Supporters of a new school in the “central core” of Evanston’s 5th Ward turned out en masse Wednesday night to urge the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education to “act emotionally” and approve a new school as the best solution for addressing growing enrollments in the district.

Supporters of a new school in the “central core” of Evanston’s 5th Ward turned out en masse Wednesday night to urge the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education to “act emotionally” and approve a new school as the best solution for addressing growing enrollments in the district.

It was the second of three public forums the board is conducting in its effort to determine the will of the people for a decision that is likely to require voter approval in a referendum next March. At the first forum, held Monday night, only three persons turned out to make their views known. Last night, nearly two dozen persons testified and all but one pressed for a new school.

The lone holdout was community activist Junad Rizki, who regularly attends Evanston City Council meetings to chide that group for its spending practices.  He noted that the City of Evanston has already approved a budget that will raise taxes more than the inflation rate and that “taxpayers are going to be really unhappy” if asked to pay even more taxes to build a new school.

Board President Katie Bailey announced at the outset of the meeting that board members had tentatively narrowed the choices to three, following a lengthy discussion of the options at Monday night’s meeting of the Finance Committee.  A full kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school, which was recommended by the board’s ad hoc committee on the issue, has now been taken off the table, she said.

The three remaining choices are a K-5 school, a 6-7-8 middle school, either one of which would likely require a referendum, or a third choice that would be to add classrooms as needed, even though it might require shifting students from school to school from time to time to fill open spaces and to adjust other assumptions, such as optimal size of classes.

Board member Richard Rykhus, an advocate of the third choice, said the board would make every effort to stay within its guidelines on class size and would attempt to minimize other disruptions.

Clearly, those who testified Wednesday night preferred the K-5 option as one that could revitalize the 5th Ward and help stem the decline of an area that one resident characterized as prone to drug-dealing, guns, and gangs. “People are dying in the 5th Ward,” he asserted. There was little support given to the middle-school option.

Among those testifying in favor of a new school were two Evanston aldermen—Jane Grover, 7th Ward and Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward.  Braithwaite said he was speaking for the black community in asking for a new school, noting that Evanston is on the cutting edge of a lot of things, “but not when it comes to our kids.”

Grover said she could see the interaction that occurs between parents as they pick up their kids after school, but that those who were bused to school never had the benefit of that interaction. She assured the board that if they choose to go for a referendum to approve a new school, they could count on her to “be on your team” to make it successful.

But the real passion came from ordinary parents and former students of Evanston’s schools who repeatedly asked “if not now, when”? They also made the point that somehow the money was always found to add classrooms and to okay improvements to schools in predominantly white areas of the city, but that those approvals never make it when it comes to schools in predominantly black areas.

“The same way you built this building when you already had a building,” said one, referring to the district headquarters building at 1500 McDaniel St., “you can build us a new school.”

Community members will have one last time to make their case. A third open meeting on the issue will be held for one hour at 6 p.m. Monday, preceding a regular meeting of the board at 7 p.m.

Photo: Aldermen Braithwaite and Grover, foreground, await their turn to testify in favor of new school.

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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  1. Act emotionally? “People are dying”?
    Seriously, this is ridiculous.

    I can’t believe you have a school board member saying that since “people are dying” in a neighborhood somehow a new school is a consolation prize.

    Let’s remember that residents of the fifth ward don’t even want a new school. THE ONLY OBJECTIVE DATA that the district has compiled (a widespread, scientifically sound opinion survey) indicated that families in the ward are fine with the current situation.

    None of the people quoted in the article even live in the fifth ward so their qualification to stand-in as the voice of the neighborhood is suspect.

    It seems both Rykhus and Grover seem to think that the school will somehow transform the neighborhood and reduce all of the problems there. What evidence are they drawing on to support that view?

    Perhaps that is why the board is being asked to “act emotionally.” There is no rational reason to support it. A new school is not needed, the neighbors don’t want it, and it is being proposed to solve a bunch of problems in the neighborhood that are much more deep-seeded than can be solved by a new school.

    A rational assessment of the facts would suggest that this is simply the pet project of an inept superintendent and a bunch of people from outside of the community who claim to know whats best.

    1. Clearly you were not there last night

      No school board member said "people are dying". 

      The rational reason to support is new school is obvious and has been discussed at great length in numerous board members.  Overcrowding is a real issue that isn't going away.  Temporary fixes have been used for years and it's time for a permanent solution. 

      Last night offered reasons beyond the rational – the social justice component.  It was powerful.

      I can only assume that those attendees outside of the 5th ward, like myself, were there to show our support for a new school.  There are many of us thoughout the community ready to stand behind a referendum.  It is the right thing to do for practical and emotional reasons.

      1. More evidence a Fifth Ward School is not needed

        The Centers for Disease Control today came out with a report today that indicated the nation's birth rate is in it's third year of decline.

        Combine that fact with the decline in the Fifth Ward population over the past four years and you have enough evidence that a Fifth Ward school is not needed. D65 school enrollment hasn't even approached the peak levels 10 years ago.

        Overcrowding isn't an issue at Oakton and a few other schools where enrollment has declined. What's needed is a good old-fashioned redistricting that would happen anyway with a Fifth Ward School.

        It's a sad commentary when the New School Committee has not talked much if at all about the possibility of other kids getting redistricted and bussed into the new proposed Fifth Ward school.  Probably that kind of talk is hushed because any public discussion of redistricting kids on the boundaries and just outside the Fifth Ward to the new school would ignite outrage. 

        I read in this story that parents at this meeting complained that "money was always found to add classrooms and to okay improvements to schools in predominantly white areas of the city, but that those approvals never make it when it comes to schools in predominantly black areas." Really? Folks want to play the race card. OK.

        The Fifth Ward received an $18 million Neighborhood Stabilization grant and another multi-million streets improvement grant in the past year. Grant money and a building was given to build an African-American museum but that the money was long gone and the museum never built.

        I live in the Sixth Ward and we don't have a rec center and no grant money for anything. People mostly from the Sixth Ward banded together to try and save the North Branch library – no grants for that – just community can do attitude.

        Whose looking out for Evanstonians living outside the Fifth Ward who are facing foreclosure, job loss and so on? 

        Social justice – a subjective term – is for some but not for others I suppose.

        See ya on the campaign trail and the voting booth.



        1. Why do you think it would “ignite outrage”?

          "Probably that kind of talk is hushed because any public discussion of redistricting kids on the boundaries and just outside the Fifth Ward to the new school would ignite outrage."

          I also think it would ignite outrage, but we may not share the same perspective as to why. What's your thinking behind that, Al?

          And do you think similar outrage would ensue were we talking about building a public school (or taking over another space) just south of Northwestern?


          1. What do you think, Janie?

            You first, Janie.

            Why do you think it would ignite outrage?

            Do you think most Evanstonians support building a new Fifth Ward School? Do you believe there has been a sharp population decline in the Fifth Ward in the past few years? Do agree that D65 enrollment hasn't even reached peak levels 10 years ago? Do you agree that our economy local, state and national is in serious crisis?

            Do you think Evanstonians are happy about paying higher income, property, city, county and school taxes as their property values decline?  

          2. The real reason some people support a 5th ward school?

            I believe that many people who live in Evanston do so because they want to their children to see Black children around town but not actually be in classes with them. Any redistricting that would compel children from more White and/or more affluent neighborhoods to go to a 5th ward school would almost certainly provoke outrage for that reason, which is along the lines of what James Crow (above) suggests:

            "I almost feel I should conclude that parents outside of Ward 5 are making a move to get 5th Ward children out of their child(ren)'s school.  Perhaps there is a thought this would improve grade point averages at some schools?"

            I draw a similar conclusion. I wonder if (conciously or subconciously), there isn't a little bit of give "them" their "own" school so that "they" aren't in "my" kid's school. At the same time, I'm sensitive to the experiences and perceptions of community members like who feel as though a 5th ward school would right a past wrong and bring the promise of change. Those two views together are the only possible explanation I have for why Katie Bailey and Jerome Sumners would be of one mind on this (or any) issue. 

            I have no clue whether most Evanstonians support building a Fifth Ward School, or whether they'd be willing to pay higher  taxes as a result.  How would I know? How would you? Isn't that what a referndum is for?

            Higher taxes are inevitable, for one reason or another. It's a matter of picking your poison (i.e., what you'd prefer they go up FOR), in my view.

            As for demographic shifts, I'm not a demographer, nor am I qualified to draw evidence-based conclusions from that kind of data. What I do see from a historical perspective is that decisions to close schools and sell off the buildings hasn't maybe been the greatest move. (A wiser move was made with Kingsley.) I'm fairly certain that if we looked at Board minutes over the past 20+ years, we'd see various projections that did and didn't materialize. I'd imagine there are always factors–economic and otherwise–that can't be accounted for in those predictions. 


          3. You need to stop making everything about race

            On one hand you say you have "no clue whether most Evanstonians support building a Fifth Ward School" but then on the other hand you seem to know for a fact that many white parents want "their children to see Black children around town but not actually be in classes with them."

            Please Janie provide evidence of that. Because as a white parent I am offended and insulted by that comment. I don't see an ounce of evidence of that.

            In case you haven't noticed, D65 schools have been desegregated roughly 45 years.  If white parents don't want their children in classes with black kids why in the world would they pay the big bucks and buy a home in Evanston and send their kids to public schools?

            I think some parents would be outraged if their kids are redistricted and would need to be bussed. I have personally witnessed parental outrage at redistricting hearings in an all white school district. It was both fascinating and a little ugly. And yes, some parents might be concerned or even outraged that their little tikes would attend a Fifth Ward School simply because that area has a higher crime rate than say, the Sixth Ward.  Don't believe me just look at the local police stats.

            James Crow's comments is the soft bigotry of low expectations. I have personally seen intelligent, competent and capable black students in elementary school. Race doesn't matter unless you make race matter. D65 does it every year when they categorize test scores based on race. I bet if you categorize it based on single vs. two-parent families you will see race isn't much of an issue.

            This is what irritates me the most. I can't imagine a small child not picking up on the common ongoing discussions that have been with Evanston for decades that black kids score lower than white kids and we need to fill the gap. They internalize it and act accordingly. It's wrong. We shouldn't judge kids' academic abilities based on their race. Judge them based on their abilities and DEMAND they excel academically. No excuses.

            Higher taxes are NOT inevitable. We can lower taxes if we lower spending but our city and school officials are in the mindset of big government. So we get our annual tax hikes, water rate hikes and raises in all kinds of fees and fines to feed the machine.

            You don't need to be a demographer to know that there is a population decline in the Fifth Ward and that D65 enrollment hasn't reached it peak 10 years ago. Simply refer to the recent and reliable Census and school data that is easily available to anyone who is interested.

            BTW – I would happily support a Fifth Ward School if there was a population increase in the Fifth Ward, that D65 had record enrollment exceeding its peak levels, and the housing market and overall economy stabilized.

            I hope someday that will happen. But it won't happen anytime soon, judging by the way our local, county and state governments are handling things.

    2. De Facto Segregation

      Point 1:  Survey of parents in the 5th Ward shows majority are happy with current school their child(ren) attend(s).

      Point 2:  Support for 5th Ward school is primarily from folks who reside outside of the 5th Ward.

      Point 3:  Data is massaged and presented so as to support a need that does not exist.

      I almost feel I should conclude that parents outside of Ward 5 are making a move to get 5th Ward children out of their child(ren)'s school.  Perhaps there is a thought this would improve grade point averages at some schools? 

  2. School “emotions”

    "…urge the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education to “act emotionally' to approve a new school…"


    I guess that says it all.  Don't use your brains or common sense but vote with your emotions—and hang the $$$ and affect on the budget or education.

  3. redistricting?

    I am not certain where I come out on the new-school issue, because it's a complicated question that involves hard choices about social justice, diversity, and economics.  But the one question I have that never seems to come up in articles about the issue is this:  Will redistricting — throughout our entire district, not just the 5th Ward — have to occur no matter what decision the board makes, and if so, why is no one talking about it?  It seems to me that it is one of the more crucial issues, because it affects D65 kids no matter what ward they are in.  I'd like to know what the redistricting plan is before I'm asked to vote on a referendum involving a new school.  And if there is no new school built, shouldn't redistricting take place anyway, to balance out the overcrowded schools and place more students at less crowded schools?  I'm guessing that redistricting will be about as popular among parents of D65 kids as paying for a new school will be to the community at large.  But it seems to be the elephant in the room that we're trying our best to ignore.

  4. 27 people in two hearings is NOT a vote of support

    Only 24 supporters, two of them City Council members, show up and that's considered "en masse?"

    Only THREE people appear at the first hearing?

    These small numbers are telling. Evanstonians really do NOT want to pay for a new school in this Great Recession in an area with population decline and school enrollment numbers that have not matched the peak levels 10 years ago.

    Council members Grover and Braithwaithe would be well advised to focus on the detrimental fiscal shape the city is in rather than channeling their energies on building a $25-30 million school that most Evanstonians don't want. Let's not forget the additional costs to operate this new school.

    The City Council is proposing a 5-8 percent tax hike and they have just raised all kinds of fees and fines. Foreclosures and commercial vacancies are on the rise, one branch library was closed and another on life support, the Chandler Rec Center almost got the axe and the Ecology Center could be next.

    All the while the City Council refuses to privatize ambulance and waste services or eliminate the duplicative Evanston Township Assessor's Office while they just gave the Township deputy assessor a pay raise. The City Council also gave the Police Sergeant's Union a pay raise and are expected to give two other unions a pay hike.

    What do you suppose the reaction would be if folks showed up en masse to oppose this new school. The ugly name-calling would start.

    I am sure voters won't forget this in the next school board and city elections. The incumbents will get the righteous boot.

    Kudos Junad Rizki for taking the difficult and unpopular stand in that meeting.

    1. The number of people doesn’t really matter

      The number of people who do or don't show up at such a meeting suggests very little about how all 75,000+ community members actually do or don't feel. One could just as effectively argue that  the low numbers are attributable to apathy about the issue, or to folks needing to work, spend time with family, etc. Unless an organization has sent them as emissaries, the people who show up at any board or city council meeting speak only for themselves. The audience is never going to be a representative sample of Evanstonians. 

      Also not sure about how you can say "a school that most Evanstonians don't want." Maybe you mean "most Evanstonians I talk to," or "most Evanstonians in the sample surveyed by D65 in the 5th ward"? 

      As for myself, although I find the issue fascinating and am not sure how I would vote in a referendum, my schedule doesn't permit me to attend, and I'm fine with making a decision about whether I want my taxes to go up to build a new school at the voting boothe, if that time comes.


      1. Why have meetings then?

        The number of people do matter otherwise what's the point in having the meetings?

        I am confident most Evanstonians do not support a new Fifth Ward School. The number of people who showed up at two meetings – 27 (minus two city councilmembers) – is a good indication. 

        You might not even get a chance to vote for or against a new school. In case you haven't been following this issue, the New School Committee has asked lawyers to find a way to build the school without a voter referendum.

        Yes, the New School Committee led by D65 President Katie Bailey wants to ram down a new Fifth Ward School without voter approval.

        Ain't that peachy.

        1. Meetings and the real deciders

          Meetings are fine.  They may be informational, but when it comes down to making a decision, a referendum is the real answer.  The citizens of Evanston are the ones who will pay for a new school and they are the ones who should decide — not the few outspoken, not the board, but the property owners who will fund it.

        2. The original claim

          Let's go back to your original claim:

          "These small numbers are telling. Evanstonians really do NOT want to pay for a new school in this Great Recession in an area with population decline and school enrollment numbers that have not matched the peak levels 10 years ago."

          The small number of people at the meeting about a new school indicates that Evanstonians don't want to pay for a new school? How is that conclusion warranted? 

          If the small number suggests anything (which I don't really think it does), it's that people are comfortable with letting the board decide, that they are apathetic, or that they are too busy with things that are more important to them personally or professinally.  In fact,  if we wanted to use meetings as an indicator of public opinion, wouldn't the opposite of what you're saying actually be more likely: That if people really felt that strongly about not wanting to pay for a new school, those people would turn out in droves? 

          Remember the detracking initiative for freshman humanities at ETHS? A couple of those meetings yieded at least 150 people and voices on both sides. When certain people are passionately opposed to something in this town, they believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. Where's the strong voice of the opposition in this case? Sitting at home seething? 


  5. Race matters

    Race matters, especially in a country where race and income are highly correlated, and in a K-12 public school system where achievement levels are predictable by race and income.

    I didn't say that I know for a fact that many white parents don't want their kids in classrooms with Black children. I said "I believe." It's an impression gleaned from many professional and personal interactions and observations. I'm not claiming that all or even most white parents feel that way (as opposed to how you were asserting that most Evanstonians don't want a new school).

    I'm a white parent too–one who is incrasingly unsettled by what I perceive to be racism/classism diguised in terms like "neighborhood schools" and "those kids' parents." 

    The whitest elementary schools are located in the most expensive neighborhoods. It's more than possible to make yourself feel good about living in Evanston (vs. the more homogeneous Winnetka or Wilmette) without having to go too far outside your comfort zone by buying a house in the attendance-area of one of those schools. (This is not at all to suggest that buying a house in a neighborhood comprised of people who look like you means you are racist. Only that there are many ways, even in a racially/ethnically diverse town like ours, to decrease the likelihood that you and your children will have to interact regularly with non-white and/or low-income individuals.)

    Why is taking a bus an issue in a city of this size? We're not talking about unit districts like Carpenterville, Elgin, and Barrington that cover a lot of territory (and where most kids take a bus….) I can understand not wanting your kids to transfer from a current school, but otherwise I'm perplexed on that one.

    Higher taxes are inevitable as long as public school funding in Illinois comes from property tax. That's not the case in many other states.

    Ten years' worth of data doesn't seem like a whole heck of a lot to me when it comes to demographic trends. It's one census cycle.

    In my mind, if we need more space, we need more space. If we need it sooner rather than later, and a new school seems to be a better long-term solution, let's seize the opportunity and put it in the 5th ward.
    Which statement represents your view, Al? (Forgive me if you've stated it elsewhere and I've missed it.)

    (a) We don't need more space; we need better tolerance for higher class sizes.

    (b) We need more space and we should redistrict. [This is not an option on the table, as I understand it.]

    (c) We need more space, but we should build on to existing schools [including those in your ward, the Sixth Ward], which is less expensive in the short-term than buiding a new school.

    (d) We need more space and should maybe build another school or take over a vacant building, but we shouldn't build in the 5th ward because recent census data incidicate that people are moving out of that area.

    (e) We need more space but should should solve the problem in a way that doesn't involve raising taxes.

    (f) None of the above.

    1. My Answer Choice

      My answer is: (a) We don't need more space; we need better tolerance for higher class sizes.

      While there are those who will claim that smaller class sizes lead to a better education, it doesn't seam to be true in Evanston and many other communities. Larger class sizes of years ago produced a better education for many. This can be shown with the higher test scores in those years, especially in SAT's and ACT's.

      Evanston spends excessive money to educate each student, especially in K – 8.

      Teachers need to take more authority and responsibility. They need to be able to deal with students and parents who don't care.

      Students that disrupt the class need to be moved out to the "sweathog" classes or removed from the school. They should not be allowed to hinder students who want to learn and succeed.

      There are many ways to allow larger class size, get a better education, reduce staff, lower costs, and reduce taxes.

      I'm sure that todays Evanston's teachers can handle this in the same way that teachers from 40 – 50 years ago did and produce quality results. It is worth trying.

      1. the good ol’ days?

        What you are describing is the time when teachers "taught to the top".  While 'NCLB' had many problems, it did force schools to be accountable in teaching minorities, low income and those with disabilities.  I feel confident in saying that most of us in Evanston believe that it is the public school's responsibility to teach ALL of the kids in the district.  This takes more effort and smaller classrooms.  And it is working.  It may not be the good old fashioned education you remember but it is serving more kids and as a result will mean more productive members of society down the road.

        1. Good ol’ days

          I never said that we shouldn't teach all students. What I said as that when student's who have little or no desire to learn and behave in a manner that holds back students who want to learn, the problem student should be moved to another class of his/her piers. There is no reason to punish the students who are trying and show an effort to learn.

          If you think smaller class sizes are working, how to account for the declining test scores as class size decreases. The only thing that smaller class size has produced is high costs to the tax payers, as more school personal needs to be hired to man these classrooms.

          The cost of educating  students in evanston is amoung the highest in the state but as the cost go up the results are on the decline.

  6. Anon. AL is awesome

    Al- WIsh you would run for alderthing next election!! I'm fairly certain that you live in my ward and I'd vote for you in a heartbeat.  IF you decide to run, come knock on my door- I'll host one of those little coffee or tea things to "know the candidate."

      Mark Tendam is a nice guy and all, but he has not stood up for our ward very well(in my opinion).  I"m ready for a change, and I"m pretty sure that there are many who agree with me-

        Jen from 2606 Park Place

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