With enrollment continuing to drop in Evanston/Skokie School District 65, officials say one apparent reason is that parents, especially at certain schools, are not enrolling their youngsters in District 65 kindergarten.

In a report to the Board of Education, Sarita Smith, the district’s manager of student assignments, says that as of last October, District 65 had 6,200 students in grades K-8, a 4.6% drop from the year before.

The report says only 597 kindergarteners enrolled, a 5.8% decline from the year before.

While kindergarten enrollment fell below projections districtwide, Smith’s says Orrington, Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Washington, and Willard “have much lower kindergarten enrollments than they have had in the past few years.”

Most of those schools are on the north side of Evanston, and Smith says, “there are assumptions that many of these families are opting for private school.”

Not only is kindergarten enrollment lower than expected, but, the report notes than many kids in other grades who left for private school, religious school, or homeschooling during the pandemic have not come back.

Many private and parochial schools came back in-person earlier than did the public schools during the first year of COVID-19.

Smith’s report says “we have not seen a recovery from students that left or never began school in D65 since the pandemic.”

Other factors influencing the multi-year downward trend that the report cites include residential construction/demolition, declining birth rates, family mobility and changes in the economy.

Many public school systems around the nation are also seeing declines, for similar reasons.

Axios, citing federal data, says public schools across the nation lost more than one million students — or nearly 3% of total enrollment– from 2019 to 2020, and declines are expected to continue through the decade.

WTTW reported over the weekend that the Chicago Public Schools lost nearly 10% per cent of its students between 2019 and 2022. District 65 lost 16% of its students during that time period.

And District 65 says it is seeing “an increase in students transferring in from Chicago.”

The District is also seeing more students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP). Such special education students require more services, which costs the district more money.

Long-term, District 65 expects declining enrollment to continue, which likely means tough decisions on staffing, maintenance, and possibly closing buildings.

The report is on the agenda for discussion at Tuesday’s Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting.

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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  1. Private schools in this area all have waiting lists Parents have little faith and trust in the superintendent and the school board This is only likely to continue as the north side schools feed into Haven. And many Evanston parents are choosing Loyola Academy for their high school There is an absence of a rigorous education in District 65 schools. This is a wake up call

    1. Moved here from Chicago. Love this town. Have kids in kindergarten and first grade (started in D66 post-COVID). Only been in Evanston a year. We are already leaving because we can’t afford the property taxes and private school (pulling our kids at the end of the year). Why are we leaving? We can’t believe the amount of tech being pushed on our kids so sound. My curious, creative, interactive son has been turned into an iPad monster by D65, who sends 6-year olds home with machines that read to them, and video games that demonstrate math concepts. In my opinion the district should consider an opt-in pilot classroom in each school that is tech limited. If this were successful, a low tech magnet school for the district. Talk to parents. Young families would flock to Evanston if they did this.

      1. Yeah, that’s too young. I thought the same when my 6 year old niece in d65 showed me her school-issued tablet. My sister does a great job limiting screen time, but it is such an unnecessary thing. I realize the iPads-in-schools policy is probably some equity measure, to even up tech access between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ But it seems just so short sighted. This just seems like it’s going to tank grades, fitness, attention spans, motor skills, reading… but hopefully I’ll be proven wrong.

  2. I can’t wait to hear how the admin & board will attempt to spin this. They’ll have to be creative. McWhorter is right. As relgious faiths progress, there are inevitable conflicts wherein the true believers prefer to winnow the flock in order to assure “purity” of the faithful. From this belief system, if you disagree with the admin, you’re a racist. Here are the results. The cult is progressing nicely. The result? I suggest one explores the history of Detroit’s public education. It’s where we are headed.

  3. The recent decision by D65 to lower college readiness standards and the elimination of advanced math in middle school (without a pathway to attend higher math classes at ETHS as used to be the case) is partially responsible for this trend. It would be helpful to have statistics from nearby North Shore suburbs, such as Wilmette, to understand if they are experiencing the same decline. I would guess that Wilmette is picking up families moving from Evanston and new families moving from the City are now skipping over Evanston. Why pay extremely high property taxes for lower standards at the school district?
    And reminder: a school board election is coming up in April.

  4. We pulled our 3rd child out of D65 in 2021 since during Covid, he basically received no education. Prior to Covid, we saw a huge decline in quality of education starting with 2017-18 school year when D65 vowed to “reduce the performance gap”. My child’s 2019-20 class at Willard never finished 5th grade math, I had to hire a tutor over the summer. For the entire 2019 school year, they had no homework, no reading at home requirements, no writing assignments, and all the fun activities my older kids had like Pioneer Days, Math Olympiad, Battle of the Books, Valentines day celebrations, and Halloween parade were eliminated permanently by the school and district all in the name of equity. It’s not a surprise that enrollment dropped. Of the 22 kids in his 2019/20 class, 11 have left D65. This issue is resolvable and the community needs to pay more attention during the school board voting. Even for people who don’t have children in D65 – you need to be involved because this issue impacts the quality of life at Evanston.

    1. Lowering standards in the name of “equity” is an insult to Black students. It says to everyone that these kids simply don’t have the ability to achieve at a high level. But that is a lie. Black students in the rigorous US Army schools do as well as their White classmates, even better. The difference is expectations.

  5. It’s likely that parents who can afford it are choosing private schools because they disapprove of the direction sex ed has taken in the public schools, especially for younger children. They feel that the curriculum is inappropriate, and believe that protecting a period of innocence is their duty and right as parents.

  6. Meanwhile, Dr. Horton is spraining his wrist patting his own back about the PD last week, even though the photos feature bored adults being lectured at.

    Forget about having a plan to fix it, my guess is the Board and Dr. Horton won’t even talk about this, ever, in public.

    It seems like losing kids to the private school system works against equity, right?

    1. It would be very interesting to see how much the dozens of in person “guest speakers” collectively billed the District for their hour and a half long “equity symposium” sessions. Before that, the morning’s guest speaker Darnisa Amante-Jackson spoke to over a thousand staff over Zoom. I wonder what hour cost the taxpayers. Over $100K?

  7. We all know what District 65’s solution to the problem of declining enrollment will be… hiring more administrators and consultants!!!

  8. Voting with their feet! Love to see it.. People are sick of the progressive agenda this town is shoving down their throats.

    1. Lifelong dem who voted gop recently and will never vote dem again in major part because Evanston and it’s COVID and d65 racism responses

  9. At this point, it is too late for me to pull my kids out of D65 without causing major upset and upheaval in my kids’ lives because if it were solely an educational decision, we would – in a heartbeat. It looks like parents of kindergartners are getting ahead of the issue and sending them to schools where excellence is actually valued. Sadly, the Board and Admin don’t have any interest why families are leaving. The “assumption” is that they are opting for private schools – solid assumption – but the more important question is why? The simple answer is that parents have had their fill of what is happening in our schools and are tired of being treated like unwanted, noisy, covid vectors. It is time for a new direction in our schools.

  10. Eliminating or even reducing racial achievement gap is a good cause. It probably takes many years to see progress. Also, the way they measure it is myopic. They look at differences in test scores between races only within the population of D65 students. That is a small world view. What matters is how well they do compared to the overall population both within the population of students living in D65 boundaries and beyond. That is harder to measure, and I am sure the administration would very much like to claim success, so I doubt the school will look outside of its world for student achievement benchmarks.

    The board would have to push for that.

  11. As a gay resident in Evanston for the last 20 years, I have to be honest and admit I have not paid attention to school district issues (no kids). But I do know that the majority of my $20,000 in annual real estate taxes is funneled into the school system.

    Reading these comments, obviously from many in the know, is very alarming and disheartening to me. Noteworthy is young couples in Chicago that have children and want to move to a suburb are skipping Evanston. I’m here to tell you that I can’t blame them and I would do the same in their shoes.

    And regarding the equity issue. I agree that the focus on equity has ruined our school systems in Evanston. Facts are facts, data is data, so face it, and please go do something about it then. And it is unfortunate that whenever someone mentions equity someone else mentions black. Is anyone listening?

  12. The D65 school board and D65 administration will continue to believe that parents who are opting out of our public schools are White, anti-equity opportunity hoarders who hate their anti-racist agenda. In reality, these parents are progressives who have decided send their kids to private schools where they get a rigorous academic education and plenty of anti-racist programming. My D65 middle schooler has math homework only once a week and spends 30 minutes of precious class time in Language Arts every day silently reading because apparently, it’s too much to ask 12 and 13-year-olds to read books at home (and no, teachers are not meeting with small groups during that time.) The pace of learning is too slow and the content is too easy. I’m sure it’s just as bad in the elementary schools. And we wonder why the school board quietly decided to lower standards?

  13. I’m hoping that my spouse and I will be long gone from Evanston by the time my kids have to enroll in D65 schools, but if not, we won’t hesitate to put them into private schools. I used to firmly believe in the value of public education, but D65 continually shows that my faith was misplaced.

  14. Here’s an idea, why don’t we ask the parents who left why they left? Novel idea, I know. Treat it like an exit interview. I bet all the assumptions in this article are off the mark. The sad part is the reputation damage inflicted on D65 will take 5-10 years to repair. Vote wisely, my friends.

    1. D65 doesn’t perform exit interviews with staff who leave. They’re not going to talk to parents. Fingers in ears. “I’m right everyone else is wrong” is the culture.

  15. Two ways to fix this problem (1) Elect competent school board members who will appoint competent (and hopefully fewer) administrators who will stress competency in reading, writing and STEM (2) Give Illinois parents REAL school choice – if D65 is not working for your child, then your tax dollars should be directed to another school where your child can thrive. Ask your elected representatives in Springfield – what are they doing to change the game here? As the article points out, the enrollments in the northside schools are falling faster than in the soutside schools since north Evanston is generally wealthier. It’s completely wrong to make poor (and here mostly minority) families suffer the consequences of lousy schools simply because they can’t afford better.

  16. What I found most disheartening about D65 was the impersonal, almost corporate vibe in the district. They still get state funding regardless of the enrollment numbers, so they see the dissenters as a mere nuisance and love-love-LOVE when dissatisfied families jump ship. It’s like dealing with TSA or the post office – there is zero accountability. They are an extremely dysfunctional group of marginally intelligent adults who are rarely interested in problem solving, and seem to take great pleasure in public shaming of parents who don’t stay in lock-step with their belief system. The only solution, aside from sending kids to private schools or moving out of Evanston (which isn’t easy for families already struggling financially) is to VOTE these folks off the board at the next election.

    1. That corporate vibe is the legacy of AUSL – the low-performing, school turnover machine Horton was developed through in Chicago.

      Nothing will improve for D65 as long as Horton is here, regardless of who is on the Board. He has no legacy of positive outcomes for kids and families in any role he’s been in before now, and the district is objectively worse FOR ALL DEMOGRAPHICS since he came here. But, hey, at least his LinkedIn looks good.

      1. It was a ridiculous decision to hire Horton in the first place. I think the fact that he was hired without the Board revealing his name to the public gave the impression that the board and administration feel as if they are not accountable to parents and taxpayers.

        In fact, in a search update justifying the anonymity of the search, the board president at the time claimed that Horton requested confidentiality as he was selected as a finalist.

        This is VERY hard to believe given the fact that Horton had participated in multiple public-facing searches across the country in the months before he was selected as a finalist by Evanston. If we are to take the Board president at face value we are expected to believe that Horton told them something along the lines of, “yeah I know that I was part of public searches in Grand Rapids and Indianapolis, but I don’t really want anyone know that I am applying in Evanston.” It is really hard to believe that Horton insisted on confidentiality.

        So even before he was hired, the public statements of the board indicated that they were fine with mendacity and a disdain for the public and taxpayers. We see this play out with his exaggerations about the need for a private security detail and his rejection of going to the voters to bond the new school.

        Of the candidates running this year, Hernandez was the only one around who was part of the Horton hire. He needs to be asked about the veracity of the board president’s claims about the search since she was speaking on behalf of the board.

        All of the candidates need to pledge to run a transparent, open search for future superintendents.

        You can see former board president Kartha’s statement during the Horton hire here: https://web.archive.org/web/20210113115216/https://www.district65.net/site/Default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&PageID=1&ViewID=6446ee88-d30c-497e-9316-3f8874b3e108&FlexDataID=8698

        1. I wasn’t aware that he rejected a bond referendum for the new school. I was curious how they are able to greenlight that project without voter approval.
          They are suggesting that the project will be self financing through transportation savings costs, but the math doesn’t make sense. If we spend that much on transportation, something is very wrong.

    2. Voting for a new school board is obviously the answer, but when the Covid re-opening was a hot political issue the three candidates that were pro in-person were harassed and ultimately lost to this current slate.
      Hopefully more will recognize that D65 is circling the drain and do something about it. There are a number of new candidates that have stepped up. Let’s support them this time.

  17. It’s worse than you think. Not only is the board not acknowledging the true reasons parents are leaving or avoiding D65 completely, they are also circulating some interesting talking points. In speaking with a D65 aide we are friendly with she told me that according to management one of the main drivers contributing to the decline in enrollment is that “family’s are just having fewer kids these days” …

  18. We are a family that has left both D65 and D202 for private schools, and we are close with several families who have made the same decision. While everyone has their own gripes, most of them boil down to a very simple reality – academic rigor and college preparedness have taken a nosedive in Evanston. Families that left and experienced a more challenging environment in private schools did not go back; and families entering kindergarten who talk to parents who have seen the decline first-hand are not enrolling. It is sad and frustrating to see Evanston schools go the way of CPS, whereby increasingly those who can afford private schools are choosing that route.

  19. The school board elections are coming up soon and I don’t see any signs for anyone running to change the status quo I do see a lot of signs for those running to keep up the path the superintendent has us on. There will be no turning around this district without some galvanized support for new school board members

  20. My third-grader knows how to hack the school ipads to get to calculators, knows all the gender identities and expressions, and can’t name more than 3 states and the past 3 presidents. Feel a sense of dread that it’s not going to get better.

  21. Just like anything in life you want stability, you want you feel is the right way to go about things. You look at what has happened in the last few years and it’s the opposite. Those who scream the loudest, those who call everyone racist or un-American are those who are heard. Us, the normal people who see both sides and understand what’s right/wrong & what’s best for society are being silenced and shut out.

    So, when all of that is happening and our voices can’t be heard we choose a different way to be heard. We don’t scream, we don’t pout & cry, we don’t call people racist, we don’t call them un-American. What we do is speak with our actions.

    It is as CLEAR AS DAY that the MAJORITY (black/brown/white/orange/green/maroon) are speaking to our “leaders” (all of them) in Evanston with our feet and our money. They might not be listening but they will soon, probably in the next year or two you will see them wake up a little bit. They won’t have a choice.

    The private schools are getting kids for the next 8-10 years (pre-school/8th grade). Think about that for a second. Let that sink in. What that means is that will continue into high school. Instead of going to ETHS, they’ll send their kids to Notre Dame or Loyola. The best thing that ever happened to private schools was Mr. Horton. They should start building him a statue right now, he just funded them for the next 10-14 years and beyond.

  22. I think that people simple can’t afford Evanston. Where will new young families come from if most can’t afford to live here. Just a thought.

    1. Yes. Living in Evanston is expensive. We chose this community BECAUSE property taxes were high and the community values education. I want to pay more for excellent schools. While some families will certainly choose cheaper communities, the issue is that those who can afford higher taxes in support of a public good (great schools) are clearly cramming into private schools in Evanston. If it were about the price of living here, overall population would be declining, too.

  23. This is nothing if not predictable – especially if you’ve been paying attention.
    Every step of the way, the current D65 Board members, along with Dr. Horton & his team, have made misstep after misstep after misstep. Insulting parents, insulting teachers, pitting parents and teachers against one another, refusing to create an environment that fosters allyship, muting dissent, proffering mistruths, violating the Open Meetings Act, misspending tax payer dollars, violating their fiduciary duty and abusing trust, operating without transparency, hiring an obscene number of administrators and friends, failing to hold themselves accountable for true/real outcomes, covering up their own process violations, failing to listen, showcasing arrogance and actual disdain for parents/guardians/caregivers….and MOST IMPORTANTLY, despite their rhetoric, failing to center their actions around what the children of Evanston need and deserve: a quality education.
    Evanstonians haven’t been paying attention. Either that or they’re just apathetic. Or maybe worn down? Either way, I hope that’s changing. An election coming up in April – of course it’s over Spring Break for D65 & D202 families. Luckily Evanstonians like voting early. There appear to be three non-incumbent candidates on the ballot: Ndona Muboyayi, John Martin, and Omar Salem. The rest of the candidates offer nothing new; more of the same. These three new candidates (one actually not so new since Muboyayi ran last time and should have won, IMHO) deserve our attention. It’s time to send a message: Evanston kids deserve better than what they’ve received from the current team. VOTE THE INCUMBENTS OUT!

  24. You nailed it Ophelia ! Of course pinning our hope on those three candidates is no sure way to get this school district back on track. Dr Horton got his contract renewed for 5 more years I would suggest the board buying out his contract even it costs $$$$$

  25. EQUITY and EQUALITY are 2 different things. They have never meant what a reasonable person thinks they mean… Not in Evanston, Not with this D65 school board, and not since the Literal Reordering of America since 2020.
    Rational, normal people think Equity means everyone is given the same opportunity and tools for success at the start.
    The Radical Progressive, Anti-Racist Administrators in D65 define Equity as chopping off the legs of the highest achievers, so nobody is successful and everybody is at the same level as the lowest performers. Because people taking advantage of opportunities, working hard and achieving success is “Racist” according to the powers in charge.
    Elections have consequences!!! Make your voice heard at the voting booth!!! Before Evanston becomes the 78th community area of Chicago!!!

  26. I am a 40 year resident of Evanston and believe there is a significant demographic dynamic that is overlooked in the studies I have read regarding enrollment dropping. Specifically, there appears to be a disproportionate number of homes that are occupied by boomer and older seniors. These homes will transition to younger families. This could create a notable increase in the public school enrolment in the not too distant future.

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