After an ongoing effort in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 in the past year to gather information from the community on how to best develop a comprehensive student assignment plan the district recently got a Golden Apple from the National School Public Relations Association for its “outstanding communication and engagement efforts.”
“It is a pretty big deal,” said Sarita Smith, manager of student assignments in the district. “It was fifty years in coming.”
The National School Public Relations Association asks schools across the United States and Canada to submit strategic work in all aspects of school public relations, communications, marketing, and engagement in order to be considered for award recognition, said Deborah Keegan, communications specialist with Evanston/ Skokie School District 65.
She said the district’s “Student Assignment Planning: Fostering Equity and Access in Education,” campaign was selected from multiple entries submitted from across the country to receive the 2022 Golden Achievement Award for outstanding communication and engagement efforts. Winning entries were recognized during the NSPRA 2022 National Seminar from July 17 through July 20 in Chicago.
According to the association’s website, the organization’s “Golden Achievement Award” recognizes outstanding, strategic work in all aspects of school public relations, communication, marketing and engagement. It also said the NSPRA’s Publications and Digital Media Excellence Awards recognize outstanding education publications, e-newsletters, digital media programs, radio/TV/video programs, social media, infographics, blogs and websites.
In spring 2021, District 65 embarked on the first phase of a multiyear process to develop a comprehensive Student Assignment Plan to modernize its structure and address historic inequities that most significantly impact students of color, Keegan said. She said the process included school updating attendance boundaries, a selection process for magnet schools/programs, and the potential to return a school to the Fifth Ward community
Smith said that despite changes to enrollment, student demographics, services and programs, the district had not reviewed attendance boundaries holistically or recommended changes in nearly 30 years.
“As your city changes, as demographics change, as the city population changes, you should be — as a school district — kind of modernizing your processes as those things have changed,” she said. “We haven’t been doing that, at least not in a systematic way.”
“I think this process was just different for the district because we had a reputation of just kind of doing things or saying we wanted feedback and then not using that for anything,” she added. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback saying ‘we’re glad you listened to us.'”
After more than a year of community engagement and communications efforts, the school board approved a new student assignment plan in March 2022, along with a funding plan to build a school in Evanston’s Fifth Ward, said Keegan, adding that the earliest the new plan will go into effect will be the 2024-2025 school year.
“We are honored to be selected for the Golden Achievement Award, which encompasses the hard work and dedication of so many within D65,” Melissa Messinger, executive director of communications said in a statement. “We knew the potential impact of student assignment planning on our community and the need for a robust, inclusive stakeholder-driven process. It is rewarding to have our team recognized for its efforts but even more so to know that the new plan will positively affect so many of our students and families for generations to come.”
Planning for phase two of the District 65 student assignment plan is currently underway, with an additional community outreach scheduled to begin this fall, said Smith.
“I’m not a person that’s just going to say what we’re going to do and not do it,” she said. “If we say we’re bringing a decision to a community, we’re going to bring a decision to the community. Then we’re going back to the drawing board if the community says you guys are crazy. There were a few decision where they told us that.”
Brian L. Cox is a freelance reporter with Pioneer Press.