The $40 million new school that School District 65 board members want to build is not needed to achieve the goal of ending the division of the western portion of the 5th Ward into four different school attendance zones.

That division, implemented decades ago to desegregate the schools, has been attacked in recent years as a source of fragmentation in the west side community.

The existing District 65 elementary school attendance area map.

For reference, here is a City of Evanston map showing the boundaries of the 5th Ward.

The City of Evanston ward map.

The portion of the ward located west of Green Bay Road, which also forms Census Tract 8092, has been the historic core of the city’s black community since the 1920s.

In 1950, Blacks were 95% of the tract’s residents. But the population has since become more diverse. Blacks were 53% of the residents in the 2020 census.

The school board Monday is scheduled to approve a new map that — with construction of a new school in Census Tract 8092 — would end its segmentation into the attendance areas of four different schools.

The D65 elementary school attendance area map proposed by the Student Assignment Planning Committee on March 7.

Analyzing data from a geodemographic study prepared by a district consultant, Evanston Now has determined that there are a number of alternative ways to end the fragmentation of the census tract without building a new school and without overcrowding the district’s existing schools.

Here is one map that would accomplish the goal.

A potential alternative model to end the division of Census Tract 8092 students into multiple school attendance areas.

Under this map the attendance area for Dewey Elementary School would be redrawn to include all of Census Tract 8092.

The portion the the current Dewey attendance area east of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks would be reassigned, with the northern portion going to Orrington Elementary School and the southern portion going to Lincoln Elementary School.

The map above also uses the barrier of the railroad tracks as a boundary between some other school attendance areas.

Showing this alternative map is not meant to suggest that it is the best possible solution to the district’s challenge of finding $188 million to cover deferred maintenance costs for existing schools in an era with projected sharp declines in enrollment.

But it does suggest that the school board’s singular focus on building a new school may have led its members to overlook less expensive solutions.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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12 Comments

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful Plan B. It gives me a sense of hope that logic can be a part of the process in determining the best solution to rebalancing equity in our community.

  2. This is definitely some creative thinking. However, the demographics at Dewey School would certainly change under this scenario…it appears to me that it would become a mostly minority school…but since the District has apparently decided that having integrated schools is no longer a priority, perhaps this would be a reasonable solution.

  3. This is a more feasible option. Not sure why this wasn’t an option presented to the board. The SAP community presented what they wanted and excluded things to tailor “their” choices and not the choice of the people. They also stated that tax payers wouldn’t be affected by building a new school as they will be paying with a lease certificate and this can bypass public opinion or referendum. Not buying that what so ever! They also only got 6% vote from the 5th ward to build a new school. They also forgot to mention that the 5th ward is becoming more diverse and is not the same demographics as back in the day. Redrawing the lines will also ensure that all schools remain at capacity. They really need to focus on repairing and updating the existing school. That is a big portion of our taxes!

  4. Really good to see another approach to getting a 5th ward school. Building a new school is easy and flashy. Coming up with solutions that save money and solve bigger problems is hard but the right thing to do. Which one will the board choose? We can do hard things, Evanston!

  5. With all due respect…The issue of money or redrawing the school attendance map has nothing to do with the most important issue that for over 50 years the 5th ward was deprived and denied a school that they loved and that constituted the heart of their community. Kids had walked to school just like mine did two blocks to Orrington sch. Teachers had a close relationship with parents, to the point that even at times they’d go to their homes to discuss their children’s problems. There was the issue that people in North Evanston would not allow their schools to be closed because they bought their homes where they bought them so their kids could walk to school. But didn’t mind that ALL the kids in the 5th ward had to be bused to different schools all over town. That they lost the community friendships and were not able to stay in school for after school programs. People don’t know that when Foster was closed so were a whole array of services and stores such as a Black Hospital, pharmacies, and many more conveniences as a consequence. Furthermore, please check the maps to see how many more schools there are in the North as well as the South. I feel that there was a terrible unfairness not just that the school was closed and that the 5th ward kids had to sacrifice for those in the North who would have had to have one of our schools closed, but the fact that the boards all through the years denied people in the 5th ward who pleaded with them to have what they were entitled to and what all other wards had.
    If people settle in Evanston “because of its diversity,” as they say, let’s show that we really mean it!!! That we mean it when the word “equity” is thrown around so liberally.

    1. Hate to break it to you but majority of the teachers do not live in the same neighborhoods. Matter of fact they do not live in Evanston, period. It is terrible what happened back in the 50’s. And yes you want your children to walk to school but have you noticed that all the schools in the “diverse” areas are not rated the same which in my opinion as to why there are so many permissive transfers. Building a new school doesn’t guarantee that those kids will still attend the “new” school. Based on district survey’s only 6% of 5th ward residence wanted a new school built with majority of responses coming from the more affluent areas of Evanston. To be honest I’ve never even heard from a black resident to want a new school built. Where is this request really coming from? Also the new school location will only be a half a mile away…question is will this really “Right the Wrong” Why not redraw the lines? How do you think the parents and students feel with Bessie Rhodes closing? If education is considered the “same” throughout Evanston why is it that Oakton is rated the same as a Chicago school? Evanston need to do a lot more to address a lot of inequities and building a new school will “Right the Wrong”. Meaning they have ALOT of work to do. Also their way of paying for this school is through a lease where Evanston will not be the owner of the school. This comes with other nuances that the community is obliviously not looking at and should be researched further.

  6. Does anyone know if they looked at any alternative options as a part of the study besides the two initial A-B scenarios they presented? Surely with the NU tool they received they must have looked at many scenarios.

    Did any of the SAP participants disagree with the recommendation? Were the teachers and administrators consulted?

    When I asked about the larger financial and building issues they replied this wasn’t the goal, and there were other forums for fixing those issues. How can they be so obtuse to pretend they aren’t directly related. Decisions here to provide one community with a local school will undoubtedly cause other schools to close and other communities to lose their local school.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t share any of that information so we’re left to speculate on what scenarios were — or weren’t — considered and what factors they included and evaluated by. And the faux community outreach was laughable to begin with, and demonstrably false on many fronts. If they did truly get community feedback then why was that slide in their final presentation basically a word cloud of buzzwords and lacking any data that backed it up?

    Why aren’t they engaging the community for feedback on the actual recommendations instead of ambiguous general thoughts and feelings from the thought exchange? This is why you can never trust a generic ballot poll — results will shift greatly when you put actual details behind it and truly tough decisions and trade offs have to be made. The thought exchange was a fine tool to start with, but to have stopped there without further follow up demonstrates either an incompetence, or hidden motives.

    They seemed determined to create a new school from day one, and while perhaps well intended by some, one can only conclude that was the only goal, and a short-sighted one at that.

    If NU wants to get involved and provide assistance then that’s great, but let’s include their expertise in economics, public administration and finance as well and not just cherry pick experts with like minded reform agendas that just reaffirms group think.

    We should all be open minded to change, and that will likely include making some hard trade offs. But that needs to include everyone putting aside their own bias and looking at what’s best for our children for the next 50 years, not the past. All of the students of D65 and the taxpaying citizens deserve better.

  7. Of course this is a fine proposal and makes much more sense than building a new school when there is under-capacity, dwindling budgets, increasing costs and declining enrollments.

    But let’s get real. The current District and Board leadership doesn’t care about any substantive discussion or real engagement with the community. If they actually did, they would finance the school in the normal way through bonding. But of course they would lose mightily in a referendum.

    The outcome of this process was pre-determined and is based on a strange nostalgia for the Foster School that is pushed by a dwindling–but influential–cadre of old-timers and activists.

    You can see that with comments like Margarita Matlis’s in this thread. The emphasis is on reconstructing a utopian neighborhood that probably was never as ideal as their memories serve. “Make Evanston Great Again.”

    From advocates for building a new school one thing has been consistent: There has never been any attempt to make an educational argument about the need for a new school.

    Is there actual evidence to suggest that busing is the main driver of unequal outcomes in student performance? None has ever been presented. It would be very easy for the board to run a model that controls for variables outside of their potential policy influence (like demographics) and see if whether a student has to take the bus or not is statistically significant. Why haven’t they done this analysis? If they have, why haven’t the results been shared with the public?

    The consequences of this decision are easy to predict: More gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood near the school. Significant budget stress stemming from the “reverse mortgage” financing scheme. Continued difficulty retaining and recruiting high-quality teachers. Bigger class sizes. Absolutely zero progress on addressing the achievement gap.

    Hopefully next year we will get a sensible slate of challengers to the groupthink board members who currently occupy the seats.

  8. Anyone who wants to speak on this pro or con should get thee down to tonight’s (March 14) District 65 board meeting, 7 p.m. at 1500 McDaniel, and sign up when you arrive to participate in the public comment period.

  9. I am a teacher who works and lives in Evanston. It’s about time we’re getting a new school in the 5th ward. I hope I get a chance to teach there.

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