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At the May 20 meeting, District 202 administrators presented the strategies they plan to use to implement the Board’s six goals. Referring to a 29-page report detailing the strategies, Dr. Eric Witherspoon highlighted several recognitions that Evanston Township High School has received recently and stressed the need for a community-wide goal of reading.

The District’s six goals are: increase each student’s academic trajectory, as demonstrated through multiple measures; provide individualized supports, program services and curricula to ensure that each student will demonstrate significant academic and social-emotional growth; create a student-centered facility using 21st-century resources to support the needs of the diverse learning  community; provide consistent and stable financial stewardship; strengthen relationships throughout the community to enrich community engagement and enhance student learning; and maximize the reputation of ETHS.

Dr. Witherspoon said, “Our goal is to have 100 percent of our students proficient in reading and math and graduating from high school. … Our work isn’t done until we are achieving at the highest level.” He also said, however, “One of the biggest issues we’re facing in this school now is students’ proficiency – or, sadly, lack of proficiency – in reading.” He said his reading of research on brain development shows that the teenage years are “not the optimal time to teach reading. … We have launched a lot of literacy efforts and we won’t have a lot to show for it. … I’m not saying we can’t do anything, but we have our work cut out for us.”

The report suggested developing “a Citywide plan in partnership with District 65 to make reading our top learning priority as a community.”

Board members Bill Geiger and Pat Savage-Williams complimented the administrators – Dr. Judith Levinson, Paula Froman, Marcus Campbell, Dr. Peter Bavis, Dr. Witherspoon and William Stafford – on their efforts. Both said they needed more time to absorb the recommendations.

Other Board members had more specific comments.
Jonathan Baum said he felt the strategies are “creative and responsive to the goals we put in place. He said he appreciated Dr. Witherspoon’s candor about the grim results in reading and the need for additional strategies.  He said he supported the recommendations to cooperate with District 65 and offer training materials about honors and Advanced-Placement skills and use research and individualized approaches to evaluate the programs.

Doug Holt said, “We talk about – rightfully so – engaging students. I am interested in teacher engagement and teacher morale. One teacher told me that morale here is ‘strained.’ We are holding teachers to an awfully high standard. If so, we’d better be accountable to ourselves: Are we getting the full potential from student supports? How do we implement the reading goal?”

Mr. Holt also said that even though the earned-honors program is listed as a strategy to achieve the goal of increasing each student’s trajectory, “the evaluation is ongoing.” He said he felt that student learning might be better achieved by having mixed-level rather than earned-honors classes.

Board president Gretchen Livingston said she was “concerned about student input, faculty input and parental input: “Should we have a more systematic way to cover this?”

Student Board member Russell Brady said. “The connection with pre-secondary schools needs to be strong.” He also said, “I feel obliged to advocate for more student opinion.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...