Abdel Shakur at the King Lab town hall meeting on March 19. RoundTable photo

At the District 65 School Board meeting on March 18, Candice Shakur, a parent at King Arts magnet school and a member of Black Parents of King Arts, spoke about the achievement gap at that school, where there is a wide disparity in the percentages of Black and White students who are on track to college readiness. The disparity between Black and White third- through eighth-graders is 61 percentage points in reading, and 51 percentage points in math.

At four different grade levels, she said, 0% of the Black students met the college readiness benchmarks.

“As parents, we believe these numbers represent not only a systematic neglect of Black children, but tangible evidence of a school-to-prison pipeline at our schools,” said Ms. Shakur. “The disparity in scores is inconceivable, intolerable and utterly unacceptable.

“Our school is in a state of emergency, requiring an immediate, urgent response. As District leaders, what do you think when you see these numbers. More importantly, what do you plan to do?”

Abdel Shakur, the husband of Candice Shakur, said, “I’m a high school teacher, and I know if students are not prepared or feel they are not part of their school or are not getting what they need, that there are real life consequences.”

 “I’m hoping we can work together as partners on this because I really don’t know what the alternative is at this point. What’s happening right now is unacceptable.”

Jaimie Wallace, a parent of a first-grader at King Arts, said she is a member of the PTA and the Black Parents of King Arts, and a co-chair of a grocery program at the school. She said, “Beyond the data, let’s look at some of the things that are happening.” She said resources are being taken away from teachers in reading and math, and teachers are required to deal with trauma and things that they are not equipped to deal with.

Ms. Shakur said Black Parents of King Arts were partnering with the PTA, and ONE King Arts to host a town hall meeting to discuss the most recent test scores and plans going forward.

The town hall meeting was held on March 19, the night after the School Board meeting, in the cafeteria at King Arts. About 50 people attended, including parents, teachers, school administrators, District administrators, and community members.

Several parents gave opening remarks. Mr. Shakur said there are great things going on the school, but said he was surprised and shocked when he saw the disparities in the test data. He said the test measures an experience children are having in the school, and the data shows that Black and White children are having totally different experiences. He expressed a desire to collaborate with the School and District administrators to find solutions.

King Lab principal Jeffrey Brown said the numbers are “upsetting,” but “we want to be transparent.” While the data was previously presented at a meeting with parents, the data was not presented again at the town hall meeting.

Dr. Brown said, “Folks in this building work extremely hard.”

Dr. Brown, Assistant Principal Michelle Bournes Thomas, Paul Goren, Superintendent of District 65, Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and Donna Cross, MTSS Coordinator, spent an hour summarizing the staffing at the school, the committees of teachers and staff working at the school, the early literacy program at the school, the use of data to identify students who need help and the interventions being made, the use of the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) to identify and address individual student needs, the use of culturally responsive teaching practices, practices with respect to student discipline, the use of reading specialists, the use of teaching coaches, professional development and the way resources are allocated among the District’s schools. 

One of the first questions was, why is there such a gap in test scores?  Dr. Brown responded the MTSS process could have been implemented a little more effectively and data used more effectively to inform instruction. He said many students have Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

Later in the meeting, Dr. Brown said, “Kids are coming in with more trauma.” He said the school is a fine arts school, but it is becoming a more trauma informed school. 

Dr. Goren said, if students come into kindergarten struggling, they do not do as well as other students. He said the District has been attempting to address that issue by focusing on improving literacy in the K-3 grades. See story on page 24. But Dr. Goren added, “Let’s not hide from the data. … The data is a clarion call. We are not doing well enough.”

 He said the District has appointed Latarsha Green as Executive Director of Black Student Success to focus on ways to improve Black students’ achievement. As part of the District’s equity agenda, the District has been looking at bias and implicit bias, he said.

Several parents expressed the need for parents to take a more active role, but others said what the District was doing was either not working or not enough.

The PTA co-president said, “You guys are giving your all. … It’s not enough. It’s not working. … We need more support.”

Another parent said, “We need a plan – so that parents know what is going to happen to address this. None of this is working. What are we going to do to make sure our Black students are going to be successful?”

Ms. Thomas said they have additional coaches lined up and they will be coming into classrooms after the spring break to work with teachers. The coaches will help teachers identify student’s lagging skills and then help target the instruction for those students. They will help find out what is not working and should be discontinued, what is working and should be continued, and what needs to be added, she said. 

Ms. Thomas added, “We do have a lot of students in our building that need trauma-informed instruction. The social emotional needs for some of our kids – we need to make sure they are met before we can even present those kids with the curriculum.” 

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Shakur asked parents to provide written comments to four questions, including if they have any ideas on what the King Arts community could do to help address the issue.

Larry Gavin

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...