On Sept. 22, the District 65 School Board approved a three-year plan containing three goals and numerous strategies to improve academic achievement, improve the District’s facilities and maintain financial solvency. The plan brings together in one document many of the strategies the District has implemented in the past few years to improve student achievement. The plan makes some revisions to the draft presented to the Board on Aug. 18 (reported in the Sept. 3 issue of the RoundTable), but the gist remains the same.

The plan continues an effort to consolidate as much learning as possible into the general education classroom. Many of the strategies proposed are geared to assist teachers to instruct a diverse group of students, including students with a disability, in the general education classroom and have been recommended in reports or plans previously approved by the Board.

Some of the strategies to improve student achievement are to expand the District’s pre-K programs for at-risk students, to use data to identify at-risk students at an early stage and to develop and implement early interventions for those students, to push in supports for struggling students rather than pulling those students out of the classroom for interventions, to expand the use of co-teachers in the classroom, to implement programs designed to assist students who are one or two years below grade level, to develop materials to assist teachers to differentiate instruction, to provide training to teachers to effectively differentiate instruction, to require struggling students to attend before- or after-school programs, and to create more effective parent-school partnerships.

The three-year plan also contemplates that each school will create an array of academic co-curricular and extra-curricular enrichment activities. In line with the recommendations of the Differentiation and Enrichment Study Committee, the District plans to use differentiated instruction to challenge advanced learners in the classroom.

A substantial part of the discussion on Sept. 22 centered on the phrasing of a goal to “Reduce the number of students referred and/or identified for special education.” Several Board members were concerned that the phrasing could be misconstrued to deprive students who were in need of special education services of those services. Administrators said the goal was to design and implement early interventions for at-risk students so they would not need special services later on.

When the Board was first presented with the three-year plan on Aug. 18, several Board members raised concerns that adopting the three-year plan might co-opt the work of the District’s Strategic Planning Committee, which has been preparing a draft five-year strategic plan for the District. The Strategic Planning Committee approved a draft of a five-year strategic plan on Sept. 13 (reported in the Sept. 17 issue of the RoundTable), and is scheduled to hold a series of public hearings in October on the draft before making its final recommendation to the School Board.

In urging the Board to adopt the three-year plan, Dr. Murphy said, “These goals were developed from the framework of the long-range strategic planning committee vision for continuing District improvements in the areas of academics, finances and facilities.” He added, “We absolutely think that these strategies are the ones we should focus on and that we should use to drive our instructional program.”

School Board members were enthusiastic about the three-year plan. Andrew Pigozzi said, “I read it through last night. I love it. Everything in here is what I feel needs to be addressed and improved upon.”

Mary Rita Luecke said, “I think the three-year goals are very comprehensive in incorporating the things we’ve been working on over the last three years. I appreciate the emphasis on supporting students who are at risk of failing, not just those who are already failing, so that we support them before that happens.”

“I like the idea that a lot of reports were used as a base for this,” Board president Mary Erickson said. “The administration did a good job on linking the goals to the strategic plan that we have been working on.”

The Board voted 5-0 to approve the three-year plan. Board members Katie Bailey and Bonnie Lockhart were absent.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...