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A group of Evanston citizens appeared before a joint meeting of the two public school boards Monday night to push for a stronger civic education curriculum in the community’s schools.

Speaking during the Public Comment portion of the meeting were former educators Vikki Proctor, Ken Kantor, and Tom Simms, who suggested that the boards add planning for a kindergarten-to-12th -grade curriculum be taken on as a project for the Joint District 65-202 Committee.

Twice a year, the two boards, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202, meet together, as they both serve the same geographic constituency.  District 65 provides education from kindergarten through 8th grade while District 202 operates the community’s only public high school.

Over the years, many efforts have been made to consolidate the two into a single district, but primarily because of the disparity between the two teachers union contracts, it has always been considered too costly and/or unwieldy to do.

In the meantime, the two districts have ramped up the cooperation between them in an attempt to simulate a single coordinated district. They call it “virtual consolidation.”

The commenters noted that, in 2015, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a requirement that high schools provide a semester of civic education. Beginning this fall, they noted, sophomores will be engaged in a year-long civic education class.

But the citizens group is pushing District 65 to recommit to civic education instruction at every grade level.

“Imagine kindergarteners meeting with police officers and middle school students communicating with our police to discuss safety issues,” they said.

“Imagine younger students learning about the workers of Evanston and older students engaged in the debate about minimum wage.

“Imagine our youngest understanding that where they live determines their representation on City Council and our older students actively involved in neighborhood issues such as the location of library branches.

“Imagine K-8 students able to discuss many points of view about any issues.

“Then, imagine students’ academic growth, as research supports that a strong civic education produces academic achievements.”

Presiding at the meeting, held at District 65 headquarters, was District 65 Board President Suni Kartha. She was joined with her counterpart at District 202, Pat Savage-Williams, the superintendent of District 65, Paul Goren, and superintendent of District 202, Eric Witherspoon, along with board members and senior staff members of both districts.

The agenda included a presentation of the Superintendents’ Joint Achievement Report and an update of equity initiatives on the part of both districts, designed to narrow the persistent achievement gap between white students and students of color, including reminiscents of board members who attended the 2017 Courageous Conversation National Summit, held in Detroit earlier this month.

Also during the Public Comment section of the meeting, several representatives of the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL) repeated demands made earlier Monday at a news conference at the District 65 headquarters, including that the district hire a director of black student achievement.

The next joint meeting of the two boards is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2018, at ETHS.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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