(Michael O'Keene/Shutterstock.com)

There is more empty space in Evanston/Skokie District 65 school buildings, as the number of students who fill that space continues to drop.

According to numbers presented in a report this week to the Board of Education, as of Oct. 1, 6,618 children were enrolled in the District, including Kindergarten through 8th grade programs and the various special schools including JEH Early Childhood, Park and Rice.

That’s 421 fewer kids than on the same day last year — a 6% decline.

Looking just at K-8 enrollment, 6,113 students were enrolled on Oct. 1 this year, That’s 428 fewer than a year ago — a 7% decline.

Sarita Smith, Manager of Student Assignments, tells Evanston Now that District 65 is working with a demographer to track data, figure out why the population is declining, and help plan for the future.

Parents walking children to Dewey Elementary on first day of school, this fall.

Smith says this type of decrease is typical of what’s happening across the country.

Young couples, she notes, are “having fewer children,” and are having those children “much later, because of a focus on careers.”

Then there is the Evanston-specific factor of the high cost of housing, which Smith says is “pricing out families with multiple children,” who are moving further north “where the cost of living is cheaper.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when Evanston’s public schools were on remote learning only, some parents switched their children to private or parochial schools, which went in-person much sooner.

Smith says she expected most of those students to return as COVID lessened, and District 65 reopened fully.

However, it’s turned out, she notes, that “the private school kids are not coming back.”

Instead, the D65 report says 127 of the 443 returning students this year are from public schools, with 111 of them transferring from Chicago Public Schools.

That means fewer than half of those who left for private or religious schools have returned.

For reasons yet unknown, the number of transfers from CPS is one category on the increase. For 2022-23, such transfers have doubled since the number in 2019.

Smith speculates that once the COVID-related ban on evictions was lifted, some Chicago residents moved to Evanston while “trying to land on their feet,” sometimes moving in with relatives.

Many of the transfers, she says, are moving into South Evanston, where housing is less expensive than in other Evanston neighborhoods.

Enrollment data is always important, but will be even more so soon, as District 65 goes through a redistricting process that will see the opening of a new school in the 5th Ward, the planned closing of the Bessie Rhodes building (with that program moving to the new building), and the likely shutdown of at least one other building.

The painful reality is that a shrinking district does not need so many schools.

In 2016-17, District 65 had nearly 7,560 students, K-8. This year, it’s nearly 1,400 fewer, and there is no expectation of a huge jump any time soon.

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

Join the Conversation


  1. Let’s see, when did enrollment start the decline? And when did this board start their take over? Nope, no correlation there. You can make any excuses you like, but this is a 5 year pattern.

    Btw, about 5% drop the year before pandemic. About 5% year after. Still think it’s the pandemic?
    Time for new ideas and new people.

  2. We’re building a new school in a time of multi year enrollment declines the financing of which is going to be taken out of the operating budget for multiple years to come. Of course the operating costs will increase across the district and the per-pupil expenditure on instruction will likely suffer.

    Remember the rationale for the new school expenditure was entirety based on a combination of nostalgia and manufactured guilt not instructional need, educational outcomes, or any demographic analysis.

    I guess it’s the prerogative of the board to make decisions in such an irresponsible and damaging way. But these numbers should make it even more urgent that we get independent board members who are fiscally responsible and dedicated to improving educational outcomes instead of rallying behind the vacuous slogans of the day.

  3. I can tell you why we took our kid out-not only the non-scientifically delayed COVID school opening that we were told was about students of color and their risk (who were actually harmed the most academically because of school closure), but because of the racial politics of this district. We put our child in a private school that is focused on education and for all their students to succeed and thrive, regardless of their skin color. My child won’t be back in the district until we take racial politics out of our schools, which I assume would be at the point that the D65 Board is something beyond an echo chamber of consulting cronies with a new Superintendent.

    1. We moved out of Evanston when they told my 50% Caucasian/50% Hispanic son to check his “white privilege” at the door. We moved to AZ & knew District 65 was going to implode.

  4. Pure speculation on the part of Mrs. Smith. Let’s look at some of the flaws in her reasoning. Demographics do not explain a 20% drop in students over a few years. People moving in from Chicago means many don’t find housing costs to be a barrier. Her mentioning older couples as a factor is also a stretch. They tend to be much wealthier than younger couples with similarly aged kids. How does she know people are moving farther north? It is not clear they are. If they are, could it be because they like the schools better? No, it couldn’t be that. Doesn’t anyone see the self serving politics in these talking points?

    It is amazing that a district that is losing a lot of teachers and students doesn’t bother to ask them why they left. Why don’t they get the last address and phone and contact them instead of hiring a demographer? It should appear to any reasonable person that D65 doesn’t want to know. Why is this acceptable?

  5. This is very sad. Our family left for private in the middle of the pandemic because we needed to send our kids to a school that was open. We haven’t come back (and in fact no one we know who has switched has come back). The reason we haven’t returned is political dysfunction. During the pandemic we received intemperate and nonsensical emails from the superintendent, the board meetings were bizarre, and being in favor of reopening made us a target of hostility from other parents, especially online (this is hard to believe now!). It was a relief to not have to deal with it anymore, and we like our new school. I know many similar stories – if D65 asked this is what they would hear.

  6. These excuses for enrollment drop are all smoke and mirrors, we all know why are neighbors and friends are leaving in droves. The board, Horton and his agenda and their priorities which are diluting our children’s education is why many have left and many more are considering it. I don’t understand why this board cannot be ousted, beyond their lack of transparency on so many issues that borderline on criminal, are at the very least unethical – these fundamental and very basic metrics are crumbling before us and needs to change before it goes too far (which it might already have). This is so sad to see such a great school district crumble so fast and the administration and board instead of righting the ship is doubling down on their agenda.

    1. I’d recommend taking a look at the writing of John McWhorter, who has posited that the politicization of school systems like D65 is tied to what is, functionally, a religious cult.

      Identity & race are inextricably linked to education by the fervent acolytes who preach and demand subservience to their creed. Any dissent is heretical and thus one is labeled as privileged & racist. A smaller census is actually a preferred state for any fundamentalist — true believers only, please.

      We’ve a student who is a senior at ETHS & it feels like we might be getting out of Evanston’s educational cult just in time. If our child were still in D65, we’d have moved or transferred our child.

  7. Some D65 parents have been very vocal about the reasons they left D65. More parents claim they plan to leave D65 for essentially the same reasons, but the housing market and economy keeps them in Evanston for now. Their reasons are not shocking to me but seem consistent in the last few years. The top 10 reasons are:

    #10. D65 officials fail to accept any responsibility and there does not appear to be institutional accountability at D65. The board spends taxpayer funds and hires consultants and staff in a self serving manner that harms the students. D65 has a million deputy superintendents and directors, with duplicative jobs and not enough work and accountability to justify their enormous salaries.

    #9. D65 test scores are not improving and the teachers don’t seem to have an answer.

    #8. Private schools are offering better deals while D65 is charging middle class Evanstonians a thousand dollars per year for their children to attend D65 public school, not including lunch, with insane fees that seem unlawful and manufactured for a public school district.

    #7. TWI is ineffective and dysfunctional relative to math and STEM. Every year TWI students perform miserably in math because D65 relegates this high risk category of students to Spanish math test before they understand Spanish well enough interpret math problems in Spanish. Program director egocentricity and institutional ignorance have caused TWI kids to be 2 years behind in math in comparison to their counterparts.

    #6. Evanston property taxes and crime stats are getting out of control.

    #5. Better job opportunities elsewhere.

    #4. The Board appears incompetent and corrupt. It continues to appoint certain members, under the guise of filling a key opening, based on the person’s racial and/or LGBTQ affiliation and friendship with board members, with an eye towards pressing that an identity agenda, rather than adhering, in good faith, to an open electoral process.

    #3 Black male students and Black male parents are marginalized by D65 staff at schools like Dewey and Willard with impunity and without any regard to Black male student health or professionalism. One Black male parent told me the microagressions he experiences at Dewey this year is something a Black man would expect in the Antebellum South. And now, D65 boys of all races are begining to be shamed for being masculine and targeted for discipline, and D65 convinces them that they are innately toxic and subjects to teacher and staff rebuke simply for being boys. Their talents and interests are not cultivated or encouraged like the staff does with girls, a staff of which is almost completely void of males, particularly heterosexual males.

    #2 The curriculum has worsened. The board is imposing Black Lives Matter and Sexual Orientation counseling on children that is clearly LGBTQ and racial indoctrination, and not age appropriate, with the intent to perpetuate the myth that any parental allegiance to traditional American values and Christian norms will cause a D65 kid to commit suicide.

    #1 The decline in academic status is too significant and there does not appear to be any indication the current board will improve it. Several years ago, schools like Dewey, Nichols, Haven, Lincoln were ranked in the top 10% by the Illinois Board of Education and declared “Exemplary.” Today, the D65 board and Sup have managed to destroy academic achievement and the culture of intellectual excellence that once permeated D65, while managing to spend more money, increase fees, and hire more staff and consultants to advance a curriculum centered on making D65 a beacon of DEI without regard to parental rights and the poor academic results across all groups in D65.

    1. Nice summation.
      We decided to send our black daughter to a private school last school year after her experiences with bullying and the mass exodus of many of her better teachers. However, she was adamant in her opposition to the move, which would have been the fourth in 7 years (don’t ask why…). So she voted to stay put with some of her friends for her last year in D65. Hopefully ETHS will not imitate the stupidity and dishonesty of D65 administration. So far, her brothers are doing well there.

  8. The massive drop is for “reasons unknown?” Parents having fewer children? Come on now. If the ‘fewer children’ excuse was remotely accurate, there wouldn’t be a dramatic rise in neighboring private schools. And might I add, non Catholic families sending kids to Catholic schools would be a tip off that this is about Horton and his board. D65 revealed how they deal with pivoting during unforeseen emergencies (Covid) & how they react & behave during tough times (beyond Covid, do I need to laundry-list the issues?). There’s been a mass exodus and true to form, D65 takes zero accountability for any of it. If they cared, Horton & Board would engage in respectful dialogue with parents, starting with LISTENING to their concerns. They do not listen. They do not own their mistakes. They don’t support or respect teachers either. It is the opinion of many D65 parents that Horton & Board do not care when families leave. How many times have we heard “if you don’t like it, just move” or “must be nice for the rich folks to pull their kids & send them to private schools.” You know what would be nice? No more excuses. Accountability. Respect. Solutions. The only way that’s going to happen is to vote some of the people out of office at the next election and then hope and pray they don’t renew Horton’s contract. In the mean time, while they offer lame reasons for the decline, I’d love for a reporter to spend some time on an in-depth article, interview minimum of 20 former D65 families and see why they left. If they can be promised anonymity, they will give you real reasons.

  9. Don’t expect anyone on the Board to bring forward a solution, or hold themselves accountable for this.

    In fact, get ready for Biz to lecture everyone about how it’s the fault of parents. That’s if she doesn’t resign immediately after they appoint another unelected, politically-aligned crony to take her place (aka the Tanyavutti model of governance).

  10. I’ve been an Evanston Now subscriber for many years, and have never seen as many comments on a story, and virtually all with the same message.

    That message is loud and clear that D65 is on the wrong path.

    This is taking place in a city that some think is fiddling in a morass of distraction with a total lack of teamwork between and among elected officials.

    Sad when there is very important work that citizens actually care about – not being addressed.

    I’d say D65 needs to listen and react, but it appears it’s a job for their “superiors”, whatever that organization is.

  11. It was several years ago that some friends after a stint in South Evanston, moved to the north side of town only to find out they were not allowed to transfer their child to the closer school because it would upset the racial balance. Who would have thought to consider this inanity before they invested in a home? So they pulled their kid out of public school and spent thousands to have a semblance of choice.

  12. Jeff, thanks for the coverage. It would be great to get some context, ie, what are the trends in, say, Wilmette, Skokie, and other similar communities? It’s impossible to evaluate what’s happening in Evanston as one data point.

  13. For those interested, 6 of the 15 elementary schools in District 65 were named “exemplary” — the state of Illinois highest designation for a school. The ISBE released the report on or about Oct. 31, 2018. Kingsley, Dewey, Willard, Washington, Lincoln, and Orrington led the way. What happened since then Sup. Goren departed? Why the abrupt fall from academic excellence when other IL schools maintained their academic excellence? My father, a retired Marine Sergeant, always preached to me, leadership matters. I think we have to accept reality.

  14. Many of you may have forgotten, but it wasn’t all that long ago when in 2018 under Paul Goren’s leadership, 12 of 15 Evanston schools were designated as ‘exemplary’ by ISBE. When you read the article: https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/evanston/ct-evr-school-district-65-designations-tl-1108-story.html you’ll notice that he takes ownership, provides explanations and strives for improvement for the underperforming schools, like a real leader does. It wasn’t long after this that Anya Tanyavutti and her allies on the board, Suni Kartha, etc. put Mr. Goren on a performance plan to get him to leave. And leave he did. And since that time we have acquired a school board and new superintendent that have dragged our schools down in every way. We didn’t think that could ever happen in Evanston, with so many educated people living here, but it did. They paid consultants to evaluate the conditions of our school buildings which were almost all found to be in “poor” condition. And instead of putting that information to good use, and budgeting money to improve them, they vote unanimously to build a new school building! One that they say will cost $40 million. But multiple articles have stated that $3 million per year will be paid over 20 years for the school. $3 million x 20 = $60 million. And that’s just an estimate. We all know the Robert Crown wasn’t supposed to cost $55 million but it did because of increases during construction. Costs will go up for this school too. Plus, it’s being planned at a time when we’ve had steadily declining student enrollment. Meanwhile, the majority of Evanston public school students are learning in dilapidated, uninspiring buildings that D65 has not budgeted to improve. The comments for this one article speak volumes. I wish we could put them on multiple billboards in front of the D65 building so they would be forced to see them on their way to work. It’s frustrating that they keep turning a blind eye to the community that they are supposed to be serving. When enough new board members get elected, it’s time for a new performance plan to be put in place. We don’t have to wait for a contract to be up. And we need to clean house of unneeded admin positions in that building. The money should be going to the students’ education. And they can also stop charging families so many school fees.

  15. The comments here do speak volumes. The only solution is to have a slate of candidates run and beat the current incumbents on the D65 Board. Then that group can clean house in the administration.

  16. Didn’t we have a slate of candidates run for the D65 board who wanted excellence in D65? Does anyone remember Angela Blaising?
    We had the chance and went with Biz.

    1. You’re exactly right. Angela and her two friends that she was running with would have been nice to have on our board but not enough voters educated themselves on the candidates, or maybe they just weren’t paying attention because they didn’t realize the situation we were in yet. It was a wasted opportunity but I hope this April will turn out different.

  17. Our family has lived in Evanston for almost 40 years. Our children were lucky enough to attend D65 schools when there was an administration and board that cared about ALL students and were respectful of feedback from all. I never heard a board member tell a parent who had a complaint that if he didn’t like it, he could move. I never heard a superintendent accuse a complaining parent of racism. I never read a letter from a superintendent signed”Unapologetically” and who displayed open hostility towards a segment of the community.

    It has been disheartening to watch as the board has been taken over by people with an agenda and a form of equity that has an element of revenge. We, as a community, had a chance to elect members who would have provided a balance. Instead, those with that agenda were elected. Since then, three have resigned and have been replaced with three who have the same agenda.

    I am struck by the number of comments to this article, and they are all saying that something must change. My hope is that when the next election for new board members comes around, we will have awakened enough to elect members who will provide a much need balance on the board and will hold the superintendent to a high standard of professionalism and fairness.

  18. We moved our children out of Lincoln school, and out of Evanston, in 2021 after the school board election. Horton is only here to make a name for himself – and boy is he doing that.

  19. This goes way beyond D65. This is a representation of a sector of all the workings of Evanston, call it the new normal. Unfortunately only a piece of the bigger picture. Just the other day there was an article in Evanston Now about retaining more staff members of color, ethnicity. How about a blind hiring of QUALIFIED school employees?? My race, gender or orientation should not be a qualifier. It is extremely clear from the post on this subject than when hiring was done with the objective of seeking qualified candidates the school system thrived and excelled by state standards. School board members, you work for the community.

  20. So hostile. So dysfunctional. It’s like a cult. No room for improvement or disagreement. A cult. District 65. If your child needs any type of accelerated learning do.not.consider District 65. A cult.

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