During an interview last week, District 97 Supt. Carol Kelley outlined her administration’s priorities for the 2018-19 school year. Those goals, she said, are centered on equity. 

Kelley noted that, heading into this school year, she’s been more deliberate about communicating with and listening to community members in order to achieve what she said are the district’s three main aspirational goals.

Those goals, the superintendent explained, include increasing the number of third grade students who are reading at or above grade level, increasing the number of middle-school students who are projected to be college ready, and ensuring that more students have a “sense of belonging” in the district. 

Currently, 72 percent of third-graders at D97 are reading at or above grade level. The goal, Kelley said, is to be at 75 percent by the spring. The district has implemented a variety of measures to achieve that boost, such as hiring three additional literacy intervention teachers at Holmes, Longfellow and Lincoln, in addition to purchasing an array of new curriculum materials and literacy kits. 

In order to increase the percentage of middle-school students who are projected to be college ready in math and reading, the district has piloted new math textbooks for grades six through eight, Kelley said. In addition, both Brooks and Julian have been authorized as international baccalaureate schools with rigorous instructional units. There’s also been a 7 percent increase in the number of students of color taking advanced math in sixth grade. 

The goal, Kelley said, is to increase by 3 percent the number of middle-school students who are projected to be college ready in reading and math — from 55 to 58 percent in reading and from 47 to 50 percent in math.

The district has hired a culture and climate middle-school coach, four more social workers, four more special education teachers and an additional psychologist at schools throughout the district in order to ensure that the learning environment for students is more positive. 

Kelley said the district’s goal is to increase the number of students who say they belong and are treated with respect by their peers while at school from 71 percent and 54 percent, respectively, to 82 percent and 65 percent by the spring. 

In addition, the district hopes to reduce the total number of disabled students who receive instruction in a separate space for more than 60 percent of the day by 2 percent — from 12 to 10 percent.

“Our aspiration goals are really centered around the concept of equity,” Kelley said. “For me, when I say I want the learning environment for our students to be equitable, I mean I want to dismantle any systemic barriers that are preventing students from having access or opportunities for learning at high intellectual levels. Equity, to me, is an antidote to — and I’m going to say it — institutional racism.” 

Kelley said she’ll continue to utilize an advisory panel composed of staff and community members, which was created several years ago to facilitate community meetings and help draft the district’s vision plan. The superintendent said this year’s group will be smaller and will “help advise me, give feedback, probe, ask questions, push me … but it will be around equity.” 

Kelley also plans to host three town halls in October, March and May, in addition to the regular community conversations she’s already been hosting. The next community conversation, she said, is on Sept. 27 at Buzz Café. 

On Sept. 25, immediately before a regular board meeting, the district will host a learning session for board members facilitated by a representative from the National Equity Project, an Oakland, California-based organization that works to enhance equity in schools and communities. 

Kelley said she hopes the national dialogue on race and equity that’s been prompted by the documentary series, America to Me, will encourage people to start learning about the issues of race and education from a more detached, analytical perspective. 

The former engineer has hosted discussions on a range of books about race and equity authored by serious scholars in a range of fields, such as Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by the social psychologist Claude Steele. She regularly keeps multiple copies of the books to hand out to people.

“I hope this film will help people start reading,” Kelley said. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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