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Although light on data, the latest report on System of Supports (SOS) to be presented to the School Board by District 202 administrators was loud and clear on one point: Only one out of three students assigned to AM Support actually attends the half-hour morning session intended to assist students who are in danger of failing.

While pointing out that AM Support “is not the only component of System of Supports,” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon acknowledged that “it’s not meeting the needs of all kids.”

“The school climate continues to generally view seeking support outside of class as a good thing,” reported SOS coordinator David Wartowski, “but we are not reaching the targeted students as effectively as we would like.”

Now in its third year, System of Supports includes a variety of different programs and initiatives intended to assist students with academics and behavior at school. Administrators presented a report on the different aspects of the initiative to the School Board on March 22.

“System of Supports is working for different students in different ways,” said Dr. Witherspoon, although administrators did not share very much concrete data about how this was being accomplished.

Several Board members appeared to note the lack of data.

“I’d like to see a report with some data,” remarked Board member Mary Wilkerson. “We might be doing a lot better than we think we are, but I doubt it. I think we might be doing a lot worse.” She said some students might be benefiting from the efforts, but “not the ones it was our primary purpose to reach.”

Board member Gretchen Livingston agreed: “We need more data rather than going off anecdotal evidence.”

Student Board member Alex Block noted that among his friends “who are largely white … no one is afraid of going in for AM support.” He also reported that “anecdotally” he has noticed that most of the students in the study centers (another component of System of Supports) are also white. “We need to make sure we are reaching everyone in the school,” he pointed out.

“We always seem to come back to the student we just can’t reach,” said Board member Martha Burns. “I’ve heard so much theory and initiatives. We seem to deal with the suburban side of understanding education in our community very well. But there is an urban side that just might not line up with suburban idea of going to this great high school.”

Administrators say they hope some of the other approaches that have been incorporated into SOS – including homework centers, study centers and the academic intervention team – will provide a wider set of options to assist students. In addition, Mr. Wartowski suggested other interventions, such as guided study halls and peer tutoring, might be added. The Black Male Initiative (see sidebar) was recently launched to assist a group of students who have been deemed most in need of assistance.

“[Department] chairs and teachers are having conversations, student by student, to problem-solve student failure and student non-attendance to AM support,” Mr. Wartowski said.

Still in the planning stages is an effort to provide parent orientation sessions “to be held over the course of three to four months [to] provide the most essential information parents need to better navigate and connect with Evanston Township High School,” administrators said. According to the report, a group “comprised of 14 parents and community members who reflect the racial diversity of Evanston” came up with the proposal, which aims to reach the parents of 100 percent of incoming ETHS freshmen.

New ETHS Program for Black Males

Black male students at Evanston Township High School who need assistance will be aided by a new program launched this month focusing on the “”social, emotional, mental and environmental ills that thwart (their) academic performance,”” said Dean Vernon Clark, who announced the effort at the School District 202 Board meeting on March 22. According to the 2007-08 School Statistical Report, 27.1 percent of the grades received by black male students were Ds, Fs or NCs, compared to only 5.5 percent of the grades received by white male students.

Ongoing concern about low attendance at AM support, which is designed to serve students in danger of failing, indicates a need to focus on this population, administrators say. Mr. Clark has brought together a group of administrators, staff and faculty, including Safety Director Terrence Doby, social worker Anthony King and history teacher Kamasi Hill to serve as a “”conduit for these disenfranchised students.”” A group of 100 students has been identified and invited to participate in the program, which is modeled after one implemented in Lawrence, Kan., which some of the organizers have visited.

The first meeting of the group drew about 20 students and parents who heard motivational speaker Jonathan Edison, who was a presenter at the last Minority Student Achievement Network Conference. Board member Mary Wilkerson suggested that the program organizers work closely with District 65 because “”many of these students drop out mentally well before they reach high school.”” Mr. Clark responded that those efforts were already in the works.