With Evanston Township High School’s Day School poised to open next month, members of the ETHS Special Education Department at the May 13 School Board meeting updated the Board on the status of the facility. About 20 students who now attend out-of-district schools will initially attend the Day School, also called the Alt School, at 1233-35 Hartrey Ave.
The Day School team – Lanée Walls, Director of Special Education; Lauren McArdle, Assistant Director of Special Education-Operations; James Wilczynski, School Psychologist; and Jamie Reinhardt, Day School Coordinator – made a PowerPoint presentation to the Board. The presentation covered staffing, students and academics.
For the 20 students in the school there will be one secretary, five teachers, three paraprofessionals, two student-management personnel and one school psychologist together with two school psychologist practicum students and three school psychologist interns on rotation. The student-to-staff ratio will not exceed 5:1 at the school, the team members said.
“In addition to our staff who will be at the day school, all of our students will be connected to their grade-level team available in the main building, including their dean, their social worker, as well as the grade-level psychologist,” Dr. McArdle added.
Sixty percent of the licensed staff for the school have experience in alternative settings, the team members said, and several have additional credentials.
The team is in the process of identifying students who will be a good fit in the day school, Dr. McArdle said. “The decision will be driven by student need, present levels of functioning, the goals in the IEP and the accommodations and related services specified in the IEP,” she said.
Students and their families are always included in the IEP discussions, she said. An IEP is an Individualized Education Program crafted by a school team and the student’s parents – and at times, the student – that specifies goals for the student’s education, as well as supports, resources and services needed to help achieve those goals.
The core academic content, the team said, will be parallel to the general education academic curriculum. The curriculum will fulfill the ETHS graduation requirements.
The five teachers will each teach one core subject – math, English, social studies, science or physical education, said Dr. McArdle. While there is a room for physical activities, the physical education classes will also cover building a healthy lifestyle through eating well and making good decisions, she said.
Students will have a “handful” of electives from which to choose – job skills, psychology, art, and, potentially, contemporary adult life.
The Day School will offer AM Support and PM support, study hall, a resource class and case management in the daily schedule. Students will also have access to the homework center and Wildkit Academy for help with homework.
Many facilities on the main campus will also be available to students at the Day School: the track and field house, the swimming pools, the gyms, the science labs, the East Library and the Central Library, the ChromeZone and South Technology Center and College and Career Services.
Social-emotional programming is undergirded by the Illinois Social-Emotional Learning Standards, Dr. McArdle said. A system of Positive Behavior Interventional and Supports (PBIS) serves as the universal system for teaching and reinforcing all social-emotional expectations and supports, she said.
“There will be explicit teaching of all program expectations and repeated opportunities to practice demonstrating behavior and social-emotional concepts,” Dr. McArdle said. “If students are struggling to engage in the classroom, we will have an array of supports – a wide range of in-class as well as out-of-class supports to get them reset for the learning environment. … We [also] have the capacity to send staff to do home visits,” she said.
Individual and group therapy will be offered, said Dr. Wilczynski. “The groups will target concerns that the students are having,” he said. There will be parent workshops in the evening on a variety of topics. Family therapy will also be offered as an option, he said.
Vocational experiences will be available for the students through community partnerships, such as Have Dreams, Valli Produce, Panino’s and Goodwill. Located in the same building as the Day School, Have Dreams offers programs and services to children, teens and young adults impacted by autism. Panino’s, Valli Produce and Goodwill are both in Evanston Plaza, just a few blocks from the Day School.
“We’ve had current and past ETHS students involved with these businesses,” Dr. Wilczynski said.
Partnerships with State organizations and supports within the District will help with transition from high school, Dr. Wilczynski said.
Board member Pat Maunsell said, “I want to emphasize that, while there are many good programs around the area that our students use and benefit from, I love that it’s an ETHS program and philosophy of how to educate children and how we treat children and integrate them and make them feel a part of the ETHS community – and broader….
“The Day school is not appropriate for every student, but for the students that it’s appropriate for … you’re more integrated at ETHS and the philosophy of inclusion and what it really means here. … I’m really excited about the work you [the team members] have done. We’ve done a lot about what it means to be a Wildkit in all ways. The importance of support and student climate and culture is so important and I really feel you brought that with you. Thank you.”
Board member Elizabeth Rolewicz asked about the process of selecting the students for the Day School. “How will you determine appropriate candidates as far as diversity of need among the students and how they might interact with each other as a community within the school? … Do you have any specific ideas about what you think would be the ideal student for the school?”
Dr. McArdle said, “It really all starts with the student’s IEP and the needs listed in the student’s IEP. So, as teams talk about how students are functioning, not only academically but [also] in terms of interpersonal skills – all of that goes into the decision.” She also said the goals, supports, accommodations and related services are factors.
“It doesn’t do us well and it doesn’t do the students well if we don’t believe that we can implement that IEP in our setting. The short answer is, ‘There is no set profile.’”
Dr. McArdle said the team has begun scheduling IEP meetings and site visits for certain potential students and their families.
Board President Pat Savage-Williams said, “I know how complicated the conversation can be around supporting students. I know you have had many conversations about these students over the years, because they are very unique and it’s complicated. It is important to take time for each individual student and what their needs are. … It’s a unique program; it’s a great opportunity, but it’s not for everybody.”
Board Vice President Monique Parsons said, “I think it’s so important to highlight the process and the fact that parents and students are always a part of this process. The IEP is not done in isolation; they make the decisions that are best for our students.”
Ms. Parsons asked how much staff time would be available for collaboration once the school is up and running.
Dr. McArdle said the PM support is offered after the class day is over, “but even after that, our staff day does not end until 4 o’clock, so when school dismisses at 3:30 on the main campus, our staff have a half-hour built in every single day for collaboration.”
Dr. Wilczynski noted that more than half of the staff members have worked in similar settings, so they understand the value of time for collaboration and problem-solving.
Dr. McArdle said she and Ms. Reinhardt have already blocked out time for regular meetings regarding struggling students.
Ms. Rolewicz said, “My understanding is that kids with disabilities don’t always respond to PBIS [Positive Behavior Interventional and Supports] reinforcements. … I’m wondering if you have a plan for students who just don’t respond to that type of structure.”
Dr. McArdle said, “The biggest part of PBIS is setting up the system to support staff in supporting students – teaching them how to interact with students, how to build relationships and to provide a continuum of support as those needs arise during the school day.” She said the team expects about 80% compliance with PBIS as it will be implemented and “we’ll develop special programing for the other 20%.”
Although a group of residents had protested the location of the Day School, none attended the May 13 Board meeting to voice opposition. One of the two public speakers said her son was really excited at the prospect of attending the Day School.
The second speaker, Stephanie Kimmel – an ETHS alum and now a District 65 parent – said she continues “to be perplexed about how this has been rolled out. … I’m glad to see additional information here today, glad to hear you finally share that there will be individual and group therapy. I did not hear mentioned who will be delivering them? How can you possibly have a social school without a social worker? …
“I recall from when I attended the Evanston hearing that ETHS was built to house 6,000 students. I have also heard Dr. Witherspoon boast that ETHS has 1.2 million square feet – the largest public high school under one roof in the country.
“Why locate in a business district, without access to all of the amazing facilities that we have here at ETHS – such as the state-of-the-art science labs, 15 gyms, two pools, a planetarium, a library, multiple performance venues and theaters, and outdoor fields?
“If this school is a good idea, why not embrace it and locate it here on campus, like they do at New Trier? How can we possibly not find space for these few kids at this campus?”
Ms. Kimmel also questioned why the administration had not made public the operating budget for the Day School, saying she had put in an FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request for that information but had not received the information.
“It is incumbent on the Board to ask these questions and do what’s best for our students who most need individualized support,” Ms. Kimmel said.