A roomful of mostly African-American Evanstonians gathered at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center Thursday night to tell an Evanston/Skokie District 65 committee they want a new school in their neighborhood.

A roomful of mostly African-American Evanstonians gathered at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center Thursday night to tell an Evanston/Skokie District 65 committee they want a new school in their neighborhood.

In an atmosphere that resembled a civil rights rally from the 1960s, emotions that have simmered for decades over the community’s decision in 1967 — widely supported at the time by the black community — to bus black students to predominantly white schools in other neighborhoods as a way to foster integration, came to the surface.

The angry group of residents demanded that the school board give their students the opportunity to attend schools in their own neighborhood, no matter the cost or the effect on racial integration.

A parent of three school-age children who live on Foster Street summed up the frustration this way:  “We were having this discussion (about ending busing) in 2002. It’s time to stop having this discussion. It needs to happen before my children go to college.”

Another speaker said, “This was an experiment, and it failed.”

More than one speaker argued that the absence of a neighborhood school acts as a deterrent to young families considering a home in the 5th Ward and that the area’s home values suffer as a result.  “If there’s no school, the community will perish,” said a black minister.

The committee’s co-chair, school board member Jerome Summers, said students often go to each other’s homes, enabling parents to know and interact with one another. But when they are bused out of the neighborhood to go to school, this interaction is less likely to occur, he said.

Another speaker said students face hardships during inclement weather, as they stand on the street corner waiting for the school bus.

The new-school initiative started last year when District 65 officials advised the school board that the number of school-age children was projected to grow by 577 students between 2010 and 2019, necessitating the addition of 25 to 30 classrooms beyond those currently under construction at Dewey and Willard schools.

The projected needs raised the question of whether a new school should be opened that would relieve the expected overcrowding at existing elementary and middle schools.

The board appointed the New School-Referendum Committee to examine the feasibility of a new school, including the question of whether a referendum would be necessary to issue bonds to obtain the $25 million “ball park” estimate for construction costs.

After studying the issue, the committee voted 13-1 to open a school in the “central core” of the 5th Ward, and it scheduled Thursday’s meeting at Fleetwood-Jourdain to give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal.

Thus, what began as a “space needs” issue had escalated into what some committee members refer to as a “social justice” issue of restoring the neighborhood school that was eliminated as a result of the integration initiative of the 1960s.

Every member of the public who addressed the committee in the two-hour session Thursday night spoke in favor of the proposal, many with great passion. Even whites at the meeting expressed support for the school, but warned of the difficulty of winning voter approval if a referendum proves necessary.

On that issue, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said he was getting conflicting legal advice, although the latest word from school attorneys was that if the board decided in December to put the referendum on the ballot in the March primaries that it could not change its mind if the Board subsequently found unspecified “alternative sources” of financing.

The committee had heard from a consultant, Richard Murray of the Murray Company, who had said it might be possible to employ “alternative funding options” for new classroom space that would not require a referendum.

At its previous meeting on Wednesday, the committee voted to recommend in its report that the full Board consider entering into an agreement with the Murray Company to pursue a study of these options.

Meanwhile, the audience at Thursday’s meeting was urged to apply pressure on the District 65 Board, including attendance at its September meetings when the report is likely to be slated for discussion and action, to press the case for the reestablishment of a neighborhood school.

As speaker Lonnie Wilson told the group: “If we don’t show that we have the political strength and power to get this done, it won’t get done.”

Top: NAACP Evanston Branch President George Mitchell speaks at the meeting.

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. Busing?

    Is it really 'busing' in the 60s desegregation sense of the term when kids are simply going to schools in such a small town as Evanston?  It's not like they're being bused to Waukegan, Schaumberg, St. Charles or Naperville.  They're simply attending schools in their town, which, given car transportation is really just 'our neighborhood' – areas of town within Evanston are more like what different streets were in old time, pre-car neighborhoods.

    The high level of diversity within all Evanston schools together with high rankings overall is part of the reason we chose to live in Evanston.  We didn't want to be in Chicago's essentially segregated schools: low-performing, primarily minority and poor public schools or high-performing, primarily white and well off private schools (or the crap shoot of a charters and magnets), even with the 'discount' in property tax rates in Rogers Park – which would be quickly eaten up by private school tuition.

    1. What a Coincidence!

      What a coincidence, the majority of kids we bus out of their communities to attend other schools are minority children.  I wonder why we didn't bus kids from NW Evanston to Foster School?  Certainly there isn't any underlying legacy of racism here!

    2. reply to anonymous

      I hate to frame things in Black and white it makes some think I am raciest I am not!! 

      If you look at stats for achievements for African Americans since the loss of Foster school you will see a steady decline, the fairness that the Black people were fighting for in the 60 turned on them and the school was taken, not one person wanted that, it was supposed to be a magnet school not taken away!! and they idea that they just go to another part of their town, is BULLSniff cause this town is as race separated as Chicago it just here they say we live just blocks from other cultures n people!! NEW FLASH our kids still sit in the lunch rooms of schools at black, white n brown tables not the color of the tables but the mindsets of there parents! there is not diversity in  Evanston, its a fable sold and told not practiced! And why was that balance and racial evenness set on the backs of 3 to 600 black children bused out daily!  Why do they carry the burden? watch em one day as they stand and shiver on hundreds of corners this winter white kids walk to there neighborhood schools!  We need ours back, communities r built by things as simple as schools and  communities are sometimes as small as of few blocks of sameness!! 

  2. Cost of new school

    Whats crazy is we speak of cost, well the cost of this 40 + YEAR SLOW BURNING DEATH OF A COMMUNITY is COSTLY nearly incalculable !! The community and its people lead in every negative stat since the HIJACKING of the school 1st lets get real I was born and breed right here in Evanston its diversity is of the drive by verity  I knew my boundaries as a child in this town and so did my kids and they are as clear as south Africa!! ONLY IN THE 8TH WARD  and some of the 2D do the blur plus lets look at history a bit the people in the 60s asked for fairness in education not the loss of the neighborhood school! That came later and it was a hijacking read the whole story!! second cost, if you dont know ILL BE GLAD TO TELL YOU!! EVANSTONS BLACK 5th ward and it black middle class are famed world wide for there accomplishments and the  people it  produced want to know when the decline began, the day the stole FOSTER SCHOOL  check the records! schools n churchs cement a community, and belive it or not the 5th ward is still a strong black community that needs some help to regain its luster the cost of losing that school are eched in the faces of every junkie, incarcerated person, drop out and murder victim!! see its easy to drive by and say all seems cool, but to see the real cost of no school on my neighborhood you gota get out the car when you drop your kid off at ETHS!! What has this community paid for that loss, and maybe we need to frame it different whats the cost of righting a wrong!!! FEEL ME!!

  3. Build the school

    If the African-American community wants this school then build it. It's not up to white Evanstonians to decide what constitutes racism/ fairness. It's up to the people who suffer that oppression to decide how they want it to be alleviated and clearly the school is what the community wants and needs. The money is there so build it and make it beautiful and well funded and the pride of the city. Really that should be end of discussion.

    1. Build the school?

      The money is there? Really.  What kind of accounting do you use? I thought D65 was in the red. You do know that the money, if it ever comes, has to come from taxpayers. Yeah, taxpayers.



  4. We are in 2011 not 1965

    Those who would like a school build in the 5th ward keep on pointing back to the 1960's, the world and the Evanston public schools have changed.    In the 1960's black children were the minority group in the Evanston Public schools, making up about 20% of the students.  Today White children are a minority population in district 65 making up about 40% of the students.   The other population which did not exist in the 1960's was the large group of most lower income Hispanic students.

    District 65 keeps on spending money to try to educate all these different groups, that is why they have created more and more Spanish speaking language programs, magnet schools etc..

    One also has to realize over 40% of the students are low income, some education researchers believe 40% or more is the tip pointing for maintaining a high quality school, that is they are pushing the idea of using economic integration versus racial. Some district 65 class rooms are way above the 40% ratio in low income students.

    What is more interesting the District total enrollment is not increasing – it is decreasing, their projects are just than mostly poor guess on what the population will be in five years, why would any intelligent person think enrollment is dramatically going to increase here given past history?   The total number of white student here may be about 2500 versus over 6000 in the 1960's.

    Hardy Murphy and others on staff may want to encourage this discussion since it gets away from the real focus, of education and holding them accountable for the management of the district.

    The real issue here is where will the district be a few years down the road with tax caps and will it even have enough money to keep the current programs going?

    1. Please can you let us know

      Please can you let us know where you learned about the 40% tipping point? I am interested in this topic.


  5. Most of the new school advocates don’t even live in Ward 5

    It seems weird that some of the most vocal advocates for the Fifth Ward school quoted by name for the article don't even live in the neighborhood. A simple public records search at the City of Evanston's website shows that many of these advocates live outside the ward.

    This entire enterprise seems like a Murphy-concocted scheme without any real connection to the community they are aiming to "help."

  6. It worked for me

    I was one of the white kids who was bussed to Foster School in the 60's. All I can remember was how kind everyone was to me and that skin color didn't matter to us young kids. I truly was raised to be color-blind.

    However, the black children heading in the other direction had a completely different experience then I had. It must have seemed like hell to most of them going to other neighborhoods where the 'welcoming committee' was mostly absent.

    It's really sad that my generation has been unable to full-fill Dr. Kings dream of only judging people by the content of their heart and not by the color of their skin. Maybe someday we shall overcome, but for now it seems we have learned nothing about ourselves.

    I fully support a 5th Ward school and if I had kids, I would send them there.

  7. Property Tax Increase

    I agree a new school in the Fifth Ward is needed.  In this economy, with the City of Evanston severely in the red, the money isn't there.

    Also, there is no significant increase in enrollment.  The same number of schools can serve the same number of students.

    That said, the Fifth Ward needs a neighborhood school.  I agree that a neighborhood school becomes a neighborhood focus, where many relationships and community are built. 

    King Lab should be that neighborhood school, until the economy improves.  King Lab has a wonderful playground, a beautiful theater, a sunlit library, and a great principal.  Start right now – all kindergarten classes from the Fifth Ward.

    Any money saved on bussing should be spent on teachers, and Head Start, and the children.  Do we want to spend money on bricks and electricity and contractors and new carpet, for forever, or do we want to invest what little money we have now directly in the classroom, where it will make the most difference?

    Many Evanston homeowners aren't rich.  Some of us owe more money on our mortgages than our home is worth in this market.  Some of the "rich" homes are foreclosed on too.  Evanston is hurting; we are struggling.  We don't have Old Orchard or manufacturing like Skokie does.  Our taxes, our water bills, our garbage costs, our parking fees are already higher than Skokie's.

    Didn't we just learn not to spend money we do not have?  Didn't we just learn what the consequences of taking on too much debt will be?

    Evanston property owners can't bail out city finances AND build a new school – now.  King Lab for the Fifth Ward.


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