Leaders of the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership vowed at a meeting Wednesday night to continue to hold the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school board accountable for improving black student performance.

Our goal is to “change the political landscape of the school board since they make the decisions,” said OPAL founder Cicely Fleming.

Fleming, who’s also 9th Ward alderman, says the group is working on discipline and curriculum issues and other ways black students interact with the schools.

Meeting with a group of about 40 at the Levy Senior Center, OPAL leaders outlined the group’s accomplishments, including co-sponsoring an open job fair to encourage diversity in hiring and forming a task force to enhance outcomes for black students at the JEH Early Childhood Center.

OPAL also organized a press conference last fall to demand better academic outcomes for black students.

OPAL pushed successfully for creation of two new positions at District 65 — an executive director for black student success and an equity instructional coach — and will be represented on the candidate review committee for these jobs..

OPAL leaders and meeting attendees discussed disciplinary issues, including the much higher suspension rate for black than white students and the achievement gap for black students.

Roger Williams.

For academic achievement assessments, regardless of which one you look at, “children of color, particularly black children, are doing worse than anyone else,” said OPAL president Roger Williams.

Noting the areas of success OPAL has achieved with the D65 board, OPAL secretary Alyce Barry said that while she is encouraged by the hiring of additional black teachers, “we are not yet happy with how many they are hiring.”

“The number is still proportionately low considering the percentage of black students” in the schools, she said.

“We are also concerned about whether they are following through on their commitment to not only hire black teachers” but support them, Barry said.

OPAL is also focused on encouraging the school board to review and support the African-Centric Curriculum at Oakton School.

OPAL board member Alex Morgan said the group is also planning sessions for parents on how to advocate for their children in the schools.

Another initiative is finding and supporting pro-equity candidates for school board elections next spring.

“This is not the time to sit on the sidelines,” said Williams. “Get involved. Come to board meetings” and hold the board accountable to implement their equity goals.

Join the Conversation


  1. Isn’t that discrimination
    Isn’t that discrimination when the agenda is just to promote black students and black hiring?

    Title VII and all the other related Civil Rights Act passed by Congress is to protect equality regardless of each individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, which includes equality for white, asians, etc.

    This could be a basis for a discriminatory action against the school then and potential legal liability if this agenda is instituted.

    1. Aren’t things unequal right now?
      Your comment sums up something I often debate in my own head. But the data that Opal has gathered ( shows that there’s a lot of inequality with current practices. If we’re for equality, don’t we have the responsibility to focus in on specific under-indexed groups until the culture and politics can sustain equality on their own?

      I’m obviously not a lawyer, and I’m not trolling here — I’m genuinely interested as someone who spends a lot of their time learning how to lift up under-indexed folks in my field (which means spending extra time and money vs. just hiring the white males who apply in abundance).

  2. None of these problems are
    None of these problems are caused by the school board, the school administration or the teachers.

    1. D65 should remain color blind
      D65 should remain color blind and hire the very best teachers and administrators they can find. I am offended by OPAL, their demands, and tactics.

    2. Leave No Child Behind
      The funny thing about this group is that they pretty much have the same anti-teacher agenda as those on the Right.

      They just couch it in different terms.

      There is a ton of research suggesting that early interactions of infants and toddlers set the stage for learning and performance. District 65 gets the kids after these crucial years.

      If the group is actually concerned about children’s achievement they would look at early childhood intervention. This doesn’t involve the school board.

  3. Good intentions but misguided leadership
    I fully support the efforts of OPAL to increase the academic performance of black students, and i would also encourage OPAL’s leadership to focus on hispanic students too.

    Indeed, the statistics are sobering as OPAL’s website states. I agree that “something” must be done.

    However, where I and OPAL disagree is on that “something.”

    So what is that “something?” I wish i had the answer and possessed that Magic Wand.
    I don’t have it, and neither does OPAL. But i do know the solution doesn’t have its genesis
    in political rhetoric.

    I would suggest that the Administration lead, instead of being led by OPAL on evidenced based solutions.
    The achievement gap in Evanston is NOT unique to Evanston; it’s a nationwide epidemic, and it is an epidemic.

    Let’s dig and search deep into the underlying causes and challenges confronting our students and families in Evanston.
    Let’s ask difficult questions – i.e. Is Institutional Racism THE cause for the Achievement Gap? From my lense, I do believe
    that Institutional Racism is a contributing factor but it’s not THE cause, like some people and organizations with an agenda to advance want people to believe. There isn’t one cause or one reason or a simple solution. Do you seriously believe in Donald Trump’s rhetoric when he tells people he can solve the problems facing our country? If not, then why don’t you use the same standards of skepticism when people tell you they know the answer to the Achievement Gap and if you only attended their conferences and participated in their seminars our problems would be solved?

    The Achievement Gap is a complex web of issues and it starts at birth. The family is the cornerstone of a child’s development and if we truly want to provide equity for all students, we will need the greater Evanston community to embrace this holistic approach to child development in a more intentional and purposeful manner. Economic resources amongst families differs widely, family structures differ widely, and each child’s needs differ widely and there are many other differences to consider.

    Schools only have our children for a limited amount of time, and yes the administration and staff need to be held accountable for the money we spend and the resources they use to educate all of our children.

    While i am pleased to live in Evanston over 30 years and have all my children go through the Evanston schools, I am very concerned and dismayed at the leadership in our community which has taken a political approach towards educating our children as opposed to utilizing sound, evidenced based educational programs to educate all children in Evanston.


    1. Well Said
      Thomas, well said. I agree with your “what that something is” point as well. I did go onto the OPAL website, but I couldn’t find any proposed solutions to the situation. The website provides a lot of statistics illustrating the achievement gap, but nothing on what they think will work to change that.

      Numerous studies have pointed to early childhood development as a necessary condition for good educational performance. Unfortunately, D65 only gets to the students beginning at kindergarten. The 5 years before that has to be solved for.

      As for what D65 does and can improve on for student performance, that’s the big question. I moved my kids out of Dewey years ago because I found that some teachers didn’t seem to have a consistent pedagogical method for the curriculum. I’m not sure that hiring teachers based on racial proportions is the elixir for this – it can help. But I think the school district should just be hiring the best teachers for each subject matter. Other factors like classroom size and providing teachers with the proper resources are also extremely important.

      But also, parents have a lot of the burden on this too. I know that economic situations can get in the way of parents being able to spend time with their kids’ education, and so the community needs to provide assistance in this area. But parents are the ones who instill the drive, the will and the desire to learn in their kids.

      Anyway, those are my two cents.

      1. In your last paragraph you’re
        In your last paragraph you’re referring to Systemic Poverty and Institutionalized Racism/Sexism. While Suburban Housewives sit and mew over coffee and mimosas about “the problem” with a thinly veiled attitude of betterness, others are actually battling the problem itself and failing miserably. They don’t need to be patronized, they need a living wage, better working conditions, affordable housing, universal healthcare and affordable childcare. This is not a quick fix, it is a total societal restructure. When your child was removed from Dewey, a public school, for inconsistent pedagogical method, where did your child go? A Private School?

        1. What’s your point?
          I think what you’ve stated is the obvious. I agree there’s institutional racism/sexism and that there is socio/economic injustice in America. But what are the specific solutions that OPAL proposes to address the academic achievement gap, and why would such solutions be effective? Someone else posted links to an Atlantic article on African American English, and perhaps why that should be treated as a foreign language as a foundation for improving the achievement gap. That’s an interesting concept. But a blanket statement that African American teachers need to be hired to teach African American students is not the same thing. I would love more diversity in teachers, but again that has to be subordinate to the teacher being well qualified to teach. What the article seems to suggest is that schools provide a way for African American students to “translate” local dialect to academic dialect (and vice versa) in order to strengthen/develop the students’ critical thinking abilities and become fluent in academic discourse. That makes a lot of sense. However, just demanding that more African American teachers be hired and that will solve the achievement gap isn’t very persuasive.

          By the way, please don’t engage in the same stereotyping for which you are fighting against. I’m not a mewing suburban housewife.

          1. Different science for different cultures ?
            Do they want Latin American students to be taught with the Aztec base 20 system so as to be ‘culturally’ sensitive ?
            Or students from Iraq to be taught with base 60 ? Abacus for Chinese students so they don’t fall behind ?
            Why does the school Board, some teachers and some parents assume non-white students can’t learn like everyone else ?

    2. What if average academic skills don’t change over time?
      it is important to recognize that lack of improvement in average scores on valid tests of academic skills, such as reading, for example, has been observed for all ethnic groups, as indicated in the table below that shows SAT Critical Reading
      averages for designated national samples of high school seniors for selected yeas between 1987 and 2011.

      SAT Critical Reading average selected years
      1987 1997 2001 2006 2011

      507 505 506 503 497 All students
      524 526 529 527 528 White
      457 451 451 454 451 Mex-Am
      436 454 457 459 452 Puerto R
      464 466 460 458 451 Oth Hisp
      479 496 501 510 517 Asian/Pac
      471 475 481 487 484 Amer Ind
      428 434 433 434 428 Black

      SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001), Chapter 2. SAT mean scores of college-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years, 1986-87 through 2010–11

      Looks like we haven’t been able to promote improvement in this important academic skill for any subgroup: the 2011 all-student mean on SAT Critical Reading is only slightly lower than in 1987. Will anything that might be done make a difference? Quien sabe. But given experience to date, we may be forgiven for doubt that the averages in 2020 will differ materially from those in 2011 (except possibly for Asian and American Indian groups).

      1. So where is the problem ?
        If the schools or are the problem, the Superintendent can move teachers around [busing probably won’t work].
        If the teachers are the problem, the Superintendent should be able to replace them [after a reasonable hearing].
        If there is something in the school [lack of equipment, labs, books, etc.] the Superintendent should re-allocate resources.
        Thus the Superintendent should be able to quickly fix these problems !

        If the problem is parents not supporting their children, helping them student, not enforcing study hours and respect for education, there is probably not much the schools can do.
        If it is peer pressure [gangs, ‘school/learning is not cool’], the schools and churches may be able to give some aid, but with the community seeming to preach “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.”, refusing to punish crime/bad behavior and blame everything on discrimination, not self-responsibility.

    3. Possible “somethings” to do
      There are probably many different answers to “what causes the achievement gap.” Let’s see how many different ways we can contribute to lessening that gap, which has endured despite years of effort to eradicate it.

      I believe that we in Evanston most of us have the best of intentions. But It might help if we took a careful look at unintentional impacts of the way we teach language, the way we track our students, and the way we discipline our students, despite those good intentions, in both District 65 and District 202.
      (The authors of the book described in this post recently spoke at Nichols School.)

      If the folks at OPAL keep asking our education leaders to explore these questions, it may very well improve the education of all our students.

      Thank you all for your thoughtfulness and care about this issue.

  4. Offended

    I’m offended by Ald. Fleming and her whole agenda. It is skewed and does not promote equality in Evanston. True fairness is about everyone being equal, treated with equity and not promoting one race  over another. Have to speak the truth to resolve the disparity. It’s about being honest and that will bring everyone together. 

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