A group of African American parents of students enrolled in the African Centered Curriculum at Oakton Elementary School were told by Evanston/Skokie District 65 board members this week that the ACC was on the way up…not out.
The parents had observed a great deal of activity at the school that had made them nervous about the fate of the program that focuses on Africa, African American culture, and the contributions of African Americans.
The ACC program at Oakton was started in 2006-07 with students in kindergarten through the second grade. Each year another grade was added until it encompassed grades K-5.
Oakton Principal Churchill Daniels, who oversees the program at the school, had expressed concern to the board in June of 2012 that students enrolled in the program were lagging in achievement as measured by standardized test scores.
Specifically, reading scores of ACC students had declined on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test at the same time that they were rising for all district students.
The percentage of students scoring at the 50th percentile or better went from 68.2 in 2010 to 70.6 in 2011 for all students in the district, while comparable percentages for students in the ACC program had dropped from 35.9 to 32.7.
The board authorized Daniels to meet with teachers, administrators, and educational experts to come up with a strategy for improving the program.
Parents addressing the board Monday night were concerned that they were not being adequately consulted and said they were hearing rumors that the program was on its way out.
Some of the black parents noted that Hardy Murphy, who resigned as superintendent last August, was black, that the voters had rejected a plan for a new school in the heart of the black community, and that no blacks are currently serving on the board.
They contended that discontinuing the ACC program would be one more thing that would lead them to feel that the board was being “disrespectful” to the black community.
That assertion raised the dander of Board President Tracy Quattrocki, who reminded the parents that the last school board election was uncontested “and we would have welcomed people to run…We really wish there were more people of color on this board. No one is more disappointed in that than the seven people sitting here.”
And as far as being disrespectful to the black community, Quattrocki said “it would be far more disrespectful to the ACC to not want us to inquire about ways in which we could make it a better program and a stronger program, because I think if this board had sat here and said those kids are not performing at the level we want them to but we’re going to look at all the other classrooms in the district and not the ACC, THAT would be disrespectful.”
Board Vice President Richard Rykhus echoed those sentiments and added: “We really are trying to work with (Daniels) to do what’s best for the kids.”
Former board member Bonnie Lockhart concluded the discussion with the observation that the problem apparently was one of communication between the district and the ACC parents and concluded that she was pleased to learn that “this is not about closing. This is not about diminishing. This is about improvement.”