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A principal reason that Evanston’s Lincoln Elementary School is bursting at the seams is largely a reflection of the fact that it is located in one of America’s hottest neighborhoods for families with young children, a school board committee was told Monday night.

In a heavily data-driven presentation, the Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s chief numbers executive, Peter Godard,  offered a four-step recommendation for dealing with the enrollment crunch for the 2015-2016 school year that was unanimously accepted by the committee and forwarded to the full board for ratification at its regular meeting next Monday.

Admittedly, the district staff said the recommendation is a short-term fix that buys time to consider longer-range remedies.

Fortunately there is space at the two magnet schools—the Martin Luther King, Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School at 2424 Lake St., and the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies at 3701 Davis St. in Skokie—that are largely populated by permissive transfers from other schools in the district, but this puts the Lincoln School applicants in competition with other families in the district who request those options.

Lincoln can accommodate up to 92 students in its four kindergarten classrooms and still stay within the district class size guidelines, but as of April 14, some 108 students had registered for kindergarten there for next year, Godard said. Of these, more than 40 have applied for a permissive transfer, a magnet program, or a magnet school, he added.

While there have been some new multi-unit buildings constructed in recent years and others under development in the Lincoln attendance area, Godard said, they have contributed only a half-dozen students for the school, with another half-dozen projected from the proposed 112-unit building at Chicago Avenue and Main Street.

But interviews with city officials and real estate professionals, he said, indicate that the millennial generation, currently moving into the area, has a greater desire “to raise children in walkable, transit friendly, urban communities.”

Located at the corner of Main Street and Forest Avenue, Lincoln School is just two blocks east of the CTA and Metra stations at Main Street and Chicago Avenue, and families living in the district are a short walk from popular business districts as well as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Jewel grocery stores on Chicago Avenue.

“Southeast Evanston is ideal for this purpose,” Godard said, and he noted that “the neighborhood was ranked among the hottest markets in the country by Redfin.”

In fact, a couple of Lincoln parents at the meeting said they moved recently from Chicago principally because they wanted their children to be enrolled at Lincoln School.

Another factor suggested by the interviews, he said, was that “the downturn in the housing market led many living in condos or apartments in the Lincoln attendance area with school-aged children to remain there when they might have opted to move to larger homes outside the attendance area under different market conditions.”

All these factors, Godard said, increase the difficulty in making longer term projections, and he said a case can be made for projecting continued increase, flat, or even a decrease in the number of students in the Lincoln attendance area.

Godard’s research into the problem even involved checking out enrollment numbers at Chiaravalle Montessori, St. Athanasius, and Pope John XXIII private schools and found that the total number of students in kindergarten through the fifth grade at those schools had decreased by 12 percent since the 2010-11 school year, despite an increase in enrollment at Chiaravalle.

Before taking the vote on the short-term remedies, the board’s Finance Committee chair, Richard Rykhus, complimented Godard on “one of the most impressive analyses I’ve seen since coming to this board.”

The administration’s four-step proposal, involving limiting enrollment at each grade level based on existing class size guidelines and available classroom space, filling available seats at all grade levels on a first-come, first-served basis, conducting a lottery for kindergarten applicants if an insufficient number transfer to other schools, and following the lottery, if necessary by filling remain kindergarten seats on a first-come, first-served basis, was approved without change.

Superintendent Paul Goren assured the committee that no one currently enrolled at the school would lose his or her spot and that every effort would be made to communicate with Lincoln families about deadline dates for applications and lotteries.

For the longer term, board member Claudia Garrison urged the board to revisit current class size guidelines, and second-grade teacher Meg Krulee, who represents the teachers union on the committee, said consideration should be given to adding teacher assistants to classes that may exceed the class size guidelines.

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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3 Comments

  1. This is so five years ago

    Five years (or so) ago parents from Lincoln made these very same claims when renovation of Lincoln was being discussed. No one at D65 or on the board believed them. Instead, they preferred to believe enrollment projections that were clearly well off and did not take into consideration the context of the neighborhood that were provided by consultants.

    Those projections were based on the historical record rather than understanding, as the parents did, the situation on the ground in the neighborhood. It was a willful dismissal of parent input in favor of high-priced consultants' advice.

    The enrollment issues could have easily been planned for and the problems mitigated if parents' input had been acted on. Instead, parents' input is treated as biased, misinformed, and self-interested.

    Yes, it can be all those things, but it can also be right, and ought not be dismissed out of hand, as was the case five years ago, and as it still seems to be in many cases today.

    The district and board seem no further along with long-term planning for enrollment than they were five years ago. There is also lack of information as to why Lincoln's budget isn't proprotionately larger given its increasing enrollments, despite questions from parents about provision of resources to assist with the large number of students.

    1. You can thank Dr. Murphy and his staff
      Five years ago, D65 was led by Dr. Murphy and his administration. The projections you mentioned were not the only poorly presented data Dr. Murphy’s staff provided to the board. There are many issues that were ignored or not properly addressed by the prior administration. Fortunately Dr. Goren and his team are providing leadership which is long overdue. Please be patient.

      1. Yes, but…

        I remember being urged to be patient when Dr. Murphy was appointed, too, and being told the same when his contract was renewed.

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