I am proud of Evanston’s public schools. On August 30, District 65’s school year will be off to a full start with an outstanding group of dedicated teachers, administrators, and support personnel all ready to deliver the best education possible. Yet, an achievement gap persists.

The challenges facing Evanston’s public education system are not unlike those faced on a national scale. As the global economy changes and becomes more competitive, there is an urgency to address our educational problems. As a member of the School Board, I accept that challenge and ask that the entire Evanston Community join with us in tackling the issue of preparing our children for the future.

District 65 accepts all students who enter its doors, regardless of ability, and for the past eight years District 65 has shown steady improvement in overall student achievement. We are now witnessing a narrowing of the achievement gap between black, brown and white students than in past years. If this trends continues it will hold great promise for the future of students leaving our district.

Research commissioned by the Evanston RoundTable and conducted by Paul Zavitkovsky of the University of Illinois-Chicago confirms the progress that has been made. The District acknowledges and accepts the challenge that in spite of the past achievement gains, there remains much work to be done to close the achievement gap.

Let me be clear, District 65 has a five-year strategic plan that describes a clear path for pursuing excellence and a clear curriculum goal that sets forth to “ensure that students graduating from the District have the necessary skill to be successful in high school and adult life.”    

 There are some who suggest fixes to the achievement disparity, such as adding charter schools, increasing education funding, getting rid of poor teachers, getting rid of the administrative bureaucracy, giving teachers greater control of individual schools, eliminating the influence of unions, offering special tutoring for students who lag behind, developing stronger discipline policies, and setting higher achievement standards. Perhaps some of these are viable solutions, but the fact remains that we need support from our entire Evanston community to close the achievement gap dilemma. Narrowing the gap will require new ways of doing things, and a concerted focus on early preparation by the entire community.

Here are a few examples of educational community efforts that help to make a difference:

Foundation 65: It is a foundation independent from District 65. It raises funds to support activities that enrich our public schools and encourage excellence in education. One of its initiatives is an early literacy program (Project LEAP) in cooperation with the Evanston Public Library.  Through innovative play scenarios, Kindergarten LEAP addresses early literacy skill building and community and social interaction.  Kindergarten LEAP is an outgrowth of LEAP, an early literacy program targeting preschoolers. The program expanded to seven schools (Dawes, Lincoln, Lincolnwood, Oakton, Orrington, Walker and Willard) in 2009/2010.

FAAM: (the Fraternity of Afro-American Men), the group that conducts a popular Evanston basketball league of 350-400 sixth-, seventh- and eighth- graders and cheerleading program. FAAM will launch a new academic initiative in the fall. The program – “FAAM and Your Future” –is aimed at encouraging students and their parents to develop goals for the futures that expand beyond high school and to develop plans for actions that can be taken now to prepare for “college-readiness” by the end of high school. The goal is for our fine youngsters to prepare for successful and productive lives beyond high school. 

Finally, we’ve seen a steady increase in the achievement profile of all of our students but particularly for African-American and Hispanic students in District 65. We’ve seen more going to high school better prepared. This trend must continue because it will benefit our students and the City of Evanston. There is no doubt we have much more work to do. We welcome the entire Evanston community to join with us in solving this national issue through creation of innovative programs, big or small, aimed at all of children.

So as the school year gets off to a fast start, I encourage parents and community partners to stay involved. We need you and the students need you.

Mr. Terry is president of the District 65 School Board.