At the District 65 School Board’s meeting on Aug. 31, Superintendent Devon Horton presented to the Board a plan called “Miracles Framework for Continuous Improvement, 2020-2021 School Year.” Each letter of the word Miracles represents a tenet of what he says is a school improvement plan, not a strategic plan. He said the letters stand for:

M - Motion Towards Equity

I - Improving Instructional Methodology

R - Relevant and Rigorous Course of Study

A - Attract and Retain High Quality Staff

C - Commitment to Accountability

L - Learning Environments that support student success

E - Establish Expected Targets Driven by Results

S - Sound Fiscal Stewardship

“Each tenet has a minimum of 5-7 indicators that are research-based strategies for school improvement in the areas of equity, the instructional core, rigorous materials, learning targets, accountability structures and sound financial planning,” said Dr. Horton. “Cabinet members [the top administrators] and their corresponding teams have been charged with developing work plans and department goals that align with these indicators.”

 The Miracles Framework contains a total of 82 “programs,” and for each program, the framework identifies a target group (e.g. students, teachers, administrators), planning and implementation steps, the program’s intended impact, who is responsible for implementing the program, its timeline, goals, and a communication plan.

The 55-page plan is prepared in a bullet-point type format, with virtually no narrative.

Dr. Horton’s Overview

In presenting the Miracles Framework to the Board, Dr. Horton said the District has an achievement gap that has been historic, and there are issues around providing access and the best opportunities for all students. He said the plan contains “a ton of what some will call ‘initiatives.’ These are really just actions that have to happen in order to align with our overall arching purpose.”

He said the framework contains the seven priorities that were adopted by the School District last year, and “we’ve added a component to that.”

He highlighted some key components of the framework.

Motion Towards Equity:  “If we as a District, if we say we are focused on equity, we’re equity-centered, and this is truly the vision of the District … we must be intentional about how we say it. We can't mince our words.  There's amazing policies in the framework that says this is what we stand for: equity, inclusion, all of those pieces have to be really spelled out. All of the programs in the equity section of the framework show how we're going to really march towards outward facing equity work.”

Improving Instructional Methodology: “We all know that the most important part of this work is the teacher. And if we're saying that we want to change outcomes and close the achievement gap, we must equip and support – sometimes get out of the way of – our teachers delivering high-quality instruction.”

Relevant and Rigorous Course of Study: This section of the framework addresses, “How do we really focus and create a curriculum that is rigorous, truly defining the action that we must take to provide rigor for our students?”

Attract and Retain High Quality Staff. “I know we talked about recruiting our most diverse candidates and most passionate teachers, but also let's retain the great teachers that we have.”

Commitment to Accountability. “When we talk about commitment to accountability, how do we design and hold ourselves, starting with the Superintendent and throughout the entire District, how do we hold ourselves accountable? Accountable just cannot be in words, it must be in action; and we are venturing into some new work, it's going to take some time.”

Learning Environments that support student success.  “On, my tours, in talking to different teachers and administrators and even a few parents and speaking about restorative practice, it has been a great addition to our District. But what our restorative coaches were doing was spending roughly 60% of their time dealing with helping teachers to set the right classroom environment, and our teachers were doing their best and the administrators were doing their best; but Central Office had to provide them with a little help with those resources.” Dr. Horton said the proposed budget provides for additional staff, which will enable teachers to focus more on instruction.

Establish Expected Targets Driven by Results: “We have to set targets. We cannot have our schools working on one set of goals, while the Central Office has not set them strategically and openly or has a different set of goals. So this is the establishing of expected targets and results.”

Sound Fiscal Stewardship: “And then finally, we must put our dollars where we say we value, while being fiscally responsible with the funds of our taxpayers.

“We're excited about where we are. I think we're about 60% of where we need to be,” said Dr. Horton. “We're building this out as we talk about strategic planning. This is why this is not the strategic plan. We felt like in order for us to really dive into building a viable strategic plan that can actually move and yield outcomes, we have to have this District improvement plan that's really driven around continuous improvement. And this is what we have here.”

Dr. Horton added, “This is not a final document. This is just us really being vulnerable and saying, here's what we're thinking. Give it back to us, and let us go back to work to design and create the structure. So we are open for questions.”

Examples of Some Programs in the Plan

The Miracles Framework contains 82 programs. Some of the programs are briefly described below to give an idea of what is included in the framework. The framework includes some easily attainable programs, and some momentous ones such as redrawing attendance areas, holding a capital referendum, and studying the need for a new school in the Fifth Ward.  As examples:

  • Establish a Superintendent/student advisory council to provide an opportunity for students to provide input on issues and decisions that impact the school community.
  • Support an emerging bilingual programming expansion, so that all schools ultimately have ESL support.
  • Establish and coordinate community wraparound services for students.
  • Recruit and retain high-quality teachers who are racially diverse and also have endorsements in hard-to-fill positions such as bilingual education, special education, and early childhood education.” After five years, “the teacher population will match that of the student population as it relates to racial demographics.”
  • Provide teachers at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center with training “to ensure equity for students who have historically been underserved by our educational system and to ameliorate gaps with our Black and Latinx students and to prepare all participating students for kindergarten and beyond.”
  • Develop a new student assignment plan, which will focus on students who do not have a local area school and students in overcrowded schools. One section of the framework says to change school attendance-area boundaries.
  • Use data “to prove all Evanston wards need a local area school (LAS)- redistricting;” analyze the achievement of current students in the Fifth Ward compared to those who attended Foster School, and “communicate the history of Foster School and desegregation to establish the new legacy of a 5th Ward School.”
  • “Create equitable practices for magnet programs and permissive transfer programs.” A goal is that “the D65 lottery system and permissive transfer process will be based on a new equitable and evidence-based model in which schools will be reflective of the Evanston community by the opening of the school year 2021-2022.”
  • Advance culturally responsive and standards-aligned curricula to “prioritize curriculum and curricular materials that are culturally responsive and standards aligned…”
  • Continue “the Tiered Professional Learning Model based on District initiatives, identified building needs, and differentiated learning opportunities for educators.” This is one program designed to provide access to grade-level, Common Core State Standards aligned tasks for Tier 1 instruction that are rigorous and improve learning for Black and Latinx students – one of the seven priorities adopted by the District last year.
  • Use data to evaluate “what is working and not working to improve instructional outcomes for students.” Also, use test data to assess racial inequity along college- and career-readiness standards and identify where educational leadership and instructional practice can be improved.
  • Create a high-functioning virtual online platform that provides deliberate and individualized instruction for all

    students.

  • Carry out the “high quality math and English Language Arts pilot curriculum initiative” to evaluate student performance with a lens for rigor in Tier 1 instruction, and with a goal of accelerating learning outcomes for Black and Latinx students “as measured by students making or exceeding expected gains and impacting the racial opportunity gap in D65.”
  • Conduct a social studies curriculum review with the goal of identifying “a core curriculum that increases exposure to non-Eurocentric narratives that is culturally relevant.”
  • Define a clear and comprehensive assessment system supporting Tier 1 through 3 assessments, with a goal that each educator will be trained on how to use the system “to inform teaching and learning.”
  • Use the existing report cards as a base to develop new formats to report student progress centering on standards-based feedback.
  • Provide professional development of assistant principals with these goals: by the end of the 2021-22 school year, the referral rates of Black and Latinx student for special education will be reduced by 15% districtwide, and 30% of Black students with IEPs will be educated in the general education setting 80% or more of the time; and by the spring of 2022-23, the mean MAP scores of Black and Latinx students with IEPs will increase by 10 points.
  • Develop Social and Emotional Learning tool kits to support SEL for students.
  • Establish a student engagement mentoring project to reduce chronic student absenteeism and increase students’ sense of belonging in the school.
  • Establish a bullying prevention program to support all students including LGBTQ students, to “create a successful anti-bullying program that develops students’ understanding of how to create a positive culture and response to observed incidents of bullying.”
  • Train social workers to support students experiencing racialized trauma.
  • Prepare a technology plan “focused on integrating technology into the teaching and learning process to transform the way teachers teach and students learn.”
  • Increase funding sources and increase efficiencies in collecting Medicaid funding.
  • Raise additional funding through a capital referendum “to address much needed District-wide capital upgrade needs” with a timeline of January 2024 – April 2025.

While the plan discusses student achievement, accelerating student achievement, and closing the achievement gap, the plan does not say how student growth will be measured, how accelerated growth will be measured, and how student attainment will be measured.

There are no overall academic targets that set expectations for the School District and measure whether there is adequate progress in improving student achievement and in closing the achievement and opportunity gaps.

The plan has a number of initiatives in the financial category, but there is no proposal to address the projected operating deficits facing the District and to bring the District’s expenses in line with its revenues. The District’s Finance Committee, however, has discussed the need to address the District’s growing projected deficits this fall.

Board Comments

Board member Suni Karta said, “A prevailing question that I had and that I saw some other colleagues had were about specific targets for student achievement.”

Kylie Klein, Director of Research, Accountability and Data for the District,  said, “I think it's important to recognize that this is, as Dr. Horton said, a work in progress. I think ultimately everyone on this team wants our work to impact student outcomes. And so what we need to do is just work to come up with a framework for how we're going to really measure these things, and how we're going to measure them in ways that are meaningful for each one of the projects that we're undertaking.

“Having incremental goals so that we can track the progress over time, I think, is really critical to making sure that we are making the progress that we need to see and making sure that we're measuring the right things. So if we think that a project is going to have a specific outcome, the measures have to align to that outcome. And so we'll be working to further refine these and really home in on some of those measures. And so I think that'll be a lot of work that's forthcoming as we further develop.”

Whether the District will establish targets for student achievement on an overall basis, rather than related to specific projects, remains unclear.

Ms. Kartha said she hoped people would read the Miracles Framework. She said there are some “really, really exciting things” that the Board has previously talked about that are in the document, mentioning the Student Advisory Council, looking at how the District can make sure that it is providing bilingual services at each school, and “really thinking through the school assignment plan to make sure that we are really serving our student population in the most efficient and best way that we can. I think that's really exciting.”

Board member Elizabeth Lindsay-Ryan said a historical issue for the District has been a lack of alignment among its programs. “And if we do not articulate well how all of these things are connected to our educators and staff, it feels like 42 different tasks. It feels like we've added these different components. And that was where we got pushback historically about having too many teams and too many things – I don't think we did a very good job of articulating how it all fit together and how it was all part of the same umbrella.

“I think there's great potential with this – this document – to help people see the synergies and see where all those connections are. But I want us to be really explicit with our educators about how this didn't just add 42 new things to their list. But that is how we, how it is strengthening and giving them more tools in their toolkit to be able to do some of the things that they have already committed to.

“How it gets communicated out, and how people are able to see this as a larger strategy not all separate strategies that are siloed will be really important,” continued Ms. Lindsay-Ryan.

Board member Soo La Kim said, “I felt like there was a lot of focus on culture and climate and that social emotional learning space, which I think is critical, so I was really happy to see the resources devoted to that, the personnel devoted to that, that training really needed to build that social relationship between educators and students. I think without that, no matter how many initiatives and programs you have, you're really not going to be able to operationalize any of the stuff.”

She added, though, “I think we need to be more explicit that that's what we're doing. That what we're trying to build here is that really healthy relationship between teachers and students in all aspects of their interaction, not just academics, and not just classroom management, but the whole kind of relationship. So I think articulating some of that vision up front would be really critical for the public facing document and for educators as well.”

In response to a suggestion that the District might streamline the document in the next draft, she said she would not eliminate a description of the action steps listed under each program.

Ms. Kim said, “One of the goals that I'm really interested in is the social studies curriculum. And I know that it's been in review for a while, and I know that there's been a community push to make it less Eurocentric, less based in white supremacy.” She said she would like to see more about that and more integration of that into the rest of the core subject areas.

Board member Joey Hailpern said, “I think sometimes it's about finding the right people and getting out of the way, and that holds true for your building leaders, it holds true for your cabinet, and also true for your teachers and your paraprofessionals – and everybody in the building. Giving people space to be great on behalf of community and kids is really important. But in this framework, you don't explicitly say it.”   

Board member Sergio Hernandez said he appreciated the emphasis at the beginning around equity and the family and community engagement piece. “That speaks to my heart. That's what I love. As an educator, we know that the parents are the first teachers.

“How do we continue to build capacity at home and then provide parents the opportunities to really know what is going on in school and ensuring that their kids are succeeding and advocate not only for their child but for the children?  I appreciate you looking at Karen Mapp’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework, which just had an update. I love it, love it, love it, because it holds all stakeholders accountable: educators, administrators, community members. So I think it's just a really great, great approach, and I’m looking forward and so excited about the school’s ambitious plan to really transform how we educate children and partner with families to create better outcomes in this town.”

Board President Anya Tanyavutti suggested that a revised draft of the framework articulate “specifically in a preface, or preamble or something that may accompany this document about how the seven priorities and how our previous strategic plan metrics are reflected. This Miracles Framework is building off of, or is an evolution of some of that work. We can be explicit about what those connections are, and not lose the work that has been done in those areas, to give some kind of homage to that work and explain why we need to make this shift and how this is going to get us where we do need to go.

“Just articulating how we are not necessarily reinventing the wheel here would be something that I think would be useful to explicitly lay out.”

Ms. Tanyavutti suggested adding to the framework that the Board is addressing the structural deficit and using a racial equity lens in making decisions about the structural deficit.

 Board member Rebeca Mendoza said, “It’s already been expressed that the framework, as presented is dense.” She suggested it be presented in “a way that the public can understand and that really helps them make sense of what they should expect to see in the classroom and schools and at a District level.”

She said an explanation should be added about how the framework was developed to ensure that everyone was on board, noting that two years ago the Board asked administrators to streamline the initiatives in the Strategic Plan and to prioritize them. 

“And I would love to challenge ourselves to find ways to incorporate environmental sustainability into this framework. Environmental equity should be considered as part of the overall motion towards equity.

“There's a lot of work and work that's being presented. And I love the enthusiasm and the full steam ahead approach. But, I just want to make sure everybody is on board and that we're managing change with care and mindfulness,” said Ms. Mendoza.

Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said, “I want to just like convey this message that we embrace this idea, that it's going to take time, but there's an arc to how we're going to do this. What we don't want to pull back on is the importance of laying that groundwork, both in a remote space and in person space.

“And I frankly, I'll speak for myself having been in this role now for – this is when I started my fourth year.  I'm energized by this opportunity. I really feel strongly that it's going to bring in – and a couple of people mentioned this – the importance of coherence and coordination.”

He said the Miracles Framework “brings together a continuous way for us to track and support each other and to know what our progress is over time. I've heard Dr. Horton say this to us multiple times: Create a long on-ramp or on-runway, create the longest runway you need to make it successful. The more important thing is that you've got to plan. … Our goal isn't to try to fix everything in the next three months. Quite the opposite. It is to really say, ‘Here's the vision.’ We have to be at least thinking about that vision, because you can't build something if you don't have a vision for it.”