Despite spending a significant amount of time debating testing issues at their recent joint meeting, the District 65 and 202 school boards managed to review some of the current efforts to increase inter-district cooperation and to ease the transition of students from eighth to ninth grades. The criteria used to place students into honors, mixed or regular level classes were also scrutinized.
“Last year we passed two joint district goals,” said District 65 Board President Mary Erickson. “One [was] … a seamless code of discipline so that there would be no disconnect between the schools in that regard. And giving us more opportunity was a goal about having a smooth transition between eighth grade and ninth grade. Children would be eased into high school. It would not be … difficult or jarring … and parents would understand how children would transition. I think we all felt it was something that both of our districts could do a little work on.”
Code of Discipline
Although no presentation was made at the meeting about the “seamless code of discipline” goal, District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon later told the RoundTable that discipline procedures at Evanston Township High School had been reviewed along with District 65 discipline policies to look for consistency from the middle schools to the high school.
“Our collaborative work has been in the discussions we are having with the middle schools regarding each student,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “If a student is having difficulties regarding behavior, we do discuss that so we can personalize our approach as each student transitions to the high school. Our goal is to make the transition to the high school as seamless as possible, and that includes helping students regarding their behavior.”
In addition, Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marilyn Madden told the RoundTable, “Dr. Valorie Moore [assistant superintendent of operations at District 65] and the principals from the middle schools met with our assistant principals, deans and me. We shared the “Pilot” [the high school’s policy book], their policies, and information on behavior issues that both districts were experiencing with our students. We met three times during the 2006-07 school year, coordinating our efforts for a seamless disciplinary program.”
Susan Schultz and Laura Cooper, assistant superintendents for curriculum and instruction for District 65 and District 202, respectively, presented a summary of articulation efforts between the two districts.
“Real articulation efforts matter even more for students who struggle,” said Dr. Cooper. “We have really focused particularly on [the requirements of] students who need all of us to be on the same page.”
Ms. Schultz described literacy articulation between the two districts. “We have held joint meetings with our department chairs,” she said. “Each team has developed a plan for ongoing communication.”
The two districts held a joint data retreat in December, Ms. Schultz reported, which included department chairs, teacher leaders, literacy coaches, representatives from special education, bilingual, science and social studies. The retreat focused on sharing data, strategies and interventions for struggling students as well as plans for integrating literacy into core content areas.
“We did not debate the data,” said Ms. Schultz. “We looked at the data and said, ‘What are we going to do now as a result of this data?’ There was an openness and a willingness to look at what we could learn from each other.” Ms. Schultz said that District 65 will share with District 202 the plans that have been in place for struggling students “so that they will know what interventions have been in place for these students.”
Another outcome from the literacy retreat was the formation of a steering committee, which will continue to work on a seamless K-12 curriculum, ongoing collaboration, shared strategies and professional development.
“The focus has been, for many years, to get as many kids as possible to finish algebra before they reach eighth grade,” said Dr. Cooper, continuing the presentation about collaborative efforts in mathematics. “We have adopted joint textbooks and have collaborated on the development and scoring of final exams. If you’ve taken 1Algebra, it doesn’t matter where you’ve taken it – you’ve taken the same course.”
Dr. Cooper reported that the percentage of students who start at ETHS with a course beyond Algebra 1 has increased in recent years from 42.3% in 2005-06 to 49.5% in 2007-08. “We’re moving in the right direction,” she said.
Easing the Transition
The transition from eighth grade to ninth grade has been a topic of discussion by a newly formed committee consisting of the two Board presidents, Ms. Erickson from District 65 and Martha Burns from District 202; Board members Keith Terry (D65) and Omar Khuri (D202); and superintendents Dr. Witherspoon and Dr. Hardy Murphy (D65).
“We didn’t want to meet just to discuss things. We wanted to create something to demystify the process,” said Mr. Khuri.
The committee has produced a draft of a brochure that describes the transition process; it will eventually be distributed to all District 65 students. A calendar details significant dates. Important telephone numbers are listed. Each step of the transition process is outlined, from a description of the components of the profile that is compiled about each student, selection of courses at freshman orientation, placement procedures and August meetings among incoming freshmen, parents and counselors.
The brochure also describes summer “bridge” opportunities at the high school. The recently developed course, “Access ETHS” which introduces students to the operations at the high school, study skills, literacy and test taking strategies, is highlighted, along with a description of the various academic support programs such as STAE, Project EXCEL, the Academic Youth Development Program and AVID.
Changing the Placement Process
The placement process, which determines whether students will be assigned to honors, mixed-level or regular classes at the high school, became a focus of attention last fall when District 202 Board members expressed great concern about the consistently low levels of minority students in honors classes.
Mr. Terry asked Richard Bowers, associate principal for grades 9/10, what weight was given to the variety of variables which go into the placement decision.
“The highest priority is the history of achievement using the EXPLORE scores … and the input from District 65,” said Dr. Bowers.
“The parents’ comments are anecdotal, the students’ comments are anecdotal, of course, but we really so heavily rely upon the lead teachers from the feeder buildings to tell us if they feel the students are going to be adequately challenged, and supported by the programs we’re going to place them in. Our most lengthy conversations are about students where test scores are inconsistent,” he added.
Mr. Terry asked if there was a different set of considerations for African-American students who “could go to honors and those who didn’t make it in.” Dr. Bowers responded that “race is never discussed except in those focused support programs that need to focus specifically on minority students.”
“Maybe race needs to be part of the discussion,” said Mr. Terry.
“We know there are many, many more students who can handle more rigorous courses,” said Dr. Witherspoon. He said that a “richer set of criteria” will be used to place students beginning next fall.
“In terms of placement, I do believe that Dr. Witherspoon is going to begin making ETHS more representative of the students that are in the building … in the next year and that’s something we can all celebrate,” said Ms. Burns, referring to the imbalance of representation of minority students in honors classes. “Students will learn side by side with each other. I could not support him if I thought he would do otherwise,” she added
Remarking on future plans, Ms. Erickson said the joint 65/202 Board committee would continue its efforts to focus on the goal that “the two districts can work together to ensure that a student who is successful in one district can also be successful in the other district.”