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Posted 7:43 a.m.
A wide range of proposed and potential changes to the curriculum were discussed at the District 65 School Board meeting on March 18. Assistant Superintendents Susan Schultz and Ellen Fogelberg said that the curriculum for reading/language arts, mathematics, and social studies have all been aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

They also touched aspects of the Inclusion program, the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program, the Child-Parent Center program, integrating arts into the curriculum, enhancing the reading language program, middle school algebra and middle school science.

A lively discussion centered on a pilot program established this year at the magnet schools that offers Algebra 8 to all students, rather that providing Algebra I to high achieving students and Algebra 8 to all other students.

The Inclusion Program

Joyce Bartz, director of special services, said two proposed expansions of the Inclusion Program were intended to ensure that the District has a continuum of services for students with a disability.

First, the District is proposing to add a new classroom in the District’s pre-k program. Ms. Fogelberg said the pre-k classrooms have been filling up earlier than before, and the District has not been able to hold open spots for children with a disability when they come into the District after the school year has started. The additional classroom would help address this issue, she said.

Administrators are also considering adding two small “cross-categorical” special education classrooms, which could be used to serve students with different disabilities in the same classroom. The District currently has 10 self-contained classrooms to serve students with a disability. “This gives us some additional flexibility to be responsive to a student,” said Ms. Schultz.

The TWI Program

Ms. Fogelberg said a committee of teachers and administrators is evaluating the TWI program, with the assistance of a consultant from the Illinois Resource Center. She said one possible outcome of the review is a change to the language allocation in the TWI program.

She explained that currently students are taught 90% of the time in Spanish and 10% in English in kindergarten, and that changes to 50/50 by fifth grade. The committee might “modify the current language allocation to provide more formal fluency instruction to students in the TWI program in both English and Spanish, so that students achieve higher levels of bilingualism and bi-literacy upon completion of the TWI program in fifth grade,” Ms. Fogelberg said.

The CPC Expansion

One new initiative this year is the Child-Parent Center Education Program (CPC), a program designed to provide intensive educational and family-support services for pre-K to third-grade children in low-income families and high-poverty neighborhoods. District 65 is partnering with the University of Minnesota to provide the program that is funded by a federal i3 grant.

This year the program was offered to 200 pre-K students. Next year the program will expand for the current cohort of pre-K students as they move up to kindergarten in four Title I schools: Dawes, Oakton, Walker and Washington. The expansion includes the creation of a parent support center/resource at each school, an additional teacher assistant to be shared across two classrooms, and other supports.

Dr. Murphy said the District was working out some management issues to ensure that pre-K students in the CPC program would be able to attend one of the participating Title I schools. He added there was some tension regarding the program’s requirement of a teacher’s aide for each classroom.

Board member Richard Rykhus urged that students from low-income households not enrolled in Title I schools also receive comparable supports. Dr. Murphy said Start Smart and other programs were designed to meet the needs of those students.

Integrating the Arts

Dr. Murphy said Ms. Schultz has been talking with Project AIM (Arts Integration Mentorship) at Columbia College Chicago, which helps teachers to infuse the arts into the curriculum. Ms. Schultz said the plan is to build capacity to improve learning both in the arts and through the arts by incorporating the arts into content-area instruction.

Dr. Murphy added that the District has agreed to join with EVANSTarts in an application to partner with the Kennedy Center. If accepted, a consultant from the Kennedy Center would work with the District and other organizations in the community to develop an arts education plan that may be reflected in curriculum adjustments in the District.

Reading Language Arts

Ms. Schultz said the middle school reading and writing workshop model will be refined next year. She added that the teachers were reviewing the transition from fifth grade to middle school, and there may be revisions to the curriculum as a result of this collaboration.

Ms. Fogelberg said teachers on the Elementary Language Arts Standing Committee are in the process of creating a “formal portfolio process” to support the implementation of the writing curriculum. The portfolios will include samples of student’s work over the year and their reflections on how their writing has evolved. She said the plan is to provide an “ongoing review of student development as writers.”

Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked about using more complex literature, such as the “classics” in eighth grade to better prepare students for freshman humanities at Evanston Township High School. She also asked about steps to ensure students know grammar by eighth grade. Administrators may make a presentation on how grammar is incorporated into the curriculum, together with test data showing student’s knowledge of grammar.

Middle School Science

Ms. Schultz said this year the District moved from year-long science courses to trimester courses at sixth grade. “Kids examine earth science, life science and physical science in one year,” she said. The transition expands to seventh grade next year and to eighth grade the following year.

Next year, the District is considering a District-wide science fair.

On March 18, District 65 School Board members discussed a pilot program established this year at King Lab and Bessie Rhodes magnet schools. The pilot collapses Algebra I with Algebra 8. Algebra I, referred to as an honors class, has historically been for students at or above the 80th percentile rank. Algebra 8 has been offered to all other students.

If the pilot went well, administrators initially planned to collapse Algebra I and Algebra 8 at all the middle schools. The Board put the brakes on that plan last fall.

On March 18, Board President Katie Bailey reiterated the Board’s discussion last fall. She said before the pilot was expanded to other schools, the Board wanted to hear: 1) the results of the pilot; 2) an assessment of how students would do in classes larger than those in the pilot (because the middle schools have larger classes); and 3) how students in the pilot did through high school.

“We’ve said until we’ve heard those questions answered, we don’t plan to expand the pilot,” said Ms. Bailey.

Dr. Murphy expressed concerns that if the Board waited to see how students did at the high school, then that would mean the pilot could not be expanded for four years.

Board member Eileen Budde, a high school math teacher, said she would like to see how students in the pilot do in Algebra II at the high school.

Board member Richard Rykhus likewise said, “I want to track kids over a longer period of time.” He added that the District should determine what the “underlying causes” are for students not being prepared by seventh and eighth grades. He said he thought the District should be tackling the issue in earlier grades. “That’s what I’m personally interested in as we go to evaluate this program.”

Suzanne Farrand, math curriculum coordinator, said that teachers “believe from an instructional grouping standpoint and from a curricular delivery standpoint that all children would be better off in this mixed environment. … Most teachers say Algebra 8 is a more rigorous curriculum.”

Board member Jerome Summers said the Board should rely on the teachers’ input and not restrain them “when they’re ready to run.” He added the District should not do ability grouping.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki clarified, “We have absolutely no tracking in District 65 except one class which is Algebra I and Algebra 8.” She and several other Board members said the issue was “preparedness” as opposed to ability grouping.

She added, “It’s the role of the Board to talk about how we evaluate and measure success. We think it’s important to see not only how these kids do in freshman year but also how they do in Algebra II.”

Ms. Bailey said the Board will be talking about this issue again in June.

Larry Gavin

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...