Consultant’s ideas find favor with D65 board

Nomaan Merchant

A consultant hired by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 presented a report Tuesday that commended the district’s middle schools for their “continuous improvement” but also offered 14 different suggestions for progress.

District 65 formed a committee in August to study ways to “maximize student achievement” of the district’s middle school students. The district hired consultant Cathy Berlinger-Gustafson to audit the district’s middle schools.


Recommendations

  • Revise curriculum guides to reflect state standards
  • Schedule parent conferences earlier in the year
  • Provide parents with course syllabi for every grade
  • Monitor curriculum implementation district-wide
  • Schedule common planning time for teachers
  • Monitor students who receive extra assistance
  • Improve instructional grouping
  • Re-evaluate elective course offerings
  • Foster parental and community involvement
  • Provide a welcoming environment in schools
  • Help teachers develop professionally
  • Organize teacher teams based on shared students
  • Improve teacher quality with training and support
  • Enhance communication with ETHS

In the past six months, Berlinger-Gustafson met twice a month with the committee, which consisted of parents, teachers, former students and administrators from both District 65 and Evanston Township High School.

Berlinger-Gustafson observed classes at five district schools and conducted focus groups of parents, teachers and students.

The auditor’s report lauded the district for its strong teachers, the “incredible, unique” cultures in each individual school and for providing vision and leadership for its students.

But the report also pointed out several flaws in the district’s instruction, as well as its communication with parents. Berlinger-Gustafson said middle school teachers across the district did not teach at the same rate, leading to some students feeling more prepared than others in subjects like math, science and writing.

The report listed concerns of past District 65 students who said they felt underprepared when they entered high school. Parents also said they needed more contact with teachers.

Implementation of the recommended improvements would not come cheap. For example, establishing teacher teams at three middle schools in the district would cost more than $200,000 over the next three years, according to the report.

“There are some hard things that are being said here and it’s important for us to accept those realities and work with them,” School Board President Mary Rita Luecke said.

Board member Sharon Sheehan said the district needs to start working on Berlinger-Gustafson’s points of improvement.

“There’s a lot in here that’s going to help us,” Superintendent Hardy Murphy said.

The board also looked into restructuring the middle school math curriculum by offering high school level honors geometry in three middle schools and one magnet school. By doing so, the district would avoid having to send students to ETHS, forcing students to miss parts of other classes.

Administrators also discussed creating a new sequence for sixth grade math students. Now, advanced math students can directly enter pre-algebra. If the sequence is approved, all sixth grade students would enter an everyday math class with pre-algebra topics.

Reach Nomaan Merchant at [email protected]