A snapshot of District 65’s enrollment as of Sept. 17 sparked discussion about a wide range of topics including low enrollment numbers at Oakton Elementary School and Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, high enrollment in first grade at Orrington Elementary School, how the permissive transfer program is used to manage enrollment, and collecting and reporting data by gender identity.

Superintendent Paul Goren emphasized that the enrollment data was a snapshot at the beginning of the year, and that enrollment is still “fluid” and there’s “a lot of moving parts at the beginning of the year.” He said the official enrollment numbers will be reported in the Opening of Schools Report, which is scheduled to be presented to the Board in early November.

Dr. Goren said all classes are within class-size guidelines, which are 23 students at kindergarten, 25 at first and second grades, 26 at third grade, and 27 at fourth and fifth grades.

The latest revision of the enrollment numbers show an enrollment of 7,766 students, 218 more than projected.

Oakton/ACC Program

Alice Barry, a member of the board of OPAL (Organization for Positive Action and Leadership) and several School Board members noted that only nine students had enrolled in the kindergarten class for the African Centered Curriculum (ACC) program at Oakton, and asked what efforts had been made to recruit students to enroll in the program.

Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 65, said staff has tried to brand the ACC program as one of three academic options at Oakton; they increased the presence of the program at kindergarten information sessions; they had a kindergarten information night with a focus on the ACC program; and engaged in other activities.

Dr. Goren said that early in the summer, only a couple of students had applied for the ACC kindergarten class, and by the start of school there were nine students.

 Oakton Principal Michael Allen sent out flyers, and attended multiple coffees and meet-and-greets with parents, and ACC teachers held a number of classroom visits, Dr. Goren added.

He added that Dr. Allen and Jamilla Pitts, Social Studies & ACC Director, are “fully committed, as are we, to increasing the recruitment opportunities as we move forward.”

 “One of the things we really need to do – and I think we can use help from Board members and other members in the community – is to uplift some of the good things that are happening in Oakton. … [and to tell people about]  the positive experiences that many children are having there,” said Dr. Beardsley.

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti asked about the enrollment in the kindergarten general education classes at Oakton, which totals 23 students for two classrooms. Dr. Beardsley acknowledged that the number of students is “small.”

Enrollment in the TWI program is also relatively small, with eight Spanish-speaking students and six English-speaking students enrolled in the TWI kindergarten class.

Another issue discussed was the impact of the ACC’s small class sizes. Board member Rebeca Mendoza said there was an “issue of isolation” and urged that if the class sizes remained small, administrators should consider collaborating with other classrooms.  She added, “We need to get students and families exposed to the program to change the narrative around the program.”

Dr. Beardsley said the ACC program is no longer in a separate wing of the school, and staff are exploring ways to collaborate with other classes.

Bessie Rhodes/TWI

The enrollment report shows that 12 Spanish-speaking students enrolled in the TWI program at the kindergarten level at Bessie Rhodes, as did 16 English speakers. There are two classrooms for the 26 students – or an average of 13 students per class.

Board President Suni Kartha said the overall enrollment for the school was down this year compared to last year. She said this was expected in light of converting the school to an all-TWI school, starting at the kindergarten level this and expanding one grade level each year.

The enrollment report shows that Bessie Rhodes’ overall enrollment is 269, compared to 341 last year. Ms. Kartha said it would be good to have a discussion about where the students transferred, and to see if any school is getting to the point where the overall enrollment at the school is becoming a challenge.

First Grade at Orrington

Board member Lindsay Cohen noted that a total of 75 students were enrolled in first grade at Orrington Elementary school, with an average of 25 students per class. She asked, “How do we handle that?”

Dr. Beardsley said administrators offered families the option to transfer to other schools and they are not allowing permissive transfers into first grade at Orrington. She said, “Now the options are limited because people live within the bounds and do want to attend in the first grade space. We just really need to make sure we’re putting the supports in place to create a positive learning environment and supporting teachers with materials and the appropriated level of support.”

Permissive Transfers

Dr. Goren said permissive transfers are granted for a wide range of reasons, but when schools have a low enrollment, such as Oakton, “we don’t transfer kids out” – unless a student has a sibling at another school or the student is transferred to a special education program at another school. He said the Opening School Report would show the number of students who reside in the Oakton attendance area who have transferred to another school.

Gender Identity

The enrollment report presented data for “females” and “males.” Ms. Tanyavutti said, “I don’t necessarily know what the solution is, but it always makes me feel a little uncomfortable when we focus on gender binary, given that we also have a trans inclusive policy, and we don’t have a gender non-conforming option. … I just imagine for some families it must feel exclusionary when they look at this data and the fact we still call out gender by name and don’t really leave space for another identity.”

Dr. Goren said, “We are working and making great progress, school by school, and being very open and very sensitive to the identification of gender.”

Ms. Kartha said, “To Anya’s point, though, we have the policy now and there’s a disconnect between our policy and how we’re collecting, and I imagine, also reporting information. I  think it’s worth following up.”

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...