Parents disagree over pilot program

Nomaan Merchant

For months, community activists have pushed for the creation of an African-centered curriculum pilot program aimed at raising black students’ test scores.

After the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board approved the pilot for only one school in March, the activists rallied in support of extending the program to Kingsley Elementary School, 2300 Green Bay Rd.

At Kingsley, parents and administrators say they would welcome a one-year pilot, even if its immediate benefits are unclear.

Starting next fall, about 60 students from across the district will take classes with content matter in certain classes geared towards the achievements of blacks. The program will be housed at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave.

Some district school board members have suggested re-opening discussion about establishing the pilot project at Kingsley. The board rejected the program for Kingsley in March.

Districtwide, black students have consistently scored lower than white students on standardized tests, a trend which holds true at Kingsley.

Many parents at the school say they want to see the pilot implemented for at least one year even though they were unsure if the program would work.

“It’s a good idea,” said Jean Anderson, the mother of two children at Kingsley. “If it’s something the board wants to try out, that’s fine.”

Pam Smith, whose two children attend Kingsley, said she hoped the pilot program would lead to an eventual integration of the pilot’s content into the general education curriculum.

“It’s time to bring that information and history to the forefront,” Smith said. “It’s not just (black people’s) history, it’s everyone’s history.”

But some parents said they were skeptical about separating students along racial lines. District administrators anticipate most of the applications for entry to the program will come from families with black children.

“They need to learn the standardized education they need to get into the high schools and colleges and universities,” said Brad Smith, Pam Smith’s husband. Smith added he wanted to see how Oakton’s pilot fares before Kingsley commits.

Board member Jonathan Baum, who has four children at Kingsley, said other initiatives approved by the board to raise black test scores must be implemented before the pilot program.

Some of those proposals include professional development, sensitivity training for teachers and a district mission statement for educating black students.

Kingsley principal Mike Martin said raising black students’ test scores is the school’s “most important goal.” He said the pilot program was one of many good ideas, and if approved by the board, the school would “treat it like – any other program,” he said.

Pam Smith said she would consider enrolling her sons in the program if it was created at Kingsley, but she has no plans to send her child to Oakton’s pilot program.

“It’s not a big enough of a reason to put them in a different school,” Pam Smith said. “It (would be) a slight possibility if I didn’t like Kingsley so much.”

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