Oakton’s Chess Tournament An ‘Enormous Success’

Editor:

This weekend, Oakton School hosted our first chess tournament in many years, and it was an enormous success. More than 200 players and 100 parents gathered for a very full day of competition and fun. A healthy breakfast and lunch were available for purchase, in addition to day-long chess clinics for teams to perfect their skills.

The enthusiasm of our chess families and the broader Oakton community was tremendous. Volunteers galore staffed the registration table, concession stand, gym and playground and assisted in scorekeeping for five full rounds of competition.

During the Friday evening setup, a small group worked to beautify the school with hand-made signs and even went the extra distance and folded all the lost-and-found items in our hallway. Wow, was it worth it.  Visitors couldn’t stop raving about how beautiful our school was – the original artwork, the murals, the incredible feel of our space. Additionally, they were being greatly impressed with the efforts of all involved who made it such a tightly run, highly successful tournament. 

Heartfelt thanks to all who helped make yesterday a chess day to remember: our custodial staff, who worked tirelessly during setup and cleanup; our volunteer coordinator, who assembled an amazing team of devoted parents; chess families, who pitched in throughout the planning and execution of the day; and amazingly, to all the Oakton parents who do not have kids in the club, but assisted because they care so much about our school community. 

Most of all, much thanks to all the students in our chess club: Each played skillfully and demonstrated amazing sportsman-like spirit. All of us are very proud of your devotion to the game, the school, and the club.

–Cece Lobin, Oakton School

Cap and Transfer a Fiasco

District 65 School Board Members:

As our elected officials, I believe that you should have done more to represent your constituents to have foreseen the panic that would ensue with a 12th-hour change of policy regarding guaranteed placement of kindergartners in area schools.  This announcement came after the heavily attended District-wide meetings regarding the kindergarten admission process held on Jan. 12 and 14.

I am sure the Board realizes that many Evanston residents select our homes based on enrollment opportunity in area schools.  We have spent the last year discussing with our excited young son that he will get to go the big school across the street starting in August.

To assure his placement, my husband arrived at registration this morning at
6:50 to find himself already 120th in line and the District took five-and-a-half hours to process my son’s enrollment.  This means that they were prepared to process only 20 forms per hour and utterly unprepared to handle the onslaught that ensued as rumors spread.  My husband reports that there was no attempt to increase staffing or come up with an alternative strategy to
handle the crowd until more than 400 parents were in line.

In addition to the problems that arose from the new policy, it is further
objectionable that only one hour outside of working hours (7-8 a.m. Tuesday) was
even scheduled for registration, forcing parents to choose between a day’s work and getting their child into school for the fall.

The Board owes all the future kindergarten parents of District 65 their most
deep and sincere apology regarding this situation and will have a long hill to climb to regain the trust of a new set of parents who are entering the school system.

–Karla Satchell

Kindergarten Registration Is Chaotic, Discriminatory

Open Letter to District 65 School Board:

I am extremely upset by what I experienced and witnessed at the Hill Education Building on Feb. 23, panic and fear caused by the Board and Administration.

A woman who arrived at 5:20 a.m. was the second person in line; I got there at 6:55 a.m. and was number 85.

The administration was unprepared to handle so many parents. When it was clear they were in over their heads, they should have stopped and reconfigured their plan.

Parents had to come into the crowded lobby and figure out what to do. A member was writing numbers on yellow Post-its and handing them to people as she went.

Once seated, parents couldn’t hear numbers being called. This caused them to gather closer to the boardroom doors, making things more congested and stressful.

Just after 8 a.m. it became obvious that some people had abandoned their spots because they had to leave. It was disheartening – sickening, really – to realize that this process was truly discriminatory.

Only those with the means to sit there that long, those who could get out of work, those who didn’t work or had means to provide alternative childcare at home that day would be able to register.

As it got closer to 9:00, the staff changed. The new person handing out numbers had no idea what number they were on. She asked who had the highest number, which created a major panic.

She decided to jump ahead to number 300 and start over there. I waited almost two hours to hear my number.

I was then directed to a table closer to the congestion at the boardroom doors, where a staffer made sure we had the necessary paperwork to proceed – a repeat of what would happen inside.

I was finally called and date-and-time-stamped at 10:40 a.m., 3 hours and 45 minutes after I arrived. The process got slower as time went by: Arrivals after 9:00 were there until mid-afternoon.

The scene itself was unbelievable. Many parents were still in pajamas, many were dressed for work.

There were parents with small children and parents panicking about how to get their kids to school, since they clearly thought they would be home by the time schools started. The worst were the parents who had to give up their spots to leave for work. It was a tense, unhappy environment. It shed a terrible light on Evanston.

In the end, was this worth it? Was it worth the cost to the general population to have made this not-yet-voted-on decision? By trying to affect the “least amount of people” the Board and administration wound up affecting the most.

And Tuesday was the best day that many working parents could attend. Was the Board aware of a discrepancy in the information that went out to parents? The information sheet in the kindergarten folders stated that registration would be 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Tuesday, and 12-7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. All the electronic information sent by the administration over the course of the last week stated that the Wednesday and Thursday times were 12-3 p.m. Until Wednesday’s late afternoon e-mail blast, many working parents would have assumed that Tuesday was the only day they could be there.

Our School Board members govern this administration. They should have worked closely with them to make sure all bases were covered after making such an important decision.

When the administration makes mistakes, it is up to the Board to hold them accountable.

Did anyone on the Board meet with the administration last week to discuss their plan? Did they just give them “the nod” and assume it would be handled well? If so, then shame on them.

This administration’s track record is terrible. They make huge mistakes all the time and this was no exception.

I was ashamed by what I saw and how we were treated. I feel like my time was not important to this administration or this School Board.

I feel like they made a rash decision and threw us to the wolves. And I hope that they will all be held accountable by this community to fix this mess.

— Nicole Jacob Marks

D65 Administration’s Actions Dilute Board’s Authority

Editor:

You report that at its Feb. 16 meeting, the District 65 Board “gave a nod” to the Administration’s proposal to “cap [kindergraten enrollments at particular schools] and transfer [students over the alloted amount to other schools].”

You also report subsequent disagreement among D65 Board members about just what they had “given a nod” to.

This practice of having the Board “give a nod” to major policy initiatives, which is unauthorized by either the Illinois School Code or the D65 Policy Manual, has been going on in D65 for many years, and this latest example is a perfect illustration of why it is a pernicious – and probably illegal – way to proceed.

It is an end run around the very sensible requirment that the Board discuss a matter at (at least) one meeting and then vote on it at a subsequent one.

The practice is a product of poor planning, necessitating a rushed decision by the Board, as well as a desire to dilute the Board’s statutory role as the ultimate authority for District policy. It must stop.

n       Jonathan Baum

King Lab Most Inclusive,

Says Parent

Editor:

My kids’ school is a place where, while most of the District struggles with what inclusion will look like, children with significant disabilities have been included for 20 years, where special education students can be found side by side with their general-education peers drumming during an assembly, performing in a dance residency, playing on the playground and learning in the classroom.  It is a place that serves a higher percentage of students with IEPs than any other school in the District.  It is a place where families can stay together.  My kids go to King Lab.

Inclusion is quite the buzz word these days.  At King Lab the culture of inclusion has been built over time and stands as a role model for the District, embraced wholeheartedly by students, staff and parents.  Currently there are three Options classrooms in the building where some of the most vulnerable kids in the District are included in general education when appropriate and individualized instruction as needed. 

The fine arts focus at King Lab serves a purpose much greater than the obvious.  The integration of art, music and dance into the curriculum allows many disabled children to better participate with their peers.  It also levels the playing field for typically developing children who struggle academically and enables those with varying abilities to experience success.

I’ve heard it said that King Lab has a culture of social justice.  I would argue that not only is it one of – if not the most – racially inclusive school in the District but also socially diverse.  My daughter’s grade has at least three families formed through conspicuous adoption, three same-sex couples, three children with special-needs siblings and far too many multiracial children to count.  It is a school where families who are a little different are not so different after all. 

As School Board members appear nothing short of horrified at the prospect of telling families that they will not be able to attend their neighborhood school, this has been happening to special education families for years.  There was not a single neighborhood school open to our family when our disabled son entered kindergarten five years ago.  The only opportunity for our four children to go to school together in the District is at King Lab.

King Lab offers the community at large a choice and a unique opportunity to families of children with special needs.  This should be not only preserved but supported by the administration and School Board.  There should be a policy of 100 percent sibling acceptance at both magnet schools and under no circumstances should we even entertain the idea of bringing TWI to King Lab.   

n       Martha King

MoveOn Urges Health-Care Reform

Editor:

Although health-care reform seems to have faded from the news, many Americans have not changed their minds about the urgency of key provisions of the legislation passed by Congress. MoveOn has continued to poll its supporters, who still favor passing legislation that includes a public option as well as limiting the restrictions private insurers can place on the policies they offer. We are fortunate in this area to have Representative Jan Schakowsky, who has fought for months to pass a robust reform bill.

At a January MoveOn rally in downtown Evanston, Rep. Schakowsky sent us an encouraging message to share with our supporters. She said: “There are those who want to sound the death knell for health-care reform, but you and I are not among them. No one ever said this battle would be easy, and now that the road is a bit bumpier, we must simply be tougher. Today we stand on the brink of bringing the United States into the 21st century and into the group of countries that has figured out a way to provide affordable health care to their people. …We can meet our goal, but only if we stand firm.”

On that day about 120 people came out in very cold weather to hear from Jan and others working for reform. On Feb. 16, we were at Old Orchard to rally support. We intend to continue our efforts to demonstrate that health-care reform must not be allowed to die; too much is at stake for too many Americans. We hope that people will join us to keep sending the message to our leaders that the majority of Americans want and need accessible, affordable and comprehensive health-care coverage.

–Elliot Zashin,Evanston/North Side MoveOn Council