Community organizers demand action to close District 65 achievement gap


(Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek)

The Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave. Community advocates with the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership on Monday demanded school board action to close the achievement gap in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

Catherine Henderson, Reporter

Community organizers demanded Evanston/Skokie School District 65 take more action to close the achievement gap and better serve black students at an event Monday.

The Organization for Positive Action and Leadership held a news conference about the achievement gap outside the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, District 65’s administration building. Despite the rain, roughly 20 parents, advocates, reporters and elected representatives gathered to hear OPAL’s requests.

Clinical psychologist and community organizer Melissa Blount delivered the organization’s statement. She said the achievement gap has widened in District 65 since the 1960s.

Last year, white students were almost three times more likely to reach college readiness standards compared to black students, Blount said, citing a report commissioned by OPAL. And in 2015, black students were four times more likely to be suspended compared to white students.

“District 65 is a district rich with resources in a community that takes great pride in education and diversity,” Blount said. “Yet these resources do not seem to translate into academic gains for black students.”

In August, OPAL wrote a letter to district superintendent Paul Goren and school board members outlining frameworks for reform in three categories: seeking more black teachers, growing K-3 literacy and improving programs for black students at the education center.

In addition, Blount said the district needs to hire a black student coordinator to close the achievement gap instead of just talking about equity.

School board vice president Anya Tanyavutti said at the press conference that racial and ethnic equity are important to the board. Tanyavutti was the only board member present, and she said her colleagues couldn’t attend because of scheduling conflicts.

“I really appreciate all of the voices from our community,” Tanyavutti said. “OPAL has been a strong influence in helping us pursue our equity work.”

Rose Cannon, an Evanston resident of color, told The Daily she attended the press conference because her grandchild — who is in the District 65 schooling system — and his parents are being ignored.

“Why is my child 9 years old and at the second-grade level when he’s been in your special (education) program for two and a half years?” Cannon said. “You’re not teaching him.”

Blount told The Daily that OPAL’s reforms — especially the addition of more diverse staff and administrators — would give black students emotional support and a chance to “see themselves in their teachers.”

“Equity means the district is addressing historical wrongs and putting these statistics into context,” Blount said. “(The district is) leaving things up to individual teachers to implement historical curriculum. They need to make the curriculum district-wide.”

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