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The Student Assignment Project, which may result in redrawing attendance areas and establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward, is “well underway,” said Sarita Smith, District 65 Manager of Student Assignments, in an April 25 memo to the School Board.

One key step in the process is that members of a Student Assignment Advisory Committee (SAAC) have been selected.  SageBird Consulting, a small organization based in Louisville, Ky., played a major role in the selection process.

One community member argued last night that no Latinx people were appointed to the committee, an oversight that Superintendent Devon Horton said would be corrected.

The Goal of the Project

The goal of the project is “to develop a comprehensive Student Assignment Plan in order to modernize our District structure and address historic inequities that continue to most significantly impact students of color,” says the District on its website. “This may include changes to school attendance areas, reconsideration of a more equitable selection process for magnet schools and programs, and establishing a local school in the Fifth Ward.”

A guiding principle of the project is, “All students should have the right to a local area school (home school), high-quality education, high-quality programs, and high-quality educators that are proximate to their homes and neighborhoods. We must ensure that all families can actively participate in their student’s education without barriers. This should be a promise we guarantee to all students in District 65.”

The Purpose of the SAAC

According to the District’s website, the purpose of the SAAC is to:

  • “Serve as a critical partner in assessing proposed revisions to the District 65 student assignment system. 
  • “Serve as an equitable thought partner in assessing our current student assignment procedures and policies.
  • “Provide impartial recommendations suited to dismantle systemic racism.
  • “Use data to make informed decisions and recommendations.
  • “Recommend new school attendance area maps and new student assignment process.
  • “Recommend and research school programs.
  • “Determine how to open a 5th ward school in a fiscally responsible manner.
  • “Recommend new process to assign students to schools.” 

The SAAC is charged with reviewing “District 65’s student assignment system over the next two years using an interactive student assignments tool to develop guiding principles for all of our students and families. Additionally, this team will use data from the master facilities plan and engagement opportunities (community surveys, townhalls, etc.) to inform potential recommendations to the School Board. Considerations must assess a number of factors including student enrollment projections, new school boundaries, decreasing transportation costs, building conditions and utilization, and a more equitable selection process for our magnet schools and selective enrollment programs.”

The District’s website makes clear that SAAC will not make final decisions regarding the District 65 student assignment system; it will not create new Board policies or procedures; and it will not determine the location of any proposed facilities.

Selection Process for the SAAC

An application to be a member of the SAAC was available on the District’s website and announced in a press release, a District-wide email, and a robo text. In addition, the District reached out to community partners, met with PTAs, and community leaders.

“The application was managed by SageBird Consulting, but our team collaborated on the questions and application section metrics,” said Ms. Smith. “Once the application closed on March 19th, our consultants reviewed them and presented the selected committee members to our planning team.

“We decided early in the process that the D65 staff should not participate in the committee selection process due to bias and community connections,” said Ms. Smith. “SageBird Consulting reviewed all 154 applications. We had a great response from teachers, D65 leadership, the Board, the community, and all wards (including Skokie). Applications were reviewed using a rubric to ensure diversity of thought, experience, and perspective so that the advisory members would have the best opportunity to explore the complexity of the student assignment process together. In addition, selected members were those that could work collaboratively and balance personal and community interests with an eye on equity. The process was a blind review, removing all personally identifying information and based solely on applicant response to the various questions.”

Members of the SAAC

Ms. Smith said the internal team ensured that areas of the community were represented from each of the following categories:

● Educator and District 65 Leaders

● Community Organizations

● District 65 Parents/PTA

● At least one person from each Ward and Skokie

● District 65 Board – Nominated two members

● D65 Unions – Nominated seven members

The members of the SAAC listed in Ms. Smith’s memo are:

D65 Board Members (Nominated):

Anya Tanyavutti (President of School Board and parent)

Sunith Kartha (Member of School Board and parent)

D65 Unions (Nominated):

Maria Barroso (DEC President)

Michael McDermott (DEC VP)

Jasmine Sebaggala (DEC)

Omar Whyte (Union, ECMA)

Natalie Copper (Union, EACCP)

David Benson (Union, DESC)

TBD (Union, ETTA)

Community Leader/Partner:

Jill Calian (Community Leader)

Jerome Summers (Community Leader)

Jennifer Simpson-Leigh (Community Partner)

Tom Suffredin (Alderman)

Bobby Burns (Alderman Elect)

Nicole Woodard-Iliev (Community Partner)

Tracy Fulce-Gentle (Community Partner)

Renne Stone (Community Leader)

Nichole Pinkard (Community Partner)

Karen Smilowitz (Community Partner)

Henry Wilkins (Community Partner)

Parents:

Stacy McAuliffe

Marquise Weatherspoon

Trina Ntamere

Scott Mangum

Thomas Beckley

Amy Hodgman

Daryl Gardner

Amy Brissette

Chantal Diaz

D65 Administrators:

Tracy Murray (Asst. Dir., Student Services)

Deborah Osher (Asst. Principal, K-5 School)

Kathy Davis (Asst. Principal, Middle School)

Jamilla Pitts (D65 Magnet Schools and Programs)

Tania Margonza (D65 Community Engagement Facilitator)

Saranda Karpuzi (Asst. Mgr. of Student Assignments)

Sarita Smith (Mgr. of Student Assignments)

There are a total of 36 members on the committee. Nine of the 36 are included as parent representatives, although some people who are on SAAC in other capacities (e.g., as members of the School Board) have children attending District 65.

Ms. Smith’s memo reflects that 120 parents applied to serve on the SAAC, and an additional 20 members of the PTA applied. These applications together accounted for 92% of the applications submitted.

Demographics

According to District officials, the application that people filled out to be a member of SAAC did not ask for demographic information, and Ms. Smith’s memo does not provide demographic information about members of the SAAC.  

During the public comment section of the District 65 School Board meeting on April 26, Stephanie Mendoza said it does not appear that Latinx parents who have children in the schools are represented on the advisory committee.

At the end of that meeting, Superintendent Devon Horton said, “We missed the mark. … So, for Latinx families, we will be doing some outreach to identify an additional five members to join our committee. … When we come back in May, we will have an update of our committee members moving forward.”

“Race/ethnicity demographic questions were not asked as part of the application process,” Melissa Messenger, Director of Communications, told the RoundTable. “Since individuals did not self-identify, we do not have the committee make-up by race/ethnicity nor would it be appropriate for the district to try to analyze this information on the behalf of committee members.

“We are grateful for the community members who brought to our attention their feelings of a lack of Latinx representation on the Student Assignment Advisory Committee. Our team has since worked to rectify this to ensure a more authentic reflection of our community.”

Board member Suni Kartha said she hoped the community can appreciate admitting there was a mistake and going back to open up these opportunities for Latinx families. She also asked that the District consider including non-Spanish speaking English language learning families on the committee.

School Board President Anya Tanyavutti said, “I would encourage considering how we use the racial equity impact assessment tool in practice, in situations like this, because my understanding is that the application process for the student assignment Advisory Committee didn’t ask for demographic data. … I think utilizing the racial equity Impact Assessment Tool may have been useful in this regard to make sure the process was inclusive of the voices that need to be included. And I know we had some internal inquiry, myself, and Biz [Lindsay-Ryan] asking about the demographic of the student assignment committee earlier today. But I appreciate the public comment that we had in that regard as well. And I look forward to the process that you all engage in order to rectify that.”

The first meeting of SAAC is scheduled for April 29. Ms. Smith said minutes of SAAC’s meetings will be posted on the District’s website.

After publication, this article was updated to include the quote of Ms. Messinger.

 

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