Afrocentric program vote could come in February

Nomaan Merchant

A pilot program to introduce a curriculum centered around black history and culture might be enacted by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 by late February.

The district’s African American Student Achievement Committee discussed an Afrocentric curriculum Monday night. The committee was formed in September 2005 to find solutions for the discrepancies in test scores and student achievement between black and white students.

Over the past few years, black students have consistently scored lower than white students on reading, math and writing exams. In 2005 only 47 percent of black third-graders met or exceeded state reading standards on the Illinois State Achievement Test. Twice as many white third-graders met or surpassed the standard.

In District 65, about half of all black students met or exceeded reading standards compared with almost 94 percent of white students. In mathematics, about 61 percent of black students and almost 94 percent of white students met or exceeded the state benchmarks.

So far, AASAC has discussed several different proposals to incorporate a curriculum emphasizing black culture. A handout distributed at the meeting highlighted that the Afrocentric curriculum would place black students “at the center of the educational experience as a subject rather than an object.”

AASAC members along with faculty, parents and community members browsed through a sample workbook for elementary school children with Afrocentric themes. The workbook asks students to define the meaning of black culture, “black English” and the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Committee members have discussed the creation of a “school within a school” in one of the district’s existing buildings, which would maintain an Afrocentric curriculum. But Superintendent Hardy Murphy said this option is only one of a “number of program strategies discussed.”

A proposed pilot program, which would test the Afrocentric curriculum on a limited basis in one or two schools, could reach the District 65 Program and Policy Committee on Feb. 6, Murphy said. If the board subcommittee approves the program, the full school board would vote on instituting the program on Feb. 21.

A complete Afrocentric curriculum could be finished by summer, said Rodney Willis, the co-chair for AASAC’s curriculum committee.

Committee members recently visited Chicago’s Woodlawn Community School, which has already instituted an Afrocentric curriculum. Members said Woodlawn’s program provided a blueprint for changes in District 65’s own curriculum.

“(The Afrocentric curriculum) is a little bit vague, and what the visit does for us is to help us visualize what it looks like,” said Ellen Fogelberg, the district’s literacy director.

Fred Hunter, a teacher at Haven Middle School, 2417 Prairie Ave., said teachers can make the curriculum work for students in the district.

“The teachers (at Woodlawn) believed that each and every child can learn,” Hunter said. “The teachers felt a personal responsibility for the children to learn.”

The Daily’s Lee Ettleman and Anna Prior contributed to this report.

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