Superintendent says D65 needs to raise achievement

Priya Khatkhate

Something needs to be changed in the culture of Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools in order to raise student achievement levels, Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy said at a board meeting Monday night.

Although he avoided specifics, Murphy called on all teachers and administrators to adopt high expectations for every child who walks through their classroom or office doors. The D65 faculty is working very hard, but something needs to change to spark a consistent and across-the-board increase in student achievement, he said.

“When children come to school on that first day, they come with stars in their eyes,” Murphy said. “Something happens in our institutions that turns out the light in their eyes.”

The persistent disparity in testing levels and achievement between middle-class white students and lower-income minority students cannot be resolved in the short term, but must be addressed in a variety of ways over the next few years, Murphy said. He set a target of three to five years for D65 to show a trend in increased state testing scores, which would show the district has changed its approach to instruction and trained teachers better, he said.

“We have to catch the disengaged children,” Murphy said. “It is our ultimate responsibility and our challenge.”

Murphy added not everything can, or should, be driven by “closing the gap” in test scores between white and minority students. If D65 focuses on that aspect of measuring student learning alone, success will be harder to achieve. Murphy suggested that the instruction of the core subjects such as math, science, reading and social studies might need to be changed.

One of the proposals to stimulate these changes is the Strategic Improvement Team plans, which include programs for guided reading, more effective instruction methods and uniform job expectations for all D65 teachers and administrators. The board and administration hope to increase student achievement in all the schools through these districtwide instructional goals.

Lynn McCarthy, a co-chairwoman of the SIT committee presented last year’s statistics. The district is trying to create a “focused and sustained” quality education throughout the district, she said.

While not all schools met last year’s SIT goals, McCarthy said all of the district’s schools will be expected to meet all of the plan this year.

“The SIT plans are connected with everything in the district,” McCarthy said. “This provides a support system that will help it to become more effective.”

Board member Betsy Sagan echoed the sentiments of the board when she endorsed the districtwide reach of the plan.

“Prior to (districtwide) SIT, schools had a lot more leeway to do what they wanted to do with it and that could lead to inconsistency,” Sagan said. “This is a chance to make it a living plan to help make sure the board goals for the entire district are realized.”

The Illinois Board of Education gave the district’s SIT plan a boost on Jan. 25 when it granted the district a $2.25 million grant that will be used mainly for the funding and expansion of teaching initiatives and teacher training programs. By training more teachers in the most effective methods of instruction, D65 administrators say that they will be able to raise consistent achievement over the next few years.

“There is now an elevated importance of SIT,” Murphy said. “It should define all those things that are important and essential for student achievement.”