Trying to convince voters they have explored every alternative to building a new K-8 west side school to respond to rising enrollments, the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board worked until 11:21 p.m. Monday examining 10 other options.

Those ranged from doing nothing to building a smaller school that would not go beyond the fifth grade.

But none of the options appeared to trump the original recommendation of a special ad hoc committee of board members and community representatives that recommended the new school to the full board last month.

One option was to completely restructure and repurpose the present schools to provide for three sets of schools rather than just elementary and middle schools as exist currently.

This would require an extensive busing system that would shuttle the youngest students to one school for kindergarten, then move them to an intermediate school at fourth grade and then to a junior high school for seventh and eighth grades before passing them along to the high school for ninth grade and beyond.

Another option would involve leasing space at the high school from District 202. But at the suggestion of member Andrew Pigozzi, a school architect, who warned that the type of space available at the high school would be unsuitable for younger students, other members seemed to agree, and discussion on that option went no further.

To do nothing, however, was immediately rejected as it would result in larger class sizes that would bring increased discipline problems and would require more use of busing to take advantage of rapidly disappearing available space.

The board kept that option on the table, however, as it would be the default option if it could not find a better solution or if a planned referendum to provide funding for the new school should fail.

As the long evening drew to an end, the board directed the administration to consider an option that would involve building a smaller kindergarten-to-fifth-grade school and adding a wing to the Haven and Nichols middle schools to accommodate the additional students as they reached that level.

Before they discussed the various scenarios, the board heard a presentation by architect John Casstellana of TMP Architects, who had analyzed various locations for the proposed new school. The board narrowed his list of seven locations down to the two pieces of property that are already owned by the district.

One is Foster Field, located just north of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, and the other is at McDaniel Avenue and Church Street on vacant land just north of the District 65 administration building.

The board asked the administration to examine the feasibility of building the school on Foster Field and developing the McDaniel property with academic fields that could be shared by all schools, as well as by the community at large. 

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. I’d like to suggest a possible solution:

    It seems to me that the "social justice" issue in the 5th ward was not caused by integrating Foster School in 1967, when it was converted from a neighborhood attendance to a magnet program school, but rather by later closing and selling the building and moving the program to the current King Lab school location.  The community then lost it's educational focal point, and all the history that went along with it.  Nobody from that point forward was educated in the 5th ward or would ever have even the possibility (if they were accepted into the magnet program) of walking to a 5th ward school.

    While I feel for the loss of the history and sense of community that Foster School brought to the 5th ward, I'm sorry, but I can't — all these years after Brown vs. Board of Education — support creating 4 new "separate but equal" schools:  a new mostly black 5th Ward school and what would then become overwhelmingly white Willard, Lincolnwood and Kingsley Schools.  Nor apparently do the parents of 5th ward students, who have been surveyed and who have stated pretty clearly that they would rather stay at the schools their children are currently attending.

    If Foster the magnet school still existed, I believe the "social justice" solution today would be obvious: move to allow 5th ward residents to have preference, perhaps 1st preference, while also allowing/encouraging additional voluntary choices to attend Willard/Lincolnwood/Kingsley, to preserve some diversity there and to give the 5th Ward residents plenty of educational options.  In recent years, magnet schools in Chicago and many other cities have moved to allow preference to neighborhood residents — this promotes community support, rewards nearby residents and fulfills a basic fairness claim.

    This solution still could happen, it would have to be with the current King Lab being the option with preference for 5th ward students.  It would not in the center of the neighborhood like Foster was, but due to it's close 5th ward proximity,  many could walk there, or at least have a much shorter bus ride.

    I for one would like to see a new 5th ward school built, or the Foster building re-acquired and renovated — as long as the King Lab program would be moved back there. But I recognize that this would have to be predicated on a use being found for the current King building, and of course on capital and operating funds being available.  Perhaps, one day there will be a jobs bill approved by our Congress with funds for school construction/renovation that could be made available for this.  But right now, given the capital needs and enrollment increases of our many schools, we simply don't have the money.  And let's not kid ourselves, look at the surveys — a referendum will fail big time.  And of course it will be terribly divisive.

    Has this solution been considered?  And if not, why not?


    1. More thoughts

      A big problem with establishing a new 5th ward school is that students would need to be pulled out of the schools they are in and have grown up with — very disruptive and sure to be opposed by many parents.  Has anybody thought this one through?

      With a King Lab 1st preference model, incoming 5th ward kindergarteners would have the choice of attending King Lab, or one of the other North Evanston Schools (perhaps to join an older sibling).  The shift from King drawing from around the city to more heavily drawing from the 5th ward would be gradual and I would think easily managed.

      If a funding source could be identified to build a new school to house the King program back in the 5th Ward, where it was originally created (ie. federal jobs bill or broader educational referendum), perhaps the current King building could be converted back into a middle school (the purpose for which it was originally built) — alleviating the need to add classrooms to Haven and Nichols.  And perhaps limiting the size of Haven and Nichols would have additional educational benefits.

      People ask — why do we even have magnet schools in Evanston?  The answer is that they were first created in the 5th ward in the late 60's to provide a means to integrate the 5th ward and it's school kids into a segregated school system.  It only seems fitting to me that the King school should now be used to address the the legitimate grievances of those in the 5th ward who do not want to see their children travel far to attend school — while causing the least adverse effect on maintaining diversity/integration in the Evanston school system.

      Am I way off base here, or could this be a solution?

  2. Redristricting Current Schools?

    I haven't heard the option of just redrawing the boundaries of the current school map (perhaps using magnet schools as attendance area schools) and incorporating the 5th ward into those new boundaries.

    Why were all the other options considered too difficult and cumbersome? Gee, could it be that they were presented by the administration who clearly is pushing to board to this one conclusion? Could it be that the administration is framing this as a "social justice issue" because they know that is the best way to guilt people into voting for it?

    They are suggesting two locations for the new school – one is right next to the old school that the district sold two decades ago because of contracting population, and the other is one block from King Lab. What's wrong with this picture?

  3. The problem is the enrollment increase

    Jim, you start from the wrong premise. The central problem is a projected enrollment increase of nearly 700 students in the next three years — not speculative since the kids are already in Evanston and have been counted as they are either infants, toddlers or in the early grades — who are expected to enroll in District 65.

    Thus, you can't just shuffle the students around and find a viable solution. More classrooms MUST be built or a massive busing program and far larger class sizes put in place as described in the article. It is from this premise that the New School Committee made the recommendation that the best way to meet the need for additional classrooms is to build a 5th Ward School.

    Your suggestion simply moves students around, and would actually exacerbate the problem if King Lab has reduced enrollments. The Board needs to come to a recommended solution that meets the need for 700 students to be educated by 2014.

    So stay with the problem. The citizen committee recommended a 5th Ward school as the best  solution to address the enrollment increase. If you disagree with building a 5th Ward school, then where else do you build, given your values, knowing that simply moving students around does not solve the central problem? 

    1. Here’s my reply

      I don't know the specific local school area breakdown that King Lab draws from presently, but I would assume that it is a district wide draw, probably a bit more heavily from schools that for whatever reason are held in less than high regard and less from the top performers.

      So gradually shifting the incoming student population to more heavily favor the 5th ward would likely force more incoming students to attend their neighborhood school. Is this wrong?  Some schools have class space available.  Additions, temporary classrooms, conversion of other spaces within the schools to dedicated classroom space  would be the obvious solutions to those that don't.  I would think that this would less expensive, certainly less disruptive and more beneficial to the entire school system than essentially returning the system to the pre-1967 segregated model.

      Again here's why I'm against a new 5th ward school:

      1. Step backwards to re-create a much more segregated school system.  This cannot be denied and I'm not for that concept.  Having diverse schools benefits everyone — I still believe that.

      2. Very disruptive to the families that would have to have their kids shifted from their present school — that they are for the most part happy with — to be placed in a new segregated school.  New school = forcing a segregated school back on the 5th ward population + forcing a move from their current school, current friends.  Expect a lot of unhappiness over this.

      3. Acquiring the land, designing and building an entirely new school, that then need to be completely staffed by new personnel must be the highest cost option to add the classroom space that is needed district wide.  Less costly options would be to find ways to encourage parents to attend neighborhood schools that have space, and adding classroom space to the schools that don't.

      4.  A referendum will be needed: either to directly address the funding of the new school, or indirectly to replenish the money needed to make improvements needed elsewhere, if the board goes with a lease financing scheme (Don't even get me started on that!).  That referendum will likely fail and will be DIVISIVE.  Why waste time going down this road?

      Yes we need more classroom space:  I would think that scaling back the areas that King Lab draws from would be one of the least painful ways to get folks to send their kids to their neighborhood schools that have space.  And beyond that we will need to spend money to make more classrooms available to the schools that have the greatest need.  We have money available from bond issues to improve our schools — this will need to be spent to provide space where needed.

      And yes, I am against the magnet school program as currently designed.  It is unfair to the 5th ward residents to have a school almost in their neighborhood that they are routinely denied access to so that someone from a school across town, that has space available, can send their kid here.  It is doubly insulting that the school to which they are now denied first preference, was originally created and housed in the 5th ward with the purpose of benefiting the 5th ward residents.

    2. School Growth

      Where is the student growth to come from ? Will people move to Evanston because of our school test scores ? Schools better than New Trier ? Our decreasing property values but increasing taxes, foreclosures ?  Safe schools [think ETHS] Crime rate ?  Growing shopping area where all stores are up and thriving and you can buy anything you want ?  Manufacturing base to keep taxes down ?  Fostering service/technology so they stay ? Fighting NU every way possible ?  Council/Zoning having meetings and discussion that go for months so everyone can explain why they want everything they want where they want it and now ?  Re-segregating of schools ?
      Have the past projections of growth in population and school population been accurate ? How about demographic projections—i.e. high rises will tend to have fewer children in schools, aging population ?

    3. As the parent of 3 young

      As the parent of 3 young children not yet in school, I can assure you that the demand discussed here will not be nearly as high as predicted if the inconsistency and underperformance of D65 continues.

      The sentiment of most parents I meet around town is that they will make the sacrifices necessary to send their kids to private schools or move elsewhere when their kids are school-aged just to avoid D65 schools.

      Many pre-k parents are paying attention to the stories about the D65 superintendent comp increases and D65 students being unprepared for high school and wondering how it's possible D65 spends more and gets subpar results compared to neighboring communities.

      I can assure you that many of us are already making other arrangements… If only we could sell our houses in Evanston that we foolishly bought with the assumed 8-10% property tax increases each year.

      1. Underperformance??

        Where exactly is the underperformance in D65 schools?  

        The data I have seen show that just about every white student and most children of color are achieving at high levels.  The challenge is that the achievement of  students with disablities and students from low income households continue to lag. 

        This is no different from most other public schools. 

        The private school you are saving for solves the problem by sending students with disablities back to the public schools and never admitting low income students.


  4. Need for new Fifth Ward School doesn’t add up

    Everybody's talking as if D65 is bursting at the seams with students.

    It's my understanding that D65 enrollment hasn't even reached its peak levels of 10 years ago. In other words, in the past decade even during the real estate boom D65 enrollment has decreased.

    Compound that fact with a decline in births because of the Recession and that Evanston is a mature, built-up community and one can be very skeptical of the 700 additional student estimate being passed around as if it's an undeniable fact.  

    Yes, some schools have higher enrollment but others such as Oakton have lower enrollment. Everyone knows that there has been a significant population decline in the Fifth Ward. And a survey shows the majority of Fifth Ward parents are happy with the current school situation and are not excited about a new school.

    So why is there such a concentrated focused effort to ram through a new school? This school board also seems intent on finding ways to skirt around a voter referendum and build the new school without voter consent. That in of itself is shocking and appalling.

    Our school board should continue to question and explore projected school enrollment because D65 staff estimates don't add up. A few years back D65 had actually talked about CLOSING a school because there was too much classroom space and a steady decline in enrollment.

    Here's another consideration – Roycemoore School is expanding and where do you suppose many of their new students live?  Other Evanston private schools are growing in numbers, too. My hunch is more and more Evanston parents are disgusted with the D65 bureaucracy and are sending their kids to private schools. I personally know of several parents who pulled their kids out of D65 and sent them to private schools. I also know several others in my little world in northwest Evanston who are looking at private schools for their kids. It's not because of large class sizes, either.

    So if Evanston private schools are growing and D65 enrollment is down from 10 years ago how are we to believe the district will get another 700 students? Our school board should be focused like a laser beam on improving education. What about foreign language requirement for ALL schools in the lower grades as one of a million examples? 

    All D65 incumbents lost in the school board race this year. Katie Bailey lucked out because there were only two newcomers against three incumbents. 

    Next time, I bet there will be more newcomers than incumbents.

  5. A Grand Bargain for D65

    Now it seems so easy—reorganizing the school district into K-3, 4-6, and 7-8 schools solves all space issues with no need to build a new school or further additions, and saves money in the bargain.   Class sizes are more efficiently managed with larger cohorts, reducing the numbers of classrooms and teachers needed.  Educational resources can be more effectively targeted to the needs of a narrower range of age groups, also saving money.  Plus, this type of reorganization would create equity across the district in a way that no other plan has ever done.  Economic and ethnic diversity are much more easily achieved with bigger cohorts drawn from larger areas of the city.  All students will have the experience of attending a school other than their “neighborhood” school during their elementary school years.  Parental zest for school improvement will benefit three schools instead of two.  And no referendum needed!

    Why would we not do this?  What’s not to like?  Oh, right, the change thing.  People don’t like change.  But they can take comfort in the knowledge that everyone would be changing together.  The burden of change would not fall disproportionately on any one subset of students/families. 

    So while we’re at it, let’s create more change.  Make no little plans.  How about a more modern school calendar to go along with the more modern school configuration—earlier start times for the younger children, later start times for the older ones, and a longer, or at least a more spread out, school year.  Even build the new school and bring our city into the 21st century.  Construction and financing costs may never be lower, and if/when the economy recovers, one of the old schools in a high rent district could be sold to offset the cost of the new school and neutralize operating expenses.

    These are exciting times with lots of potential for district 65, even in the midst of this awful economic downturn.  Be bold, decision-makers, while making every dollar count.

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