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Pacific Education Group (PEG), the consulting group hired by School District 202 about five years ago to consult on issues of racial equity, was back in front of the School Board on Nov. 18. Board member Jonathan Baum asked for the discussion because, he said, he learned that, contrary to his belief that the School District was phasing out its relationship with PEG, 27 teachers and administrators had recently attended a PEG conference.

The consulting group offered the program “Beyond Diversity,” with sessions called “Courageous Conversations,” to School Board members, Evanston Township High School staff, administrators and teachers and to community leaders. The programs and workshops were designed to address what many sociologists term “white privilege” and to help uncover both institutional racism and individual prejudices as a way to address the achievement gap at ETHS.

The group received high praise from many participants who said the sessions had changed their approach to their jobs and to race in particular. Others criticized PEG’s single-vision approach, saying by focusing on black-white issues, it ignored other factors, such as poverty, which research has shown contribute to the achievement gap.

During the recent campaign for the District 202 School Board, candidates were asked more than once how they stood in relation to PEG and it became one of the subtexts of the campaign.

The fact that 27 members of the ETHS faculty and administration had attended a PEG-sponsored conference in October brought the issue to the Board agenda. Jonathan Baum said he wished to clarify the relationship between PEG and ETHS.

School Board members debated whether the fact that administrators and others chose to attend a PEG-sponsored conference for professional development was a proper matter for the Board to discuss. They further discussed the value of PEG to the school’s commitment to equity but came to no resolution.

In the coming months, the Board will hear a presentation about how PEG principles and protocols are being applied at ETHS.

PEG Returns to the Table

Mr. Baum said he was told in 2011 that “the District’s services with PEG would be phased out over the next couple of years. … While we may have phased out our consulting contracts with PEG, it appears that we remain all-in with that company – so this remains a live issue.”

Mr. Baum said he has two main concerns about using PEG “as the centerpiece of our equity efforts”: first, that it focuses too narrowly on race and second, that there is no concrete evidence that PEG’s programs have helped narrow the achievement gap. PEG’s “isolation of race [as the only factor in the achievement gap] is far too narrow,” Mr. Baum said.

 “PEG does not offer us a vehicle to talk about any of the many aspects of our diversity, except race. … I can attest from my own experiences in four PEG workshops that they don’t want to talk about homophobia, poverty, misogyny, anti-Semitism and the like. Those are outside PEG’s ideological paradigm,” Mr. Baum said, adding, “So I think we need to move beyond ‘Beyond Diversity.’”

Board member Mark Metz said, “I’m left to wonder why this is a Board matter. The Board approved a budget for professional development. The money gets spent on a lot of different conferences. …There’s a lot of places we send people. We don’t question it, because it’s clearly in the operational arena. I try to separate the activities of the Board from the activities of the
administration according to what we have come to call ‘the what’ and ‘the how.’ The ‘what’ is policy. Every time we get into the ‘how’  – how the administration is going to achieve its goals – we get in trouble. … To me, this is clearly in the arena of Dr. Witherspoon and his staff deciding whether or not these conferences are of value to the educators and the staff in the building.”

Mr. Metz also said he felt that evaluating “the efficacy of PEG … is getting into dangerous territory. … PEG has become – in the divisive nature of this Board – the boogey man. I don’t understand why we get so fired up about PEG. They’re a provider of services. The conference that brought this whole thing up I went to. I thought it was good.

 “I agree with Mark [Metz],” said Board member Pat Savage-Williams, who said she had made a presentation at the conference. “PEG is pretty inappropriate for the Board to be involved in.” She quoted from the handbook of the Illinois Association of School Boards on effective governance and said “micromanaging disempowers staff. … Members of the School Board must discipline themselves to trust the staff and the superintendent.”

Board member Scott Rochelle said, “I disagree with Mr. Metz that we shouldn’t [be concerned with] the ‘how.’ I say that because we deal with results. Every meeting we come here [and] we’re given results; we’re given numbers – the lay of the land as to where we are with equity, student achievement and the student-achievement gap.”

Mr. Rochelle also said, “We were told flat out that PEG was being phased out; we weren’t going to be investing in PEG; the contract was done. And for 27 teachers to go [to the conference] … I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but the communication could have been better.”

PEG and Student Achievement

Mr. Baum’s second concern, he said, “is that I’ve yet to see any evidence – even with regard to race – that PEG achieves what it’s paid so handsomely to do. …Glen Singleton, the head of PEG, has said – and I quote – that student achievement goals are the ultimate measure by which PEG’s efforts should be judged.”

Mr. Baum said that, while PEG has some “useful components … it’s time for us to move on. Our equity efforts demand better.”

Mr. Rochelle said, “If we don’t see the numbers move, if we don’t see progress, it is our job to come back and ask, ‘What are we doing to fix this?’ and if what we’re doing isn’t moving the needle at all, I think we do step in and we say, ‘We may need to do something else.’

“The point was made that we shouldn’t be micromanaging this,” Mr. Rochelle continued. “Here’s the difference with this particular program, with PEG: Everyone on this Board – except for some of the new people – has been through Courageous Conversations. When I came onto the Board we kind of got hit over the head with it … and in doing that, I was able to [form] an opinion [as to] what I liked and what I didn’t like. … And there’s no other professional development in this school where we had this sort of hands-on, where we can have opinions. When you do involve the Board at that level, we generate opinions.”

Mr. Rochelle continued, “Am I opposed to PEG? No. Do I think we need to find out a couple of things as to how we benefitted from PEG? Yes.”

Mr. Rochelle said, that, like Mr. Baum, he had not seen “tangible proof that what we’ve done with PEG has worked. I know it’s affected faculty members; I know it’s affected students. But is it moving the needle? And can we do a better job of moving the needle?”

Value of PEG

Board member Doug Holt said he thought the fact that PEG was an issue in the School Board campaign made it a matter of public debate and appropriate for the Board. He said that during collective-bargaining sessions the question was not “What do you think of equity – pro or con?” but rather “What do you think of PEG?”

Mr. Holt also said, “It’s an issue that’s been debated, and I think it’s okay to have our own ‘courageous conversation’ about the topic. …  It’s reasonable to expect that we’re going to have results and we’re going to be rigorous.

“We demand rigor of ourselves, of our students. Why not demand rigor of our vendors?” asked Mr. Holt.

Mr. Metz said, “In terms of results, these things are very difficult to measure. … There are so many things that affect student achievement.” But, he said, if educators see a value, “I fail to understand why we’re questioning it and why we should end the relationship.”

Ms. Savage-Williams said she uses the PEG protocol in conversations. “One of the tenets of that protocol is multiple perspectives. And I would submit to the Board that any experience we’ve had with PEG or in PEG seminars is okay, because we’re all on the journey and we’re in different places on the journey, so having an experience that might trigger something in us – just is – that’s the way it is. So, as an African American woman, conversations about race usually go very poorly, but this protocol helps the conversation go not so bad and helps one be heard and helps one know other people.”

Mr. Rochelle said. “I’m in no position to say, ‘We should get rid of PEG.’” He said, though, that sometimes during the PEG sessions,  he “wished the presenter would leave the building.”

Student Board member Russell Fillmore Brady said he did not feel qualified to comment on whether the PEG discussion was properly a Board matter, but he said, “… philosophically I feel it’s the wrong thing to do, to cancel one of our main programs toward closing the achievement gap without any sort of idea where we’re going to move. … It’s my job to represent the students.  I’ve had a lot of kids talk to me, especially those involved with Students Organized Against Racism, who have been using PEG materials to conduct four conferences a year and have found it a very positive experience. … A lot of people … consider the information provided by this organization to be highly valuable.”

Board President Gretchen Livingston said she felt one of the difficulties around PEG is that the relationship began in 2008 under a different sitting School Board, which made buy-in difficult. She said she had been through the Board sessions of PEG, and there were aspects of the program that had value but became less valuable over time. She told the RoundTable she is always open to discussions about equity.

Next Steps

 “Where I would rather see us go is to look for fresh ideas – look for things that work, no matter where they come from,” said Mr. Holt. “I would rather have us spend more time coming together where we can agree.”

“I think where we should focus this discussion is ‘Where do we go now?’” Mr. Rochelle said. “It was my understanding that what was going to happen … was that we were going to take some of the PEG teaching and a very capable staff of people and they would be leading the charge forward.” He said he would like to hear “how they’re taking the PEG ideology and applying it – because not everything in that book applies to Evanston. … because we have our own set of issues right here. I would like to see that, moving forward, to be comfortable about how we’re going to use PEG in the future.”

Mr. Metz said he was “all for moving forward.”

Ms. Savage-Williams said she did not want the Board to be a “stumbling block” to the application of PEG principles to ETHS.

Mr. Rochelle said, “We should have an interactive conversation so we can get to the nitty-gritty, because I’m tired of this. I’m tired of talking about PEG. We’ve just got to figure out what we’re going to do to move forward to be in agreement.”

Ms. Livingston said the Board would consider having that discussion.

During the public comment session, faculty, staff and students spoke in support of PEG programs and cited positive results from them.