The District 65 School Board discussed goals for the 2011-12 school year and future years at its June 20 meeting. The Board decided it would adopt three goals that relate to student achievement, finance and facilities, and full implementation of the District’s five-year strategic plan that extends for three more years.

While the Board reached consensus on the parameters of the goals, the wording was not hammered out, nor were measures of success determined. It is anticipated that the Board will vote on the goals and any measures of success at its next meeting in August.

The goals incorporate conceptually the goals suggested by Superintendent Hardy Murphy. In addition to suggesting goals, Dr. Murphy suggested 15 strategies to achieve the academic goals which the Board may also consider in August.

The Achievement Goal

An overarching achievement goal is that the District provide high quality instructional experiences for all students that will close the achievement gap, bring students to grade-level proficiency, and prepare them for high school, college and career readiness.

On June 6, administrators presented data showing there has been substantial improvement in reducing the achievement gap between ethnic groups when the percent of students “meeting standards” on the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISATs) is used as the measure. There is a still a substantial gap in achievement, however, when ISAT scale scores, grade level proficiency or college readiness are used as the measures. See June 8 issue of the RoundTable.

For example, the table below shows the percentage of black, Hispanic and white eighth-graders at District 65 who met the college readiness benchmarks in reading and math on the December 2010 EXPLORE test, which is part of the ACT family of tests:

                     Reading    Math

Black             41        34

Hispanic         38        40

White             88        87

The proposed achievement goal would be to narrow these gaps, while at the same time increasing achievement of all students.

While not specifying a proposed measure of success for the academic goal, Richard Rykhus said there should be very specific measures for each goal, a position he staked in his recent campaign.

Tracy Quattrocki said the District should measure whether students were on track to college and career readiness using benchmarks linked to ACT College Readiness starting at third grade. Andy Pigozzi said he thought the measure should not be tied to a specific number, but simply be growth over prior years.

Board president Katie Bailey said the measures would be discussed in more detail at the Board’s meeting in August.

Finance and Facilities

A second Board goal will relate to finance and facilities. The financial goal will include balancing the operating budget and finding ways to meet the District’s capital expenses. Several Board members suggested that the District may need to consider seeking additional funds through a referendum. Kim Weaver suggested that the goal expressly state that the District will align its spending with its strategic goals.

On June 13, the District presented a tentative operating budget for school year 2011-12 that is balanced. The District, however, is projecting deficits of $5.2 million, $6.1 million, $8.2 million and $9.8 million over the following four years. The Board decided last month to form a citizens’ task force to provide recommendations on ways to address the budget deficits for 2012-13 and subsequent years.

The facilities goal intertwines with finances, and must also address the need for additional classroom space in light of projected increases in student enrollment. The District recently projected that it will incur capital expenses to repair, renovate or expand its buildings at an estimated cost of more than $50 million over the next five years. In addition, the District’s Referendum-New School Committee has decided to recommend that the District establish a new school, most likely in the Fifth Ward, the cost of which has not yet been estimated.

In light of the projected deficits and the projected capital expenses going forward, a number of Board members said they thought a financial/facilities goal should be adopted to demonstrate to the community that it is a high focus for the Board.

Full Implementation of the Strategic Plan

The third goal is to fully implement the District’s five-year strategic plan that was adopted on March 16, 2009. The strategic plan contains 30 goals that address the curriculum, instruction, student and family support, staff and instructional support, community outreach and services, and facilities and finances.

Jerome Summers said a key goal of the strategic plan is to “ensure by the end of third grade, students enrolled in the District for four continuous years are reading at grade level.”

Other Goals Mentioned

Board members proposed additional goals which did not gain traction because they were subsumed in the overarching achievement goal or in the strategic plan, or because of a desire to limit the number of goals.

The proposals included: Improve the relationship between the Superintendent and the community ( Kim Weaver); include something to address the needs of gifted students and provide enrichment (Eileen Budde); focus on early childhood education and the early grades to develop literacy and accelerate reading skills by eighth grade (Tracy Quattrocki); retain high quality teachers and provide high quality professional development for teachers (Richard Rykhus).

The Board discussed whether to adopt a goal that would in some way address early childhood development. Ms. Weaver supported doing so, saying that all the evidence shows that early childhood education is critical. Dr. Murphy said the District has enhanced its early childhood program in the last five years, and that its early childhood center was currently operating at capacity.

Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said about 90% of the students entering kindergarten at District 65 have attended a pre-k program with an educational component. Mr. Rykhus suggested that the District continue to present data on the status of early childhood education in the District.

The administration proposed 15 strategies to improve achievement for all students, while closing the achievement gap and preparing students for high school and college and career readiness. Some of the strategies include:

• Enhance literacy instruction by placing an increased emphasis on writing. On June 6, the District presented a writing plan for pre-school through eighth grade. The purpose of the new writing curriculum is not only to teach students over time how to write effectively in a variety of formats (e.g., argument, informative/explanatory and narratives), but also to use writing as a tool for learning and as a way to develop comprehension and critical thinking skills.

• Create an “Acceleration for All” initiative to revise middle grade mathematics through compacting, as recommended by the Common Core State Standards, so that all students complete algebra by grade 8.

• Implement a k-8 “cohort looping” initiative to ensure continuity of instruction across broader grade spans. The cohorts could be looped across two or three grades (e.g., k-1, or K-2, etc.). Teams of teachers would assume responsibility for a cohort of students within their loop. Dr. Murphy said teachers would have higher expectations for students if they were responsible for them for two or three years.

• Provide year-round school for targeted students, who Dr. Murphy said may be students from low-income households or students at Title I schools. In light of data showing a drop off in achievement that occurs during the summer months, he said it was important to keep students engaged on a year-round basis.

• Redeploy resources to where there is the greatest need, including reduced class sizes at Title I schools. Teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness with minority students may be offered incentives to transfer to schools with the highest percent of minority students.

• Provide interventions to help eliminate the over-representation of African-American and Latino students in special education. In the Opening School Report for 2010-11, the District reported that African American students comprised 27% of the total school population, but they comprised 37% of the special education students. Hispanic students comprised 20% of the school population, but 25% of the special education population.

• Provide increased professional development opportunities to teachers and principals and ensure high expectations for African American and Hispanic students.

Tracy Quattrocki raised some questions concerning the “cohort looping” initiative and whether teachers had been consulted about the proposal. Ellen Fogelberg, literacy director, said there was “positive feedback” from some teachers on a preliminary basis; it appeared there had been limited teacher input up to this point. Ms. Quattrocki said she would like to see if teachers were ready for this initiative before it was implemented.

Other concerns expressed about the initiative were that a student might be assigned a teacher for a two- or three-year period who was not a good teacher. Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz acknowledged this concern, and said the District would be required to improve the performance of all teachers to address this concern. A concern was also expressed that some teachers were already feeling under water keeping abreast with all the new initiatives implemented by the District

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...