Evanston’s two public school boards met in a twice-yearly joint meeting Monday night to discuss and celebrate their efforts to collaborate in making a seamless, yet effective, experience for students from kindergarten through high school.
In the center were the presidents of Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Tracy Quattrocki, and Evanston Township High School District 202, Pat Savage-Williams, flanked by superintendents Paul Goren of District 65 and Eric Witherspoon of District 202. Radiating outward from the leaders were individual board members from both districts.
At a table in front of the board were administrative directors from both districts.
Because the meeting was held at District 65 headquarters, at 1500 McDaniel Ave., it was chaired by Quattrocki. Their next joint meeting will be held March 14, 2016, at the high school, chaired by Savage-Williams.
In past meetings, there was always an overtone of consolidation, followed later by a model of “virtual consolidation” in which they act as if they were a single district, with District 65 dealing with students from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and District 202 from ninth through twelfth grade.
Monday night, however, the word “consolidation” was not uttered by either group. Yet it was readily apparent that joint collaboration had become a way of life for both districts.
Evanston schools at all levels score above average on standardized tests when compared with the typical Illinois school district, but both districts express mutual frustration over the “gap” in scores of students from low-income vs. high-income families as well as African American vs. white families.
Acknowledging that students come into the public school system with gaps due to their diverse backgrounds, the two districts last year joined with more than 40 non-profit organizations to create a group dedicated to enhancing the educational development of the area’s youth from cradle to career.
Its executive director, Sheila Merry, addressed the group Monday night to update them on the organization’s progress towards its major goal for the year of enhancing community literacy.
She said that five “action teams” are at work on various projects, such as health and safety, parent/caregiver empowerment, preparation for adult life, fostering community supports, and, of course, literacy.
One group, she says, is working with the city to expand the 3-1-1 telephone service to incorporate communitywide social services, while another group is developing texting tips about parenting.
Following her presentation, the boards heard from the data professionals of the two districts—Peter Godard, District 65 Chief Officer of Research, Accountability, and Data; and Carrie Levy, District 202 Director of Research, Evaluation, and Assessment—who have developed a “snapshot” of current reading performance for students at all grade levels that will enable both boards to determine the effectiveness of their joint efforts on college and career readiness in reading.
An agenda item on calendar coordination was quickly dispensed with, as both districts have agreed upon the starting and ending date of school and the holidays each will recognize for the next two years as a result of the actions of a joint calendar committee.
Another item that was passed over rather quickly was the legislative update, as action on bills that would impact the school districts have been stalled for months in Springfield while legislators have argued over passing a state budget for the current fiscal year.
Nevertheless, members of both boards have frequently discussed the adverse impacts on their budgets if the state should shift pension responsibilities to the local school districts or if it should declare a freeze on local property taxes.