Forest Park District 91 Board of Education officials unanimously approved a $40,000 contract with the National Equity Project at a school board meeting on Feb. 8, in an effort to build equity between minority and majority racial groups. 

The National Equity Project is an Oakland-based organization that offers leadership development training for schools to help them identify opportunity gaps “to improve learning and education outcomes for all students,” according to its website. 

“This year, we are primarily looking at racial inequities as they pertain to academic achievement,” D91 Supt. Louis Cavallo wrote in an email. “However, there is not just one thing that leads to this inequity. A host of possible causes from bias in instruction, curriculum and how students are perceived will be examined.” 

Cavallo said the district sought help from the agency in November 2017 after reviewing D91’s state test scores in English, reading and math.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test scores revealed a significant achievement gap between white and black students’ understanding of these subjects. 

Cavallo also said work with National Equity Project officials should help ease the gap in white and black students Illinois Science Assessment scores, too. 

Feedback on a school survey that asked students how they are treated by students who are different from them also spurred the partnership. Less than half of student respondents believe they are always treated with respect at D91 schools, according to the Illinois 5Essentials survey. 

In a proposal to D91, the National Equity Project identified five goals for Forest Park:

 “The National Equity Project seeks to build the individual and collective equity commitment and leadership capacity among district and school board leaders;” 

 “Engage in an equity analysis to identify and understand policies and practices that may be contributing to structural, institutional, or classroom-level inequities;” 

 “Increase a sense of commitment and immediacy for meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of Forest Park’s students and families;” 

 “Build a culture of personalization and innovation whereby educators are supported to engage in ongoing inquiry;” 

 “Support educators to build learning partnerships with students and collaborate to design and implement approaches that increase student engagement, learning and educational equity.”

D91 officials plan to work with the National Equity Project this school year to address cultural bias in instruction and plan for professional development over the next school year. The district administrative team — which consists of teachers, principals and administrators — and the Board of Education will all undergo professional development. Next school year, officials will also review schools’ teaching materials for cultural bias and offer recommendations.