Former President Barack Obama is a leading proponent of everyone in America achieving a quality education. “It’s not enough to train today’s workforce,” he said. “We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.”

At Evanston Township High School (ETHS) we are committed to providing a world-class education and achieving equity for every student. OpenSource Leadership Strategies succinctly defines equity as “A proactive, strategic approach that accounts for structural differences in opportunities, burdens, and needs in order to fulfill the promise of equality for all.” We are proactive and strategic in this work. Guided by our school board, our teachers and staff actively and decisively implement practices daily that are designed to guarantee a world-class education for everyone. We want all our students to be in the best classes we can offer, to be challenged, and receive plentiful support. As we have reported, our commitment to equity has resulted in steadily higher student achievement and notable student accomplishments over the past decade.

This past school year we placed increased attention on Black male achievement. Our reasoning was clear. While ETHS is enviably successful in educating our students, we have not done as well educating all our Black male students. Our structure and instructional practices have worked exceptionally well for countless students but not consistently as well for our Black males.

This past year we became even more reflective and determined, examining why our approaches have not worked as well for Black males and implementing changes aimed at better meeting their needs. Again, President Obama has articulated the challenge: “In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.” There has been a damaging culture of low expectations in our society and in too many schools. At ETHS, we have confronted this issue head on, first and foremost by having universally high expectations for our Black males. Moreover, we are holding ourselves accountable for addressing systemic barriers and burdens, stereotypes, and a culture of low expectations students often experience. Our Black males bring abundant intelligence, talents, insights, and dreams each day to this school. They are a vital asset at ETHS, and we strive vigorously to help them maximize their beautiful life potential.

Our job is to figure out how they receive from us what they need and that they experience the learning environment that works best for their individual needs. What’s powerful is that when we are daily being reflective and intentional about meeting differing individual needs, that becomes our practice—and it benefits all the students we serve at ETHS. Everyone benefits.

During Year One of our Black-male change initiative, the results are already encouraging. While we have a long way to go, we have demonstrated that our work is moving the needle. Black males in last year’s freshman class, compared to the year before, had a lower percentage of Ds and Fs and a higher percentage of As and Bs, as well as more GPAs over 2.5. In addition, more Black males earned more academic credits and had fewer absences, tardies, and behavior incidents. Black freshman males had a higher rate of attendance at Wildkit Academy, higher extracurricular participation, and more than doubled their progress with 88% completing their Individual Career and Academic Plans.

Furthermore, we documented the same kinds of gains and improvements for Black males school-wide, not just the freshman class we are following. In the first year of our restructured, de-tracked sophomore English course that provides a challenging honors curriculum for all sophomores, we documented the best grade distribution ever for Black males with a notable increase in percentage of As, Bs, and Cs overall. Biology with Support with a new reading-support model yielded jumps in the number of As and Bs for Black males, and 92% of the students enrolled earned a C or better, an increase from previous years. This coming year we will build upon these strides as we enhance the most effectively used strategies, and we will develop and implement additional approaches. Kudos to our teachers, staff and administrators for successfully focusing on systemic changes. We are on a learning curve. Our Black males have high aspirations. They care about their ETHS education and are putting forth highly effective efforts to succeed.

All students benefit when we examine our structures, practices, policies and procedures to make systemic improvements, reflect on needed changes, focus on students’ differing needs, and have high expectations for everyone. Yes, the rising tide raises all ships, and we have been experiencing a rising tide of improved outcomes for students here at ETHS.

It’s a great day to be a Wildkit.