District 220 leaders discuss efforts to close 'achievement gaps'

Barrington Area Unit School District 220 encourages all students to be successful, but the achievements haven't always been equal among its diverse student body, the district's new director of equity, race and cultural diversity initiatives told school board members this month.

"We have well-documented history of (success) and should be extremely proud of our accomplishments," said Nate Rouse, who began in the newly created administrative post last fall. "At the same time, we have also been aware of the fact that we have not been as successful over the years with our students of color."

The district has been working on methods to deal with those disparities, or "achievement gaps," he said.

As he took up the initiative during the pandemic, Rouse was focused on equal relationships and more equitable outcomes for the students.

The work involves creating a more inclusive environment, Rouse said, with teachers using "culturally responsive teaching" to focus on individual students and what makes each unique.

In one class, the teacher chooses books from diverse authors that lead to discussions about cultures and historical topics that include immigration, Native Americans, the civil rights movement and Japanese internment camps.

Lessons focus on kindness and acceptance, while students learn ways to deal with situations in which something negative has been said or done, Rouse said.

"As we become more diverse, we certainly want to become more inclusive in the way that we teach, in the way that we practice and the way that we grow," he said.

Rouse also used a portion of his presentation to the board to discuss the national debate about critical race theory.

"To be clear, we do not teach critical race theory here in our school district. However, we do aim to provide students with a thorough fact-based account of our history," he said.

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