District 65’s strategic planning process is “ready to launch,” Superintendent Paul Goren told Board members at their Oct. 20 meeting, with the goal of having a strategic plan ready to present to the Board for approval in late March 2015. He emphasized, as did others at the meeting, that the District wants “lots of community engagement” throughout the process.

“I want to honor the voices that make up the community,” said Dr. Goren. “We want to be sure we’ve involved everybody who wants to participate and make sure their voices have been honored.”

Three hundred people volunteered to serve on one of the five working committees or the external advisory committee that will shape the strategic plan. “We were all extremely excited and, quite frankly, enthused that we got this swell of response,” said Candance Chow, School Board member and Strategic Planning Liaison. “It’s a testament to Evanston and the School District that so many want to be part of moving it forward.”

The Committees

The strategic planning process will focus on five key areas: high quality teaching and learning; thriving workforce; safe and supportive school climate; family and community engagement; and financial sustainability. Five working committees have been formed, one to focus on each of the key areas.

Each committee will be expected to review data, conduct necessary research, decide on a goal, and then decide on between four to six strategies to achieve the goal. The committees are scheduled to begin meeting next week.

Each committee has about 14 members composed of at least one principal, one teacher, one administrator, one School Board member, and community members. “We have a really well-balanced set of individuals on the working committees, as well as the external advisory committee,” said Ms. Chow.

An External Advisory Committee, composed of about 50 persons, will receive updates on the entire process and provide feedback and insights on key issues, such as the draft goals and strategies and on a draft plan as it emerges. The External Advisory Committee held its first meeting on Oct. 21.

At the External Advisory Committee meeting, the chair of each working committee laid out the challenge, the charge and some key questions to be addressed by each working committee. The challenge or charge for each committee is:

High Quality Teaching and Learning: The stated challenge is: “District 65 schools must prepare all students for high levels of academic achievement, regardless of the child’s previous performance or family demographics. Create transformative change for each child that attends our schools.” The stated charge is to: “Develop long-term strategies that will prepare schools, faculty, staff and leadership to develop and implement curriculum and instruction that will yield this transformative change.” (Chair: John Price, assistant superintendent of schools)

Thriving Workforce: “Develop a goal and strategies on how to improve recruitment and retention of a high quality workforce.” (Chair: Beatrice Davis, assistant superintendent for human resources)

Community and Family Engagement: “How can we better engage families and community in a meaningful way that ultimately benefits our students?” (Chair: Trish Murray, principal of Kingsley Elementary School)

Safe and Supportive School Climate: “Make recommendations that will enhance the school and classroom environments to maximize learning and social/emotional growth for students in every District 65 school.” (Joyce Bartz, assistant superintendent of special services)

Financial Sustainability: Consider how District 65’s practices conform with other districts that are strong academically and are financially strong, and “Identify strategies the District should employ to ensure long-term financial stability.” (Chair: Mary Brown, assistant superintendent of business services)

The advisory committee met in small groups and reported their groups’ reactions and suggestions. The overall reactions were very favorable, with many good suggestions.

Ms. Chow said the meetings of the External Advisory Committee will be open to the public, but the working committee meetings will not. The working committee’s recommendations, however, will be presented in public at the External Advisory Committee meetings and will be posted online, said Ms. Chow.

Community Outreach

“We have a robust engagement plan,” said Ms. Chow. “We want to be sure that voices are heard that may have traditionally not been heard.”

Maria Allison, the District’s chief strategy officer, said the District is planning to hold many focus groups to gather input from the community. There will be one for principals, four for teachers, two for staff, and five for parents and community members. Focus groups will also be held to gather input from fourth- and fifth graders and middle school students at each of the schools. 

In addition, Ms. Allison said, there will be an online survey to gather information from the community. The survey will be available between Nov. 5 and Nov. 26. Finally, anyone may submit comments or suggestions by emailing them to input@district65.net. Dr. Goren added people may email him at gorenp@district65.net.

Rolling up to a Draft Plan

It is anticipated that a draft strategic plan will be prepared by January and that it will be available on line for the community to review and comment on between Jan. 28 and Feb. 11, 2015. In addition, the District plans to hold two town hall meetings on Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, 2015 to obtain input on the draft strategic plan.

Ms. Chow said when the draft rolls up to the Board in January, the Board may determine the outcome measures that go across the five key areas being focused on by the working committees. The Board is expected to approve the strategic plan by late March 2015.

The District plans to hold focus groups to gather input on the strategic plan from parents and the community. The focus groups are limited to 40 persons. Those interested in participating should register by emailing Melissa Messinger at messinger@district65.net. The focus group meetings are scheduled for:

  • Oct. 25, 9-11 a.m. Family Focus, 2010 Dewey Ave.
  • Oct. 28, 7-9 p.m. McGaw YMCA 1000 Grove St. Nov. 6, 7-9 p.m. Second Baptist Church, 1717 Benson Ave.
  • Nov. 8, 9 – 11 a.m. Oakton School, 436 Ridge Ave.
  • Nov. 12, 7-9 p.m. Washington School 914 Ashland Ave.
  • Nov. 15, 9-11 a.m. King Arts Magnet School, 2424 Lake St.

See Guest Essay on page 7 for more information. 


Revised Draft Mission Statement

As part of the strategic planning process, District 65 is preparing a new mission statement. After receiving input from the community, a draft mission statement was prepared, and the draft was presented to the Board on Sept. 8. That draft was also posted online for public comment.

Maria Allison, the District’s chief strategic officer, told Board members on Oct. 20 the draft mission statement was revised based on further input, and it now provides: “”Working together as a community, we will inspire creativity and prepare each student to achieve academically, grow personally, and contribute to a global society. Every Child, Every Day, Whatever It Takes.””

Many Board members said they liked the revised statement. A vote on the revised statement will be taken as part of the vote on the strategic plan.

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...