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 also said about 3,500 copies of the Strong Start to Kindergarten Activity Guide, available in both English and Spanish, have been distributed.

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.”

Gretchen Livingston.

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.

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Join the Conversation


  1. Choose your parents well.

    A simplistic method for D-65 attaining its 2025 goal of 85% kindergarten readinees would be to encourage out of city parents whose  children are now kindergarten ready to move to Evanston.

    1. What happens to kids who “didn’t choose parents well?”

      There shouldn’t be a lot of surprise in Evanston regarding the “Achievement Gap” and for those who express surprise, they’re naive, ignorant or just acting politically.

      The question becomes what can the Evanston community do to help kids become “KIndergarten Ready” and be reading at “Grade Level”(hopefully higher) by 3rd grade?

      Those are the 2 milestones that should be ingrained in every educator, parent, grandparent and aunts and uncles throughout Evanston.

      There aren’t any simple solutions since raising kids is one of the most complicated multidimensional challenge a parent will face. And when you think you’ve got it figured out with one child #2 comes along and throws you a curveball.

      But let’s cut the crap and start focusing our time and attention on evidenced based programs that have demonstrated success and let’s help kids who need the help get “READY for KINDERGARTEN and READ AT GRADE LEVEL by 3rd GRADE” If the Evanston community can rally around this and make real progress, THAT will be success.

  2. EC2C Report to Joint School Board Meeting

    I wanted to clarify a few things regarding my report to the Joint School Boards on Monday.  First, while the texting program is one piece of the Talk, Read, Sing Initiative, this is a broader initiative working with health care providers and other EC2C partners who work with parents of young children to reinforce the importance of talking, reading, and singing to children from the moment they are born. New research shows that over a million neural pathways are forming in baby’s brains every second. Talking, reading, and singing builds critical early literacy skills. 

    Second, I regret my response related to technology’s contribution to a decline in readiness.  While I do firmly believe it plays a role, I am concerned that it may be interpreted as the sole issue, which is most certainly not the case. I believe there are a myriad of factors contributing to our children not being adequately prepared for kindergarten and Ms. Parsons is absolutely correct that the answers lie not with the district, but with us as a community. We must figure out how to better support our families.

    I also want to explain that Family Connects is a proposal, not one that has yet been implemented, but rather an evidence-based model that we hope to get underway in the coming year.  We hope that it will build a gateway for parents to get useful information and to access services and supports they may need to overcome the challenges so many parents face.  One of those resources is Home Family Visiting, which I noted is an underutilized resource in Evanston.

    Finally, Ms. Cohen’s question referenced at the end of the article was specifically related to parents who are forced to return to work within two weeks of giving birth.  While much of the work EC2C is involved with directly impacts the needs of working mothers, we have not specifically looked at the unique needs of parents who have so little time at home after giving birth.

    Thank you for the opportunity to clarify some aspects of my report.

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