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Longer school year is on D65 wish list

school-reform

If they had their way, the new Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board would like to see a longer school year, a longer school day, and every child receiving pre-kindergarten preparation in reading, writing and arithmetic.

If they had their way, the new Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board would like to see a longer school year, a longer school day, and every child receiving pre-kindergarten preparation in reading, writing and arithmetic.

These desires were expressed Monday night at the monthly “working” meeting of the board, at which the group received a detailed analysis from the administration of test results for the past year that demonstrated positive results from programs that address these issues for selected groups of at-risk students.

While the discussion centered around district goals, members were cognizant of the fact that implementation strategies would have to address such critical issues as financing, union contracts, and parental acceptance.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy’s presentation was littered with such acronyms as EXPLORE, MAP, ISAT, SAT-10, and PALS, but the upshot was that District 65 students have not only increased their scores over the last three years but have also made modest gains in narrowing the gap between white and minority students.

For example, reading scores indicating grade level achievement between the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2011 showed an overall increase from 68.5 percent to 76.6 percent, with black students increasing from 45.7 to 58.3, Hispanic students from 40.8 to 53.8, and white students from 90.6 to 94.7. Similarly, math scores increased overall from 67.7 percent to 76.3 percent, with black students increasing from 42.7 to 54.4, Hispanic students from 45.3 to 60.6, and white students from 90.2 to 94.6.

“The rate of improvement for African American and Latino students,” Murphy noted in his written memo accompanying the results, “ is greater than the rate of improvement for white students,” yet he emphasized that “our efforts to close the achievement gap are not at the expense of white student achievement. Their achievement also continues to improve.”

While no votes are taken on discussion items at the working board meeting, individual statements by board members tended to support the superintendent’s assertion that positive movement has occurred towards meeting the district’s goals for student achievement, district finances, and school environments.

They also seemed to be impressed by data that showed better results for students who entered school with some pre-kindergarten experience and for special extended-day efforts directed at students experiencing academic difficulties.

Richard Rhykus, one of the newly elected members, noted that all research shows that early childhood education makes a difference and that it is important for the board to “set a priority for making that happen.”

Tracy Quattrocki agreed that “we have to do something radical in the early grades.”

Andrew Pigozzi said the “trends are very good,” but expressed a desire to bolster the efforts for providing schooling during the summer months. He said he was “hoping that there’s been some thought on how we achieve that.”

Jerome Summers, the only black member of the board, noted the importance of parental involvement, which he said he still does not see enough of in the black community.

Kim Weaver and Board President Katie Bailey both said that enhanced summer programs were necessary to counter what they referred to as the “summer dropoff.”

Also last night, the Board heard a presentation on programs for improving writing by students in the district.

Ellen Fogelberg, the district’s literacy and early childhood director, presented the district’s writing plan for 2011-2014, which calls for an increase in the amount and types of student writing, including writing workshops. She said the use and amount of writing in all of the content areas increases the likelihood that students will use writing to learn new material.

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 stations and business-oriented magazines.

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