The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board plans to take a closer look at its African-Centered Curriculum (ACC) at Oakton Elementary School in light of new data that shows a decline in reading scores among students in the program.

Oakton Principal Churchill Daniels, Jr., and his teachers in the ACC program told the board at its Monday meeting that the group plans to go back to the drawing board to determine what needs to be done to address the performance issue.

The problem is reflected in reading scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), which dropped last year for ACC students while it rose slightly for all District 65 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 scores for students in the ACC program dropped from 35.9 to 32.7.

Acknowledging that the data did not look good, Daniels promised the board that he and the ACC teachers at Oakton would dig into the numbers and come back to the board with an action plan.

Even Superintendent Hardy Murphy, a stanch supporter of the program, conceded that he had a problem with justifying a teacher for nine students in the ACC third grade class, while dealing with Lincolnwood School parents who were complaining of a regular third grade class with 27 students.

“We expected (the ACC program) to accelerate student achievement,” Murphy said, “but the fact of the matter is that it hasn’t happened. We have to step back and reflect where we’re going from here.”

The ACC program began at Oakton in the 2006-2007 school year in an effort to improve student performance among black students.  It integrates historical experiences of Africans and African Americans into core curriculum and learning standards and features low student class sizes and strong family involvement, according to the district’s website.

Although it is offered at Oakton, the program is available by application to students from across the district.

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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  1. Unfortunate start, an open mind, but dismal results

    I had doubts about this program after its proponents insisted that it be placed in two D65 schools about five years ago.  Looking at the promotional materials for ACC back then, the proposal was not based on proven results elsewhere.  Instead, as an educational proposal, you could best state that it was based on a wing and a prayer.  But emotions ran very high at one particular School Board meeting and I will never forget it.

    At that very contentious meeting, one man stood up and approached the School Board members' seating area.  It was very late (as I recall, well after 10 p.m.).  In a very loud voice (heard by all without a microphone), he equated the struggles of black children in school to a community being murdered then he equated murder to rape.  Then he stated loudly enough for all to hear but directed his question, by name, to one female Board member:  who needs to be raped for you to understand? 

    He also questioned why she sent her children to religious classes (at her own expense which he did not mention) yet she was not supporting his right to send his children to a program where they would learn their heritage.  (As a curious aside, this man did not enroll any of his D65 children in the ACC program.)

    That was the most distressing comment in an evening filled with accusations and loud voices.  It was decisionmaking by government at its worst — virtually no empirical data for the decision, just raw emotion.  In an apparent compromise, the districtwide program was placed only at Oakton School with only a few months to plan and implement the program.

    Despite this very unsettling beginning, I kept an open mind on this program.  I was hopeful that the achievement gap could be reduced by a program in which the children learned about the heritage and history of their ancestors.  But from what I have heard and read, the program has not met its educational goal.

    Each day, the children in the ACC program start the day with about 15 minutes in a group session in the lunch room singing or calling out responses accompanied by drums.  They call out affirmations such as "I like myself."  This session, held every morning, reduces crucial educational time on task for these students.  Over the course of 30 weeks, 15 minutes a day equals 2,250 minutes or 37.5 hours less of instruction in the year.

    Did anyone else see the teachers from the ACC program speak as a group to the School Board about one year ago?  I saw it and it was very distressing from an educational standpoint.  The teachers' focus:  they were succeeding in providing social services to their students.  There was almost no mention of the richness and challenge of the educational content nor how their students were excelling educationally in this environment.  While social services should be provided to children in need, should it be the focus of the teachers and at the expense of the children's educational advancement?

    Are we doing these children any favors by reducing the amount of time that they are in the classroom learning?  Are we doing these children any favors by having teachers (instead of social workers) focused on their social service needs? 

    Rigorous, demanding, challenging educational content, encouragement, and high expectations– that's what all of our children need to succeed academically.  And it is what D65 needs to provide to all children.



  2. Lincolnwood kids suffered enough. Time for new leadership.

    So D65 sends emotionally disturbed students into large Lincolnwood classrooms for the past three years while Oakton third graders enjoy a unique African-Centered Curriculum with only 9 kids in each class. Priceless

    In the past three years, the current third grade Lincolnwood class endured an average size above 25 students. Looks like Superintendent Hardy Murphy and D65 board members have ignored that problem until now when Lincolnwood parents had enough and finally rose up and organized. How in the world did Lincolnwood get such a shabby deal for so long?

    Several schools have TWI. Not Lincolnwood.

    Dewey Elementary got two additions since 2009 at a cost of about $7 million. Lincoln just got an $8 million addition and Willard got a $4 million addition. Not Lincolnwood, though board members are considering a paltry $1 million addition for Lincolnwood.

    What does Lincolnwood get? Above average sized classrooms, failed leadership and the district's ED program that takes up needed classroom space. Looks like there has been plenty of classroom space at Oakton or Walker that has declining enrollment and lower average class sizes than Lincolnwood. Why didn't ED students go there because they surely would get a better education in smaller classrooms.

    It doesn't help when D65 Board member Jerome Summers alludes that the overcrowding issues at Lincolnwood is payback for not passing the school referendum.

    It appears Lincolnwood has been the unwanted stepchild of D65. The inequality is outrageous.

    D65 Board members now say they will create a fourth class for the incoming fourth graders as long as they can eliminate a kindergarten class this year.  That's not solving Lincolnwood's overcrowding problem – it's fixing one problem but creating another. Meanwhile, the ED program remains at Lincolnwood and the proposed new fourth grade classroom I understand is so small that it would be cramped even for 15 students. 

    Lincolnwood's overcrowding problems should have been resolved years ago. We need new leadership to resolve them because the current leaders have failed Lincolnwood children, some of whom have gone home crying because of chaotic, out-of-control and overcrowded classrooms, according to their parents.

    1. Lincolnwood

      I'm sorry that your child is not thriving at Lincolnwood, but you should look at your other options.  Why not permissive transfer him/her to Oakton or Walker where there are small class sizes?

      Kingsley and Orrington are not overcrowded, and if your child transferred there he/she would end up back at Haven with his/her old Lincolnwood friends in a couple of years. King and Bessie Rhodes also have very small class sizes.

      Families permissive transfer all the time, all over town, because it is a more practical solution to a child's difficult situation in the neighborhood school than demanding new leadership and an addition or that another program leave that school.

      We're lucky in Evanston that we have these choices.  In fact, before we do any more building onto elementary schools, the administration and board should take steps to even out enrollments across the city so that all space is being efficiently and fairly used.

      It is unfortunate that Lincolnwood's needs weren't addressed in conjunction with the three other elementary school addition projects over the last three years, but that is the way the chips fall sometimes.  You have other, very good options for your child.

    2. Overcrowding at LW

      Overcrowding at LW is not a "payback" but instead a consequence of the referendum not passing.  The administration and board members brought a referendum to the community to solve the capacity problems facing our district.  It did not pass so those problems continue.  Without money, they are difficult to solve.

      PS – just wait until your child gets to Haven.

      1. Overcrowding is NOT a consequence of a failed referendum


        Lincolnwood is overcrowded because needed classroom space is taken up by placement of the district's emotionally disturbed students and the failure to build a necessary addition.

        There have been four elementary school additions in the past three years and the district had the money – still has the money – to build a decent addition at Lincolnwood.

        The new Fifth Ward school is not necessary to solve overcrowding problems because some schools have declining or stable enrollments such as Walker, Washington and Oakton. A new Fifth ward school would have cost taxpayers even more money to pay for operations and another referendum would have been necessary.

        The Fifth Ward does have the Family Focus building, a former elementary school which probably could have been retrofitted for a lot less than $28 million. Bordering the Fifth Ward is King Lab.

        There are other viable options in our district but the district's blatant behavior of ignoring the problems at Lincolnwood – namely sending emotionally disturbed kids into overcrowded classrooms at times without proper resources –  is unconsciable.

        D65 school board members Katie Bailey, Jerome Summers and Kim Weaver have had singular focus over the past several years on building a new school while ignoring the glaring problems at Lincolnwood.

        I hope they pay for their negligence next April with their positions on the school board. It's time we give Hardy Murphy the boot rather than a contract extension.


      2. District enrollment

        How do you explain the fact that the Illinois School Report Card says that there are only 12 more students in D65 in 2011 than there were in 2003? 

      3. There’s room at Bessie Rhodes

        While the district is wringing its hands over how to justify the bad choices it's made about programming so far, and verbally punishing the population that has pointed out the failures of those bad choices, I wonder why no one seems to be considering returning the Bessie Rhodes (underpopulated and undersuccessful) magnet school to a regular attendance area school as it used to be when it was Timber Ridge.

        That would relieve the population pressures on Willard and Lincolnwood, and Haven, too.

        How is this school hiding?

    3. Problems at Linconlwood

      I sympathsize with neglect of lincolnwood by the district.  I think you can look to gen ed parents at Willard for allies though.  TWI is good for students who happen to be in the TWI program, but it is bad for everyone else.  Willard can no longer have whole school assemblies in its auditorium because the school is to big.  Class sizes in gen ed have also gotten large since TWI was brought in.  As for the addition?  while it is good to get space, it was in adequate.  The TWI program consumes six class rooms, and the addition only got two more.  They really messed up an opportunity to add more space.

      It is time for parents of general education students to get some representation on the board instead of people who will buy in to interesting new programs while disregarding concerns about classroom space.

      and no, we do not need a referendum to add classrooms or re-draw attendence boudaries that is packaged with building a 5th ward school.

  3. IEP kids failed by district

    Didn't anyone see the numbers for the kids with IEPs?    Does the community just write off these kids with learning differences?   This is outrageous!  Check these numbers out – between the years 2008 -2011


    Reading (at or above 50 percentile)

    3rd grade – down 28%

    4th grade – down 18%

    5th grade – down 21%

    6th grade – up 4%

    7th grade – down 4%

    8th grade – down 6%


    Mathmatics (at or above 50 percentile)

    3rd grade – down 13%

    4th grade – down 43%

    5th grade – down 32%

    6th grade – down 37%

    7th grade – down 22%

    8th grade – up 3%


    This is not acceptable!   Kids with IEPs can learn just like any other kid.   They might benefit from master teachers and small class sizes – heck – all our kids would benefit from that.   But whatever we're doing right now – it aint working one bit.

    You can find the data, plus nice charts from Mondays' board meeting at

    Check it out.




    1. Kids with IEPs

      You are right, Jane, these numbers are crazy.  What's even crazier is that Murphy wants to cut more corners to the inclusion program and, like he's doing with Fine Arts, is framing it as a program redesign. 

      The whole inclusion design that was rolled out 3 years ago in D65 was based on the co-teach model.  The idea was that inclusion for that year would be in Kindergarten with a full-time co-teach model (one Reg Ed & one Spec. Ed. teacher working together).

      There was very little training or prep time for the teachers before the program started — I believe it was decided on a few weeks before school began. Then the following year these co-teachers were no longer in one class full-time. They were split between two classes and so kids who needed support didn't have it or they would have an aide in the class. Aides can be great, but have very little trianing and are not teachers.  This year those co-teachers are split between multiple classes and grades. It's ridiculous.  

      Children with and without IEPs are being adversely effected by these half-baked plans.  Now their new idea is reducing co-teaching even more and pushing into the classroom with the supports kids need.  This can make sense for certain services, but not all.  If it's not staffed properly, which I doubt it will be given the districts track record on this, it could be really disruptive and counter productive for everyone.

  4. ACC truths

    • The principal of Oakton has NEVER been behind this program. He does not believe in it and does not want it in his building. It is a fact! That is problem #1.
    • The teachers in the ACC program also are frustrated beyond words at how mis-managed ACC has been from the beginning. Point of fact: one of the ACC teachers, whose children are enrolled at Oakton, are not enrolled in ACC. If the teachers themselves mis-trust the program, how can it be successful? Don't blame the teacher for this decision, blame the higher ups of D65 for making it so unattractive even for Oakton's teachers.
    • The ACC program has been used as a dumping ground for "problem children" since day one. Black children who were "too tough to handle" in general education classes have been re-directed to ACC and the teachers are told to fix their issues. Most of the children in ACC are wonderful children, but the fact that struggling students are dropped into this program on a whim with the hopes that they will evaporate because they are now in a classroom with other black children is laughable and ignorant beyond comprehension.

    Hardy Murphy will not give up this program and it will continue to flounder because of the facts stated above at the expense of Evanston's black youth.

    1. A different view on the stated “truths”

      #1.  Principal Carter has been a strong supporter of the ACC program.  He is not the reason that the program is floundering and failing. 

      After almost a decade of the school being mismanaged by the previous administration, Principal Carter has spent this tenure running Oakton School like a school, rather than a social service agency.  The bells are close to on time, students are expected to arrive on time and student behavior overall is far better.  While I don't agree with the principal on every count, he is not that scapegoat that those who want to save the ACC program from elimination can tag with the program's failure.

      #2.  Who is causing the mismanagement of the ACC program?  If, as you say Hardy Murphy will not give up on this program, who is failing to do what needs to be done to make the program, prized by the superintendent, a success?  That sounds a little illogical to me as it would be career suicide to impede a program so valued by the superintendent.

      And remember, a few months back, the ACC teachers had the opportunity to tell the School Board directly about any frustrations that they were facing when they all appeared together at a School Board meeting.  During that session, I heard nothing but happy teachers talking about the program.  Why no talk of mismanagement or frustration then when they were all sitting face-to-face with the decision makers for the District?

      #3.  The ACC program as a "dumping ground for 'problem children' "?  I've heard exactly the opposite.  D65 has sent representatives to homes to recruit children for the ACC program who D65 thought would be successful in school. 

      And as far as students being transferred into the ACC program because they are a problem — I don't know of any students who have transferred into ACC classrooms from other Oakton classrooms in the last couple of years.  If such redirections have occurred, who is ordering that they be done?  It's a voluntary program — parents must agree to have their children placed there.  Also, the other Oakton classrooms are 70-80 percent minority enrollment with experienced educators.  There would be no reason to shift children with behavior problems out of those classrooms and certainly not for the reason that they would "evaporate" by being with other minority children.  They are almost with a group that has a large majority of minority students.

      But I do agree that there are behavior problems with the ACC classrooms that need to be addressed.  Unfortunately, students have told me that during fine arts rotation (such as drama, art and music in which students from different classrooms are combined), disruptions are routinely caused by ACC students who are not being respectful of the teacher, goofing around off task, etc.  One ACC student in fourth grade (this is a 9 or 10 year old) even cursed at the music teacher in front of an entire class, calling the teacher the "B" word for all to hear.  I do not know the reason for these behavior problems but they should be addressed as they are not helping the educational advancement of these students.

      When the ACC program was placed at Oakton School, the school was supposed to become the Oakton Language and Literacy Center (or some such name).  That promised program of enhanced language study for all students was, at best, a lame effort that totally flopped.  So Oakton got yet another program to manage with virtually no support from the District administration. 

      The ACC program's dismal educational results are cause for alarm.  We are not serving these children's educational needs.  And due to that, the educational scores for the entire school are further pulled down so Oakton is viewed as a "failing school" overall.  It is not fair to the ACC students or the rest of the Oakton community to continue the ACC program when the program has had six school years to show success and it has failed to do so. 

      If only D65 had looked to other programs with proven results for minority students six years ago, we would not have wasted six years on an untested experiment with years of children paying the price for a poor education.

      1. FYI…Mr. Carter was removed

        FYI…Mr. Carter was removed almost 5 years ago.  Mr. Daniels has stated to many teachers and parents that he does not believe in ACC. 

        1. Oakton’s principal

          Mr. Daniels speaks ill of ACC to parents and teachers?  I'm an involved parent at Oakton going on 5 years and have not once heard him say a bad word about ACC.  I have heard him defend it on a couple of different occasions.  He also spoke on ACCs behalf at a recent board meeting. 

          I don't envy his job one bit– trying to get three academic strands with different focuses and populations to co-exist harmoniously in one school.  It isn't easy.  There is the widely felt perception that ACC separates itself from the rest of the school.  This is not driven by the students, but by some of the teachers in the program.  There are many activities, field trips, and programs that TWI and Gen Ed come together to participate in & colaborate on, but ACC opts out.  If I was a parent in the program, I would be furious knowing my kids were missing out on these amazing learning opportunities. 

          Also, a few of the people commenting on here have referred to the dwindling population at Oakton.  Oakton has about 430 students this year.  Last year it had 440.  So dwindling isn't a super accurate description.  Also, anyone who has ever been in the school knows that while its got a huge footprint, the classrooms are smaller than other schools.  The classes that have 20+ kids in them feel very tight.  A classroom that has 15-17 feels about right, spacewise.  Point being, Oakton shouldn't be included on the list for space relieving stratagies in the district.

      2. Oops — my error but point remains

        The current principal is, of course, Principal Churchill Daniels.  He has my full support as the leader of Oakton School.  The ACC program, however, needs to be acknowledged as a failed experiment and it should be sunset by the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

        Look at the research on the numerous benefits of learning a second language as a young child.  Then tell us District 65, why Spanish and Mandarin (at least) are not offered in every D65 elementary school to every student?

  5. Supporting Oakton School and Mr.Daniels

    As a former parent at Oakton School, I can attest to the hard work, outstanding leadership and dedication that the principal, Churchill Daniels, continues to maintain for his school.

    He gives tremendous support to ALL of the programs that Oakton houses, including the ACC program! I am continuously amazed at the time, energy and heart he puts into Oakton and its programs!

    I will continue to support Oakton and Mr.Daniels from afar, even though my children are no longer there.

    He has an incredibly tough job and I believe he is does it well.

    So, just like any program, I'm sure there are challenges that need to be addressed with ACC, but I can guarantee you its not that it doesn't get the full support and backing from the principal! So stay focused on solving the real issues!

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