Parents stress technology at D65 town hall meeting

Sarah Cartmell

Parents, teachers and Evanston residents had one last opportunity Saturday to identify the problem areas Evanston/Skokie School District 65 needs to address in its five-year strategic plan.

A cross-section of community members spoke about their experiences with the problems besetting the district at a town hall meeting at Chute Middle School, 1400 Oakton St. Saturday’s meeting was the last in a series of five workshops held to allow community members to voice their concerns over the longterm direction of District 65.

Technology in the schools emerged as a polarizing topic of discussion, with people supporting both increases and limits to the use of computers.

Cole Sorensen, a fifth-grader at Kingsley Elementary School, said he enjoyed using computers to find information for his school projects. He also said using the Internet makes research easier.

But Tom Hermann, a District 65 parent, warned the district about relying on computers too much.

“It might be beneficial to emphasize human-human interaction in classrooms,” Hermann said. “We shouldn’t fall into the trap of kids relating more to machines than teachers.”

Andrew McGonigle, manager of construction projects at Northwestern and a District 65 parent, cited the schools’ infrastructure problems as an obstacle to the continued technological development of the district.

“The disparity between how technologically advanced the kids are and how behind and aged the schools are is hard to take,” McGonigle said.

Participants repeatedly raised the need to ensure that differences between students do not get glossed over. Behavioral problems and emotional needs have to be addressed, but that doesn’t mean grouping the children together in special education programs, participants said.

“We need better and more social services for at-risk students,” said Evanston resident Patt Plunkett. “Often it’s not an educational problem.”

Beth Lange, a District 65 parent, added that the reputation of the district is, “If you have a kid whose special needs aren’t that severe, you should leave.”

But while participants wanted to see an expansion in support services for children, they were adamant that the burden should not fall on teachers.

“We need more resources for teachers,” said Sylvia Baergen, a District 65 and Evanston Township High School parent. “They can’t be expected to teach when they’re trying to control behavior all day.”

Betty London, whose four children attended District 65 schools, echoed this sentiment.

“We need to have a school act like a school again, not a corporation.” London said. “The teachers are as good as they ever were but they don’t have the time to teach.”

Applause greeted Bob Carroll’s call for increased respect for teachers. Carroll, a District 65 teacher for 30 years, said there was a dire need to raise morale to recruit and retain teachers.

“The universities are very concerned with teacher morale, with sending student teachers to work with veteran teachers who feel they are treated, quite frankly, like dogs,” Carroll said.