New initiative eases school transition process

Megan Crepeau

On Tuesday night, local eighth-graders got a chance to explore big, new and foreign territory: high school.

About 300 students and their parents filled the Evanston Township High School auditorium for Freshman Orientation Tuesday.

“Welcome to the first official meeting of the class of 2012,” said Richard Bowers, interim associate principal for ninth and tenth grade.

The orientation was one part of a new joint effort by District 202, which consists solely of ETHS, and Evanston/Skokie School District 65, made up of local elementary and middle schools. The project is aimed to ease the transition between middle school and high school.

Bowers said he is expecting a freshman class of about 800 students for the 2008-09 academic year. He said that means 800 students who must be tested, placed in classes and familiarized with a new environment before being plunged into a different school district. That leaves both districts with many logistical issues to tackle.

The joint committee was formed last year to address problems like this – to “kind of de-mystify the transition process for both districts and for parents,” said Omar Khuri, who is a member of the District 202 Board and the committee.

The committee has met three times since its formation, with two major results: the distribution of a pamphlet outlining the transition period from eighth to ninth grade and the implementation of certain changes to that process.

The transition process started in late autumn, when enrollment cards were mailed out to parents of children who are likely to attend ETHS. Students have been taking standardized tests throughout the school year to help administrators determine what level of high school classes they should be placed in. This year, ETHS administrators will take two tests into consideration: EXPLORE, which ETHS traditionally has used to gauge student readiness, and the Measures of Academic Progress test, which is being used for the first time this year.

Bowers said that using the scores from the Measures test has been “a tremendous help” in placing students. Not only does it offer more data to give a more accurate picture of each student, but it can be administered more than once if administrators decide they need more information on a certain student, he said.

In mid-February, officials from both districts will meet and discuss each incoming student, assess that individual’s strengths and weaknesses and make tentative decisions about class placements. It’s a “time-consuming process,” but it is worth it, Bowers said.

“To be absolutely sure that we’re placing students correctly … it really does take that long,” he said. “There’s no quick and dirty way to do this.”

The new system has its problems, Bowers said.

“I’m not sure that this way of doing orientation is the best,” he said. “We’d like to have more time with the parents … establishing a communication chain with the parents, because they’re new to us and we’re new to them.”

At its Tuesday night meeting, the District 202 Board of Education commended the committee’s new pamphlet. The brochure is meant to inform parents about how to work with the administration to help their children adjust to high school.

“It’s a wonderful piece,” District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said. He also commented on the number of future freshmen roaming the halls for orientation, which was held at the same time as the board meeting.

“Isn’t it great to see these young students and their families here?” Witherspoon said. “They’re finally becoming part of the ETHS family.”

Reach Megan Crepeau at [email protected]