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District 202 administrators proposed 31 summer projects for Evanston Township High School teachers at a cost of $119,895, about $73,000 to come from the 2009-10 budget and the rest from this year’s budget and grants.

The summer projects involve from one to 40 teachers and affect from 15 to 3,000 students. Each department has at least one project, with English and Special Education having the most. The least costly project budgets $350 for special education teachers to work with community leaders on helping students gain job skills and experience.

The most expensive project proposes a two-day summer institute focused on the Achievement Now program and designed to “provide … explicit literary strategy instruction to teachers who teach from difficult required texts.” The institute will guide teachers “in crafting lessons that will use the strategies. …” A third day of the institute would be “entirely devoted to the Frosh reading teachers for explicit revisions to the curriculum so that it better supports 1 Humanities and Humanities Enriched classes.” That proposed project would involve 39 teachers and impact 1,500 students at a cost of $18,120.

Goals of the Projects

“Summer projects are directly tied to the four school goals of literacy, numeracy, well-being and, of course, budget and finance,” said Laura Cooper, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, at the May 11 School Board meeting.

“Four priorities drive summer projects,” she explained: “curriculum for new courses; writing of common curriculum and assessments; incorporating literacy, numeracy and well-being into the curriculum; and professional development tied to the school goals.”

Most of the summer projects fall into the second category – writing of common curriculum and assessments – with the third category – incorporating literacy, numeracy and well-being into the curriculum – a close second. Some projects address more than one priority.

“We decided about a year ago to formalize the writing of common curriculum and assessments [with the Science Department],” said Dr. Cooper. “It’s been in conversation and in motion for many years.

“What do we mean when we say a common curriculum?” Dr. Cooper asked rhetorically. “It is not having every teacher … on page 12 on day two and on page 46 on day 14.”

Dr. Cooper said, “We have to identify what are the enduring understandings . . . that we really want students to walk away with. What is the core knowledge and what are the essential skills? Once we have a common curriculum and are clear about what we want all the kids to know and be able to do, how do we know if they know it?”

She said if teachers and students are going to learn, they need frequent and timely feedback. “Meaningful, useful and practical assessments are really critical. . . When teachers meet in their Professional Learning Communities, they can look at student work and can really figure out whether students are getting the information or not.”

Examples of Projects

Martha Hansen, Science Department chair, and Robert Gottlieb, Special Education Department chair, provided background for some of the summer projects by discussing some of their departmental activities.

Ms. Hansen described in detail her department’s efforts over the past year to introduce literacy strategies into the science curriculum with Achievement Now. Beginning with a pilot group of biology teachers who worked on a genetics unit, they have since expanded the strategies to chemistry and physics as well as the entire biology department. “The whole thrust of the science literacy movement is to help students access science content, not to read their textbooks better, but to comprehend science better. That’s our goal,” Ms. Hansen told the Board.

She said the pilot group looked at the content and asked what they wanted students to know and “how do we help them organize the text, different strategies, scaffolding and different tools for them to comprehend that content in a very conceptual and foundational way?” Summer projects in 2008 took the material developed in the pilot and expanded into every unit in biology.

Every biology teacher taught those unit lessons during the year. “We gathered feedback, we had many meetings … to monitor how it was going,” reported Ms. Hansen. “We gave a large assessment, a baseline for all biology students in the school, to measure the effect of the different strategies…The second half will be given in May. We are also collecting data from the teachers who have been meeting in subgroups throughout the year.”

Mr. Gottlieb discussed two summer projects in his department, Implementation of Co-Teaching Instructional Strategies and Co-taught Geometry and Geometry IP Alignment.

Co-teaching is a model that was begun at ETHS two years ago and is used for classes involving Special Education students and also English Language Learners.

Last year 12 classes in different subject areas were taught by both a special education teacher and a general education teacher. About 30 percent of the students in the co-taught classes had disabilities. Although there are always students with disabilities in general educations classes, Mr. Gottlieb said, the 157 students with disabilities assigned to the co-taught classes “would not have had access to the general education program without the supports of co-teaching.” He described the program as “one of the most dynamic and exhilarating experiences that I have had as an educator.

“The teachers in the co-taught design have co-ownership and responsibility for all aspects of the class,” said Mr. Gottlieb, “including curriculum planning, grading, classroom management and differentiation of instruction.”

Mr. Gottlieb said surveys of teachers of the co-taught classes indicated “a very high level of satisfaction for the benefits for special education students and general education students, and the highest level of satisfaction … with] how it benefited them as teachers.”

He said this is also true of the students who participated in the classes.

In addition, Mr. Gottlieb said the co-taught classes had informed development of curriculum in the instructional program (the program with only special education students in it). “Our job in special education is to narrow the differences between children in the instructional program and their non-disabled peers. …” The teachers of the co-taught classes teach the same subject in the special-education classes and bring the curriculum and textbooks from the general education program to those students as well. As a result, numerous students moved out of the instructional program into the co-taught classes, he said.

Next year there will be 24 co-taught classes, including English classes from 1 Humanities through 4 English.

Board Reaction

Board members had mixed opinions about the information provided with the project proposals, as only a few of them were presented in depth at the meeting.

“I’m looking for some more concrete information,” said Board member Gretchen Livingston, referring specifically to the proposal for 1 Humanities. “How have our students achieved with the changes we instituted last year, where are they now and where do we expect them to go from here? Otherwise, we’re just taking stabs in the dark in this process. … I think that’s very important as we look at these kinds of proposals, which total a fair amount of money, so we can figure out whether we’re getting value for money. …”

Board member Martha Burns reminded Ms. Livingston that a discussion of 1 Humanities was on the agenda for the May 26 meeting. Ms. Livingston pointed out that the summer project proposal for the course “is sitting right here in this packet” and said she wanted more information on it. The Board scheduled a vote on the summer project proposals for May 26.

“These are brief summaries,” remarked Board member Mark Metz. “There were some that were stronger than others.” He suggested that “when we write these going forward, we should be looking for clarity of purpose, what are we trying to accomplish. … Do we have a thorough plan for implementation and execution of this plan? … And last, and this is the stickiest on of all: measurable results.”