D65, D202 collaborate on plans to boost literacy

Paul Thissen

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and District 202 school boards held a joint meeting Tuesday, primarily to discuss strategies for improving adolescent literacy.

Administrators from both districts highlighted the collaborative efforts already underway to assist students who struggle with reading, focusing on the ability to transfer reading skills to other disciplines, such as history or the sciences.

“We are thinking broadly about literacy — how to help kids read, write and think in a variety of disciplines,” said Laura Cooper, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Evanston Township High School.

Both districts have developed in many disciplines a common-assessment test for various schools and classes in an effort to gauge student development. The tests are only standard within the district and do not resemble national or statewide standardized tests.

The local tests are used to ensure that students entering high school have a common base of knowledge and skills. For example, algebra classes at the middle schools are now identical to the algebra classes taught at the high school.

According to Ellen Fogelberg, District 65’s literacy director, some students are doing well in reading classes but have trouble in other subjects because they cannot absorb information from the textbooks.

Another issue administrators said they struggle with is how to maintain student motivation. To accomplish that, some teachers have discovered innovative ways to bring outside activities into the classroom to raise interest.

“Many kids are into text messaging,” Fogelberg said. “We want to bring that skill to school.”

Word processing and other technology skills are vital to literacy, according to Judith Ruhana, chairwoman of ETHS’s English department.

Administrators stressed the importance of community involvement in the education process. To achieve this end, the two districts are jointly sponsoring an event by Theresa Perry, author of “Young, Gifted, and Black,” to be held March 23. In addition to the educational value for students and teachers, organizers said they hope the event brings in people from the area to help with troubled students.

But cooperation between the districts is not something new. QUEST, a program at ETHS, brings minority students to meet with eighth-graders in District 65. Project EXCITE sends high school teachers to instruct third graders. But according to Barbara Hiller, assistant superintendent of District 65, teachers would like more opportunities to collaborate on joint efforts.

In addition to the literacy discussion, four community members made comments defending District 65 teacher Vikki Proctor, who was punitively transferred following a protest against the No Child Left Behind Act that some staff members called racist. The ETHS teachers council, District 65’s educators council and a petition signed by teachers in both districts supported her.

“Vikki Proctor should be returned to her classroom,” said Bruce Mitchell, a retired English teacher.