On Feb. 27, the Policy Committee of the District 65 School Board discussed a draft of a proposed new Board policy, “Ensuring Racial and Educational Equity” (the Equity Policy).

Paul Goren, Superintendent, said the draft Equity Policy “parallels and reflects” the Racial and Educational Equity Statement adopted by the Board in August 2016, and it gives some “guideposts” to be able to move forward on issues, ranging from equity training to using an equity lens in making decisions. It was modeled after policies adopted by several other school districts, including Evanston Township High School, he said.

Corrie Wallace, the equity consultant for the District, said she worked with the District’s Racial Equity Leadership Team (DELT) and the District’s Whole Child Council (DWCC) to gather input to help in preparing the Equity Policy. “This is going to be a framework for us to look at how we are going to be able to eliminate bias, particularly racial and cultural bias, as factors affecting student achievement and learning experiences,” she said.

Among other things, Ms. Wallace said, the Equity Policy contains a commitment to use Race Forward’s “Racial Equity Impact Assessment Guide” (the Equity Assessment Guide), so there would be a tool – or an equity lens – that all people in the District could use in making decisions.

Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services said, “We brought together the Whole Child Council, which is overseeing the School Climate Teams, with DELT – so it’s one team, because we really believe that our equity work is our umbrella, and that school climate sits underneath that.”

The team is composed of 38 people, about half of whom are teachers and the other half are administrators and other staff, she said. 

Dr. Goren told members of the Policy Committee and community members who were present that administrators were looking for feedback.

A Sketch of the Equity Policy

The Equity Policy states, “The D65 School Board is committed to the success of every student in each of our schools and to achieving our mission of working together as a community to inspire creativity and prepare each student to achieve academically, grow personally, and contribute to a global society.

“We believe strongly that the responsibility for student success is broadly shared by staff, administrators, communities, and families.

“We are focused on eliminating the racial predictability of achievement and addressing the needs and concerns of black, Latinx and multi-racial students to ensure a safe, affirming, and healthy school environment where every child can learn.”

The Equity Policy provides that educational equity means “fostering a barrier-free environment” where all students, regardless of race or status, have “the opportunity to benefit equally.” This means “differentiating resource allocation, within budgetary limitations, to meet the needs of students who need more supports to access opportunities,” honoring the “history and heritage” of all students, and hiring the “best employees of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

In the policy, the District commits to do four things:

• “Eliminate the racial predictability and disproportionality in all aspects of education and its administration …

• “Ensure all students regardless of race, class, religion, gender identity or gender expression graduate from the District ready to succeed … 

• “Welcome partnerships with families, students, employees and the community to identify barriers to achievement and opportunities for success within and outside of the traditional classroom,” and

• “Expand and adopt curriculum that will be culturally relevant and reflect the D65 population.”

The Equity Policy provides that the Superintendent is authorized to develop procedures to implement the policy, including “an action plan with clear accountability and metrics,” and that he shall report regularly to Board on the progress towards meeting the goals. In addition, the report shall be based on annual goals set by DELT/DWCC in partnership with the Superintendent and the Board.

The Equity Policy also says the District shall provide equity training and professional development, support a culturally relevant curriculum, strengthen hiring practices, foster parent/family involvement, provide equitable access to high-quality learning, allocate resources, improve school climate, and make decisions using the Equity Assessment Guide.

Request for Examples

Board member Sergio Hernandez made two comments. First, he said, “This is a broad policy. I’d like to see some specific examples.” To illustrate his point, he noted that the Equity Policy called for equity training. He suggested that the District “attach an example of what the District is currently doing and what it could be doing.”

In addition, Mr. Hernandez suggested creating “a cross-walk” with the District’s strategic plan. “As a District, we committed to do certain things as part of the strategic plan,” he said. “Now we have the equity policy. Cross-walk and see what pieces match together, but then what’s missing. It’s to make sure there’s no gaps, and if there are gaps, fill them in and be more specific as to what these strategies look like in a concrete way.”

Many things in the Equity Policy are provided for in the Strategic Plan. Ms. Wallace said members of the DELT/DWCC team looked at the Strategic Plan in their first meeting to make sure “we’ve taking that into consideration,” in developing the Equity Policy.

Dr. Goren said he liked Mr. Hernandez’s ideas, adding “We’ve got to have examples, action plans, next steps, how we’re doing it. We need to have it by time, milestones. That’s what we’re willing to do and working on right now.”

Parent and Community Input

Board member Anya Tanyavutti said she would like to weave into the Policy a requirement to seek out and obtain input from families and community members. 

Policy Committee Chair Suni Kartha said the District has an External Advisory Committee, which has met only once, but said if it were a more “robust” group and if it met regularly, it might be a vehicle for providing input.

Having an external advisory committee that met regularly and reviewed whether the District is meeting goals from the community’s perspective would go “a long way to build trust and transparency in the process,” said Ms. Kartha.

Dr. Goren said there are currently two committees: 1) an External Advisory Committee, which by design only meets two times a year; and 2) an African American/Hispanic Parent Advisory Group, which is composed of 40-45 people.

He said the District, and perhaps the committees, would need to decide what role the committees might play.

Short and Long-Term Metrics

The Equity Policy provides that the Superintendent is authorized to develop procedures to implement the policy, including “an action plan with clear accountability and metrics.”

Board President Candance Chow said metrics should be developed to measure progress in both the short and long term.

“We need guideposts as we go along,” Ms. Chow said. “We know that changing certain outcomes may take quite a while, but we need to know we’re going in the right direction. … How can we monitor things as we go along?”

Dr. Goren said focusing on shifts in hiring, training, teaching, and outcomes would be a good start; and he suggested that the District could look at what other school districts were doing to measure progress. “There’s a network there ready to tap into,” he said.

Ms. Tanyavutti said it was important to measure growth in social and emotional learning, which might include a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being successful.

The District as a Learning Organization

Ms. Chow suggested the Equity Policy set out the belief that “we are a learning organization, and we believe that all of us can learn to be better attuned to be more racially literate.”

Mr. Hernandez said, as human beings, “We’re going to have bias. That’s human nature. … But here we have an opportunity to learn. We can learn about the biases that we have. … We can move ahead to insure that it doesn’t impact in a negative way the community that we’re serving.

“There’s a positive component of this which is we believe we can learn and we can change as an organization, as an institution, and that we start from there.”

Ms. Tanyavutti said it is important to broaden from thinking on an individual level to an institutional level. “In my view, this equity policy work is about challenging our institution to question where the institution itself has policies and practices in place that institutionally marginalize certain populations. We intentionally have to create access. This is about a collective and institutional learning.”

Ms. Tanyavutti also encouraged the District to refer to disparities in achievement in terms of “a gap in access” or “a gap in opportunity to achieve,” rather than “an achievement gap.”

The Equity Assessment Guide

The Equity Assessment Guide lists sample questions to use in the process of making decisions to “anticipate, assess, and prevent adverse consequences of proposed actions on different racial groups.” There are 10 categories, and a total of 26 questions.

For example, one question is, “What adverse impacts or unintended consequences could result from this policy?” Another is, “Are there better ways to reduce racial disparities and advance racial equity?”

Ms. Kartha supported the use of an equity assessment tool in making decisions. “From a Board’s perspective, this will help us inform our decision-making, and to analyze whether there will be an impact on marginalized groups, and if so, what are we going to do to mitigate the impact.

Ms. Kartha said it did not necessarily need to be a list of questions, but, “I think we need something that is robust to show how we are considering these issues.”

Dr. Goren said members of DELT/DWCC had reviewed the Equity Assessment and cautioned against creating a checklist in a bureaucratic process. He said he would like to create a tool that operationalizes an equity assessment.

Other Board members supported developing an effective equity assessment tool.

Dr. Goren said administrators would review the issue with members of the DELT/DWCC team, make changes to the Equity Policy based on the feedback received, and bring it to the Board in April or May.

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...