Many people called for District 65 to address the achievement gap.

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Approximately 140 people packed the District 65 School Board meeting room on Dec. 14 to voice concerns about the continuing achievement gap and to emphasize that the gap has continued too long and must be addressed. A smaller group of about 20 people gathered earlier in the lobby of the Joseph E. Hill Administration Building in a peaceful protest.

Results on the PARCC test that were released on Dec. 11 show a continuing gap in the achievement between black, Hispanic and white students. See link to article below. 

“I am here to fight for equity in education for students of color in our District,” Camille Woods, an organizer of the protest told the RoundTable. “The gap is widening. It’s time for us to take action.”

Darlene Marshall told the RoundTable, “We’re here to fight for the children of color to be better educated and treated equitably. We want our voices to be heard.”

District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki opened the School Board meeting welcoming everyone and invited everyone to express their concerns about the achievement gap or other issues. She said it is a good time to open dialogue about this issue, particularly in light of what was happening across the nation, in Chicago and in Evanston.

“We too are very sobered by the PARCC results, which reveal a continuation of the achievement gap that we’ve seen for so many years,” said Ms. Quattrocki. “I’d like to emphasize that this is a grave concern to all of us. … I think I can speak for the Board and the entire administration. There is not one administrator, there is not one Board member, that does not think that the achievement gap is the biggest challenge that faces our District. We need to be continually looking for new ways to address it, but we also realize that we cannot solve it alone. We need your help. We need your input. We need your collaboration to help us make headway,” she told the gathering.

Bennett Johnson, former president of the Evanston chapter of the NAACP, said the achievement gap is something that is “colored” in part by low-income and lack of parent supervision. He said black and Hispanic parents are working from sun-up to sun down, and do not have the luxury of having a “home parent” like many middle class white families. He added that black children have a different culture and speak a different language, and teachers are not sensitive to these differences. The achievement gap has been around for decades, he said, “We cannot take it anymore.”

Terri Shepard said she was speaking as chair of the Education Committee of the Evanston branch of the NAACP and on behalf of three organizations, several ministers and community leaders. She said, “We respectfully request a comprehensive School Board meeting to discuss the achievement of African American students from preschool through 8th grade.” She asked the District to provide data on 12 different items as part of its annual Achievement and Accountability Report that is scheduled to be presented in January or February.

Cicely Fleming, who has three children in District 65 schools, said, “I’m trying to be hopeful, but I’m frustrated with the continued achievement gap. It’s widening.”

“We have children who cannot read,” said Ms. Fleming. “There’s no way they’re going to go to District 202 and finish high school, go to college. We’re setting them up to fail.”

“There’s plenty of good practices out there,” she continued. “I know a lot of it comes from help from parents as well, but we can’t keep passing the buck.”

One man referred to a recent report prepared by District 202 that said 100 students in 9th grade at ETHS were reading at a level that was lower than required for completion of 9th grade. He added that the report also said that 150 incoming freshman were reading at a level below the 40th percentile. “I think we’ve got a justice problem,” he said. “We all know about the achievement gap. But what are we going to do? What are some concrete plans?”

Many parents told personal stories or gave personal observations: that they asked for help and it was not provided; that they and their children feel unwelcome in the schools; that some teachers do not know how to teach children of color and the children feel put down and unwelcome; that the District needs to address social and emotional learning; that the curriculum needs to be more culturally sensitive; that the District needs to provide more diversity and sensitivity training; that some teachers do not advance black students who are ready to advance; and that there is a need to move beyond “disconsciousness.”

Rev. Dr. Michael C. R. Nabors, pastor of Second Baptist Church, said he has resided in Evanston only since August. He said, though, from his vantage point the achievement gap is a structural problem, discriminatory in nature, that has been in existence for many years, not just in Evanston, but throughout the United States. “There is no way that we will be able to begin to remedy these problems that are so significant to our children unless we come together,” he said. “We all have our responsibility. Everyone is in this together.

“I think that you are in a struggle because by the time our children get to you, there are already deficiencies, there are already problems,” Rev. Nabors said. “If children are going into kindergarten not reading at kindergarten level, there’s going to be an extreme problem. We have to teach them how to read pre-pre-K from two or three years old all the way up to 5 years old so they’re ready for kindergarten.

“Let’s do something to bring everybody to the table, because this is not just a District problem. It is a community problem. Let’s get together to solve this.”

Dr. Goren thanked everyone for their comments. He said since he came to Evanston 18 months ago, “I’ve been working very hard to think about a cultural change in the District.”

He highlighted many steps that the District was taking through its Strategic Plan adopted earlier this year to address the needs of students, which he said he believed would have “a meaningful impact on student achievement.”

 They include focusing on improving literacy skills, particularly in grades K-3; addressing the specific needs of children performing below the 25th percentile and who are in need of direct intervention; collaborating with ETHS to serve all children, especially those below the 40th percentile, a benchmark to participate in the freshman earned honors program at ETHS; expanding the diversity of District 65’s staff; developing instructional materials and techniques that are culturally responsive; improving students’ social and emotional development; further enhancing alternatives to suspension; phasing in School Climate Teams and the Whole Child Council to enhance a sense of belonging for all students and their families; and collaborating with community partners, including through the Cradle to Career initiative.

Dr. Goren said, “All of this is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. It’s not sufficient because we need to continue to work, we need to embrace your voices, engage your voices to be here at these meetings and to be working with my staff and me.”

Ms. Quattrocki added, “We also have the Cradle to Career initiative across the City that’s engaging community members and community partners in an effort for the whole City to take on this enormous challenge.”

Board member Candance Chow said, “I want you to know how deeply and strongly we feel about these issues. It keeps me up at night. I’m sure it keeps most everyone in this room up at night.

“This is not the first time we’ve seen data. This is an ongoing topic. We have a plan that has a mix of things in it that over 2,000 folks in our community were involved in putting together. That’s one place to start. If that mix of things are not the right things to help your children, to help our children, then we need to talk about that and need to work out what needs to be changed. If it is the right mix of things and we’re not doing it fast enough, quick enough, the right way, then we need to accelerate and work on that together.”

Board member Jennifer Phillips said, “Many of you talked tonight about how we need to change the narrative about how children learn and what the conditions are for kids’ learning, and maybe turning things upside down. I wanted to throw those things in as another part of the recipe for making change that we all care so much about.”

Board  member Omar Brown said, “There’s a lot of energy. … I want to challenge the organizers that you need to keep this going. Find a way to have representatives at every meeting.”