The proposed new school for the central core will likely be a high-poverty school, with almost 90 percent of the student body from low-income households. While research shows that economic status does not determine academic achievement, high-poverty schools present challenges not faced by other schools.
In October, District 65 administrators convened a “New School Academic Committee” to brainstorm on ideas for a unique educational program for the new school. (See Nov. 9 , 2011 issue of theRoundTable). The RoundTable met with Superintendent Hardy Murphy last week to ask him how he thought the proposed new school would address the needs of students in the central core.
Dr. Murphy said he believes a neighborhood school in the central core will allow a relationship to develop between parents and teachers and the school and the community. He said these relationships will motivate students to succeed and is “at the heart of creating high expectations.”
He said the school could also create engaging learning experiences through a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum, where students can see how learning can be translated into daily experiences. “I think the school offers us an opportunity to use these strategies in such a way that you can capture a child’s imagination and nurture their curiosity,” he said, adding that the curriculum should include the humanities and fine arts. “That’s what I would like to see at the school.”
Dr. Murphy said he would support an extended day, and, if it were possible, an extended year at the new school. He said an extended year could be offered in a variety of ways, including by providing a year-round model with three-week breaks that could be filled with unique kinds of learning experiences for the students. “I think all of these things have to be pursued in designing and creating the school’s instructional program,” he said.
Another feature of the new school is that it could be a “community school,” Dr. Murphy said, “where you have a network of supports, social service supports, that occur there at the school that are coordinated for the benefit of the children and their families.” He said the District could find ways to partner with community organizations in Evanston “to help make the school the hub of those social services that support families in crisis.”
He added that he hoped the school could provide supports beyond the traditional concept of social services. As examples, he said he hoped the school library could be “the hub of literacy in the community” that families could walk to and use together, that the school’s facilities could be used for continuing education to enhance residents’ employability, and that the school could be used to provide resources to families to support child development and prepare children for a rigorous form of education.
“I would really like to see the lights on until 9:30 or 10 at night at the school – as a hub of activity for the community,” Dr. Murphy said. “I think this school will become a fabric of the community so that we can create a seamless experience between the time a child awakens in the morning until the time a child goes to sleep at night. The school can be the hub of those experiences.”
He said if the school had an extended day, an extended year, and be the hub of other activities “it would be wonderful.” He said, though, he thought the school would be successful without everything as long as the relationships between the parents and teachers and the community and the school existed.
He added, “Probably the most important ingredient in all of this is going to be an inspiring principal as a leader and dedicated and committed teachers who feel supported.”
The District 65 School Board has not formally voted on an educational model for the new school.