Community leaders: District 65 should better serve black students


(Kate Salvidio/Daily Senior Staffer)

Organization for Positive Action and Leadership president Roger Williams speaks about the lack of educational equity in Evanston. The group said suspensions of black students in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 significantly spiked this school year.

Jane Recker, Assistant Monthly Editor

Community members demanded that Evanston/Skokie School District 65 take more action to better serve black students at the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership’s Wednesday community meeting.

According to the district’s quarterly suspension report — which was released Jan. 22 — 45 black students in the district were suspended during the second quarter of 2018 compared to four white students. The number of suspensions for black students has nearly tripled compared to the second quarter of 2017.

Reasons for suspension can range from physical acts of violence to disruptive behavior, according to the report. But Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said the definition of disruptive behavior is different from teacher to teacher.

OPAL president Roger Williams said it was the organization’s job to hold the school district accountable for racial disparities and to advocate for better solutions. He noted that while Evanston as a whole has a high level of educational success, there are small groups of students who are struggling in school.

“It’s like a person who has five children and one of them has pneumonia,” he said. “What are you going to do? Are you going to ignore this one child? No, what every mother would do is focus on the one child.”

Chicago Public Schools teacher Jennifer Roden said when she was looking at which Evanston school she would send her child to, she found that there was roughly a 40 percent achievement gap between black and white students in the district.

OPAL member Martha Burns said the gap should not be this large if the district spends roughly $14,000 per student every year.

“When you think about the resources that we do have in the district … that we have everything and we still can’t close it, you have to look at something else,” she said.

However, OPAL has made two major improvements in District 65 recently, Williams said. After learning the achievement gap begins as early as preschool, the group formed a task force that will examine the efficacy of early education in the district and look into bringing in fresh leadership.

Williams said the group’s influence has also created two new positions in District 65 — executive director of black student success and equity instructional coach. He said the group will assist in the hiring process for these positions.

OPAL board secretary Alyce Barry said it’s easy to ignore equity problems, as people generally regard Evanston as “relatively woke.” She pointed out, though, that racism is real in Evanston: just last week, the N-word was carved into the playground equipment at Willard Elementary School, she said.

Fleming agreed that it’s important for community members to continue the fight toward equity in the city.

“Here in Evanston we somewhat think … we are racially in balance and everyone is singing ‘Kumbaya,’” she said. “We have to always be the ones to remind people that that is not the experience that a lot of people, particularly our students, are having in our schools.”

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