District 65 to create new positions addressing black student success, racial achievement gap


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Anya Tanyavutti at a meeting. Evanston/Skokie School District 65 announced a director of black student success at the school board meeting Monday.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 announced Monday it will hire both a director of black student success and an equity instructional coach to help close the achievement gap.

District 65 board members — along with about 30 community members, parents and administrators — discussed their hopes for the two new positions at a school board meeting at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center. The decision follows the 2017 Achievement and Accountability Report, which showed that black students perform below their white counterparts regardless of income, socioeconomic status or language and that black students are more likely to be disciplined.

Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said a director of black student success is an “unprecedented milestone” to address the achievement gap. She said the two positions are the culmination of much “emotional and physical work.”

“This calls up my experiences as a black woman in this country where there were times of celebration,” Tanyavutti said. “That kind of joy, but also worry, is something that lives in my DNA. That kind of joy, but also concern or skepticism, in terms of (an) institution’s true commitment to our humanity is part of a very deep, lived experience.”

District superintendent Paul Goren said he has noticed community concern about the achievement gap. He said the district needs to follow through on recommendations from the administration’s May 2017 equity report, which include increasing racial literacy, social emotional learning and culturally relevant teaching.

“We are being intentional in our district to provide the highest quality educational services and addressing our districts’ needs,” Goren said. “In District 65, we’ve made it clear that equity is our top priority.”

The director of black student success will work within the superintendent’s office, and the equity instructional coach will work with the equity director to create strategies for teachers, Goren said. He added that funding from Northwestern will help cover the costs of the new positions.

Goren said he wants the new positions to be “woven into” the district’s past work to close the achievement gap instead of attempting to create a “one-and-done solution.”

District 65 parent and alum Tracy Fulce Gentle said she moved back to Evanston with her family after living in various other states, but found herself “dismayed” to discover the district had not addressed the racial equity issues it faced while she was a black student. She said her son went into District 65 in fifth grade at a seventh-grade math level and has since dropped back to grade level.

“Clearly something is wrong,” Fulce Gentle said before the announcement. “Unfortunately, like me, my son has experienced firsthand how racism can impact student performance. I expect that the district will finally address issues like those my son has faced by hiring someone focused on the needs of black students.”

Tanyavutti said the district has to proceed with caution, keeping in mind the history of the nation and the district. She said historical moments like the Civil Rights Movement were “appropriated” and “turned into colorblindness.”

In the district, she said the administration had neglected African-Centered Curriculum, a program designed to emphasize African-American history, and the Two-Way Immersion Program, a curriculum in which native English and Spanish speakers attend class together to increase cultural competence.

Still, Tanyavutti said she was “proud and humbled” and “ready to get to work.” She said she celebrates black community leaders for writing to the district, coming to board meetings, brainstorming solutions and engaging parents.

Goren said he plans to work with community organizations such as the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership and the Evanston/North Shore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to craft the job descriptions and continue to refine the new administrators’ responsibilities.

“It is a time to reach out to the community to ask for your commitment and leadership to work with us as we work with you to make a difference in the lives of our students,” Goren said.

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