The crowd stood and cheered.

The superintendent and the school board president high-fived.

Board president Anya Tanyavutti and superintendent Devon Horton celebrate 5th Ward school vote.

And the 1960s decision closing the neighborhood school in a predminantly Black community in Evanston was undone, as the District 65 Board of Education voted unanimously to build a new school in the Fifth Ward.

More than two dozen speakers urged the board, in the words of the Rev. Michael Nabors, to create a state of the art facility which would become “the pride and joy of the 5th Ward just as the Foster school was so many years ago.”

Foster ceased being a neighborhood school in 1967, with students bused to other schools around town as part of a desegregation plan. The building itself was a magnet school until 1979, when it was closed completely as an education facility.

Supporters of the new school said that bused Black children have often missed after-school activities in order to catch the bus back home, and that desegregation required the most effort for decades from a community of color.

Board member Marquise Weatherspoon recalled growing up in the 5th Ward and having to take the bus to school in another neighborhood.

Building a school in her old community, Weatherspoon saide, would “repair an historic harm.”

“I would say this day” approving a 5th Ward school “did not come soon enough,” said board vice president Biz Lindsay-Ryan.

The approved plan is for a $40 million dollar, K-8 building, which would open no earlier than the 2024-25 school year.

The Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies would then move to the 5th Ward facility as a “magnet school within a school.” The Rhodes building would close and be sold.

Board members stressed that under the financing method known as “lease certificates,” the new school can be built without a tax increase.

Lease certificates also mean that approval of a new building will not have to go before the voters, who rejected a 5th Ward school along with a larger school construction and repair bond issue a decade ago.

This time, District 65 officials say that by reducing busing district-wide, $2 million dollars in transportation costs per year will be saved, and will go to pay off the lease certificate loans.

Besides eliminating busing from the 5th Ward, several other school boundaries will be moved, to make all elementary schools within walking distance of students’ homes. That will reduce busing as well.

Those changes will also not take place until the opening of the 5th Ward school.

The decision to build a new school has apparently helped the Evanston/Skokie teachers make peace with the administration,and help smooth over previous differences.

Maria Barroso, president of the District Educators Council (teachers union) told the board that not only does DEC support the 5th Ward project, but during the ongoing study and discussion, “the superintendent and DEC have made great strides” in a future partnership.

While district officials say that more than 70% of those surveyed support the new building, there have been some community critics about the timing, cost, and transparency of the entire project.

Board members defended the availability of information.

Anya Tanyavutti, the board president, said “this has been a very deliberate and thorough process.”

Board member Soo La Kim was more blunt.

“I want to address some of the resistance to change,” she stated.

“I find it puzzzling that at the 11th hour that people are coming forward and claiming the process has been rushed. Where have you been?”

Kim said there was a “racialized discourse in opposition” to what is taking place.

Still to tackle, some $188 million dollars worth of needed renovations to other District 65 buildiings. Superintendent Horton indicated that tough decisions are ahead there, with more school closings possible.

And those discussions will start soon.

But this night was for celebration, for those who want a new 5th Ward school.

A young child named Shelley, who did not look to be more than eight or nine years old, stood at the podium and said this to the adults in the room about a 5th Ward facility: “We have the opportunity to go somewhere that is good and great.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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4 Comments

  1. Just remember that we as a community voted for this school board.
    I wish there was a way we could make the administration and school board financially responsible should lease certificates do not provide sufficient funding–the board would have voted differently if that was the case.
    This is a horrible waste of taxpayer dollars that will only continue to drive the middle class out of Evanston. If you really believe lease certificates can pay for this school, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you in Brooklyn.

  2. I’m incredulous with the board’s statements, their behavior,and their faux community outreach. I’ve tried in every way possible to partake in these discussions since the beginning just to be shut out of the conversation. They engaged folks they wanted to, and quickly dismissed anyone that want in complete support of their groupthink. Not once have they presented any community feedback based on data. Instead it was always an emotional and nostalgic appeal for a long lost era. And they gave less than two weeks between the recommendation and approval. What objective feedback did they collect during that period? And from whom?

    It was clearly a pre-determined outcome with baked analysis and no critical thinking to arrive at any other conclusion. How they can ignore the larger facility and budget issues as some unrelated matter is beyond any reasonable explanation. But if anyone raises even a peep of objection they get painted as racist and shunned as evil-doers. The amount of underlying frustration and anger that engenders is palpable and will have long last impacts they refuse to acknowledge. Some simple good faith conversation and challenges of pre-conceived notions (and outcomes) could go a long way to making much needed progress to include the stated goals of improving equity and closing the achievement gap.

    I for one have serious reservations about continuing to live here. In my decade in Evanston I grew to love it, and have made large investments in the community and in our home. But seeing what it’s become in the last few years just breaks my heart, and I no longer think it’s the diverse and caring community we want to raise our children in. It’s all talk and self dealing, with nobody challenging their own bias and actually caring about outcomes instead of wins.

  3. My three children took the bus for eight years. All three graduated from college and have good jobs. The idea that taking the bus school hurts a child’s education is absurd. We thought the bus worked great and I was very pleased that my children attended diverse schools.

  4. This is very exciting but also worrisome…I can only hope that the process of budgeting for the new school, and all of its ancillary costs will be realistic for our budget. By the way, do we have one? Is District 65 and it’s Board accountable to anyone? What are the projections for enrollment at all schools over the next 10 years? They have significantly dropped in the last two years. My concern is not racially biased at all. It’s not about where the new school is going. The question lies in what is the logic in building a new 30 million dollar facility, while potentially closing two or three schools? All while trying to find the necessary funding for the deferred Maintenance on all schools due to extremely poor budgeting and school management? I believe the figure ascertained by a hired consultant was $188,000,000 in arrears that are due to enable our community to do the repairs that are necessary to keep our existing schools in a safe, and healthy state for our students and staff. If we are unable to care for our existing schools, acting fiscally responsibly, then how have we earned the right to build a new school? If the School Board and Superintendent Horton can find a way to pay for the needed capital improvements and finance the new school, then I think consideration is reasonable. Otherwise, I say, we are creating a nightmare, with unknown financial indebtedness for years to come. Financial planning has to be integrated with the mission and long term planning of the School Board. It is your duty to act responsibly, for our community. We are one community with many factions. The pain of the past has been heard, and let’s not forget that we are the only community in the whole US that is paying reparations. I think it’s great, but we can’t turn the world upside down. We need to balance our expenditures throughout the whole school system with our revenues and expenses, on a budgeted, thoughtful plan. That is how Evanston can become great, for all of US. Strength comes from holding ourselves accountable.

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