At the June 7 District 65 School Board meeting, each Board member was given the opportunity to list three to five things they would like to have placed on the Board’s calendar for the coming year. Conceptually, the input will be taken into account in prioritizing what will appear on the Board’s calendar and be discussed at the Board’s meetings in the next year.

The comments were made against a backdrop where some major initiatives are underway at District 65, including: 1) the full return to in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year; 2) a plan to reduce the structural deficit, projected to reach more than $10 million by 2015-16; 3) a plan to implement a new student assignment plan, which may include redrawing attendance areas, closing a school or schools, and establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward; 4) conducting a study of the District’s facilities; and 5) preparing a new five-year strategic plan.  

The District has retained three consulting firms to assist in these projects. Several Board members suggested the need to coordinate the work on these projects, to hold community forums in public, and to give the Board a chance to weigh in on the work in progress before final reports are prepared.

Priorities Listed by the Board

Joey Hailpern said, “My first [priority] is near term. … “I would like, as a Board, to be in the know on how resetting the in-person environment next year is, and things that are being put in place to make that successful and to reconnect with our kids and community – both as a District, but also within each school site.”

Board Vice President Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan added as term goals “getting as many kids vaccinated as possible, reducing our need for additional spaces once it is safe to do so in the rentals, and then making sure we had the mental health support and academic support to address any thing that emerged in the pandemic.”

Donna Wang Su said she wanted to know how many students will need the virtual option this coming year, and she wanted to ensure that “we do have the proper technology access” and that students will have “Wi Fi internet consistency.”

Sergio Hernandez said, “The Student Advisory Council actually sets a couple of agenda items, which I’d love to discuss in the Policy Committee around block scheduling the expansion of foreign languages in our middle schools, or even in our lower elementary schools.” He added that he wanted to support “the piece around relationship-building and social emotional supports as we returned back to school,” and wanted to make sure that families are clear about what the protocols are, and that families are well informed in all the languages that they prefer.

Soo La Kim said, “I’ll just add to the return to school recalibration that everyone’s mentioned. I know there will be a big emphasis on social, emotional, and mental health of our students as they return. So just how are we tracking that? And how are we measuring the health and emotional health of our students as they come back?”

Ms. Kim continued, “I think last time we talked about what our theory of change is, and I think what we want to change most is that gap in opportunity to achieve. I think if I had to think about what are our shared theory of change is … it’s that the culture and climate piece is crucial to the supportive and safe learning environment for our students, that the curriculum has to be relevant and responsive, and that we need representation among our staff and educators. So those are kind of three pillars for me. All under the umbrella of racial equity that we’re trying to move towards, what are the updates? And what are the metrics that we are using to keep on that goal?

“Then there are the really bigger pieces of long-term initiatives that we’ve heard presentations from the various consultant groups. I really think there needs to be a tight, tight coordination, as we mentioned. And as I was thinking here, if there’s a Student Assignment Committee proposal, I don’t think that I could really assess it accurately without the master [facilities] planning piece and vice versa. So, any proposal that comes for the Board, I would want those two pieces to be together and coordinated, so that we can evaluate them together.”

Ms. Kim continued, “And then I know [Superintendent Devon] Horton that you’ve put a lot of emphasis on teacher feedback and teacher professional development, which is such a critical piece of moving the culture and climate of schools. I know there have been a lot of classroom observations, which I think are critical to giving feedback, just-in-time feedback to educators. So, I’d like to see updates of the impact of that feedback. And that feedback loop that is so critical, where are we seeing that impact in the classroom, in the cultural climate of the schools?”

Ms. Lindsay-Ryan said she would like the Board, by the end of next year, to “have a date in mind about a Fifth Ward school,” and that “some of these other things are being coordinated in a way that is really meaningful.” She added that in the equity space, she wanted the Board to have “a clear language strategy that is implemented across our District and in collaboration with District 202 and the City … for emergent bilingual families.”

Mr. Hailpern said, “I think a critical aspect of Board work, obviously, is fiscal stewardship. But the strategic plan and the facilities plan – those are Board tasks that obviously staff does a lot of work with, but we have to own. So, I definitely want to see regular updates, preferably when it’s around facilities, from architects and engineers, I want to hear the good, the bad, I want to hear the ugly even if it means zooming them in. It would be nice to hear the work that they’re doing to help us craft these plans that are supposed to be our anchor documents for long-term facility usage, and planning for long-term development of a vision for the District.”

Mr. Hailpern added that one of his fears about the consulting work being done is that consultants will meet with community groups and gather information and “then they’ll all go back and do work and then come back to present a plan.” He said it would be great if the consultants provided feedback to the Board along the way, so that the Board could give input along the way. “I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes we ask questions that can change the trajectory of the plan a little bit as it goes, because information brings new questions. And I would hate for them to get so far down the line that now we’re all of a sudden being pitched with another contract because we’ve exhausted the six months we agreed to, and there’s more work to be done. Because they are big projects. And I just want to make sure that we’re getting feedback, but we’re also able to give feedback along the way.”

Ms. Kim, added, “Just to piggyback off that, I think the timeline is less important to me than that. We get the work done right and coordinated. And we get a plan that’s comprehensive.”

Mr. Hailpern added that master facility planning is “big, long-term stuff,” and he thinks it “has to happen at these public meetings in the open with the engineers [who] have to come and speak to the engineering, so that we can hear as a community in a public forum.

Ms. Kim said, “I think a good checkpoint would be when they do the facilities audit. And they have a sense of the life of the buildings and their assessments. There doesn’t have to be any action steps that they’re proposing. But it would be great to get that information before they put their plans together, so that we have a sense of what we’re faced with fiscally as well as planning-wise.”

Mr. Hailpern added that it would be good for the District to look at ways to maximize the District’s investment strategy and to engage in financial planning so that “the realization of a Fifth Ward school doesn’t have to come via cutting all these other things.”

He added that the Board “needs to be educated enough on what the options are to be able to make decisions to achieve our goals that hopefully are in the strategic plan to kind of bring it all together.”

Ms. Lindsay-Ryan said “making sure we’re dealing with the structural deficit” continues to be a priority.

Marquise Weatherspoon said, “I did want to add to the mental health piece of our students. That was my main concern is how are we going to address that and how we’re going to be able to implement that during the school day.”

Ms. Su said, “I think that we can’t forget about our teachers and staff, especially with their mental health. And one thing I’ve been hearing as people are starting to transition back to in-person is the toll it’s taking physically. And so kind of checking in with the students and our teachers and staff just overall, how things are going.”  

Sergio Hernandez added that he thought it would be beneficial if the heads of various parent committees, such as the Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee, ABC, the early head start parent Policy Committee, came in and talked to the Board every once in a while “to weigh in on some of the pieces we are thinking about as we move forward with strategic planning, with the master plan, with student assignment.”

Board President Anya Tanyavutti said she would like to have updates or reports on the Create program, the African Centered Curriculum program, the Two-Way Immersion program, the early childhood program, math acceleration in the middle schools, and algebra in the eighth grade.

She said it would also be important to get updates on the student assignment planning, the facilities planning, and the strategic plan. She also mentioned the District’s restorative work.

Ms. Lindsay-Ryan added a few more priorities. “I think it would be helpful for us to have as we transition from equity weeks to that being a more comprehensive curriculum, an update and a conversation for our communities to understand how that’s getting embedded in the social studies curriculum. … I think there’s going to be a need for some kind of continued conversation there.”

She added that she would like to have a report on discipline and an analysis of which students, by racial groups, are being disciplined.  She said she was concerned about this as student returned to in-person learning.

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...