Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
Subscribe to the newsletter!
First Published in the RoundTable on March 18, 2009. Completing a process that began almost one year ago, the District 65 School Board approved a five-year strategic plan for the District on March 16. The plan, which is intended to provide a focus for the District for the next five years, includes a new mission statement, a statement of core values, and 30 goals that address the curriculum, instruction, student and family support, staff and instructional support, community outreach and services, and facilities and finances.
Superintendent Hardy Murphy said in presenting the plan at the Board’s March 3 meeting, “What we have in front of us is a very coherent plan, and it’s going to guide us as we move forward in the future.
“The plan provides a focus for the District in its course of continuous improvement in student achievement, staff performance and community investment in the programs and services being provided to students.”
School Board president Mary Erickson said, the Board will use the strategic plan in determining its annual goals. All of the District’s goals, the Board’s goals and the administrative strategies will be “keyed off of the strategic plan,” she said.
The strategic plan was prepared by the District’s Strategic Planning Committee, which was composed of School Board members, administrators, teachers, parents and community members. The committee held 10 lengthy meetings over the last 10 months. Five public forums were held in October to obtain input on a draft of the plan. The Board made several revisions ti the plan recommended by the Committee.
Mission Statement/Core Values
The District’s new mission statement is concise: “Educating each student to succeed in and contribute to our global community by cultivating creativity, compassion and the pursuit of excellence.”
The statement of core values lists 14 values, including, “We value: …excellence in education and high expectations for all students in all schools; … a highly skilled, committed and nurturing staff; … the role of parents and guardians as partners in the education of their children.”
The statement of core values is intended to provide a framework for planning. “You don’t have unlimited resources, you have to prioritize,” said William Attea, the Committee’s facilitator. “They [the core values] are what is going to drive your decision making.”
Board member Mary Rita Luecke said, “I think they [the core values] really do provide a framework about how we conduct ourselves.” She added that the value “keeping the best interest of students in mind when every decision is made,” should be “number one, in my view. “
The Goals/Some highlights
The goals stated in the strategic plan are general in nature. Mr. Attea stressed throughout the process that the goals should be general and provide a “direction” or “focus” for the District for the next five years. The Board should adopt targets or benchmarks for the goals on an annual basis, and the administration should implement strategies to achieve the goals, he said.
The strategic plan calls for “rigorous standards for student growth in all academic areas.” This goal responds to concerns raised last year by many parents, who said the District needed to increase the rigor in its curriculum to challenge and enrich students. A goal to increase the rigor in core subjects was initially opposed by some administrators who said the curriculum was already challenging. In explaining this goal, Dr. Murphy said, “We want to make sure we address the entire District curriculum and all aspects of child development,” without deemphasizing the focus on reading and math.
Another goal is to “ensure that the curriculum enables students to discover big ideas/essential learning through reflection, critical thinking, problem solving, conceptual understanding …” Big ideas were described as “thought-based learning that facilitates conceptual understanding and innovation” in a draft of the strategic plan. “This goal recognizes that students must understand both simple and complex ideas, Dr. Murphy said.
The strategic plan also contains a goal to “expand the world languages curriculum.” Dr. Murphy said, “We want students to understand the world around them by expanding our world language curriculum. We no longer are a country or community that can exist in isolation from the rest of the world.”
At the instructional level, the strategic plan endorses the use of differentiated instruction, together with interventions, to address the needs of all students in the same general education classroom. The plan states as goals: “Successfully implement a program of differentiated instruction and enrichment that will address the needs of each individual student,” and “Implement effective interventions and supports to ensure success for all students.”
The plan also calls for providing “comprehensive staff development” programs to train teachers how to effectively differentiate instruction.
Dr. Murphy said, “One of the concerns that has emerged is some people feel we are not addressing the needs of all children. We want to make sure we do just that – address the needs of all children. We’ve heard that loud and clear from members of our community.
“Additionally, we want to continue supporting the needs of children who have historically struggled in our District. So we want to make sure we have implemented effective interventions and supports to ensure success of all students.”
These instructional goals are consistent with the recommendations of the District’s Differentiation and Enrichment Committee presented last April and with the three-year goals adopted by the Board last fall. The three-year goals call for the District to use differentiated instruction, coupled with co-teaching, push-in supports, and other strategies to meet the needs of and to challenge a wide range of learners in the general classroom.
The strategic plan also calls for implementing “technology-mediated instruction throughout the District.” Dr. Murphy said, “We’re committed to making sure that students in our classrooms are challenged and engaged with state-of-the-art technology.”
Many parents urged the Strategic Planning Committee to address concerns about educating children with a disability by devoting a separate section of the plan to special education services. While there is not a separate section of the plan devoted to special education, a preamble to the plan states that the Committee decided to “reinforce the concept of inclusion and address the needs of students receiving special services through the six major areas of the strategic plan.”
In addition, several specific goals state the District should “increase age-appropriate disability awareness in grades k-8,” and “ensure inclusion of students with disabilities in all programs to the maximum extent appropriate.”
Dr. Murphy said, “We have to make sure people with disabilities have the kind of education in our District that prepares them to get the most out of their lives.
“We want to make sure we include students with disabilities in all programs, as appropriate. We want to make sure that students who are not disabled understand what it means to live in a compassionate posture with students who are disabled. We want students who are disabled to understand that they belong in our classrooms and community.”
In order to address concerns raised by parents that programs for special education services were frequently shifted from one school to another, the strategic plan includes a goal to “maximize continuity of program placement for special needs students and other specialized programs.”
Dr. Murphy said, “We understand that stability is important, and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to address that concern.”
Several parents urged the Board at the March 3 meeting to take additional steps to meet the needs of students with a disability, including implementing inclusionary programs and putting more teeth into some of the initiatives.
Benchmarks for Achievement
An overarching goal is to “make continuous progress toward eliminating the achievement gap, while focusing on the improvement of achievement for all students.” One strategy the District has employed in an effort to reduce the achievement gap is to focus on improving reading in the primary grades, in recognition that reading skills are essential to future learning. The strategic plan endorses that strategy and contains a goal to “ensure by the end of third grade, students enrolled in the District for four continuous years are reading at grade level.”
The School Board considered adopting a similar goal on four different occasions during the period 2000-2003, but each time declined to do so because some Board members felt it was not achievable.
Dr. Murphy said adopting a third-grade reading goal in the strategic plan would help the District to channel resources to meet that goal. He added, “If you have more students at grade level, it makes it easier to differentiate instruction.” This “gives us leverage to move the whole system,” he said.
The strategic plan also states as goals “ensure District 65 graduates are prepared for high school” and “ensure that students graduating from the District have the necessary skills to be successful in high school and adult life.” The plan does not state how the Board would assess whether these goals are met. A recent report issued by researchers affiliated with the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago concluded that meeting state standards on the eighth-grade ISATs is not enough.
The strategic plan also contains numerous other goals, including making schools welcoming and supportive of parents and guardians; engaging parents more effectively; ensuring the resolution of parental concerns in a responsive, fair and equitable manner; exploring alternatives to student suspensions; recruiting and retaining a highly qualified and diverse staff; strengthening the relationship with District 202; conducting a comprehensive assessment of the District’s school buildings and developing a five-year replacement/improvement plan; and utilizing the District’s fiscal resources in an effective and efficient manner to ensure the long-term fiscal stability of the District.
In commenting on budgetary issues, Dr. Murphy said, “We know we are moving into tough financial times. … We know we have to come up with a solution that will allow us to be able to continue providing these wonderful services to our students in such a way that our parents feel secure about the future of our District’s programs and services.”
Strategies to Implement the Plan
Board member Mary Rita Luecke noted, “The goals are intended to be overall objectives and the strategies will then get filled in by the administration.” She asked when the administration would come back with strategies.
Dr. Murphy said he anticipated the administration would come back to the Board with proposed strategies no later than June or July.
The mission statement and the statement of core values do not mention “”diversity.”” An overarching goal states, though, that the District should “”provide an educational experience where race, culture, creed, language, gender and disability are recognized and supported in instructional practices and programs, and in organizational policy and planning.””
Jessica Clarke, a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, said she thought the District’s mission statement and statement of core values should reflect the District’s commitment to diversity. “”It’s regrettable that his draft plan fails to respect diversity and equity and fairness as part of our central mission and values,”” she said.
Ms. Clarke also expressed regret that the plan failed to state as a goal that the District would allocate additional resources to schools that had higher concentrations of low-income students and that had a greater need for the resources. The Board debated this on March 16 and decided that the District could allocate resources to meet the needs of students in implementing the plan.
Neighborhood and Magnet Schools
The Board decided to add to the statement of core values that “”We value: …Neighborhood schools that support families and community.””
The Strategic Planning Committee decided not to include a goal to establish a school in the Fifth Ward, and the Board did not add such a goal.
As a compromise the plan contains a goal to ensure the adequacy and appropriateness of school facilities to “”provide each child an opportunity to attend his/her neighborhood school or a school of choice, at the parent’s option, with special consideration for students who live in the Fifth Ward attendance area.””
The strategic plan contains several provisions relating to magnet schools. The statement of core values says, “”We value: …Magnet schools and programs that offer educational programs for our students.””
The Board added as a goal, “”Determine the purpose and instructional programs of the District’s magnet schools.””