How will the community react when Evanston/Skokie School District 65 next month unveils a new student assignment plan that is expected to call for closing some schools and building a new one in the 5th Ward?

Just this month, the school board in Oakland, California, after an eight-hour meeting filled with angry protest, voted to close seven schools over the next two years.

Despite a hunger strike by two teachers and ongoing protests, the board in Oakland Friday rejected a move to reconsider its action.

The Oakland district, with about 87 schools and 36,000 students in elementary through high school, is roughly five times the size of District 65 with its 17 schools and less than 7,000 students.

Facing a budget crunch even more severe that what District 65 faces, the Oakland board has been ordered by county officials to cut spending by tens of millions of dollars as a result of declining enrollment and management and governing problems.

Similar protests arose in 2013 when the Chicago Board of Education voted to shut 49 elementary schools, transferring thousands of children to new classroom settings.

Five years later, researchers at the University of Chicago issued a study that concluded the Chicago school closing process had been chaotic and that “the test scores of students in both closed and welcoming schools” — the schools students were transferred to — “were negatively affected.”

Chicago has been periodically closing schools — and opening new ones — for the past two decades. A WBEZ analysis in 2018 showed roughly 200 closings or radical restructurings since 2002, along with construction of at least 20 new school buildings.

The WBEZ report says CPS “still struggles with chronically low-performing schools. And despite the pain and protests that accompanies so many school closings, the system has a more dramatic under-enrollment problem today than it did when it started shutting down schools in 2002.”

District 65’s Student Assignment Planning panel is scheduled to present scenarios for possible reconfiguration of the school system at a series of three online meetings, with the first at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27.

The committee is then expected to make its recommendations to the school board at the board’s March 14 meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. The Evanston School District 65 Board is faced with the incredibly necessary and important task of evaluating major budgetary concerns , including the probability of school closings and the construction of a new school.
    Forty plus years ago, as a parent of two Dewey School students, we successfully kept Dewey “alive”, arguing, for one, that Dewey was probably one of the few neighborhood schools in town that was able to maintain “walk-in” integration, a priority we felt important.
    It was a difficult time, and other schools and students suffered.
    Times have changed. Challenges continue. I wish Evanston parents and especially the School Board the needed strength, foresight and patience to meet the challenges.
    I’ll be observing now as a grandparent and ongoing taxpayer. I wish all well.

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