District 65 expands school’s African-centered curriculum

Megan Crepeau

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will expand its African-centered curriculum pilot program to two more grades, levy a new $10 million bond and extend funding for new technology for district classrooms, school board members decided Monday night.

The board voted unanimously to extend the program, which began in Fall 2006 for 60 students in kindergarten through second grade, for another two grades.

Students enrolled in the pilot take classes with curriculum geared toward the achievements of black scientists, politicians and artists.

The board agreed to establish the district-wide program at Oakton, 436 Ridge Ave., in a March 2006 meeting after months of controversy. Advocates of the program said it would help close the long-standing gap in test scores of white and black children in the district.

When board members rejected a proposal during the same meeting that would have created an extra 60 seats in the pilot, many audience members began singing “We Shall Overcome,” and board member Jerome Summers left his seat to join the audience. The remaining six members then approved the current pilot.

The curriculum pilot created little rancor last night, however. Most in the audience came instead to speak about special education in the district. One parent, Cari Levin, called the current situation a “crisis.”

Nancy Traver told the board she had to hire a lawyer to get her son, who suffers from bipolar disorder, the attention he deserved.

“My son was being warehoused,” she said. “It shouldn’t be so hard to get what your child needs in Evanston schools.”

After more than an hour of public comment, board members told attendees there was no time for a detailed discussion about special education. They said the bulk of the board’s May 12 meeting would be devoted to the issue.

“I was extremely sad to hear your plights (because) I have one of my own,” said board member Keith Terry. “It’s so complex – there were so many issues here.”

Instead, the bulk of the meeting was devoted to a staff report recommending an extra $1 million in funding for classroom technology updates. The board discussed the issue for more than an hour and a half before deciding to keep the same general technology system it funds now, with special exceptions made for infrastructure updates and computers for teachers and administrators.

The Technology Study Committee originally recommended the spending increase to buy new projectors and laptops to meet a goal of having an average of 2.8 computers per student. The proposal was ultimately rejected over concerns that it would cost too much.

“I’m just scared technology … will be like this huge vacuum cleaner, sucking up all the money like Pac-Man,” Summers said. “It just seems like the money is getting bigger and bigger.”

The board also approved the issue of about $10 million in bonds to fund safety and security measures, such as air quality and fire prevention, as well as some special needs and technology projects.

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