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.

Charles Bartling

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. Evanston’s motto: Progress without change

    Ok, we're going to create a new school without it adding to the already significant financial issues that the district has because of the bad economy and the pension issues.  And we're going to create a school to serve a neighborhood without having to redistrict, even though the whole point of the school is to be a neighborhood school.  As usual, people in Evanston want to change things without really changing them or having to focus on the consequences.  Has this committee actually heard from many parents of current school kids or younger kids, rather than just hearing from older folks who are pining for a golden age that may or may not have ever existed? 

  2. Pure insanity

    This is insane.

    A new school in the Fifth Ward would cost tens of millions to build and millions more to operate each year. We don't have that kind of money

    The number of Fifth Ward students have been declining for years.

    There are already TWO magnet schools in the city.

    While the City Council considers closing the north and south branch libraries and the Chandler Rec Center in budget cuts, the Fifth Ward last year gets tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to revitalize the neighborhood.

    More property owners are moving out of Evanston than moving in primarily because of the decisions made by our city and school leaders (see the elimination of freshmen honors, tax increases, a possible bag tax, etc).

    The sensible thing for our city and school leaders to do is MERGE D65 and D202 and eliminate the duplicative Township Assessor's Office.

    Instead, D65 forms a committee to explore building a NEW school during hard economic times when taxpayers are paying more and getting less. 

    Get involved, call the school board members, because if you don't this will be rammed through.

  3. New School

    I'm a parent of current school kids.  Build the new neighborhood school, and make it nice and big while you're at it.  It would be great for the community and the city to have a 21st century school; we haven't had a new school in 40 years.  Construction and financing costs are still appreciably lower than they were before the recession, although they should have built the school two years ago when costs were even lower and stimulus funds might have been available.  Also, it seems that the school district already owns the land on which the proposed new school would be built.  Then sell one of the old school buildings that is in a prime real estate development area.  And for pete's sake, redistrict.  This will be necessary anyway unless Haven can hold 950 kids.  The city has been redistricted before and the sky will not fall if it happens again.  Everyone survives.  Many residents probably remember various times in the past when there was a Foster School, a Miller School, a Noyes School, and a Skiles Junior High School; and no Kingsley, Walker, Bessie Rhodes, or Chute Schools.  Unless we want a city of choice schools, which I don't think is the vision of this school board or of previous boards, redistricting is the way to go.    

    1. Redistrict & do away with magnets

      I think instead of building a new school or continuing to bus the minority kids, redistricting is in order.  I also think, as part of this process, D65 should do away with the magnets and make them neighborhood schools. As a result,  no new school would be needed because Lab could serve that neighborhood.  Schools that are under-populated would in turn get their spots filled.

      Our town is too small to have magnets and they weaken the neighborhood schools– especially those that are underperforming.  The magnets also breed the perception that if your kid isn't in a magnet, a program like TWI or a school like Willard, that they're somehow getting an inferior product. 

      My child is not getting an inferior product in his gen ed classes at our neighborhood school.  He is thriving, but only 2 families out of approximately 10 in our neighborhood actually go to the neighborhood school because of the aforementioned misperceptions.  Our school had Spanish for 3rd-5th grade until last year and that was taken away.  Why do the magnets get these perceived perks when others don't?  Do magnet parents pay an extra portion on their tax bill? 

      Time to redistrict and focus on equity of resources in our schools.  ALL of our students deserve the best and not just a "randomly" selected few.


  4. Redistrict, we are BEGGING you!

    Redistrict.  Once again, we have 550 fewer D65 students than we did 10 years ago.  the idea that we need a new school is absurd.  It is important to have a neighborhood school.  King Lab belongs to the 5th Ward.  Give it back.  Improve all the schools if you MUST make capital expenditures.  But please, don't build a new school because you don't want to redistrict.  Ugh.  Do the hard work.  Yes, people will come scream at you.  But we have to be smart about our $$.  The best thing for our kids would be to spend money recruiting EXCELLENT teachers, supporting the teachers we have, and keeping class sizes as small as possible.

    1. Redistricting Support

      Well said, "Me Again" and I couldn't agree more.  I wish the people of our fair city had as much passion about these critical issues as they do about banning restaurants.  The school board needs to step up and make some tough decisions!  Building a new school is plain old ridiculous.  I hope more people get on board with the idea of redistricting and demand more educational equity for our children.  Paying extra for other people's kids to have extra programs because their names got picked in a lottery is maddening!  Redistrict now and give the magnets back to the neighborhoods!  It's the smartest and fairest idea in the long run.  Come on Evanston, let's get behind this!

      1. Misperceptions about magnet resources

        A couple of people have posted to this list about additional resources that the magnet schools receive.

        They get nothing in addition–no additional teachers, social workers, facilities, etc. They get the same things as other schools with three exceptions.  1. A shorter school day for middle schools; 2. an 8:00 am start time, and;  3. a K-8 format.   

        Check with the District 65.

        The magnets–especially Lab–did have differences in the past.  In fact, up until the late 1990s Lab used looping which was fantastic for the kids but district leadership insisted teachers did not like and claimed didn't work.   Look now at Hardy talk about reintroducing it.  

        Murphy has a been a very expensive and largely ineffectual leader in this district. The fifth ward school is another example of his skill of diverting attention from the real and hard conversations about school preparation, parental or caregiver support, and consistent individualized high expectations for all children to making his ardent supporters happy.    Building a fifth ward school will do nothing for the achievement gap and will divert resources.  If neighborhood schools were the key to educational success, let the district show us that children who walk to Oakton do much, much better than those bused to Willard.

        1. right

          I think we agree but just to be clear I did not mean to say that magnets are more resourced other than to say that they have the building.  It is too bad that our magnets do not do significantly better (because really, they should, given the evidence in the education field), but since they aren't doing better, let's switch it up to avoid building a new school.  

          I think there should be a referendum "no confidence" vote on Murphy.


        2. Magnets DO take away from neighborhood schools

          Magnets absolutely _do_ take resources from neighborhood schools.  Bessie Rhodes and Lab will be offering language for elementary grades while our neighborhood school had Spanish taken away last year because of budget cuts.  I believe Lab is also hiring a dance teacher.  These additional positions cost the district money and they also propagate the faulty perception that magnets are superior to neighborhood schools.  In our neighborhood this means the loss of involved, invested families to the magnets.  We were one of those families, until recently.

          When we moved to our South Evanston neighborhood we heard from everyone that we shouldn't even consider our neighborhood school (Oakton).  Shame on us for not looking at it.  We sent our child to a well-respected private school believing that was our only option since we didn't get into the magnets.  Long story short, it didn't live up to our expectations. 

          We then realized all the folks who told us about avoiding the neighborhood school were people who sent their kids to magnets or elsewhere and had never even attended Oakton.  We toured  the school, fell in love and we haven't looked back since.  Unfortunately, misperceptions about our school persist and the magnets continue to get many of our families.  This despite an incredible teaching staff and principal.  A fine arts curriculum that rivals what we saw at Lab on our tour. An offering of three academic strands that add to the unique and diverse flavor of the school.  Small class sizes.  An amazing variety of enrichment programs, many of which are free or have scholarships available.  There is Choir, Drum Circle, Chess Club, Mural Club, Flag Football, Basketball, Tai Kwon Do, Girls on the Run, Mudslingers (pottery/garden club), Sewing Club, Mad Science, Tennis, Spanish Club, Young Authors, Super Saturday School, an artist-in-residence program and the Edible Garden. 

          At Oakton we have to do a lot with a little.  Other schools get the benefit of having a bigger population of kids from families with more financial resources so even if a parent in unable to volunteer for something at school they may be able to donate money towards a project or activity.  We don't want to switch schools.  We _ love_ Oakton and want equity in Evanston schools.  Magnets are no longer used for their intended purpose– desegregation & experimental learning.  They're supposedly used to relieve overcrowding in schools like Willard, but they don't even do that.  Mostly they have a negative effect on neighborhood schools by taking away resources in the form of money and involved parents, who have the unfortunate idea their kids won't get what they need at their neighborhood school.  It's time for the District to do the right thing– redistrict and absorb the magnets back into the neighborhoods.

  5. Redistrict NOW!

    I'm dumbfounded that the District 65 school board can even entertain the idea of building a 5th Ward school. Are there overcrowding issues at some of the schools? Yes. Is there another way to resolve the problem? Yes. Redistrict and make King Lab & Bessie Rhodes neighborhood schools once again. The board must know this is a more realistic and cost effective option so I hope other taxpayers start to get behind this. We have enough to fix in our existing schools and the student population is actually smaller overall than it was a decade ago. No new school! Redistricting NOW!

  6. Yes to Redistricting

    I too am in favor of redistricting.  The idea of building a new facility when enrollment is down is completely irresponsible and taxpayers should not stand for it.  Call the School Board and let them know how you feel.  If they continue to make bad decisions and avoid doing the responsible thing, we should throw them all out on their collective rears.

    1. Check student resident status

      The Chicago Trib. has an article about schools more carefully checking the proof of residency of the students and families.

      With all the reports of children in Evanston who's parents [and possibly them] or use a relatives address to attend Evanston schools, I hope the schools are more carefully checking documentation, looking at the plates of the cars that drop them off and having the police investigate and charge [criminal and for back tuition/other] violators.

      I guess and alternative would be schools and citizens to get the laws changed so that student funding follows the student.  Then Chicago students could come to Evanston schools—or both Chicago and Evanston students could go to New Trier.  Then we would see where the good schools are.

  7. Thank you!

    Thanks to everyone for the well-reasoned comments.  I have no children or grandchildren in the system, so your comments are invaluable for me to understand the issues.

    Clearly, eliminating magnet schools, redistricting and merging systems (and school boards) makes perfect sense.

  8. No new school

    I have lived in the 5th ward throughout my 13 yr olds school career. His "neighborhood" school would have been either Lincolnwood or Kingsley (made lateral moves that would have changed his home school), but I chose Bessie Rhodes.

    I chose a magnet school for the k-8 classes and the creative curriculum. If we had been rejected from Bessie Rhodes, I would have been happy with either Lincolnwood or Kingsley, all are good schools.

    What makes them good are the teachers, the administration and the parents. While I would love if my kids could walk to school, I also believe a good education is worth travelling 1.9 miles.

    I fear that diverting funds to a new school would make it more difficult to finance the schools that we already have.

    Nobody has mentioned that the 5th Ward is a rough neighborhood and I personally feel safer sending my kids outside the neighborhood.

    I also want my child to be in an integrated school; the 5th ward is homogenous and wouldn't allow interaction with much diversity.

    I hope we stay focused on what matters most: good teachers, parental involvement, high standards, and responsible financing of education!

  9. New School?

    Will someone please investigate why the building that houses Chiaravalle school was sold by the city 2 years ago for a paltry 3-4 million$?  This school sits in the Dewey district.  Dewey has just finished the second of 2 multi-million dollar additions.  Until 2 years ago, Chiaravalle rented the building–why was it sold and not taken back by the district at the end of its lease?  Isn't it cheaper to use a building you already own than to build a school and who knows how many school additions??  

    1. What’s to investigate?


      Your comment assumes that School District 65 and the City of Evanston are the same governmental entity –which they are not.

      It also assumes that a century-old school building sold off as surplus decades ago would be deemed to meet the needs of a new public school facility today.

      District 65 closed and sold several school properties at a time of declining enrollment — including the one now owned by Chiaravalle as well as what's now the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

      The City of Evanston bought the Noyes and Chiaravalle buildings. It leased the Chiaravalle building to the private school under an agreement that had more than a decade left to run when it agreed to sell the building to Chiaravalle recently.

      It also may be relevant that neither the Dewey nor the Chiaravalle buildings are located in the 5th Ward, and therefore don't meet the goal of new school advocates of placing a new school building in that ward.



  10. It seems to me that the

    It seems to me that the tragedy was not in integrating Foster School in 1967, when it was converted from a neighborhood attendance to a magnet school, but rather by later closing and selling the building and moving the program to the current King Lab school.  If Foster the magnet school still existed, the solution would be obvious: allow nearby residents 1st preference, while also allowing voluntary choices to attend Willard/Lincolnwood/Kingsley, to preserve some diversity there and give the 5th Ward residents educational options.

    This solution still could happen with King Lab being the 1st choice, it's just not in the center of the neighborhood like Foster was.  But certainly many could walk there or have a much shorter bus ride.

    Perhaps someday Foster could be re-acquired, renovated and the King Lab program moved back there, if a use could be found for the current King building, and if funds could be available.  Perhaps, there will be a jobs bill someday approved by our congress with funds for school construction/renovation that could fund this.  But right now, sorry, we don't have the money.

    And finally, I'm sorry, but I am not at all convinced, all these years after Brown v. Board of Education, that creating 4 new "separate but equal" schools (new mostly black 5th Ward and what would become mostly white Willard/Lincolnwood/Kingsley) is a good choice.  Nor apparently do the parents of 5th ward kids who have been surveyed and who would rather stay where they are at.

    Back to the drawing board please!


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