Evanston teachers, administrators discuss changes to school-improvement planning

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Manuel Rapada/Daily Senior Staffer

District 65 Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz listens as fellow Assistant Superintendent Ellen Fogelberg discusses the role of the district’s many instructional leadership teams. The teams are part of district and school-level improvement plans developed in response to three schools and the district overall missing standardized test goals.

Manuel Rapada, Assistant City Editor

Evanston-Skokie District 65 school board members approved improvement plans Monday after the district and three schools missed state standardized test benchmarks.

The plans, which cover issues such as leadership and instruction, passed on a 5-0 vote during Monday night’s board meeting at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

Title I schools, institutions enrolling a certain percentage of students from low-income families, are deemed “in need of improvement” if they have not made adequate yearly progress on standardized tests for two consecutive school years. In that first year, schools must develop an improvement plan for No Child Left Behind and state requirements.

Oakton Elementary School and Chute Middle School are in their second year of being “in need of improvement.” Washington Elementary is in its third and D65 is in its second year of district improvement.

This year, however, marks a change in school improvement planning, said Susan Schultz, D65 assistant superintendent.

Under this new model, staff and administrators will engage in strategic distributed instructional leadership, which promotes the gathering of ideas from teachers and school administrators. District officials cited several studies that suggest distributing leadership to teachers can support instructional change.

At the meeting, teachers and staff on instructional leadership teams at several D65 schools spoke on the progress they have made so far this school year.

Oakton Elementary School teacher Karen Barbour said the school’s ILT is still determining what is effective for students and teachers, invoking a dance analogy several times during Monday’s meeting.

“We’re trying to dance with people we don’t know,” she said of the team’s efforts early in the school year.

Teachers reiterated how they are focusing instructional changes by looking at The Danielson Group’s Framework for Teaching, which is used in the district’s performance rating system.

Changing teacher beliefs and practicing new skills were part of a “theory of action” the district presented on how such strategies can impact student learning. For instance, several members of different ILTs mentioned analysis of staff teaching videos.

Washington Elementary School principal Kate Ellison said teachers are analyzing their teaching on their own or with colleagues during team meetings, both of which give staff members opportunities to reflect on their work.

Oakton ILT members also emphasized their work to encourage students to ask more high-level questions. Teachers and staff want Oakton students to engage in purposeful conversations using texts and their own background information, members said.

“They can’t talk if they don’t have something important to talk about,” Barbour said.

Several district officials and board members, including assistant superintendent Ellen Fogelberg, thanked the ILT members for coming to discuss their progress just months into this school year.

“It’s helping these documents come alive,” Fogelberg said.