Targeted efforts by ETHS to address systemic inequities in education are starting to show results, according to a report presented to the District 202 School Board at its Sept. 11 meeting.
During the 2017-18 school year, labeled by administrators, “The Year of the Black Male,” an intentional focus on the experiences of Black male students led to changes that resulted in higher grades, fewer absences, fewer disciplinary actions and other tangible successes.
“This is not a program or initiative,” said Marcus Campbell, Evanston Township High School Assistant Superintendent and Principal. “This is a coming together of all of our constituencies here at ETHS to address an issue that is not specific to ETHS. It is a national crisis, and this is our way of coming together and figuring out what it is that we can do here in Evanston to change some of the life trajectories and outcomes of Black male students.”
The intent, said Dr. Campbell, is to find, “new ways to ‘do school,’ to engage in a way for us to think about how do we run our school, how we engage in the day-to-day processes of teaching and learning to support Black males. It’s about reframing what it is that we’re doing.”
Creating Technical and Adaptive Change
Year-one efforts focused on ninth-graders. In June of 2017, administrative leaders met and drafted “individual Black male covenants” to help identify and commit to change data in their unique areas specific to ninth-grade Black male students.
This tool, adapted from Harvard Business School, helped staff identify what each saw as needing to change, the desired measurable outcome, key team members, constraints and milestones. Action plans were drafted.
“These covenants were a tool to drive technical change,” said Dr. Campbell. “In creating these covenants, we were careful to abandon approaches that are deficit-oriented. We are choosing to have an asset frame for this work.”
Aside from looking at grades and measurable outcomes aimed at a shift in skill sets, work also began on creating adaptive change or changes to the school’s mindset around how to educate Black male students.
Staff worked to clarify individual “why statements” and reflected on how they interact with specific male students in their classes. Staff also worked with Darnisa Amante, an educational and racial-equity strategist and the CEO of Disruptive Equity Education Project (DEEP). She spoke with staff about “how do we do this,” said Dr. Campbell, “how we as leaders and as an organization begin to tackle some of the beliefs and attitudes that go into some of the challenges that we’ve been facing.”
“There isn’t a single narrative about the Black male experience here at ETHS,” said Dr. Campbell. “We cannot confine a single story for what it’s like to walk through the halls as a Black male here at ETHS, but we can find that there are some similar patterns and some fairly consistent experiences that are happening with Black males that we would like to address.”
Other actions were highlighted at the meeting. Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, spoke of staff’s intentional efforts to identify Black males who could benefit from attending Wildkit Academy, a homework support session held on certain Saturdays during the school year.
Last year’s curriculum reviews incorporated affinity-based student focus groups and served to answer the question: “To what extent do current curricular and instructional design support the success of all students, particularly Black male students?” Those reviews were in science and world language.
This year, U.S. History and 2 Algebra, Project Lead the Way, and Photography will be reviewed.
Discovering Success Through Music was a pilot program focused on students enrolled in reading. The program, “blended Freshman Advisory Study Hall programming, brain development related to music and reading, and social-emotional learning and support,” said Dr. Bavis.
Of the 33 students enrolled in the program, 12 were Black males. Seventy-three percent of the students earned honor roll or high honor grades, “but more significantly – and this is the adaptive change – students describe the classroom environment as family. The level of trust and the level of community that were built within the context of that classroom – that’s really significant and important.”
Sophomore English was restructured last year to create a pathway to honors course. Previously students were tracked into several levels of sophomore English. A disproportionate number of Black males were sorted into lower tracks, and a large number of those students earned Ds and Fs. With the newly structured course, “what ended up happening was that we saw the best grade distribution for our Black male students in sophomore English classes. More Black male students earning a Bs and Cs than ever before,” said Dr. Bavis.
Board members reviewed key results from The Year of the Black Male. Data comparing the outcomes of the Class of 2021 Black male ninth-graders (i.e., those who started at ETHS in 2017-2018) to their peers in the Class of 2020 showed the following results:
• Higher percentage earning five or more As and Bs – 77%, compared to 66%
• Higher percentage earning no Ds or Fs – 33% compared to 30%
• Higher percentage with a GPA of 2.5 or higher – 54% compared to 45%
• Higher percentage earning 12 or more credits – 88% compared to 81%
• Students less than 9 days absent – 83% compared to 69%
• Students with zero behavior incidents – 63% compared to 51%
• Students attending at least one Wildkit Academy – 63% compared to 49%
• Participation in at least one extracurricular activity – 61% compared to 57%
• Completed at least one Individual Career and Academic Plan activity – 88% compared to 41%
There was also a residual effect of this work in other grades, said Dr. Bavis. When comparing data from the school year 2017-2018 with 2016-2017, there was improvement for Black male students in all grades: Higher percentage of Black male received a GPA of 2.5 and 2.0 than in the prior year, and absences and behavioral incidences were down.
While initial results are showing improvements, “they are nowhere near where we want them to be; they’re nowhere near what we would be satisfied with,” said Dr. Bavis.
The work began last year, but the effort will be continuous. “The work is in its infancy – at the opening act, maybe before,” said Dr. Bavis.
Moving forward, ETHS will continue to examine structures, practices, policies and procedures to make systemic improvements. “We need to be very conscious of this, reflect on what needs to change, focus on students’ differing needs, and have high expectations for everyone,” said Dr. Bavis.
The school will also examine restorative practices and alternative-to-suspension programs as well as how best to include student voices.
“Good intentions only get you so far, so we’re being very thoughtful about that work and we continue to examine the social construct of race and gender and how the narratives of such constructions impact the lives of ETHS students, particularly Black males,” Dr. Bavis said.
Jonathan Baum asked about the use of data. “This is really challenging work, and it seems to me that there’s a tension. You use data to identify the challenges for Black males. You use data to measure the results, but in between we know that there is not a single Black male narrative. It’s probably true that various changes will help some Black male students and other changes will help other Black male students. I wonder in terms of programming to implement that, that’s a big challenge isn’t it?”
“It is, but within that is ‘How do we address our beliefs and mindsets?’ That’s what we’re really trying to focus on as we think about the day to day,” said Dr. Campbell. “What we should adjust might be different for some students. Our hope is to look at that entire continuum and make sure that all of the students, all Black male students, and all students at ETHS are getting what they need.”
“You talked a lot about adaptive solutions and how important it is. It’s kind of like thinking out of the box. You know we’ve already done the programs; we’ve already put the money behind some of the programs and the supports; but now we’re trying to look a little bit deeper and come up with a more creative type of approach,” said Board President Pat Savage-Williams.
“You said something very profound with the music course in that they felt like they were family,” said Monique Parsons. “Creating an environment that [Black males] see themselves in, that they feel welcomed in, and then you start being innovative and creative. We know that this is a snapshot, so I’m really looking forward to how this has translated into how we discipline our Black males. When we start seeing changes in how we treat them, then I think we can continue to say that, yes, we are definitely moving this needle. This is a glimpse. I’m looking forward to what it looks like overall but this is very promising.”
“Frameworks and structures and programs are not bad things, and we’ve done some really great work, but I think what I’m hearing is this very deep and specific – looking at the specifics to understand the broader, so to understand the individual student experience. And really capturing the student voice in a really authentic way is so powerful,” said Pat Maunsell. “I think this is learning that will only benefit every one of our students, but particularly we have a lot of work to do with our Black males. We owe it to them, and so I think doing justice to them, at the same time as helping everybody. I’m in.”
Superintendent Eric Witherspoon summed up the work. “It’s heartwarming to see how our faculty and staff have been embracing the idea that the core of our work is about the well-being of each and every child and remembering that then all sorts of things radiate out from that.”