Board members challenged the effectiveness of some of Evanston Cradle to Career’s programs at a joint meeting of the Evanston High School and District 65 school boards Monday night.
Sheila Merry, executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career, updated the school boards on the organization’s progress toward three goals:
- Increase kindergarten readiness to 85 percent by 2025
- Support parents as their child’s first teacher
- Streamline access to supportive services for a strong start to kindergarten
Merry acknowledged that the goal that 85 percent of children will be ready for kindergarten by 2025 is ambitious. According to a January report to the District 65 school board, the percentage of children having the literacy skills that make them kindergarten-ready had declined from 53 percent for the 2014-15 school year to 49.3 percent for the 2018-19 school year.
To help support parents in their role as first teacher, Merry cited a Talk, Read, Sing initiative launched in 2016, in which parents receive text messages suggesting ways for them to communicate with their children to build language skills. She said about 750 parents participate in the program in English, while a similar program in Spanish was launched in December.
Merry said she was surprised by the decline in kindergarten readiness. She said all of EC2C’s grants this year were focused on children from birth to kindergarten.
District 202 board member Jonathan Baum suggested taking the kindergarten readiness standards and developing interim metrics so a child’s progress could be assessed throughout the early years. Merry noted that those standards will come from Teaching Strategies GOLD, the basis for the Strong Start to Kindergarten materials developed for preschool teachers and parents.
Anya Tanyavutti, vice president of the District 65 school board asked if Merry had a theory about why the kindergarten readiness numbers had declined. Merry responded that she sees parents handing a phone or tablet to their children and that they’re losing the interaction between parent and child that helps build language. She also noted that many early childhood teachers struggle to maintain an effective learning environment in the classroom.
Monique Parsons, ETHS board member and president/CEO of the McGaw YMCA, noted that both school and non-school factors affect kindergarten readiness.
“Until the community talks about the non-school factors, the number will continue to go down,” she said. “What happens from the day a mother gives birth until she walks in to register for kindergarten matters.”
Merry expressed frustration about the “underutilization” of Family Connects, a home family visiting program, saying the slots are being used by families outside Evanston. The goal of the program is to visit a family within three weeks of birth.
“Why would someone want to ‘utilize’ a home visit,” said Gretchen Livingston, ETHS board member. “Nobody wants to utilize a home visit of a total stranger. It’s strange that you think someone would want that.”
Rebeca Mendoza, District 65 board member, wondered if EC2C would train parents as leaders so it’s not just a “professional coming to tell me how to raise my child.”
Merry agreed that mothers may be reluctant to have someone come into their home but federal funding requires visits in the home.
Merry also described efforts to provide access to counseling within 48 hours for children or parents who have experienced trauma.
She said the Childcare Network of Evanston was the main driver of the counseling initiative and that three therapists of color had been hired and were available to all their early childhood partners.
Merry noted that a coaching program to help early childhood teachers with teaching and classroom management is also being administered by CNE.
Tanyavutti asked if EC2C had identified institutions that are particularly effective and therefore could connect other preschool teachers to observe those successful schools.
Merry said they haven’t yet identified those successful programs and suggested different early childhood centers may have strengths in different areas.
Tanyavutti suggested that income level might explain the disparity in successful outcomes and recommended that parents be educated as to what to expect from preschool.
In response to a question by Lindsay Cohen, District 65 board member, Merry acknowledged that EC2C currently offers no supports for working mothers.
D65 develops learning goals for preschools (2/25/2019)