St. Charles School District to review findings of equity audit

Superintendent’s committee will develop action plan based on findings

St. Charles School District 303 will review the findings of an equity audit that was done to better understand where inequities exist in the district.

A superintendent’s committee will be formed in order to develop an action plan based on the audit findings. The work will become part of the district’s new strategic plan that is being put together.

The committee’s scope will be outlined and provided to board members at their regular board meeting in September. St. Charles Superintendent Paul Gordon, who recently started with the district, commended the board and the previous administration for deciding to move ahead with an equity audit.

“You have to be able to pull apart your system and see where those areas are that we can continue doing better,” Gordon said during the school board’s Learning and Teaching Committee on Monday. “How do we continue to improve our system for each of our students? How does that look? And that’s the work we’ll be doing within the superintendent’s committee. Because it is about each student, ensuring that each student has those opportunities.”

Beginning with the 2022-23 school year, each school district in Illinois will be responsible for publicly posting its progress toward equity on its school report card using an Illinois State Board of Education developed continuum.

After a presentation of the audit findings, community members weighed in on the audit. Kelly Rotella, who has three children in the district and was part of a focus group for the audit, spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County.

“We believe that all children must feel they are included in the classroom,” she said in addressing school board members. “It is essential they feel safe, respected, engaged, motivated and valued for who they are and for their contributions. This extends to differences of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, mental health and education level. We applaud the district’s commitment to the equity audit and we support the motto confirming that all children belong.”

St. Charles resident Michael Stroud, founder of the nonprofit groups Out in Fox Valley and Fox Valley Pride, called the equity audit “a good step and it will be a useful tool in modifying instructional practices.”

At the same time, Stroud said “much needs to be done in order to uncover the hidden barriers for success for LGBTQ+ students.”

Diana Soltess told board members she would like the district to focus on test scores and subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic and U.S. history along with life skills such as personal financial management.

“The teachers cannot do everything,” she said. “I think money would be better spent hiring more counselors and things.”

In addition to the audit, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago analyzed district academic and school climate data to look for any phenomena that might suggest inequalities with the district’s system.

“Both reports have been completed and provide insights into how we can improve learning outcomes for all students,” Christine Igoe, assistant superintendent of educational services, and Tracy Taylor, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said in a presentation to board members. “Overall, both reports found that inequities were not widespread throughout the system; rather, there were pockets of student groups that warrant attention.”

The findings show achievement gaps are found along the lines of demographic characteristics “specifically students who are Hispanic and Black/African American and social economic status in the district that mirror national trends,” Igor and Taylor said.

Another finding is that Illinois Assessment of Readiness and Scholastic Assessment Test scores indicate an achievement gap by gender, with females significantly outperforming males in English language arts and males outperforming females in math.

Igor and Taylor said that generally families reported feeling included, welcomed and valued at most schools in the district.

“However, there were reports of microaggressions and disrespectful behavior reported across racial/ethnic groups that need to be addressed,” they said. “The data collected would suggest a significant desire across all interest groups for a more equitable system.”

One of the recommendations in the audit is for the professional development of all staff to increase understanding of cultures, language, racial sensitivity, social/emotional needs, mental wellness and gender identification.

Another recommendation is for the district to hire and maintain staff that is more diverse in terms of ethnicity, race and gender.

In June 2021, board members unanimously voted to pause Deep Equity training until after an equity audit was completed. In March 2021, board members voted 4-3 to use Deep Equity – a professional development program from the California-based Corwin Company – to provide professional learning to staff on diversity, equity and inclusion.

That decision followed three hours of comments from both proponents and opponents of the Deep Equity program. School board members also decided that the district, using different materials, would continue the training after completing an equity audit.

In December 2021, board members unanimously voted to hire Chicago-based nonprofit group Consortium for Educational Change – now known as Catalyst for Educational Change – at a cost of $44,850. Staff had recommended hiring the company to do the equity audit.

As part of the audit, the group administered surveys and conducted focus groups. CEC conducted 51 focus groups with 292 participants, including district leaders, parents, students and staff. In addition, students, staff and families answered school community questionnaires.