Some Evanston District 65 School Board members encouraged an expansion of the African-Centered Curriculum to other schools while others, including the program’s administrators, urged caution at a working board meeting Monday night.
Jamilla Pitts, ACC program leader, said the program is succeeding for many students despite challenges caused by student demographics, including an overrepresentation of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch compared or have McKinney-Vento status (an indicator of homelessness) compared to the district as a whole, and a high level of transition into and out of the program — about a third of students are new each year — in a report presented to the board.
The ACC program was established in 2006 as part of a “larger effort of improving the academic achievement of African-American students.”
In 2016 Pitts and the ACC team selected a new curriculum that “shifted the focus from the curriculum content (what is taught) to the instructional approach (how students are taught) and views teaching and learning as a joint activity,” asserting “if nothing of the teacher’s activity resulted in some advance in the development or learning achievement of the students, then that teacher has not yet taught.”
Pitts said that ACC students are succeeding, with 36-47 percent scoring above the 60th percentile on the Measures of Academic Progress tests given in winter 2018.
The report also showed significant percentile growth for eight students who had been in ACC for three or four years, though Pitts acknowledged that some students may have started at such a low level that after growth of 15 points they might still be in the bottom 25th percentile.
Pitts hopes to enhance recruitment and stabilize the flow of enrollment so that more students enter the program in kindergarten and remain long enough to benefit from the teaching approach.
“The African-centered pedagogy is simple in its description yet demanding in its delivery,” Pitts said, so she sees the need for professional learning and curriculum design specific to ACC.
“This is something that we need,” said Anya Tanyavutti, board vice president. “We have the talent, the expertise, the model. Based on what we’re hearing from families, something amazing is happening. How do we spread this to other schools?”
“Collectivism helps and teachers working together makes a difference,” Pitts said. “We’re still learning. How do we know what is different here?”
“ACC teachers know they’re making a commitment beyond the terms of the contract,” said Michael Allen, Oakton principal. “How do we replicate that mentality?”
“This is not one-size fits all,” said Deborah Osher, Oakton assistant principal. “We’re having a constant conversation about what works. Teachers have autonomy to do things differently.”
“How can we expand ACC district wide?” asked Sunith Kartha, board president. “This is a great program but there’s hesitation. There’s a disconnect for me.”
She suggested that perhaps another ACC program be established at another school. “I appreciate the caution,” she said, “but I hope to hear about expansion soon.”
Board member Candance Chow said she was struck by the statement that success is when children have learned, not just when they have been taught and asked, “How do you permeate that?”
Pitts said that teachers need to build in a student’s ownership to be a learner. “That’s why continuity of children is so important,” she said. “When they present to us they’re not always committed to their own learning.”
“This is a very important moment,” said Superintendent Paul Goren. “We have solid, dedicated leaders and a commitment to equity. What does scaling the program really mean?”
“Every year we get reintroduced to ACC but we still don’t have a plan for what success looks like in three to five years,” said Board member Rebeca Mendoza.
“We see challenges and great successes in this program, but it seems hard to replicate,” said Chow. “It’s hard to decide to open another strand without enough demand for this one.”
“We’re still having a challenge in recruiting,” she said. “Is there a challenge of place and distance as a barrier, rather than information?”
“There’s a perception that the program is not supported,” said Kartha. “We made an effort to have the bilingual program in neighborhood schools. This is a district that’s organized around neighborhood schools. Is part of the problem that it’s at only one school?”
“Part of the initial lack of investment was related to anti-black sentiment,” said Tanyavutti. “This is an opportunity to challenge that with data, which is a very Westernized measure of success, but there we are.”
“The culture and climate at ACC is not something that can be packaged,” she said. “There’s secret sauce here. Can we invite teams from other schools to visit and see how it works?”
“I would have selected ACC for my daughter if it was not so far from our house,” she said.
“I’m an Oakton parent,” said Goren. “The elephant in the room is that people in this district avoid Oakton. We’ve got to take the gem that is Oakton and sell it.”
Mixed results from curriculum redesign at Oakton (6/11/2018)