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An unusual intergovernmental agreement approved by City Council on Jan. 28 will result in a second police officer at Evanston Township High School, as well as a full-time career counselor who will focus on students who will not be going to college.
Currently, the Evanston Police Department stations one police officer at the school, but with no formal agreement in place, and the high school provides career counseling services to the non-college bound, but does not have a staff person fully devoted to such.
Under the proposed agreement, the City would pay for its second police officer and the high school would pay for its career adviser. The City and ETHS would form a joint committee to meet quarterly to review the progress of both initiatives including school safety, cameras and lighting, as well as career and jobs programs.
Shelley Gates, ETHS’s Career/Technical Education Department chair, said the school is “still writing the job description” for the new counselor, but the goal is to reach students who are more at risk, more disengaged and less happy to be in school, and direct them to apprenticeship or other training programs.
“The goal is for every student who leaves high school [to have] a viable post-secondary plan,” she said.
The new counselor will work to identify students who are not going to college. Right now, Ms. Gates said, if staff asked every student of plans, nearly all would say “college,” though many are actually not planning for it. The school wants to make it acceptable for students to say, “I’m following a different path,” she said. The school already offers many classes and programs featuring vocational and technical training, but some students who should be taking advantage of such offerings are not.
Connections with local businesses will be important, Ms. Gates said. Certification and accreditations offered by places like Oakton Community College will also be key, she said. “Oakton feels a sense of urgency about this,” she said.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, expressed surprise that the school did not already have someone devoted to the non-college bound. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said that she is “a huge fan” of students not going straight to college, “at least not right away,” in some circumstances.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said it was important to provide “linkages with accreditation and certification programs” for students to get the skills and training necessary to find work. A high school diploma alone “is not enough for someone to become economically self-sufficient,” she said.
On the security side, ETHS’s director of safety and former EPD deputy chief Sam Pettineo gave several reasons for requesting an additional police officer in the high school building: the sheer size of the building and the fact that the current officer must regularly leave the building to go to court or to perform other functions, leaving the building without “an armed presence” for stretches at a time.
Director Pettineo also pointed to a “slight uptick” in gang activity in the building. The two police officers will be tasked with building relationships with the kids in order to learn about what is going on in the hallways and on the streets outside of school.
Adding a second officer has been discussed previously, he said. The school felt it prudent to act at this time.
Ald. Burrus praised the decision to take “proactive measures” rather than reacting after something tragic occurred. Building relationships with kids makes a huge difference, she said.
No timetable was given for the proposed changes.