A crowd of protesters from the District 65 Educators’ Council gathered with signs and picketed outside Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Monday Board of Education meeting, demanding transparent COVID-19 safety protocols and procedures.
Their chanting — “Listen to our teacher voice” — washed over members inside discussing an e-learning plan and back-to-school updates.
Dewey Elementary School fourth grade teacher and District Educators’ Council President Maria Barroso addressed the school board during public comment.
“Educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Barroso said.
The board’s lack of transparency regarding COVID-19 protocols disrespected teachers, Barroso said. Educators are uncertain about changing guidelines, she said, and the district shut out educators’ questions from their medical advisory meetings.
School board members didn’t discuss their reactions to the protest during the meeting.
Proceeding with the meeting agenda, financial leaders in the district informed board members the District 65 budget is balanced for fiscal year 2022. The district is currently in the second of a three-phase financial sustainability plan and is looking to revisit student assignments, create a facilities master plan and complete a staffing review.
The plan’s three steps include: 1) analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on the budget, 2) auditing curriculum and 3) implementing the results of the studies. Ultimately, the plan’s three steps are in place to apply an equity lens to future reductions in spending, said District 65 business manager Kathy Zalewski and Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial and operations officer.
Board members then discussed an e-learning plan, which would allow students to attend virtually on days in-person school is closed due to extreme weather or other emergencies. The motion passed unanimously, but the vote only gives the district the authority to submit a plan for approval by the state.
Stacy Beardsley, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said District 65 hopes to minimize the use of e-learning days.
During the discussion, board member Joey Hailpern asked if administrators gathered teachers’ input for the use of e-learning.
“This plan is fairly similar to what we ultimately launched last spring, and that plan was developed with input from educators and building leaders,” Beardsley answered. “We also did share the plan with President Maria Barroso, and she looked at it, reviewed it and said that, essentially, what is in the plan made sense to her.”
Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan also shared a statement during the meeting about the district’s concerns with City Council’s proposed tax increment financing district in the historically-Black 5th Ward.
Advocates of the proposed TIF say it would encourage redevelopment, but some 5th Ward residents are worried that the TIF-sponsored construction projects could price Black homeowners in the 5th Ward out of the neighborhood through higher property taxes.
The school board requested councilmembers delay the vote until they can finalize an intergovernmental agreement addressing solutions to consequences of gentrification and loss of affordable housing with the city.
“Is this the spirit of the council?” Lindsay-Ryan asked. “If it is, is the goal of this TIF to gentrify the 5th Ward?”
Jim Ferrell with Curriculum Management Solutions also presented the findings of his group’s curriculum management audit of D65, which consisted of five areas, including consistency and equity, productivity, and district vision and accountability. The group collected data through surveys, observation and interviews of teachers, learning environments, and board members.
Following his presentation, board members entered into discussion with both Ferrell and Beardsley on the results. The audit found that D65 lacked a comprehensive curriculum plan and has instruction overlaps across grades and schools.
But moving forward, board members said, is a process that will continue for several years.
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— Marquise Weatherspoon joins District 65 school board
— District 65 to continue requiring face coverings regardless of vaccination status
— Superintendent Horton presents District 65 community updates on finances, upcoming plans