District 65 administrators and a panel of social workers, psychologists and staff members provided an overview of the District’s social and emotional learning programs at the May 18 School Board meeting.

Joyce Bartz, assistant superintendent of special services, opened the discussion saying the District has had social and emotional programs for approximately 15 years, starting with Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS). The District added Second Step about eight years ago. Other of the many social and emotional learning programs include Peace Circles and Restorative Justice.

The District’s five-year strategic plan adopted in March focuses on social and emotional learning. It states, “District 65 will incorporate instruction on social and emotional competencies into the academic curriculum. Social and emotional instruction need not come at the expense of academic subjects; rather, it can enhance students’ ability to participate well in academic areas.”

The strategic plan calls for creating a district-wide Whole Child Council. The council will be charged with continuing to improve services related to whole child development including academic, social and emotional learning, disciplinary strategies, cultural responsiveness, and other wrap-around services.

The plan says administrators in collaboration with the Whole Child Council will develop a framework to select and implement social and emotional learning programs.

“With our work in the strategic plan, we’re greatly expanding our work,” said Ms. Bartz. “Up to this point in time, largely our social and emotional programs have been implemented by many of our social workers and psychologists in the District. What we hope to do is really embed these programs within our curriculum next year and then expand from then on.”

In gathering input for the strategic plan, Dr. Goren said there was widespread support from parents, teachers and staff to focus on both academic growth and social and emotional growth.

He emphasized that social and emotional skills are “teachable skills,” and that the District’s plan is to teach these skills embedded in the curriculum so they are “part of the routine of a teacher’s day and young person’s day.”

Examples of some of the social and emotional learning programs currently offered by the District include:

• PBIS focuses on creating a school climate most conducive to student learning, and it provides interventions to address student academic and behavioral issues. “It’s a problem solving model that requires us to look at data, look at anecdotal information and then act, plan and evaluate,” said Andy Friedman, PBIS Coordinator. “It’s moved us into a more thoughtful and programmatic way of looking at behavior and climate,” he said, adding that it has helped to reduce the number of office disciplinary referrals (ODRs) and the number of suspensions.

• Second Steps is a very general social and emotional learning program that helps students examine their feelings and teaches skills to manage emotions and solve problems. In most of the schools, it is being used as an intervention if a child is having trouble with aggression, one panel member said.

• This year, the District is formalizing a restorative justice program, using “shared circles.” Under this model, students sit in a circle, and a teacher asks a question and each child is asked to respond. A “talking piece” is passed around the circle; a child who holds the talking piece may talk and no one may interrupt.

“It’s really practicing listening with intent,” said Susan Kolian, restorative justice coordinator. “The circles promote all sorts of social and emotional skills. They’re restorative by nature. Kids are learning to respect each other, and they’re learning to listen and they’re learning from each other and about each other. The goal is really to develop a classroom community.”

Five elementary schools used shared circles this year. Under a five-year plan, shared circles will be expanded to other schools next year and schools will use “restorative circles,” said Ms. Kolian. District 65 is implementing this model in partnership with the Evanston Police Department, which has used the model with non-violent offenders for eight years.

Panel members discussed more than 15 other programs, some geared toward the elementary schools, some toward the middle schools. The programs focus on a variety of topics, such as touching and personal safety, bully prevention, disability awareness and respecting differences in others, building social awareness, how to interact with other students, how to address anxiety and build self-esteem, how to manage anger, stress, emotions, and depression, and how to enhance executive functioning such as planning, organizing, problem solving and study skills.

Board member Richard Rykhus said he felt it was important for parents to know what the District is doing in this area and what programs were available.

“To celebrate what we’re doing,” he suggested that staff create a matrix listing the programs, their objectives, their target audiences, and when they are used.

Mr. Rykhus added he would like to see data, such as ODRs, reported by school.

Ms. Bartz said, “One of the strategies is to have a School Climate Committee at each school. So the idea is the umbrella will be the Whole Child Council, but there will be School Climate Committees and that’s where the programs and their fidelity in use will be analyzed as well as the ODRs in each building. There’s going to be a way to take a look at that in every building.”

Board member Candance Chow said, “This is amazing for us to see the scope and type of programs that we’re doing. I’m especially excited about … the interplay now between all the work we’re doing on PBIS and restorative practices to sort of balance that out. It’s going to be great to look at the patterns over the next couple of years.”

Board President Tracy Quattrocki said, “I’ve watched over the years how the climate and vocabulary of the children has changed, that they have learned to talk a different language. It really is amazing that you’ve started at a young age to teach them some of these skills.”

She said, though, that one persistent problem she has heard about in the last few years is bullying in the middle schools at a “very subtle level.” She said parents have not been able to access the help they need.

“The key is to let us know,” said one panel member. She said they can let other staff members know what is happening so it can be handled effectively.

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...