District 65 deals with issues of diversity

Nomaan Merchant

Local schools need unity and conciliation amidst ongoing racial controversy, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy said in a speech Thursday night.

In his annual “State of the Schools” address, Murphy told about 30 area residents that racial tensions have overshadowed the positive aspects of the district.

“I think it’s important to understand that there are good things in District 65,” Murphy said. “If we only say that we’re bad, then people are going to think that we’re bad.”

The district’s board of education recently approved an African-centered curriculum pilot program for 60 students. The plan amounted to half of what many black community members wanted.

Murphy, who supported the larger plan as well, said the district needs to focus on making the approved pilot program successful.

“These initiatives create some very exciting opportunities for our schools to address the needs of our African-American students,” Murphy said.

After one community member questioned how the district deals with race, Murphy said discussions involving race, although necessary, can cause emotions to run high.

“It’s hard to have a discussion about different perspectives without someone feeling that their toes were stepped upon,” Murphy said. “If we can hear it and not overreact to it – perhaps we can find some common ground.”

Murphy declined to answer a question regarding a perceived lack of diversity on the school board, which consists of six white members and one black member.

“I don’t think that’s my question to answer,” Murphy said with a smile.

Murphy also addressed district parents’ concerns about scheduling, summer school and the district’s strategic plan for the future.

Some of the district’s achievements, Murphy said, included expanding the district’s Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program to three new schools, as well as installing a new middle school bilingual-education program. TWI brings together native English and Spanish speakers in one classroom to provide instruction in both languages.

Murphy also said the district had balanced its budget the last four fiscal years. District 65 also beat state averages in teacher turnover and in number of students per classroom.

Multiple district teachers were nominated for prestigious Golden Apple Awards, and the district also received a $100,000 grant from the state legislature to restore a set of murals at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave.

“A lot of times we focus on things that need work,” Murphy said. “In spite of what we’re going through, this is a really fine district.”

Reach Nomaan Merchant at [email protected]