Horton later served as principal assistant at Mays and then at Wendell Phillips Academy High School. After a year in an assistant role, he was promoted to Phillips’ principal. He later became Deputy Superintendent of East St. Louis District 189 and is currently Head of Public School Schools in Jefferson County in Kentucky.
Paige Hartstern, who is part of his assistant superintendent team at JCPS, said he was good at the collaboration, while current colleague Alicia Averette said everyone wants to work with him and for him.
“I haven’t heard anything negative about him or his leadership,” said Averette. “He is very humble but manages to get the job done.”
The second year he was principal of Phillips, Chicago public schools rated the school as “standing excellence” after he had obtained “probation” status for years, according to an article by WGNTV. Horton called it a “highlight” of his career.
Meanwhile, in District 189, he claimed to have set up cohort leaders to support students in completing post-secondary plans.
According to the District 65 website, 97 percent of 2016 and 2017 District 189 classes were accepted into a high school, military or commercial school. In addition, they received $ 25 million in scholarships, compared to $ 5 million in previous 10 undergraduate classes.
Foster said it’s not by coincidence that Horton sees growth wherever he goes.
“His ability to engage, set goals and pursue them with intensity, ferocity and great attention, allows him to build these programs and these districts to be successful,” said Foster.
At JCPS, Horton claimed to have created racial equity plans and promoted restoration practices.
District 65 faces persistent gaps of opportunity between white and black students, low- and high-income students, and students with and without disabilities, according to a report presented at Monday’s board meeting. Horton previously said he wanted to tap into the community’s desire to change about racial and social equity to fill the gaps in the district’s results.
He already has some goals he hopes to achieve, but Horton said that when he enters a new district, he likes to “love, listen and learn”.
“I’m excited to be in District 65,” said Horton. “I will give this district 150% of the best I have and will continue to move this district in the right direction.”