District 65 board, community members criticize lack of movement on early education equity initiative


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Superintendent Paul Goren at Monday’s Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board meeting. Some board members and community members worried that District 65 wasn’t giving enough urgency to improving equity in early education programs.

Jane Recker, Assistant Monthly Editor

Some board members and community members expressed concern on Monday that Evanston/Skokie School District 65 isn’t showing enough initiative to increase equity in its early education programs.

At a District 65 board meeting, assistant superintendent of special services Joyce Bartz reaffirmed the district’s commitment to reduce the number of students who aren’t “kindergarten ready” by 50 percent in the next five years. She told attendees that the district will initially measure kindergarten readiness with standardized tests until the director of early childhood programs at Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center readiness benchmarks for the 2023-24 academic year.

However, board member Rebeca Mendoza expressed concern over whether the board was giving the work the sense of urgency it deserved. She said there was an overwhelming amount of information presented in the meeting, much of which the board members already knew.

“I still don’t feel like I know what we’re going to be working on exactly and how we’re not going to be in the exact same place next year,” Mendoza said.

The district created an Early Childhood Task Force at the beginning of the school year following the release of the District 65 Early Childhood Review and Report. The report found consistent opportunity gaps based on race throughout elementary grades, starting from kindergarten. The review stated that these disparities begin in the pre-K years, as children who enter kindergarten with “kindergarten ready” pre-literacy skills are more likely to achieve proficiency in reading comprehension in third grade.

The task force met three times between October 2017 and April 2018 to parse through the data and conduct focus groups with staff, parents and community members. It then came up with a series of recommendations including reforming funding and hiring processes, strengthening parent-educator relationships, developing a comprehensive evaluation plan and building upon partnerships with black and Latinx communities.

Bartz said the new director of early childhood programs will implement the changes.

Board member Joseph Hailpern said although hiring and sustaining a director of early childhood programs would require funds, it would cost far less than what would be spent to alleviate behavioral or learning issues down the line. Superintendent Paul Goren added that greater clarity on how the board could move forward with the proposed amendments would come once the director was appointed.

Still, board president Suni Kartha echoed Mendoza’s sentiments about the vague nature of the current plan, and said she wanted to ensure the board would have discussions about how to implement it as early as possible.

“The recommendations are great; we just need to now solidify that into an actual plan and strategy on how to move forward,” she said. “I think from a board perspective, we need to understand what our role is in supporting that plan.”

Speaking during public comment, Organization for Positive Action and Leadership board member Alex Morgan lauded the board’s initiative to improve equity in the district.

But he noted that the District 65 administration has been slow to make change addressing the issues OPAL presented to them in October.

“It seems every week, every month, every year, we talk more than we take action,” he said. “While I have great faith in this board’s leadership, I have a lot less faith in this administration. If there’s one thing I could ask of this board in the new year, it’s that they begin to hold this administration accountable for its outcomes.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated a position at Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center. The director of early childhood programs position is not new, and Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is hiring a new director. The Daily regrets the error.

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