July 1: New Parents, Career Planning and Peer Jury

Published by: Evanston Round Table

The recommendations of the School Improvement Team (SIT) to the Evanston Township High School administration focused on families of incoming students, student post-high school plans and discipline of current students.

"We have historically had amazing results from our School Improvement Team," remarked Superintendent Eric Witherspoon at the Board meeting on Monday, June 11. "Each year they buckle down and consider recommendations that serve the school best."

The recommendations, which are presented annually to the District 202 School Board, are advisory in nature and are developed by a group of participants who represent a wide range of roles in the ETHS and Evanston community. Board members Gretchen Livingston and Rachel Hayman, who served on the committee, both commented, though, that there could be a newer and more varied group of participants, especially among parents and community members.

"Many of the faces have been there before," said Ms. Livingston.

The committee made a total of eight recommendations, but three were the most popular, said Dr. Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who made the presentation to the Board. Co-chairs Leslie Petterson, ETHS parent, and Crystal Steidley, special education teacher, were not able to attend the presentation.

Number one on the SIT’s list was a recommendation to "ensure that all students across grade levels and curriculum levels are made aware of and have the opportunity to benefit from career exploration experiences available at ETHS to learn about potential career options through deliberate, comprehensive communication, particularly taking advantage of direct teacher-to-student classroom contact."

The recommendation further suggested that career exploration experiences include courses, career programs, speakers, and field trips coordinated through the ETHS College and Career Center. The committee also recommended that emphasis "be placed on embedding career pathway education and career readiness skills in academic core courses across all grade levels."

Ms. Livingston commented that there was a group involved in planning Evanston’s 150th anniversary celebration which was exploring career and technical training in the community and that the District should be cognizant of that effort.

Second on the list was "a parent-to-parent mentoring program, developed and facilitated by parents for parents, that engages parents as partners and experts on the barriers and challenges of moving into 9th grade."

Board member Deborah Graham asked how this proposal would be different than the ETHS Parent Ambassador program already in place. According to the District website, "Parent Ambassadors are parents, guardians or adult family members of ETHS students who help foster connections and build partnerships with the high school by participating in activities and events that make the ETHS experience a positive one for our families."

Dr. Bavis acknowledged that the Parent Ambassadors were already "doing a lot of the work" associated with the suggestions in this new program, but that the SIT approach sought to reach out to "families that traditionally feel disconnected … more of a one-on-one mentoring program." He cited the community schools program sponsored by the Youth Organization Umbrella (YOU) currently in operation at Nichols and Chute Middle Schools as an example.

The third priority for SIT was to establish consistent guidelines for Peer Jury, a form of restorative justice used at ETHS. According to the Peer Jury brochure published by the District, the Peer Jury "provide(s) a positive outlet in which students can resolve school related conflicts with the assistance of their peers and avoid a possible suspension."

According to the SIT recommendation, "students report that there is varied usage of peer jury among the deans." Accordingly, the proposal suggests that "all deans … use the same criteria for offering peer jury, so students and parents know what to expect in response to a behavioral infraction." In addition to advocating for consistent guidelines, the SIT recommendation also suggested a vigorous use of alternatives to suspension for most student infractions and that "a checklist should be established that determines that a suspension is, in fact, the only appropriate response to a given violation/situation."

Board member Jonathan Baum commented that SIT worked very hard and was very dedicated. "Can we let them know what happened to their recommendations from the previous year?"

Dr. Witherspoon said Alicia Hart, assistant director of student support and equity, maintains a "grid" that shows what happens with SIT recommendations and shares that information with the committee.

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