On Aug. 22, in the course of discussing a planning calendar for 2017-18, District 65 administrators and members of the School Board laid out some key priorities that they would like to focus on for this year. The proposed calendar lists the work – and many milestones – that the District would like to achieve in each quarter of the year.
The purpose of the calendar is “to make sure that we’re doing the work that is necessary to carry on the business of the District, to advance the work of the District in a timely manner,” said Superintendent Paul Goren.
Some of the key priorities discussed were the District’s strategic plan and its equity work, expanding the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program, analyzing busing, ensuring a culturally relevant curriculum, and assessing the early childhood program.
Meshing the Strategic Plan and Equity
On March 23, 2015, the School Board adopted a five-year Strategic Plan that contains five goals: improve high quality teaching and learning, build a thriving workforce, enhance family and community engagement, provide a safe and supportive school climate, and maintain financial sustainability. The plan contains many strategies to achieve those goals.
On May 22, Corrie Wallace, District 65’s equity consultant, presented an Equity Report for School District 65 to the School Board. The report contains eight recommendations that she said are intended to take the District toward a more equitable learning environment and eliminate the predictability of achievement by race in Evanston.
In presenting the planning calendar, Dr. Goren said, “When we talk about the Strategic Plan, we’re talking about high quality teaching and learning, and that relates to our literacy engagement, our interventions with kids below the 25th percentile, and the way we do our English Language Learner perspectives. These are our deep plans on a yearly basis.
“It also includes issues around a thriving workforce and how we do recruiting and retaining… and how do we diversify our workforce?
“We also talk about safe and supportive school climates and how are we really addressing school climate issues, especially as it relates to race. Let’s be candid and talk about black children, African American children, Latino, Latinx children, and our District’s white children; and let’s talk about whether or not we have a safe environment.
“It also includes family and community involvement. How deeply are we engaging or where are we not engaging families, and what sort of barriers can we address?
“This is a planning document that meshes our strategic goals and aspirations and what we believe will make a difference in the life of kids with our operations and goals. As we move forward, we are absolutely open to do work that will evolve, but then there may be trade-offs. We need the time to engage and the time to do it well.”
Peter Godard, Chief Officer of Accountability, Equity & Organizational Development, said, “A big part of what we’ve done [in the planning calendar] is to prioritize work related to equity, and we have built that into the five areas of the Strategic Plan. You will see in most of the five areas, there are different tasks related to our equity agenda.”
Mr. Godard added, “In November, we’ll come back to you with our thoughtful response to Corrie’s recommendations [in the Equity Report]. … It’s intended to be an implementation plan. As we reflected on the Equity Report, many of the things Corrie was recommending were related to things that were already in the Strategic Plan. Some things weren’t in the Strategic Plan.”
He said the District’s response and implementation plan would be aligned to what the District is already committed to through the Strategic Plan.
Dr. Goren said, “We invited and were very pushed by Corrie Wallace’s analysis. We’re reserving the right as professional educators to be able to bring forward how we respond to those recommendations. Many of the things we will agree to. Some things we may not and that will be part of the dialogue we will have.”
Expansion of the TWI Program
On June 5, District administrators recommended that the Board add two strands of TWI classes at the K-5 grade levels starting in the 2018-19 school year, and also consider adding TWI at the middle schools. Administrators said they would present a recommendation in the fall, with a plan to expand TWI starting in the 2017-18 school year.
School Board President Suni Kartha noted that the planning calendar provided that a proposed TWI expansion be discussed at the Board’s Oct. 9 meeting, and then voted on at the Board’s Nov. 6 meeting. While recognizing the importance of reaching a decision as soon as possible to enable planning for an effective implementation of any expansion, Ms. Kartha said she was concerned the Board may not have adequate time to reflect on a proposal, gain feedback from the community, and make a decision under the proposed time table.
Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, suggested there would be ample time to gather community input, saying, “We have four different opportunities for community engagement, two times through BPAC [the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee] and two times through general community meetings” before administrators would present a proposed plan.
Dr. Beardsley added she would see if there was “any flexibility” in the schedule, but said it was important to make a timely decision so if an expansion is approved, the expansion could be planned and implemented in a way that would be successful.
Among other things, the Board will need to consider whether to add an additional strand of TWI at a school or schools that already have a TWI program and/or to add a strand of TWI at a school or schools that do not have the program. Either approach may require shifting general education classrooms or students to other schools.
Busing and Redistricting
One recommendation in Ms. Wallace’s Equity Report is, “Devise an enrollment management strategy that minimizes the disproportionate impact of busing on Black and Latinx students and increases parent/family access to schools within walking distance of traditionally underrepresented students’ homes.”
Ms. Kartha asked if this recommendation was included in the proposed planning calendar.
Mr. Godard said one milestone contained in the planning calendar is to convene a workgroup to explore attendance area boundaries and transportation inequities. He also said, the group will be looking at: “How will we move forward? How will we engage? How will we have done the research to think about what some options might be?”
Culturally Relevant Curriculum
During the public comment session of the Aug. 22 meeting, six District 65 parents called for developing a more culturally responsive curriculum in social studies. One of the parents, Abdel Shakur, highlighted an event called “Pioneer Days” where, he said, black and brown children, whose ancestors may have been enslaved and killed by those same pioneers, are asked to crawl inside the minds of the pioneers and somehow see themselves as they square dance and pan for gold. “The Eurocentric focus of our District 65 current social studies curriculum is an unacceptable artifact of that opportunity gap,” he said.
Mr. Shakur said he is part of a group called Parents for All Peoples’ History, which believes the District 65 Social Studies curriculum “should be culturally relevant and inspire critical thinking in all its students,” and not rely on a Eurocentric point of view. Instead, he said, it should present “a range of perspectives with a focus on justice, empathy, and racial equity.”
Later in the meeting, Ms. Kartha noted that many people brought up concerns about the social science curriculum. She asked if the District would be looking at this issue during the coming year.
Dr. Beardsley said she and Dr. Jamilla Pitts, Social Studies Facilitator, met with the parent group about two weeks ago, and “we very much appreciate the input that they have provided, and we had a very strong conversation that, I think, was very productive.” She said Pioneer Days is a “culminating event,” that is enacted in some schools, and it is not an activity that is written into the curriculum. “It’s something we need to take a look at as educators and figure out how to shift perspectives in telling a more complete story.”
As a short term approach, Ms. Beardsley said the District could take a look at some of the culminating project areas. She said the social studies curriculum was scheduled to be reviewed in 2019-2020, and administrators could determine if there is a possibility of shifting the ordering in the spring.
“We take the comments very seriously,” said Dr. Beardsley. “We’re going to take a look at what within reason do we think we can do in the short term, and what can be done in the long term.
Ms. Kartha said, “I would look at it not just as broadening perspectives, but really looking at things that could be damaging. Maybe it’s time to look at it with a different lens.”
Ms. Beardsley said, “The speakers brought up the way in which sometimes we interpret or tell the story when we don’t have the support to be able to think about and tell the story in a different way. I do think SEED [Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity] is going to be extremely positive for this work, I think Beyond Diversity is going to be extremely positive for this work.
“These aren’t things that any of us as educators do intentionally, and it’s about raising educational awareness within our workforce and outside of our workforce. Some of these are things that happen in our communities because they’ve always happened and people value them, and it’s about shifting a perspective, and tonight’s comments are an important step in bringing that voice to shift perspective.”
Analyzing the Early Childhood Program
Dr. Goren said, “This fall we’re going to convene a group of experts from the community and from our [childhood] centers to do an in-depth look at early childhood here in JEH [the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center]. We did a community needs assessment last spring. We will be looking in depth at what we’re offering, how we’re offering and how we might think about changing our programs and programing.
“Some of this is driven, quite frankly and importantly, by the research that many of us saw from Sean Reardon at Stanford that looked at the achievement gaps and the opportunity gaps that exist. These gaps start way before third grade. If that’s the case, what are we doing in our own Head Start and Early Head Start, and how do we actually celebrate what is working, and how can we do things differently?”
Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, said, “We want to look closely at our center, our practices, our assessment, so that we can then be clear about the recommendation we want to make.”
Dr. Goren said administrators would bring a report back to the Board in April or earlier, if possible.
An ABC Affinity Group
Board member Anya Tanyavutti asked about what was meant by convening a “family-affinity group” referred to in the proposed calendar.
Dr. Pitts said she has been talking to a few parents about forming an African, Black, Caribbean (ABC) affinity group, “pretty much mirroring the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee, to start to build community within our community. … The idea is to have both start to meet together and meet separately as well, knowing that there will be language differences and different issues that pertain to different groups.”
Ms. Tanyavutti asked whether the District would provide updates on the algebra program. After school ended, the Board decided to detrack algebra classes in the middle schools.
Ms. Tanyavutti also asked if the District would provide updates on several new courses that will be offered to create additional planning time for teachers. At the K-5 grade levels, the District will offer Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Computational Science. At sixth grade, it will offer an orientation, after which students would focus on executive functioning, social and emotional learning, and FUSE, an engineering STEM curriculum developed by Northwestern University.
Mr. Godard said the District will not receive results on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test until after the school year ended, and any assessment of these new or revised programs would be done after that.