A District 65 committee Thursday night discussed ways to establish a new 5th Ward school in Evanston without having to change other school boundaries.
The New School/Referendum Committee appeared to be leaning toward the idea of creating a new kindergarden through eighth grade school that would be open to students from throughout the district, but with preference given to those living near the school.
The district already operates two K-8 magnet schools open to all students.
One is King Lab School, which initially occupied the old Foster School building in the 5th Ward, but was moved to the former Skiles Middle School building along the North Shore Channel in the 2nd Ward when the district, faced in the late 1970s with declining enrollments, decided to cut back to operating only three middle schools.
The other is the Bessie Rhodes Magnet School. Originally constructed in the 1950s as the Timber Ridge Elementary School, it was closed in the 1970s because of declining enrollment, but reopened as a magnet school in 1995.
Foster School, as 2010 Dewey Ave., which until the district adopted an integration plan in the 1960s had an enrollment that was 99 percent black, is now owned by the non-profit Family Focus organization.
The panel discussed possible school locations in an area roughly bounded by Church Street, McCormick Boulevard and Green Bay Road. Administration officials say the school would require a three to five acre site.
School Superindendent Hardy Murphy suggested that the district hire a consultant to explore financing options for a new school “to ensure that recommended actions fully comply with the state code,” including whether a referendum would be required.
And, in a memo to the committee, Murphy also cautioned that “any financing option must also take in account the current and projected state of overall district finances,” including costs of operating the new school.
“This is especially important,” he wrote, “given the financial challenges the district is facing in the form of projected deficits in its operational budget.”
After hearing again from activists, including local NAACP leaders Bennett Johnson and Judith Treadway, who spoke nostalgically of the old Foster School and how it contributed to a feeling of community pride, the committee asked Murphy to conduct a telephone survey of 5th Ward residents with children in district schools to get their views.
The activists say that busing used to integrate the city’s schools has led to a loss of community cohesion in the 5th Ward.
The committee is expected to take up governance and curriculum and operations issues, including the viability of utilizing a charter school model, at its next regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. on July 14 at the city’s Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster St.
Any solution recommended by the committee, which includes three members of the seven-member school board, would be subject to approval of the full school board.