District 65 school board receives update on culture and climate, social emotional learning


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Ave. The Special Education Parent Advisory Council will collaborate with District 65.

Olivia Alexander, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 deans shared at a Monday board meeting goals for district culture and climate, including classroom-based structure and systems to inform behavior, collaborative communication and the elimination of peer abuse to ensure emotional safety.

In an update on culture, climate and social emotional learning to the District 65 board, Deans of Culture and Climate Teresa Quinn and Elijah Palmer presented said the district hopes to achieve these goals through commitments to norms, values and expectation-setting.

Palmer highlighted how norm-establishing practices related to the return to the in-person classroom this spring.

“We wanted to make sure that the schools were safe and sound for students to return,” Palmer said. “We created a checklist so that the expectations are consistent throughout the district and ready to receive students.”

Items on that checklist included social distancing, floor markings for desk placement and visible signage displaying COVID-19 guidelines.

Quinn discussed nonviolent communication, as the framework has the goal of de-escalation through calm and peaceful interactions in the learning community.

“This is a good focus because if we have healthy adults, we have healthy kids,” Quinn said.

Palmer also emphasized the importance of social emotional learning in district classrooms. According to the presentation, the district has integrated the explicit teaching and modeling of social emotional learning into grade-level academics. SEL Roadmap and SEL Toolkits supported schools in this work. District 65 included SEL instruction in both remote and in-person settings, updating original resources to accommodate hybrid learning.

Implementation includes professional learning opportunities related to social emotional learning. Over 500 educators and staff attended training sessions to learn SEL strategies and ways to incorporate them into the curriculum.

To reduce antisocial behaviors specifically related to school bullying, District 65 adopted the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which involves schoolwide, classroom and individual components. A representative from each school in the district attended trainings on April 12 and 19 to help them identify bullying, which they defined as repeated, aggressive behavior involving an imbalance of power, Palmer said.

Board vice president Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan highlighted the connection between feelings of inclusion and student behavior. According to the Panorama Equity and Inclusion Survey, only 53 percent of students in fifth through eighth grades reported a positive response for “sense of belonging.” Lindsay-Ryan said such feelings of a lack of community are often a driver for students to act out.

Quinn said the district plans to address these responses with restorative practices and nonviolent communication in place. She hopes the number of students indicating a “sense of belonging” will consequently start to rise.

“It’s really about honoring those norms and values that are school-based, as well as creating circles to build relationships and a responsive classroom,” Quinn said.

Lindsay-Ryan suggested the district break down such responses by grade level to assess whether feelings were related to being in a new building, for example. She asked how to compare data on racial disparity and discipline in the context of remote learning done throughout the pandemic.

Kylie Klein, District 65 director of research, accountability and data, said the district will have learning opportunities next year to understand how the pandemic contextualizes the data. Even before COVID-19 hit Evanston, she said District 65 saw promising changes starting to occur.

“I personally am very hopeful about the changes in practice and culture that are taking place in our schools,” Klein said. “I do believe that those are real, and I think we’ll see those fruit trees continue to bear fruit.”

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