Campbell: student, teacher, superintendent


In his junior year of high school, Dr. Marcus Campbell had his first experience in education. His teacher asked him to take over class for a day, to lead a discussion on Camus’ The Stranger, but that day would spiral into an entire career dedicated to education. From that point on, Campbell knew teaching was his path. 

“I had so much fun,” he says. “I felt so at ease leading a conversation.”

His natural ability to foster discussion and engage his peers was recognized by those around him. Later that year, the same teacher who pushed Campbell to lead the class nominated him for a golden apple scholarship, an Illinois program which aims to prepare college students for a career as a teacher. Campbell won the scholarship, and almost immediately stepped into the classroom. 

“I was in classrooms as soon as I graduated from high school,” he says. “It just seemed to come well and connect well with me as the person who I was at that time, and who I continue to be. And so I never questioned my decision to be a teacher.”

But as college years ended, Campbell was unsure of where to go. Despite his experience in the classroom, his focus had been on his own education — learning about literature and teaching — and he had yet to consider possible job opportunities. But at just the right time, the Golden Apple foundation called him with a job opening: a position teaching English at ETHS.

Campbell spent the next 10 years of his life in room W328, teaching Frankenstein, Invisible Man, A Raisin in the Sun, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and he intended to stay there for the rest of his career. He had wanted to be an English teacher, and that’s what he was. But his skills in leadership and connecting with students — the same skills which years earlier caught the attention of his English teacher — were noticed by former superintendent Eric Witherspoon, and Campbell was asked to take a job in administration.

“I see myself as more of a teacher that happens to be an administrator, instead of an administrator who used to teach. I am very much connected to teaching, learning and connecting with students. And so I still carry some grief around not being a classroom teacher.”

Campbell worked briefly as the Director for Student Supports and Racial Equity before taking the position of assistant superintendent. In this position, Campbell faced a plethora of challenges, including the schoolwide lockdown which rocked the Evanston community, a number of highly controversial policy shifts, and of course, a global pandemic. 

During events like the December 2021 lockdown and the early days of COVID, Campbell describes the intense pressure of making decisions that will affect so many people in the community, often in unforeseeable ways.

“I went to bed every night thinking ‘I hope this all works out,  I hope we’re making the right decision. We’ve never been here before. There’s no playbook for this.’”

On top of this, ETHS had its fair share of controversies while Campell was assistant superintendent. In fact, many of the policies that Campbell says he’s proudest of (dress code reform, gender neutral locker rooms, and less harsh grading practices) were the same policies that drew heat from the Evanston community and national media outlets. The dress code policy specifically has been cited as one of the most progressive in the country. But of course, this sparked pushback. 

“When you know that what you’re doing is fair and is right, the pushback is okay. And oftentimes the pushback can sometimes push you into a better place.”  Campbell says. 

Learning from the community, dealing with these difficulties and working closely with Witherspoon has pushed Campbell to develop a new skill set. Controlling a classroom and communicating with students have evolved into quick decision making and community outreach skills. These strengths, much more geared towards administrative work, are hopefully the skills that will help Campbell as he steps into the role of superintendent. 

“I’ve learned a great deal about communication. I learned a great deal about process, and a lot of critical thinking. I learned a lot more about myself — that I want to get it right, and even when I don’t get it right I can own that, and that’s growth. And I continue to learn and be empathetic.” 

So, as he begins his term, Campbell plans to initiate and continue programs that will further the ideals he’s held throughout his career. 

“This summer we’ve been talking about four things, and that is racial equity, social emotional learning, post high school planning, and literacy.”

 “We want to make sure that we work with regard to racial discrimination, and work to make sure that when people leave here, they will be successful adults. And that’s embedded in those four priorities.”

In the end, it’s all about students, and helping them learn and succeed while at the same time learning about who they are as people. 

“I’m so happy to be their superintendent. I am really excited about getting to know them, and having fun in the role.” Campbell says, “I knew them as a principal. I want to get to know the students as a superintendent.”