District 65, District 202 Boards of Education discuss literacy, safety


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

Candidates for the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education discussed their hopes for the school district during a forum Thursday.

Aviva Bechky, Development and Recruitment Editor

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202 Boards of Education spoke about their efforts to improve safety and literacy in a joint Monday board meeting.

District 65’s elementary and middle schools feed into ETHS, and the two often work to align their student supports. At the meeting, District 202 Board President Sergio Hernandez said he wants to reaffirm both districts’ commitment to equity.

“The hope is that we continue to build right and work collaboratively,” Hernandez said. “Looking forward to making (future meetings) as productive as possible, to take a holistic approach to the issues that impact the families and children that we serve in this community.”

Over the past year, both districts have worked to address school safety in the wake of recent incidents, including fights at Haven Middle School and a lockdown at ETHS after two guns were found at the school. 

At the meeting, District 65 Director of Culture and Climate Elijah Palmer said his district hired a manager and assistant manager of prevention and special response, as well as 16 concierges, to address concerns. The concierges at each school conduct safety checks and implement district wide safety procedures, Palmer said.

He also said District 65 reduced exclusionary punishments, going from 10 to 15 suspensions by this time last year to just one so far this academic year. The district also created two more culture and climate positions, according to Palmer.

“They work directly under me and what are they doing? They’re offering proactive support to our school school builders and school leaders,” Palmer said. “They’re identifying the needs of their respective schools.”

District 202 leaders likewise spoke to solutions around student safety. Assistant Superintendent/Principal Taya Kinzie discussed a new policy for students to scan in and out of the building at lunch.

She also said students often come to staff with concerns about their own safety and others, and emphasized that building trust is paramount.

“The data shows focusing on relationships is truly the greatest act of prevention,” Kinzie said. “So we are going to continue that focus. That’s one of the reasons we have been even more intentional about beginning our schoolwide effort towards building our restorative practices.”

At the meeting, District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston also asked about one of the districts’ key joint initiatives, a push to improve Evanston students’ literacy.

Several Board members agreed that literacy has remained a challenge. Hernandez said he’d like to see the district reevaluate the joint literacy goal to make it more comprehensive and supportive of marginalized students.

“We really do want to rethink the joint literacy goal because again, it just pigeonholes us into one data piece of a more comprehensive approach that we want to take with students and families,” he said.

Still, District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton said he’d seen progress in literacy, especially in younger grades and two schools that had struggled with literacy and numeracy.

The superintendent also emphasized the value of the district’s relationship-driven approach to literacy.

“We are really connected,” Horton said. “We understand that our students and our teachers are more than just test scores.”

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Twitter: @avivabechky

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