Evanston/Skokie District 65 is transitioning its social science curriculum toward more culturally responsive, diverse and rigorous units of study, Director of Social Sciences Jamila Dillard told school board members during a committee meeting on Monday.

So far this winter and spring, Dillard and her team have worked on updating lesson plans in topics like history, civics, economics, geography and culture “to include more rigorous grade level standards-aligned assessments” and “to be more educator-friendly,” she wrote in a district curriculum document updated monthly.

But early returns are mixed, particularly with the new middle school curriculum, Dillard said.

“Across the district, we’ve gotten a pretty consistent level of feedback in regards to the content not being as strong as we would like for it to be, specifically for the middle schools,” Dillard said. “While there are multiple perspectives [included], which is great, there was content missing from the 6-8 drafted units.”

From left: District 65 school board President Sergio Hernandez, Superintendent Devon Horton and school board members Biz Lindsay-Ryan and Tracy Olasimbo at a Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting in November 2022. Credit: Duncan Agnew / Evanston RoundTable

The district originally had written its own social sciences curriculum for every grade level as part of an effort to formulate an “all-inclusive history curriculum,” according to Stacy Beardsley, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. The kindergarten through fifth-grade lessons have worked out well thus far, Beardsley and Dillard said, but the middle school plans need more substantive content as required by the state.

As a result, 14 middle school social science teachers are currently piloting a different curriculum from Seattle-based nonprofit Educurious, “which appears to be more aligned to the district’s priorities of relevant and rigorous course of study … than the current new D65 units of study,” Dillard wrote in the curriculum document shared with board members.

Responding to a question from board President Sergio Hernandez about inclusivity and equity in the curriculum, Dillard said the current plans feature a lot of diverse perspectives on history and culture, but not enough actual content about specific events, for example.

“Writing the middle school units of study is an ambitious task, and we really did need to get one curriculum that could do the content deeply and approach it from multiple perspectives. Writing it on our own requires continuously updating sources,” Beardsley said. “We want to be able to adapt above the content and not be building the content as we go.”

Moving forward, the district will gather more data and feedback from the educators piloting Educurious before making a final decision next month about launching that curriculum across all middle schools for the 2023-2024 school year, according to Dillard.

“If we can’t find what we need, we will make it, but if we can find [the curriculum], then there’s no reason for us to make it and use staff time,” board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan said Monday.

Dillard also noted that even if the district does decide to go with Educurious for its middle school social science curriculum, teachers and administrators can still mold that framework as they see fit to reflect the values and mission of District 65.

“With the school work plans that will be presented in August, it’s going to be a heavy portion of parent and community engagement, not just within the school itself, but with the content and schools being more responsible for helping parents to learn more about the curriculum and how to engage with it,” Superintendent Devon Horton said.

“The more touch points we have on that, the quicker [parents] can grow in knowing how to leverage these resources.”

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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