Most Black Evanstonians and their families are skeptical of local school leaders and educators when it comes to their ability to meet the needs of Black students, data collected through the Amplifying Black Voices research project revealed.

Northwestern University’s kihana miraya ross, an assistant professor of African American studies who uses lower-case letters in her name, and her research team interviewed and surveyed more than 400 Black residents over the past year to get a sense of their perceptions toward District 65 and the newly planned Fifth Ward school. She presented her findings to the school board’s Curriculum and Policy Committee on Monday, March 13.

Just 37% of survey respondents said they agreed with the statement that “overall, teachers want Black students to succeed” at the elementary level. That number went down to 34% for middle schools.

“I think the opening of the school will be very significant, and I just want to say that this data was collected just on the heels of the decision to reopen the school. And there are folks who still don’t quite believe that it’s going to happen,” ross said. “So I think actually seeing it happen, for Black folks in particular, will make a huge difference.”

But District 65 still has work to do in establishing relationships and gaining the confidence of the local Black community. A majority of respondents identified the following three items as top priorities, especially when it comes to the long-term success of the neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward:

  • Having enough Black teachers and administrators in the school
  • Having a curriculum that meaningfully includes Black history and culture throughout the year
  • Having the school help create a sense of community

“This is a big thing, particularly with mental health and the desire to have Black folks in the building who can support Black students in navigating mental health issues,” ross said.

District 65 Manager of Student Assignments Sarita Smith said Monday that she will use the Amplifying Black Voices data as part of the Student Assignment Planning process, which is looking at where district programs should be located to best serve students once the new school opens.

More than half of the surveyed Black residents said they wanted to see the District 65 education center focus more on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), as well as Oakton Elementary’s African Centered Curriculum (ACC).

Northwestern Assistant Professor of African American Studies kihana miraya ross.
Northwestern Assistant Professor of African American Studies kihana miraya ross. Credit: Northwestern University

Many of the people interviewed had not heard of ACC at all, according to ross, but still wanted that type of offering for all local kids because they currently do not feel like Black culture and history is “meaningfully included” in the curriculum. Just 37% of respondents said their preferred educational focus would be on the existing standard curriculum.

Smith also gathered her own data through surveys with students and staff as part of the student assignment project, and 71% of District 65 staff said they supported the opening of a Fifth Ward school, though 81% also acknowledged that student assignment changes and a new school will create more complex work for the district.

“We can’t expect people to just trust that that building is going to open. There’s been such a lack of a delivery of promises that it’s very important that we not get in our feelings,” Board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan said in reaction to ross’ data presentation. “We’ve inherited a legacy that has done an incredible amount of racial trauma.”

Soo La Kim, vice president of the school board, also added that some people in the community still do not support a Fifth Ward school, which she described as proof of why Black families remain skeptical.

But ross pointed to another reason for that, as well. “Part of the population that doesn’t feel like the school should be open are those folks who feel like [it’s] too little, too late, who feel like we waited until the neighborhood was gentrified to such an extent that it wouldn’t be a ‘Black school’ any more,” ross said. “That’s important to highlight because there’s an important distinction there in that population.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. I don’t know about all the issues affecting black students because I am not black, and I haven’t lived in a black community. I am hispanic, however. So I know about some not so good school statistics and this is what I think: The best and maybe the ONLY way kids appreciate education and are committed to it is if their parents are themselves excited about school, and are completely convinced that through an education one can achieve great things. So they pass their excitement to their kids and the kids do well in school. As far as hispanics, who come here because they don’t have opportunities in the old country, the role of the parents is even more important: Because moms and dads count on their kids to be educated and able to take the opportunities offered in this country to better their economic situation.
    So I was shocked when years back at Haven school a young black student told me that he didn’t do well in school because “I don’t want to be like ‘whitey.'” I was shocked! Who was he hurting??? Whitey? No! He was hurting himself! So I say, stop not wanting to be like whoever and just be yourself the best you can. Best than “whitey,” best than everybody! So you get to be like so many amazing black people, such as Frederick Douglas, who was a slave who escaped and learned to read by himself and became one of the great men in America! Or Malcolm X! Or Sojourner Truth, a great abolitionist and women’s’ rights campaigner, or Charles Drew, a great scientist or Fred Jones, an inventor, or George Washington Carver, a pioneering agricultural scientist and researcher! Or…Elijah McCoy… SO MANY AMAZING BLACK MEN AND WOMEN!!! Try to be like them!! Because you also have a potential like them. And above all….forget about whitey!

  2. Would it be possible for the RoundTable to post a link to the full report including the survey’s methodology? Many thanks in advance.

  3. This is an extremely disturbing article It leads with “ Most Black families in Evanston do not not trust the school leaders and educators to meet the needs of their children” 63% of parents whose children attend primary school believe that their children’s teachers do not want them to succeed 66% of parents whose children attend middle school believe their children’s teachers do not want them to succeed. This is more than a slap in the face of every teacher who gets up every day and teaches anywhere from 65 to 100 students in middle school. There is a subtle or maybe a not so subtle suggestion that these teachers are racist. Why else can you explain why a teacher who looks out at her/ his classes singles out the Black students to “ fail” ? ms ross apparently doesn’t worry about any repercussions from what she writes But I find it extremely inflammatory Our teachers deserve much better !

  4. I read these results differently than the School Board. Look at the data;

    – 79% of Black Parents want a curriculum that prioritizes STEAM
    – 72% of Black Parents want a curriculum that includes black history (but only 26% of Black Parents think the District is doing a good job at that)
    – 37% of Black Parents think that the District is prioritizing their kids

    If you were to poll white parents, you’d find an almost identical set of results. Everyone wants our kids to have an education that is:
    1) high quality – focused on science, reading, and math
    2) celebrates black history
    3) and is composed of teachers and administrators from the community who have things in common with your kids.

    Despite what Ms. Lindsay-Ryan or Dr. Horton say, this is not the priority of the current Board and Administration, who are focused more on developing their resumes and businesses. Consider the evidence:

    District 65 Awarding Contracts to Dr. Horton’s business partners and friends:

    District 65 Hiring a felon, skipping background checks, putting him in front of kids at Rice, and then paying him for services not rendered. All with the equity budget money!

    These parents have every right to be suspicious of the District. Evanston failed black kids before, and this administration is failing them again, this time while personally monetizing the whole endeavor. The District needs to get back to basics: hire and retain the best teachers, hire from our local community, audit the budget and allocate more funds directly to getting the best staff in front of the kids who need it most.

  5. Could you explain the methodology behind the surveys? What sampling methodology did they use?

    I noticed on Ross’ website that she is trained as an ethnographer and none of her publications involved survey research.

    Given the ways the District conducts its own ‘surveys’ (leading questions, convenience sampling) it is important to recognize data limitations and how that may limit the certainty of the findings.