District 211 adopts plan to improve educational equity

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 has adopted a new educational equity plan that's expected to be implemented over the next three to five years, but without any presumption of achieving perfection within that time.

"Equity is a journey and that journey will probably never end," said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Josh Schumacher, who led a presentation of the plan to the board of education Thursday.

Board President Anna Klimkowicz said the district's Equity Team was commissioned last August partly in response to a renewed emphasis on racial and social justice across the nation.

The plan adopted Thursday resulted from the work of hundreds over the past school year.

Schumacher emphasized that one of the earliest guiding principles of the team was that equity is a mindset and a lens through which to make decisions, rather than a specific, narrow initiative.

Conant High School Principal Julie Nowak said the Equity Team quickly recognized the need to review systems that, despite the best intentions of those involved, can become inequitable and fail to properly serve all students.

Though the plan calls for culturally responsive teaching standards, Nowak said she does not expect to see a huge impact on critical learning standards - what students are expected to know by graduation. But they would help students of all backgrounds build their capacity to learn on their own,

"Culturally responsive teaching is mostly a set of strategies," Nowak said.

Fremd High School student Prasanth Ramachandra and recent Schaumburg High School graduate Lydia Schultz were among the presenters to the board.

Schultz spoke of the importance of team members' acknowledging early on that some of the conversations would be difficult.

Ramachandra said he felt well-represented as a minority student by the Equity Team's process and that he had grown personally through his participation.

"I have been inspired to constantly fight for equity in all its forms," he said.

Though the plan sets some districtwide goals, each of the schools has its own culture and ways of improving itself - such as professional recruitment methods to increase the diversity of its teaching staff, Schumacher said.

The board voted 6-0 to implement the plan, but member Mark Cramer voted present because he believes it lacks immediate ways to concretely evaluate progress. Even so, Cramer expressed appreciation for the work that had been done.

"It was obviously a lot of hard work and it was elegantly presented," he said.

While not as insistent on the same evaluation methods as Cramer, board member Pete Dombrowski asked that there be ways to assure the district isn't simply going over old ground and that tangible results be the outcome.

Fellow board member Curtis Bradley said that factors such as minority participation and scores in AP classes, as well as graduation rates, could be examined, an assessment of equity calls for more of a qualitative than quantitative measure.

"I don't think you can necessarily put a number to how you guys are doing without compromising the integrity of the word itself - equity," Bradley said.

"I don't think you can necessarily put a matrix on fairness as it relates to equity."

Even before the Equity Team formed, the district was looking at how minority students were proportionally represented in disciplinary action and academically rigorous classes.

During the past year, the district contracted with Chicago-based educational consultant Bea Young Associates to do an equity and cultural audit that provided much of the data for the Equity Team.

On Thursday, the board approved a $49,500 contract with the same firm for a second phase of the audit, with Cramer casting the sole vote against.

He said he believes the district isn't ready to move to a second phase without getting more solid results from phase one. Board member Kim Cavill disagreed, saying the second phase of the audit is exactly where the district is going to get the information it's looking for to move ahead.

Josh Schumacher
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