Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Community gives ETHS feedback on detracking plan

A new plan proposed by ETHS officials to overhaul its freshman curriculum has elicited strong reactions, both positive and negative, from parents, teachers and community activists.

District 202 officials presented on Monday night the initiative to restructure its freshman humanities program, as part of the school’s effort to rebound after failing five years straight under No Child Left Behind. The new program would channel the top 5 percent of students into “straight honors” classes and the bottom half into “enriched” or remedial classes. Regular classes would be cut and replaced with “mixed honors” classes, which will contain students with a variety of achievement levels.

If Evanston Township High School cannot prove that it has made plans for major improvements by April, the state could force the school to become a charter school or replace all of its teachers.

But the plan has proved controversial. Activists from the Evanston/North Shore branch of the NAACP, the District 202 Parent Teacher Student Association, the Teachers Council and other concerned parents packed the boardroom to hear the administration’s pitch. In a rare outpouring of opinion, 23 people spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.

Julie Rapisarda, of the Haven Middle School association, said it would take a lot to prevent teachers from “teaching to the bottom.”

“If the teachers are trained appropriately, their goal will be to focus on the highest learning and support,” she said in an interview. “But it would take exceptional teachers, exceptional training and exceptional support.”

Some of the school’s teachers complained the administration didn’t ask them about the change.

The administration needs to “rethink the process,” said Kevin McCaffrey of the Teachers Council. “Make it public. Make it transparent.”

Several parents were concerned that their children would not receive enough attention from teachers in mixed classes who would concentrate on the slower children, and worried that the curriculum as a whole would be devalued.

“What is honors … if you take out the middle class?” PTSA co-President Candace Davis asked.

English and history teacher Makoto Ogura has experience with mixed honors classes. She told the board on Monday that she was in support of the principle behind the new initiative, but that teachers will need time to adjust.

“(Not enough preparation could be) setting kids up who are already vulnerable for potential disaster,” she said. “It’s so important that we need to do this very carefully.”

The short time frame is a necessary evil, said Terri Shepard, chairwoman of the Evanston NAACP Education Committee and mother of three ETHS graduates, in an interview.

“You can try it for a year and not be successful, or not do anything and have the school shut down,” she said. “(It’s a) no-brainer.”

ETHS graduate Anne Sills told the board she thought the new measure would “change the complexion of honors classes.”

“This is the time,” she said. “Do not allow the moment of opportunity to disappear.”

Interim Assistant Superintendant/Principal Marilyn Madden said the situation is urgent enough to warrant a quick change. She also said she was surprised that the issue proved so divisive, considering that the initiative will apply to freshmen only and that the school already has some mixed honors classes.

“We’re not really changing anything about the school per se,” she said.

ETHS Board of Education Vice President Rachel Hayman said she wasn’t concerned about the time frame either because learning on the job is a natural part of the teaching profession.

“Sitting in the classroom is what’s going to help (teachers) learn better,” she said. “(But) nobody knows what the magic bullet is.”

Madden was quick to emphasize that the freshman restructuring is only a part of ETHS’ attempt to save the school, and the plan includes a new literacy initiative, test preparation help, and support programs.

“The only way you move kids is to have really high expectations,” she said.

The issue will be discussed again at the next board meeting on Feb. 25 and might be voted on in March.

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Community gives ETHS feedback on detracking plan