At a June 10 District 65 School Board meeting, District administrators said the District will place a major focus this school year on improving teaching and learning, especially for black and Hispanic students, and that the District has “stepped back from work that does not directly impact the District’s goal of improving outcomes for students of color.” See sidebar.

A proposed planning calendar presented at the Board’s Sept. 9 meeting reflects that the District will move forward this school year with the priorities and seven strategies announced at the June 10 Board meeting. In addition,  District administrators do not plan to prepare quarterly progress reports for the District’s five-year strategic plan or a “scorecard” report showing whether students are making progress toward meeting the School Board’s academic goals adopted as part of the five-year strategic plan.

The planning calendar was prepared by Interim Superintendents Heidi Wennstrom and Phil Ehrhardt in collaboration with top administrators of the District. Drs. Wennstrom and Ehrhardt are serving this year while the Board is searching for a new Superintendent to take over for the 2020-2021 school year.

Board member Joey Hailpern said he would like the Interim Superintendents to move things forward and not wait for a new Superintendent to be on board. He said, “In a year with interim leadership, you both will have a lens as to what type of bold moves can the cabinet make prior to a new person coming on board. I, as one Board member, fully support pushing things forward that you guys think is right for kids and that meets the values and vision of the District.”

He added, “There’s so many things a leadership team can do that doesn’t have to come to a Board meeting.”

Dr. Wennstrom said, “I do share the perspective that we have a very talented group of members at the cabinet level, and we want to make sure they’re using this time in the greatest capacity for impact on students.”

Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, similarly said she would like to keep moving forward. She said, “Some priorities are really good and important and pretty significant work. From a cabinet member’s point of view, really trying to put a lot of strong focus into that work and to be able to see that process throughout the year is critically important. So we’re hoping to maintain a strong focus on that throughout the year.”

Board President Suni Kartha said, “I wholeheartedly support everything you just said in terms of wanting to move forward with action.” She said she would only qualify that by saying that to take that type of bold action and be successful, “it also requires collaboration and clear communication and we need to build in time for that.”

The proposed planning calendar reflects a shift in priorities from implementing the strategies contained in the District’s five-year strategic plan adopted by the Board in March 2015 to implementing the strategies outlined at the June 2019 Board meeting

Ms. Kartha highlighted for Board members that the proposed calendar eliminates the quarterly reports showing progress in implementing the strategies in the District’s five-year strategic plan. Instead the proposed calendar substitutes two reports on the progress made in meeting the seven strategies outlined for the Board in June.

Board member Candance Chow asked if the District also planned on eliminating the scorecard report showing student progress in meeting four academic goals adopted by the Board as part of the strategic plan. The proposed planning calendar does not include any reference to the scorecard report.

The scorecard report, customarily presented in August or September, showed whether the District was making progress in increasing the percentage of students who were on track to college readiness, increasing the percentage of students meeting targeted growth, reducing the percentage of students in the bottom quartile nationally, and reducing achievement gaps.

Ms. Wennstrom said, “I believe we would not be reporting on those. We would really focus on reporting on the seven strategies, and the work, and the priorities.”

Ms. Chow asked, “Are you saying we would still track it, but we just wouldn’t report on it?”

Dr. Wennstrom said, “No. I think we would not be creating those reports.” 

Kylie Klein, Director of Research, Accountability and Data, said, “We are currently working on what would be the best forms of measurement for the priorities and the strategies.” She said since the strategies include things like increasing professional learning and increasing cognitive rigor in the classroom, “We really have to look at what are going to be appropriate, reliable, meaningful measures for assessing how we are doing along those lines.”

She added, “Our plan is to really drill into that and provide meaningful information for you all that is really tightly aligned with those areas and strategies.’

One of the agenda items for the Sept. 23 Board meeting is to report on planning for the achievement and accountability report that will be presented to the Board in January 2020. At this point it is unclear if that report will report on students’ progress in meeting the academic goals adopted by the School Board as part of the strategic plan.

School District 65 administrators presented a plan to the School Board on June 10, 2019, that will place a major focus on improving teaching and learning in the 2019-2020 school year, especially for black and Latinx students. As part of the prioritization process, the District has “stepped back from work that does not directly impact our goal of improving outcomes for students of color,” said a 10-page memo from the District’s top nine administrators to the School Board.

At that meeting, Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said administrators developed seven strategies to focus on this school year:  

First, “Ensure access to grade-level, Common Core State Standards aligned assignments for Tier 1 instruction that are rigorous and improve learning for black and Latinx students.”

Dr. Beardsley said Tier 1 instruction is the instruction designed for all students. This strategy, she said, will address the need that students who are not quite at grade level will be given grade-level instruction and be challenged. She said students who are below grade level will be provided supports and interventions, but the supports and interventions should not replace access to grade-level instruction.

Second, “Lead system-wide professional learning and implementation support of cognitively rigorous and culturally responsive instructional practices.”

Dr. Beardsley said that grade-level and beyond assignments should be engaging, cognitively rigorous and require students to dig in and be challenged learners.

Third, “Ask students and families directly about their goals and school experiences to inform ongoing strategy development, and adjust as appropriate.”

Dr. Beardsley said, “Engaging black and Latinx students and families on an ongoing basis to inform our work helps us to understand the impact of our actions.”

The next four strategies are: Fourth: “Lead system-wide professional learning and implementation support of restorative practices to create environments that are intellectually and socially safe for learning;” Fifth: “Foster a culture of collaboration and trust that authentically engages staff to increase student achievement for black and Latinx students;” Sixth: “Create structures and processes to support consistent and effective two-way communication with staff about district-level decisions and actions;” and Seventh: “Engage in long-term financial planning to ensure we have the necessary funding for our priorities on the instructional core.”

At a July 18 Board meeting, Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent  of Schools, said the strategies will also help the District to deepen its work on social and emotional learning and to enhance its work on restorative practices. 

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...