School District 65 is in the beginning stages of implementing an enrichment program as an outgrowth of recommendations made by the Differentiation and Enrichment Study Committee (DESC) in April 2008, Susan Schultz, assistant superintendent, and Suzanne Farrand, math and gifted coordinator, told School Board members on June 1.

Under the District’s model, enrichment will primarily be provided in the classroom through differentiated instruction. The District also plans to make teacher-led enrichment activities available to all students before or after school. Enrichment activities led by parents will continue to be available.

The District is shifting from centrally planned enrichment activities to a school-based effort so that enrichment activities will match the interests of students, said Ms. Farrand. “That means Junior Great Books may not happen at every school if it is not of interest at a school. The school may substitute another kind of reading program,” she said.

This and other factors led some Board members to raise questions about the “consistency” of the model and the need for a more “coherent” approach.

Shift to School-Based, Teacher-Led Programs For All Students

DESC recommended in April 2008 that the District evaluate whether to adopt the Renzulli Schoolwide Enrichment Model, a research-based model that focuses on enrichment for all students through high levels of engagement and the use of enjoyable and challenging learning experiences.

Ms. Farrand reported that a group of parents, teachers and administrators studied the Renzulli model and concluded it would require “a lot of structural change in a school in terms of the way you allocate time and resources and was probably a little bit too ambitious for us at this time.” She added, though, that the committee agreed that some principles of the Renzulli model should be incorporated into the District’s enrichment efforts, including that they should be driven by student interest, be flexible and be provided to all students.

In order to provide enrichment programs that meet student interest, Ms. Farrand said the District is moving away from District-driven programs to school-driven programs, so principals and teachers can select programs that match students’ interests.

The District is also shifting to teacher-led enrichment programs. Ms. Farrand said this was being done for two reasons: First, if a school did not have a parent volunteer to lead before- and after-school enrichment programs, it could not offer the program; second, parent volunteers often do not have classroom management skills.

Finally, “The goal is that all students have access to enrichment activities,” said Ms. Farrand. Previously, before- and after-school enrichment programs were often available by invitation only, she said.

The District will provide schools with budgets to pay stipends to teachers and to purchase materials for before- and after-school activities. The budget was $2,300 for each elementary school and $3,300 for magnet and middle schools for the period January through June. The total amount tentatively budgeted for next year is $60,000 (to be divided amongst 17 schools), said Pat Markham, communications director for District 65.

Ms. Farrand said the District is preparing a “menu” of enrichment programs – “kind of sanctioned by the District” – that would be available. “We would encourage schools to choose from the enrichment menu,” she said. However, schools “have the latitude, with the permission of the department chair, to depart from the menu.”

In approving enrichment programs, Ms. Farrand said the department chairs are looking for programs that develop “creative thinking skills,” “higher-order thinking skills,” “how-to-learn skills,” and “research skills.”

This year the teacher-led enrichment activities included Battle of the Books, Chicago Area Problem Solvers, Drama Club, Ecology Club, Junior Great Books, Math Olympiad, Roots & Shoots and Science Olympiad.

Parents will still have a role in providing enrichment activities. “There are still lots and lots of club activities that are run by parent volunteers,” said Ms. Farrand, mentioning chess clubs and foreign language clubs as examples. While there has been some confusion on the issue, she said parents may continue to teach Junior Great Books.

Enrichment in the Classroom

Board member Katie Bailey said she supported before- and after-school enrichment activities but thought that enrichment should primarily be provided in the classroom. She asked whether students would be provided enrichment in the classroom,

“Absolutely,” said Ms. Farrand. Enrichment would be provided in the classroom through differentiated instruction, in which teachers “should be providing a challenging experience for every child in the classroom,” she said.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said, “I have seen classrooms where differentiation is working tremendously. I have seen classrooms where it’s used in the most formulaic way and not beyond that. I’m wondering where you feel the [level of] penetration is of your professional development. How deep it is and what you will do for those teachers or classrooms where there’s some resistance or where it is not as effective – because I do think it has not reached every classroom.”

“Absolutely, we would agree with that assessment,” said Ms. Schultz. “At this point, we cannot say ‘every classroom, everywhere, all the time.’ But we do feel with our professional development that there is tremendous buy-in with the teachers. They are excited. … They’re seeing value in the professional development, it’s energizing them as professionals and they’re implementing it.

“So we’re on the path. We’re not there yet. We’re seeing penetration in our elementary classrooms. We’re beginning to see the seeds planted in some of our middle-school classrooms in reading, language arts and in science and social studies. But we have a long way to go.”

Board Concerns About Before/After School Activities

Ms. Quattrocki expressed a concern about shifting responsibility for before- and after-school enrichment activities to the school level. “What has happened in some of the schools that I know of is the enrichment activities have contracted rather than expanded,” she said. “For example you have gone from Junior Great Books all year long to perhaps one month before school; you have a club now for just one grade as an enrichment activity.”

She asked for information showing what enrichment activities were being offered at each school and how many students were participating in the activities, so the Board could make sure the District was meeting its goal of offering an enrichment opportunity to every child in every grade. “That’s just not happening at several schools I know,” she said.

Ms. Quattrocki added this information would serve as a baseline that could be used to measure progress in subsequent years.

Dr. Murphy said there was a discrepancy between what Ms. Quattrocki was saying and the administration’s statement that overall there is an increase in the number of offerings and the number of children participating. “So there’s a difference with either what we think is happening or how we’re defining all of this,” he said. “We need to verify that to find out exactly what is going on.”

Ms. Bailey made the additional suggestion that parents be surveyed to “find out if the structure is working for families.”

Ms. Quattrocki added, “I feel like we have a very good sense of what we’re doing and where we’re going with differentiation,and it is really just a question of implementing it. With enrichment, I don’t have as great a sense that we have a very good, coherent strategy here.”

Ms. Farrand responded, “I would agree with you that a more coherent program would be important.” She said that the enrichment program is in its beginning stages and, “We’re hopeful that in moving into a new school year, we will be a little more organized in what we do moving forward.

Larry Gavin

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...