At a joint meeting of the District 65 and 202 School Boards on Jan. 17, administrators summarized how the two Districts have ramped up their efforts to collaborate in order to implement a common “vision of excellence for all students” and to adopt common “District 65 and 202 goals.”

This represents the first time the Districts have adopted common goals addressing the curriculum and instruction.

“Our goal is to ensure the seamless implementation of a rigorous K-12 curriculum,” said Susan Schultz, assistant superintendent at District 65, and Pete Bavis, Associate Principal at Evanston Township High School, in a joint memo to the Boards. “This work is grounded in our efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards and ensuring College and Career Readiness.”

The Common Core State Standards contain Illinois’ new learning standards for English-language arts and mathematics for kindergarten through twelfth grades. The standards, prepared by a consortium of 48 states and territories, define the skills students need at kindergarten through 12th grade to be on track to succeed in “college entry courses and in workforce training programs,” by the time they graduate from high school. 

“District 65 has focused on curriculum alignment to the Common Core State Standards in an effort to ensure readiness for high school,” said Ms. Shultz. “The curriculum alignment ensures that students are well positioned for success in high school.”

“District 202 has focused on successful implementation of the Earned Honors Credit Model for Humanities and the development of skills tied to Common Core State Standards and Advanced Placement,” said Dr. Bavis.

“Both Districts have embraced differentiated instruction as a vehicle for ensuring the success of learners within a rigorous and challenging learning experience,” they said.

Collaboration and Aligning the Curriculum

Dr. Bavis said administrators and teachers from Districts 65 and 202 share plans, share curriculum materials, share student assessments, meet regularly to discuss curriculum and instructional issues, and observe classrooms in each other’s districts, followed by debriefing sessions. They have also collaborated in adopting common curriculum and instructional goals.

Eric Witherspoon, Superintendent of District 202 said, “We have been doubling and redoubling our efforts to work in a very collaborative way for the benefit of our students.”

At the heart of these efforts are “teacher walkthroughs” and “teacher exchanges.” District 65 and 202 administrators and literature teachers have observed each other’s classes; and eighth-grade science teachers and ETHS biology teachers have observed each other’s classes. After these classroom observations, the administrators and teachers discuss the implementation of the curriculum, instructional methods and how improvements can be made.

The Districts plan to expand the teacher exchanges to include ETHS chemistry and physics teachers next year.

Hardy Murphy, superintendent of District 65, said District 65 administrators, principals and teachers have observed District 202 classrooms “so everyone can understand what is expected in the high school,” and District 202 administrators and teachers have observed District 65 classrooms “so they can see what we’re doing in our classrooms to prepare students for high school.”

  “With walkthroughs, we’re really looking at grouping practices, and pedagogy and texts that are used and opportunities to engage kids more fully in the curriculum and the work in being a student,” said Ellen Fogelberg, director of literacy at District 65. “All of this has really helped the District move forward to get to this seamless curriculum that Sue’s talking about,”

Mark Onuscheck, chair of the English department at ETHS, said, “The discussions we’re having with District 65 have been very informative … [from how] we go about selecting texts to how we go about working with students in the classroom. Observing what they’re doing and seeing what’s happening in the classrooms in District 65 has already been very helpful to us.”

Ms. Shultz said, “Opening the doors to our classrooms has been a very big breakthrough for our teachers and for us to be able to actually see what’s going on in those classrooms and to be able to share practices. As a result of that we’ve had lots of open, honest conversations about what each District needs to do to improve, what we see as strengths as we go into those classrooms, and where we need to go next.”

Administrators and teachers have had “frank, honest and open discussions” after classroom observations “about instruction and what’s going on for the good of all of our students,” said Dr. Bavis. “That to me speaks volumes on the trust-building that we’re doing between the Districts.”

Dr. Bavis said the Districts’ joint plan for ongoing collaboration includes: the continued use of the common core state standards as a lens for ongoing articulation; the support of strong partnerships between department chairs; the continued use of shared walkthroughs and teacher exchanges; collaboration on assessment development; and the provision of meaningful shared professional development.

 Ensuring Rigor for All Students/Increasing Collaboration at the Board Level

The Board’s questions and comments focused primarily on the Districts’ implementation of differentiated instruction to challenge all students across the achievement spectrum, and what each District was doing to ensure that students were being provided challenging texts in reading and humanities courses.

Gretchen Livingston, a member of the District 202 Board, said, “It’s important to develop the framework that ensures that it happens not just for a good chunk of students, but every last one of them. Too many kids don’t get this opportunity now in both of our Districts.”

Ms. Fogelberg said the common core state standards deal with text complexity. In aligning the curriculum to the common core state standards, it “is going to push us to have these conversations among all teachers,” she said. She added that the District brought in a consultant to assist in hammering out how to ensure that all students are provided challenging texts.

Jonathan Baum, a member of the District 202 Board, suggested the Boards have additional joint meetings. “I see that our staffs have really upped their game when it comes to collaboration. I think we should match that at the Board level.”

He suggested that the Boards adopt common goals.

He added that a book provided to District 202 Board members by Dr. Witherspoon, “Leading For Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence Among Montgomery County Public Schools,” states, “The only way to change achievement patterns predicted by race and income is to implement reforms at both ends of the K-12 curriculum.”

He suggested that both Boards read the book and have a public meeting at which they would discuss it.

Katie Bailey, president of the District 65 Board, said, “It’s a great idea.” A subcommittee will select a time for the joint meeting.