Critics: Racial proposal hurts schools

Nomaan Merchant

Discussion of the creation and expansion of two programs designed to aid minority students drew harsh criticism along racial lines at a joint committee meeting of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 School Board Monday night.

The proposal, which must be approved by the full board, would phase out general education at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave., making all classes either African-centered or Two-Way Immersion.

Administrators proposed adding three kindergarten sections and one first grade section of TWI district-wide. If approved, six of the district’s 12 elementary schools would offer the program.

Two-Way Immersion classes combine native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. Classes are conducted in both languages.

The proposal also details a pilot program for an African-centered curriculum at Oakton. Two classes each in grades K-2 at Oakton would focus on the achievements of Africans.

Currently, almost 550 District 65 students participate in TWI, which is in its sixth year. But due to a growing population of native Spanish speakers designated as Limited English Proficient, district administrators said TWI needed to be expanded to three additional sites.

Board member Marianne Kountoures said allowing TWI to grow would cause general education classes to suffer.

“TWI is disrupting the structure of the schools where it has been placed,” Kountoures said. “We need to talk about capping enrollment in TWI.”

Board member Jerome Summers said the district should cut down the duration of the TWI program.

“Children are very adept at learning languages,” Summers said. “How come they can’t learn English in one year or two years?”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy, who presided over TWI’s creation six years ago, defended the program.

“I felt strongly about it then and I feel strongly about it now,” Murphy said. “I think it is an excellent way to teach English to (Limited English Proficient) students.”

Board president Mary Rita Luecke and other members suggested the creation of one or two all-TWI magnet schools in the district.

The creation of the African-centered curriculum also caused contention among audience members and board members. Board member Jonathan Baum said TWI “remains experimental” to him and that creating the ACC pilot at this point would be imprudent.

“If you have to make decisions, you don’t start the second experiment in the middle of the first experiment,” Baum said.

The school board must act, said retired District 65 teacher Carlis Sutton, a member of the committee which helped design the curriculum proposal.

“Now we’re asking for one program to improve the academics of African-Americans – and you’re sitting here nitpicking,” Sutton said.

But Kountoures predicted offering only TWI and the ACC pilot at Oakton would lead to a “white flight” from the school.

Summers said racism was at play during the deliberation of the ACC pilot, which targets low test scores of black students.

“If there were white children or Jewish children, they would be screaming from the rooftops,” Summers said. “(With) these figures we’re talking about here – something has to be done.”

Reach Nomaan Merchant at

[email protected]