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District 65 administrators presented a draft equity statement to the School Board at the May 23 meeting. Although the District’s five-year strategic plan refers several times to equity and contains metrics for improving the achievement of all students, the Board’s Policy Committee discussed an equity statement at its April 18 meeting.
The District’s Five-Year Strategic Plan, completed after gathering public input in several different ways, contains goals, strategies and measures of success for all students. The mission statement of the plan is “Working together as a community, we will inspire creativity and prepare each student to achieve academically, grow personally, and contribute positively to a global society.”
While the Strategic Plan does not contain an equity statement, one of the planning principles was “We must focus on what is best for children, grounded in a strong belief in equity and an obligation to serve all students in a supportive and inclusive environment.”
Referring to the draft equity statement, Superintendent Paul Goren said, “This is a mission statement. It is a response to an urgency that we all feel around achievement and opportunity gaps.” He then articulated some things the draft statement is not: “What this isn’t, is a final draft. It is not a policy statement. It is a vision statement that will drive the work of our schools.”
Dr. Goren said he would return in June with another draft “and continue the work of the leadership team on race, racial disparities and other disparities.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, held earlier in the evening, Roger Williams, a member of the board of Organization for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL), said he felt the District needed an outside party to help with its equity work.
“I’m concerned that the [internal] Equity Leadership Team will not be successful. If District 65 is serious, the effort needs to be led by a third-party organization that will guide District 65 to do a deeper dive into its practices that have led to historic gaps in achievement. Without this, it may look reasonable on paper but I believe it will fail.”
Board member Omar Brown asked Mr. Williams what he envisioned as an outside consultant.
“We need an objective third-party organization to come in and be present with the leadership team, someone who can lead a deeper dive [into] some of these practices,” Mr. Williams said.
Board member Jennifer Philips asked, “What is the process in terms of getting community input? I wish there was a process that went beyond District 65. I would like to see a task force that goes to the whole community.” She added, “Even if we threw in everything we know, it still wouldn’t solve the problem.”
“I don’t see it as a long, drawn-out process,” said Board member Claudia Garrison. “This is what we promise we will do.”
Dr. Goren appeared to think more time would be involved. “There are 25 people around the table for each of our schools. They welcome the opportunity to do a deep dive. This is a long journey.”
Corrie Wallace, whom the District has hired to do an “equity audit,” will convene focus groups over a four- to six-month period, he said. Ms. Wallace is the Director of Equity and of the ELL [English-Language Learners] Parent Center for Niles Township schools.
“We are going to have a community conversation,” said Dr. Goren. “We will put information on the website; we will think about the longer term; we will listen and learn and allow people to push us to figure out how to do this.”
Board member Candance Chow suggested considering the role of Evanston Cradle to Career and a possible forum on equity. “Some work that’s happening in conjunction with that we could potentially bring together.” She added, “It seems to me the recommendation is that we will come back to align policy, practice and pedagogy.”
“– and unpack what those terms mean,” said Dr. Goren. “Engaging children so they stay in school – that’s practice. … The discipline policy is in place, so we have to be intentional about our training.”
Board member Richard Rykhus said that since Ms. Wallace will be “comparing our work to some standards or some criteria – to Mr. Williams’s comment – I think we have that outside party.”
Ms. Chow said, “I would like to see something about equitable distribution of funding. One of the things we owe the community is [showing how] we’re using their dollars.”
Mr. Brown said, “We connect to teachers; we connect to students. We need to support parents as well – diverse parents.”
Dr. Goren said, “Most importantly, I wanted to take the call of urgency, to do the work, school by school, training, self-reflection – it’s going to take four to six months.” Still, he said, he does to wish to slow the process and would like to “keep the conversation going in June” and try to get feedback as early as possible.
District 65 administrators presented the following draft equity statement at the May 23 Board meeting, with the promise of another draft this month:
District 65 is committed to ensuring that opportunities are available and accessible for all students to excel in safe and supportive school environments. In order to provide these opportunities to ‘every child, every day’ the district recognizes that it must be committed to identifying and addressing practices, policies, and institutional barriers, including institutional racism, that perpetuate opportunity and achievement gaps.
The District acknowledges that it must work proactively to eliminate racial and cultural biases, and institutional structures and practices that affect student learning and achievement. District 65 must provide learning and working environments that welcome, respect, value, and reflect racial and ethnic diversity.
Whereas District 65 is committed to:
• Honoring and building upon the strengths and assets of each and every student.
• Providing all students with resources, opportunities and supports needed to ensure that they are prepared for success in high school and beyond.
• Raising the achievement of all students while eliminating the racial predictability of achievement.
• Raising the achievement of all students while eliminating the predictability of academic achievement based upon family income, disabilities, gender identity, and status as an English language learner.
• Examining and changing educational practices, policies, and administrative procedures that contribute to and perpetuate racial disparities, and the disparities of those who have been marginalized in society by their identity, cultural, or economic status.
Therefore the District will continue efforts that result in:
• Attracting and retaining a workforce that is diverse in skills and experience and that reflects the demographic diversity of our student body.
• Implementing culturally relevant teaching practices that reflect the contributions and perspectives of all people.
• Providing training opportunities for all staff to improve their cultural competencies and to identify and address their implicit biases, in order to serve a diverse student body and community.
• Convening a staff level Equity Leadership Team tasked with identifying and addressing practices, policies, and institutional barriers that perpetuate opportunity and achievement gaps.