The following is a Dec. 11 letter to the community by Paul Goren, Superintendent of School District 65
As we review the results from the PARCC assessment, there is a heightened urgency for District 65 to serve all of our students, especially those students who are under-performing. There is also an urgency to listen and learn from members of the community, particularly our African-American and Hispanic families, to ensure that our actions reflect community needs.
It is essential that we first and foremost listen and learn, as the families we serve have real and valid concerns. We must also share the work in our Strategic Plan that I believe will have a significant impact. In addition, we must work together across the district, with families and community partners, to ensure that what we do will have a meaningful impact on student achievement.
As we move forward to address student outcomes, I want to highlight several actions we are currently taking, via our Strategic Plan, to make a difference in the lives of all District 65 students. Our work includes the following:
• Literacy Improvement: We know that working with our youngest students is critical to addressing achievement gaps and we are focusing particularly on literacy in grades K-3, while we continue our work across grade levels.
• Priority Focus on High-needs Children: We are focusing on children who are performing below the 25th percentile, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.
• Interventions: We are implementing a new Response to Intervention plan that addresses the specific needs of children below the 25th percentile and who are in need of direct intervention.
• Collaboration with ETHS: We are committed to working with the high school to serve all children, especially students at the 40th percentile and below, by proactively identifying children who have significant needs.
• Expanding the Diversity of our Staff: We are developing strategies to recruit and retain staff members that reflect the diversity of our communities.
• Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: We are working to develop instructional materials and techniques that engage students by reflecting upon and respecting their diverse cultures.
• Social/Emotional Learning: We are working with schools to intentionally improve the social and emotional development of all children in order to become better problem solvers, and to ensure that children can express their concerns and feelings, and adults are able to recognize and respond to these needs.
• Alternatives to Suspension: We recognized, and the Board challenged us, to change the way we use suspensions, as too many children, especially children of color, were being suspended for too many days. We have improved the implementation of our Alternatives to Suspension program and are engaging schools in Sharing Circles and Peace Circles as ways to problem solve.
• School Climate Teams: We have established and are phasing in school climate teams to review data on the impact of diversity on relationships and to address issues of climate, safety, and belonging for students and their families.
• Whole Child Council: We have developed this council to understand the many issues that our families face so that we can create a welcoming environment that best serves our children.
• Collaboration with Community Partners: We are working with local social service agencies on summer programs that emphasize reading and social/emotional growth, including a partnership with Evanston Cradle to Career focused on community literacy. This includes the recent development of a kindergarten readiness measure.
• Collaboration of District Family Engagement Providers: Family engagement staff who work across the district (from the JEH Family Center through our middle schools) are joining together as a coalition to improve and coordinate these efforts.
• Principal Goals: All of our principals have specific outcome goals that address student achievement and achievement gaps.
The work we have underway is necessary yet not sufficient to address the concerns that we have and many families in District 65 share. I am committed to listen and learn from the broad cross-section of citizens and neighbors in Evanston and Skokie, and especially those families who feel as though the system is not listening or has not learned over time. We have several community focus groups scheduled in January and February that will reach out into communities that have felt disengaged by the school system.
We are poised to act, and to act with dispatch. I would appreciate your comments and suggestions for next steps as we move forward toward the goals of improving student performance. You have an important role to play and I need your support.
Below is a statement provided by District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren to the RoundTable on Dec. 24:
The achievement gap in District 65 is something we all must focus on as we support all of our children.
When I interviewed for my job the Board of Education and I talked very specifically about the evident gaps and the Board’s commitment to addressing them.
During the Strategic Plan process, I made sure that those involved intentionally examined causes of the gaps in order to propose solution strategies.
As I stated in my letter to the District 65 community, we have been proactive on specific strategies in the plan such as targeting children performing in the lowest quartile, expanding our efforts on culturally relevant curricula, and developing school climate teams that lead to schools being more welcoming places to learn.
I truly appreciated the voices we heard at the last [Dec. 14] Board meeting. Since then, I have met with community members who spoke at the Board meeting, all principals about their daily practices, and several senior advisors.
There is still much work to do. As superintendent, and as an 18-year resident of Evanston whose children attended and graduated from District 65, I strongly believe that we must work for the progress and success of all children, not just our own.
As a community, we can and must come together so that all students who attend our schools are successful.