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The District 202 School Board continues to work to approve a set of goals that will guide its work and the work of ETHS’s faculty and staff over the next five years. While much input has been given, the Board still struggles with how to codify the issue of racial predictability, student success and the District’s working relationship with District 65.
The Board started revising the current set of goals back in October. A survey of families, lunch meetings with ETHS staff members and a day-long community workshop were all organized by the Board to collect a wide range of input. Emails from residents and advocacy groups were also received.
At a special meeting held on April 6, the Board talked through the input it had received to date and directed staff to create a new draft. The resulting draft was discussed at the Board’s meeting on April 11, but consensus on the wording of the revised draft was still not reached. Another draft will be brought forward, presumably at the meeting scheduled for May 9.
Goal 1 – Equitable Educational Outcomes
Goal No. 1, which deals with equitable educational outcomes for students, has been the center of much discussion. The initial draft of the goal read, “Increase each student’s academic trajectory, while eliminating the racial predictability of achievement, as demonstrated through multiple measures.”
Board Member Jonathan Baum, in a draft he wrote and presented to the Board, included a reference to predictability based on race as well as on “disability, income and English language proficiency.” Goal No. 1 is a “test of our commitment to equality,” said Mr. Baum. He pointed out that the Illinois (Schools) Report Card contains graphs illustrating achievement gaps in all of the areas he included. “I just don’t see how it’s equitable to identify all of these gaps and limit our goal to eliminating one and not the other three.”
Board President Pat Savage-Williams said she believed that Goal No. 1 needs “to pull race out.” There is “nothing in the system that protects race” and “if we don’t name it and be intentional, it will get lost. … We must acknowledge we have the history of race as a predictor of outcome.”
“We can’t ‘dilute’ the issue of race,” said Board member Anne Sills. Board member Doug Holt asked if adding other categories really dilutes the issue.
Racial predictability “crosses all categories,” said Board Member Mark Metz. “We are not walking away from other achievement gaps but race is different. I’m not comfortable making all (categories) the same level. A poor kid can break out of being poor, but a Black kid will always be Black.”
“We absolutely must do better with students with disabilities,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, “but the fact is students of color are a majority of IEPs. Race is an overwhelming factor in all groups.”
At the April 11 meeting, Dr. Witherspoon reported that students of color make up 69% of students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP), 88% of students from a low-income household, and 82% of English Language Learners. “The compelling issue with outcome is race,” he said.
“I’m not convinced we have a disagreement,” said Gretchen Livingston, Board member. We are in agreement that we “don’t want to take race out. No one is saying we don’t want to pay attention (to all categories) so how do we acknowledge that in the framework of this goal? We have done a good job of shining a light on race but we have persistent problems in other areas too. I don’t want us to make an issue where there may not be one.”
Ms. Livingston mentioned including gender as a predictor as well. She also mentioned that the Highland Park/Deerfield equity statement uses “disproportionality” when referencing race as a predictor of outcome.
Ms. Savage-Williams commented that she had concerns about identifying specific groups because important categories could be left out. “We haven’t mentioned sexual orientation.”
“Maybe we just say ‘every student’,” said Board Member Monique Parsons and “put race and other categories in the goal’s target and measures.”
The Board concluded on April 6 that Goal No. 1 needed another rewrite. Staff presented a rewrite at the April 11 meeting, but the Board asked staff to take yet another stab at wordsmithing to highlight race as a predictor of achievement while also referencing other types of gaps.
Goal 2 – Student Well-Being
Goal No. 2 which addresses students’ well-being, has also garnered discussion. The original draft goal stated, “Provide all students with resources, opportunities, supports, interventions, services, and curricula to ensure that each student will demonstrate significant academic and social-emotional growth during their experience at ETHS.”
It’s not enough to “provide,” said Mr. Baum, we need to “connect.” That idea came from participants in the workshop he said. Mr. Baum also suggested including wording to address “mental and physical health.” Dr. Witherspoon suggested using “well-being” instead, which encompasses both. “Mental health is a whole other ballgame.”
“Do we need all of those words?” asked Ms. Parsons. “Doesn’t resources equate to services? Reading this as a parent, she said, it’s unclear what the difference is with some of the language used.
Goal 3 – Student-Centered Facility
Goal No. 3 in its original form said, “Create a student-centered facility using 21st century resources to support the needs of our diverse learning community.” Mr. Metz said he “would prefer this be mentioned in the strategies” of other goals. Mr. Baum said that perhaps each goal needed just that: targets and measures to quantify success and strategies to get there. In the draft presented at the April 11 meeting, Goal No. 3 in its original form was deleted.
Goal 4 – Fiscal Accountability
Goal No. 4 initially read, “provide consistent and stable financial stewardship assuring: equitable opportunity and excellent education for each student; reasonable property taxes; leveraged and optimized resources; and value-based, cost-effective allocation of resources.” The Board discussed whether the language was too complex. “I want the public to know so many things are at play,” said Ms. Sills.
Ultimately, the goal was relabeled No. 3 and reduced to, “ETHS will provide prudent financial stewardship.” Bill Stafford, CFO, jokingly asked, “Can we send this to the government?”
Goal 5 – Community Engagement
The relationship between District 202, the community and District 65 was addressed in the initial Goal No. 5, which provided, “Strengthen relationships throughout the community which enrich student learning and well-being, and assure full continuity of effort with District 65.”
Mr. Baum suggested splitting the goal into two goals: “With District 65, provide the maximum educational and financial benefits of a unified K-12 school district consistent with the autonomy of each District”; and “Strengthen relationships throughout the community which enrich engagement among all stakeholders, and enhance student learning and well-being, particularly communicating with and empowering parents/guardians to support their children’s education.”
Ms. Livingston said that many people at the community workshop requested to “break out” the District 65 portion of the goal. “I like that,” she said. “That would be the place we house our joint goals.”
“I’m comfortable with ‘partner,’” said Ms. Parsons, “but not financially unified” as referenced in Mr. Baum’s draft.
Ms. Savage-Williams agreed, saying the financial connection to District 65 is, “not appropriate and does not belong in our goals.”
“By calling it out suggests we may not be doing it now,” said Ms. Sills.
Board members suggested that references to District 65 should perhaps be included in the targets/measures or strategies, and not in a separate goal.
A revised draft presented at the April 11 meeting was renumbered Goal No. 5 and provides, “ETHS will strengthen student learning and well-being through community and parent relationships, and collaborate with educational providers and other organizations to create an effective continuum of learning and seamless transitions.”
Ms. Livingston asked if “effective continuum” and “seamless transitions” are the same. “Maybe not?” she added.
Mr. Holt commented that there are too many “ands.” The Board asked that the goal be reworked for the next meeting.
Old Goal 6
Mr. Holt brought up the “old” Goal No. 6 that dealt with maximizing the school’s reputation, saying he felt it was “fitting” to include it in the goal about community engagement and partnerships. “I heard some support for benchmarking” at the workshop, he said.
Dr. Witherspoon said that comparing ETHS to others on a state and national level can be “helpful,” but to compare ETHS to local schools likely is not.
Targets and Measures
The Board has yet to see a draft or even really discuss the targets and measures that will accompany each goal. Mr. Baum said he was not comfortable approving any goal without first seeing how success would be measured.
Ms. Savage-Williams said that it is the Board’s job to come up with the “what” or the meat of the goals and let staff determine the “how” or the targets and measures, and that staff needs concrete goal language in order to produce proper measurers.
Pete Bavis, ETHS Assistant Superintendent, has been working on the goal language under the Boards direction. He told members that the next iteration of the goals will include potential targets and measures for them to discuss. Ultimately, no language was approved as final and the Board will look at a revised draft at its next meeting.