On March 21, the District 65 School Board discussed a proposal submitted by the Pacific Education Group (PEG) “to provide professional development and consulting services to School District 65 for the purpose of developing and accelerating the District’s capacity to engage in systemic equity transformation and eliminate racial educational disparities in District 65 schools.”

PEG has been working with Evanston Township High School for the last two years, and it prepared an equity assessment report for ETHS in March 2009 as a prelude to guiding ETHS School Board members, administrators and teachers through “Courageous Conversations” on race.

Unlike the proposal submitted to ETHS, the proposal for District 65 does not contemplate performing a study and providing an equity assessment report. The proposal is more limited in scope, and proposes to provide PEG’s two-day seminar called “Beyond Diversity” to District 65 administrators, and then to provide a series of seminars to District administrators, with principals in some of the seminars. PEG also proposes to provide three three-hour workshops for School Board members.

The proposed fee for the work, which PEG says is phase one of four phases, is $55,500.

Board member Kim Weaver said, “When I saw the proposal, I was a little shocked about the number. It looks like a lot of training.” She added that it does not include the full cost to the District, which is the cost of administrative time devoted to the training.

“What I wasn’t sure about is what is our end goal,” added Ms. Weaver. “What’s going to be our result?” She said PEG does not list if they have had significant impact on improving student achievement and questioned whether PEG could provide data showing if their program would assist in closing the achieving gap by “x” percent.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said PEG would not likely be able to provide that type of information.

Andy Pigozzi said the ETHS School Board members and teachers he had talked to felt PEG’s program was worthwhile and they got a lot of value out of it, but he did not feel it was something District 65 needed to rush into. He said, “I’m definitely open to the discussion and learning more about it and what other districts got out of it.” He suggested that Board members attend PEG’s seminars that ETHS was sponsoring for the community in May and “continue to study it and evaluate whether it’s worth the proposed fee.”

Tracy Quattrocki said she was expecting to see a proposal that was tailored to School District 65, and what PEG submitted appeared to be “boilerplate.” She said, “I would hope we could outline our goals and our expected outcomes, because for that amount of money, I would want to tailor it to our needs.”

She added that if the Board wanted to effect cultural change in the District, that PEG’s involvement would have to go beyond phase one, and include not only School Board members and administrators, but also District leaders, teachers, students and the community. These groups are included in phases two, three and four of PEG’s standard program. She said she would want to know the cost of implementing the remaining phases.

She also said teachers brought the issue to the Board at ETHS. “If [District 65] teachers are going to give up some of their professional days to have seminars with PEG, I would want to be sure that that was a priority for them as well and that it wasn’t something top-down that we were deciding was good for them.”

Katie Bailey said she agreed with many of the comments made. She noted that at ETHS, teachers brought the issue to the Board, and they spent a year looking at the issue and looking at different consulting groups. “I do believe there’s some validity to using a similar group, …but we’re also at a different point [than ETHS], …our needs may be different. I wonder if the first step is a needs assessment, because our needs may be different than theirs were at that time. And they got bids from a number of groups. I would take a step back and say maybe that’s what we should do.”

Jerome Summers said, “What this courageous conversation does is speak from a perspective that the majority culture just may not even see. It’s not in their field of vision. Courageous conversation makes apparent cultural differences that are there all the time, but we just don’t talk about. Evanstonians, we don’t talk about this, and I think we should. At ETHS, it gave them a platform to be honest with each other.”

Board President Keith Terry said, “I think we will do a world of good in this District by going through this process. Yes, this community is very diverse, but one could argue we’re not very integrated.” He added, “It’s important that we keep our eye on perhaps closing the achievement gap in very interesting ways. My heart is still at that point. I think we should try to advance this through continued discussion.”

Explaining why PEG focuses on race, Dr. Murphy said they feel that in the course of discussing race, other issues inevitably come to the table. He said it is easier to talk about poverty than race. “If we can engage in an experience that causes us to reflect upon these different perspectives in looking at the world, that could be beneficial.”

Ms. Bailey suggested that Board members attend PEG’s seminars in May and then come back and look at moving forward with the workshops PEG proposed for the Board at a cost of $7,500.

After further discussion, Mr. Terry summed up that he was hearing that Board members were committing to have continued conversations on the issue, that Board members who were at the meeting would commit to attend PEG’s seminars in May, and that there would be follow-up discussions about a tailored program.