Evanston schools may include African studies

Nomaan Merchant

One or two elementary schools could gain a special African-themed curriculum in their first three grades, according to a proposal discussed Monday by an Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board subcommittee.

Students in the program would take classes with content geared specifically toward black culture. The program would refocus fine arts, science and social studies classes so they center around Africa and the achievements of black scientists, artists and political figures.

The proposal comes after months of discussion by the African American Student Achievement Committee (AASAC). If approved by the school board, the pilot program would take effect next school year, and the board would re-evaluate the program after one year.

The new curriculum, debated by the district’s Program and Policy Committee, is one part of a proposal aimed to boost the test scores of black students. Another part of the proposal targets teachers under whom black students have excelled by tracking students’ test scores in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Such educators would then serve as mentors for other instructors to help them teach black students better.

Committee members also discussed providing sensitivity training for district staff and purchasing more multicultural resources for libraries.

Cost projections for the proposal vary depending on whether the board decides it needs to extend the school day or the school year for participants in the curriculum pilot program. If the school board elects not to extend school hours for the pilot program, the entire program will cost about $100,000. Extending the school day and school year could cost more than $40,000 extra.

School board members at the meeting and other community members raised several concerns about the curriculum program.

Board president Mary Rita Luecke stressed the importance of admitting students into the program without taking into consideration race, gender, economic status or previous academic achievement.

But AASAC steering committee member Lloyd Shepard said the district needs to favor black children when selecting participants for the program.

“To me diversity is mighty superficial when you compare it to equality, and equality is what we are trying to address here,” Shepard said. “At some point, we’ve got to put the students’ welfare ahead of that.”

The extension of the curriculum past second grade was also discussed. Board member Sharon Sheehan said that by not creating a plan past second grade, the board would have to make “decisions year to year, (which) causes placement difficulties.”

Literacy Director Ellen Fogelberg, the main architect of the plan, said that the district did not want a curriculum program extending past second grade initially.

“We need a couple years to get it up and running,” Fogelberg said. “We knew we couldn’t bite off such a big program that we couldn’t do it well.”

The Program and Policy Committee will meet next Tuesday to further discuss the proposal.

Reach Nomaan Merchant at [email protected]