The crowd stood and cheered.
The superintendent and the school board president high-fived.
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.”