The old Foster School in Evanston’s 5th Ward means a great deal to police officer Tosha Wilson.
“My parents went to Foster,” EPD officer Wilson says, “before they shut it down.” Foster was all-Black when her parents attended, but after Evanston schools integrated in the mid-1960s, Foster was phased out and children from the neighborhood were bused to other, more racially and ethnically diverse schools. It’s been that way ever since.
But there is now another school renting space in the old Foster building, Kingsway Preparatory Academy. It’s a tiny school, whose expansion plans were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. But when Wilson was invited to her goddaughter’s graduation there, she saw children “doing so well” she thought “Wow, this is an amazing school,” and vowed to help.
Wilson has an online fund-raising drive called Boosting Black Business. Since starting in July, Wilson says she’s raised over $80,000, often in small contributions of $5, $10 or $20. The money goes to help Black entrepreneurs, because, Wilson says, “There are people who are working hard but are denied opportunities” to obtain funding through traditional sources such as banks.
One such business, in Chicago, hires formerly incarcerated women. Another, the sixth being assisted, is Kingsway Prep.
Tamara Steward Hadaway is Kingsway’s founder, owner, and principal. The name “Kingsway” has two derivations. One, because the school is Christian faith-based, it means “King’s Way.” The second … “Kingsway” was also the name of a school Hadaway attended as a child in her native Jamaica.
Hadaway had been principal of the nearby Faith Christian Academy, which closed in 2015. But after “talking with people who are passionate about educating children,” she opened Kingsway that year, renting space in what is now the Family Focus social services building, the old Foster School.
With only 18 students in grades preK-5, Kingsway is not about to make a huge dent in the much-desired neighborhood goal of a 5th Ward public school. Plus Kingsway is private. With full-day tuition and fees of $8,500, it’s not easy for low-income neighbors to afford.
Hadaway says most families receive financial aid, and the fund-drive from Boosting Black Business, with a $50,000 goal, should help with more scholarships, and the addition of staff. Hadaway was planning to more than double enrollment, to 40 students, but the COVID pandemic put that on hold for now.
She’s also hoping to add a full time outdoor education component. Most classes were held outside during the fall, and it worked out so well, Hadaway adds, that she’d like to make it permanent.
Hadaway says she’s not looking for Kingsway to get too big, because that way it might lose the close (not too physically close now due to social distancing) personal attention which students receive. The religious component is “a bonus” for the children, but “even more than faith is the academic foundation we provide.”
As for police officer Wilson, she says a small school like Kingsway can’t by itself solve the racial achievement gap in Evanston education. But what she sees in Kingsway is “a prime example that young Black kids can learn.”
“All kids are capable,” she adds. “You just have to meet people where they are.”