‘We have made progress,’ District 203 superintendent says of equity plan  

District 203 administration building, exterior
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An extensive, multi-pronged, ever-evolving comprehensive equity plan aimed at ensuring all of Naperville School District 203’s student groups’ academic and social/emotional needs are met remains a work in progress, administrators reported at a recent Board of Education meeting.

Achievement gaps persist across some of the racial and socioeconomic boundaries, though data in some of the metrics indicates schools across District 203 are gaining positive momentum.

District 203’s comprehensive equity plan was first drawn up a decade ago as a part of a broader planning initiative known as Future Focus 203.

“Despite unplanned interruptions to our work related to this plan, we have made progress,” Superintendent Dan Bridges said, referencing the pandemic, at the board’s Aug. 21 meeting.

Board of Education members weigh in on data

Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion, and Jayne Willard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, gave a detailed, lengthy report at the recent meeting.

Throughout their presentation, the administrators combed through historical data against the backdrops of previously established benchmarks and metrics.

Leaks said the annual standardized Illinois Assessment of Readiness achievement test provides a range of different conclusions — some celebratory, others that remain cause for concern.

Examining the past several school years, District 203 overall outperformed peers elsewhere in the state for state averages in math and English language arts. But District 203 also has reported wider achievement gaps for specific student groups.

“What concerns me is that we do have those achievement gaps,” board member Melissa Kelley Black said in response to the information. “We have all these demographic groups, but we also have differences among schools. We want the framework to be consistent, so the measurement and the numbers are the same.”

Other board members acknowledged the complexity of the issue at hand and lauded administrators for promoting an “all hands on deck” approach to inclusivity for students across the district.

Board member Kristin Fitzgerald appreciated the honest assessment of the district’s standing, remarking, “We’re not there yet, and here’s where we need to improve. I like the reporting that we’ve been able to do.”

Five Pillars of Success

Within their presentation, Leaks and Willard touched on one of the foundations of District’s comprehensive equity plan: the five pillars of success.

Each of the pillars captures the goals and objectives District 203 officials have been embarking on since the initiative was first embarked upon a decade ago.

The pillars include a systemic transformation of culture; courageous, equity-centered staff; equity-centered schools and classroom practices; perpetuating systems of equity and opportunity; and family and community empowerment.

Across all grade levels, Willard said District 203 has made deliberate strides toward inclusivity through classroom instruction techniques and the curricular materials that have been purchased.

“We have added differentiated text selections that better reflect our students and have revised our social studies curriculum to include the positive contributions and life experiences of underrepresented groups,” Willard said.

What’s ahead this school year

District 203 is doubling down on its equity-focused efforts as the 2023-2024 school year gets underway. With pandemic-related protocols in the rearview mirror, administrators have emphasized a renewed focus on closing achievement gaps.

“This school year, we will relaunch our building equity teams and will create a district equity team to support the work that is happening in our buildings, and to identify and examine district-level problems,” Leaks said.

More than ever, Willard said there will be a call for all districtwide officials to join in on equity-building efforts.

“School improvement is an ongoing collaborative process that engages the entire school community,” Willard said. “This endeavor involves assessing conditions conducive to academic growth, social/emotional development and student involvement.”

Photo credit: Naperville School District 203

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