Local early childhood education centers successfully reduce Pre-K education disparities


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Education Center at 1500 McDaniel Ave. At the District 65 Board of Education meeting, Sharon Sprague reported on the success of the Early Childhood Strategic Plan at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center.

Isabelle Butera, Reporter

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education heard updates Monday about the success of students at The Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center.

Sharon Sprague, the director of Early Childhood Programs at JEH, presented an update on the school’s Early Childhood Strategic Plan. The plan was first implemented in April 2019 with six major goals targeted at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Kindergarten Preparedness and family-community relationships. 

Despite disruptions to in-person learning due to COVID-19, Sprague said the data indicates that JEH has “significantly improved outcomes” for its students.

“We have made great progress despite challenges of historical proportions,” Sprague said. ”I’m extremely proud of the team we have built and the progress our students have made through it all.” 

JEH serves students ages three to five who have one or more risk factors of future academic success which include trauma, economic hardship and being a non-native English speaker. 

Compared to other District 65 schools, JEH has more students than average who receive special education services (33% in 2021). Additionally, two-thirds of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. 

“These data are heartening as we are performing very closely with other students in the district, most of whom do not represent the risk factors that our students do,” Sprague said. 

According to the Early Childhood Strategic Plan Update, former JEH students achieved similar scores to non-JEH students on kindergarten literacy tests. JEH students scored slightly higher on reading fluency than non-JEH students and trailed by no more than 15 percentage points for the other four major literacy categories.

Another of the Early Childhood Strategic Plan’s goals is to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in teaching. According to Sprague, JEH found no significant racial disparities in social-emotional development or literacy by the end of the 2021 school year and only minor discrepancies in math scores. 

In the spring of 2021, the majority of JEH students met or exceeded expectations in social and emotional development. The fall 2021 data represents two major areas of concern for the district in social and emotional development: making friends and solving social problems.

“Both of these objectives were unmeasurable last year when so many of our students were still in remote learning throughout the year,” Sprague said. “They’re both objectives that are negatively impacted by COVID health (and) safety mitigation protocols that keep our students apart from one another.”

The data also showed improvement in family and community partnerships. A survey of JEH parents found high levels of attendance at performances (77%) and parent-teacher conferences (88%). 

That’s critical because all of our kids’ first educators are their caregivers,” said Board President Anya Tanyavutti. “So those caregivers feeling empowered and connected and valued is critical to the rest of the experience with District 65.”

JEH provides a no-cost pre-kindergarten opportunity with the goal of promoting equity. According to Sprague, 75 to 80% of JEH students are people of color. 

School board members commended the results of the Early Childhood Strategic Plan Update. 

“A lot of the equity work really sits on the foundation that is set here (at) JEH,” said board member Sergio Hernandez. “Just seeing this data despite the pandemic, seeing the progress is just absolutely phenomenal.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabelle_butera

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