West side residents offered sharply differing views Thursday evening about plans being considered by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 to build a new school on Foster Field.

Advocates of such a school have argued for years that it would end the need to bus children from the west side to other city schools.

The busing program was adopted in the 1970s as part of plan to integrate Evanston schools that also included shutting the old Foster School, located in a building at 2010 Dewey Ave. now owned by the non-profit Family Focus organization.

One newer resident, who lives in the Church Street Village town homes, said having his child bused to the highly-rated Willard School in the far northwest corner of the city was part of what sold him on moving to the neighborhood — along with the opportunity to live in an integrated community and also be close to downtown Evanston.

A map of existing school boundaries with a district-staff-proposed attendance area for the new school superimposed in red.

He said he’d attended a meeting at the Boocoo Cultural Center of over 60 families who live in the 2nd or 5th wards and have children in the two-way immersion English-Spanish language program at Willard.

He said the vast majority of parents at that meeting feared the language program would be pushed out of Willard if a new school is built and wanted their children to stay at Willard “because it’s an excellent school.”

But several long-time residents — most too old now to have their own children in the schools — said they were still angry about the closure of Foster School four decades ago and wanted the busing program ended.

Carlis Sutton of 1821 Darrow Ave. said the racial composition of the once almost all-black neighborhood around the old Foster School site is changing. “When this ward becomes 55 percent white, you’ll build yourself a school here,” Sutton said. “With gentrification and diversification that won’t even be an issue within five years.”

“Once we’re no longer here, then you’ll need a neighborhood school for your children,” he added.

Others, including Priscilla Giles of 1829 Ashland Ave., objected to the loss of park land if the new school is built at Foster Field, located at Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue.

She suggested building it instead on the abandoned factory site between Foster and Emerson streets now planned for new housing partially funded through a federal grant, or on vacant land along the former Mayfair railroad right-of-way near Green Bay Road.

But at the 5th Ward meeting, held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center 1655 Foster St., School Board member Jerome Summers said it would add millions to the cost of the school project to buy a new site for it, rather than build on Foster Field which the school district already owns.

“I hate to lose green space too,” Summers said. But he argued the school would only occupy about one acre of the three-acre field and in return, “We wouldn’t have to bus 600 kids out of the 5th Ward each day.”

Judith Treadway of the local chapter of the NAACP, who herself lives in the 8th Ward in south Evanston, distributed fliers urging residents to write to the school board favoring the plan for a new school and calling for the board to place a referendum to fund the school on next April’s election ballot.

But District 65 board member Bonnie Lockhart said the board has decided to put together a committee to study the idea of constructing a new school and that the earliest the board might put a referendum on the ballot would be for the March 2012 election.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. What about Kingsley?

    I don’t have kids, so I don’t really know how Dist. 65 operates, but the site for the proposed school is less than a 1/2 mile from Kingsley.  I would think you would want to find an alternative site, not so close to a pre-existing school.

    That brings me to the next question: do kids in the 5th ward go to Kingsley?  That’s much closer than WIllard.

    The whole discussion seems pretty futile since if you really have to put this issue up on a referendum, the rest of the city will never pass a tax increase to fund a 5th ward school.

    1. School boundaries

      Hi Franklin,

      Thanks for the question. Since you submitted it I’ve added a map to the story that shows the existing attendance area boundaries and boundaries for the new school proposed by the District 65 staff. The school board itself hasn’t acted on the question of what attendance area boundaries the new school might have.

      So, students from the 5th Ward actually go to several different schools. (You can find a map of ward boundaries here.)

      — Bill


  2. Map is Interesting – Why not Dewey?

    Thanks, Bill, for posting that.   I’m assuming that the weird busing is somehow related to the Brown decision which was overturned  a couple of years ago.  Why not shift the WIllard "donut hole" neighborhood  to Dewey, Kingsley and Walker?

    I guess the question that 65 needs to ask is  what the system’s capacity is at this point.  Is there severe overcrowding throughout the district?

     If there is crowding, are there physical expansion opportunities at the existing schools?

     Adding a whole new school with a new layer of bureaucracy and support staff should be the last resort.  Every neighborhood wants a library, school, senior center, etc…  This stuff costs serious money.

    1. Antecedents of busing

       Hi Franklin,

      The desegregation plan for Evanston schools was adopted voluntarily, not under court order. Part of the moral impetus for it was provided by the Brown decision in 1954, which outlawed legally-mandated school segregation nationwide. That decision has not been overturned, but the range of remedies schools can use to respond to the issue has been somewhat restricted by recent cases. In Evanston, segregation had never been legally required, but patterns in drawing school attendance area boundaries and in siting schools had led to a very segregated result.

      The underlying issue here dates to at least the early part of the last century when, as part of a national trend toward enforcing racial separation, Evanston neighborhoods became racially segregated as a result of a combination of legal covenants barring the sale of properties in some neighborhoods to blacks and racial steering by real estate agents that had the effect of keeping some neighborhoods all white and others all black as the overall population of the city grew.

      As recently as the 1960s you could find ads in the Evanston Review that indicated a racial preference in the rental of apartments here.

      Once such patterns become established, it takes a very long time to undo them, especially when you add economic disparities into the mix and a reluctance of people to move into areas where they fear they may not be welcome.

      — Bill

  3. “Because it’s an excellent school.”

    People don’t want their kids going to the new school because Willard is such a great school.  Why not just move all the faculty and staff from WIllard over to the new Foster school and just re-staff Willard?  Why can’t every school be excellent?

  4. Tend to agree

    This is a complex issue, for sure, but the busing to which black kids have been subjected for 40 years has not resulted in happier or more academically successful kids, while at the same time breaking up neighborhood ties and requiring the kids to get more exposure to rain, wind, snow, and a longer day.  It is allso true, however, that highly segregated schools in poor areas do not produce high achievement.  Also this would mean the dreams of diversity in Evanston’s schools would not begin to materialize until middle or high school, and by then many patterns and cliques are formed which are hard to penetrate on both sides.  It’s when friendships and associations go back to the grade school that the kids can actually stay friends for life or at least through high school.  However, the yawning achievement gap trumps "liberal" yearnings and if a neighborhood school would positively affect kids’ well being, that’s what has to happen.

    I would favor a referendum in the 5th ward, well-organized by the alderman, to see what’s on the minds of the families and neighbors affected.  There would be community meetings before the vote for all to hear and weigh the issues.  All of us living outside the ward cannot get a good read on it.  There’s no reason that has to wait for years to be on a ballot.  There can be severa polling places.  Anyone with an address in the neighborhood votes; no one outside it can.  Let’s see what the residents say.


    1. Why exclude people who will be affected?

      Why exclude other families affected by the building of a new school?  Building a 5th ward school will mean redistricting no matter what.  This means almost every family in the district will be affected by building of the 5th ward school, not just people in the 5th ward.  We all will pay for it too

  5. Historical comment on Schools

     The issue with Foster school as well as all of the schools in Evanston, were greatly affected by several activities: 1) real estate covenants (1920s); 2) school district redlining activities; 3) social attitudes and assumptions.

    In recent efforts to correct includes: 1) the managed desegregation of schools (1960s); 2) Dist. 65 implementation of achieving "racially balanced" schools (1990s); 3) the national "no child left behind (even with its flaws).

    However, to see a proper balance across the board, several changes need to be made. First is the establishment of a truly diverse Evanston – not in percentage, but in neighborhood make-ups. Oak Park, IL made giant leaps in that process since as early as the mid 1950s.

    A former Principal came under fire in her bid for County Superintendent c1918. As written by Helen Sanford on Ellen Foster:

    "Very unfortunately Miss Foster came into conflict with the board of education The real estate board proposed an ordinance that would definitely affect the housing of the Foster School neighborhood. She believed the adoption of this ordinance would lead to "block-busting" and segregation, problems that Evanston need not and would not choose to face in later years."

  6. Desegregating EWvanston’s schools

    Foster School was closed as a school drawing from its neighborhood in 1966 and reopened as the "Martin Luther King Junior  Laboratory School" in 1966 for grades K-5, as part of the planned integration of Evanston’s schools. ( Students of various race and ethnicity were bused from throughout the district). District-wide busing began in 1967 (not "the 1970’s") to implement the school integration plan.    In 1978, the"Martin Luther King, Jr. Laboratory School"  was moved from the old Foster School building to the former Skiles Junior High School building (which had become a middle school lab school "Ski-Lab" in 1976) and became "King Lab."  

    It is also incorrect to suggest that busing has been limited to African-American children, although more African-American children are bused than any other racial group.  In addition to special education students of all races, as school district lines have been redrawn to keep schools within guidelines for integration, substantial numbers of children (African-American, white, and other) have been bused to mitigate their crossing of major throroughfares that endanger children — Green Bay Road, Chicago Avenue, etc. 

    Joan Safford

  7. Many questions about 5th ward school need answers now


    There are several arguments presented regarding the impact of the 5th ward school which deserve investigation and answers before anyone can vote on a referendum.
    One is that students will do better academically because they are attending a school within walking distance and both children and families will be more engaged in the school.  The district can analyze its data and answer this question:  Are lower income children who attend “attendance area” schools or who walk to the magnet schools doing better academically than those bussed out of the 5th ward or walk to Dewey, Kingsley, Orrington, Lincolnwood and Willard?  This is pretty easy to do analytically.
    The second is that building the 5th school would eliminate busing.  Several years ago the district provided an analysis of busing when the idea of a 5th ward school came up and found that building the school would not significantly reduce the busing of children.  Evanston buses children mainly because there are busy streets and it would be a hazard to have children walk.  Watch the busses leaving King Lab. Many of them are empty within a three quarters of mile or so from the school (yes, these are students living in the 5th ward) because Dodge, Church, Dempster, etc. are dangerous places to cross for elementary students.   Have traffic patterns changed such that walking would be an option?
    The third is that building a 5th ward school will necessitate redistricting.  This means almost every family in the district will be affected by building of the 5th ward school. For the Evanston community to make an informed choice the district needs to make that map available BEFORE any referendum.
    The fourth is that the District has conducted a survey of parents and found that a 5th ward school is not a priority for most families and there are more pressing concerns. What has changed to require yet ANOTHER survey and why exclude the rest of the families in the district?  Redistricting will affect families living in most if not all of the other school zones.
    The fifth issue is cost.  The district is not only adding the bricks and mortar, but also the ongoing operational expenses of a new school.  While there are significantly fewer children in the District than when we last considered (and rejected) building a 5th ward school, the same “green” issue is relevant and perhaps even more so. The district now believes the present schools are all overcrowded or soon will be, but bases that assumption on much, much smaller class sizes than we have had in the past.  Paul Brinson has said that the schools we have now are not “21st century” schools but we’ve got 21st century economic constraints that need to be factored into the decision.
    And lastly, one issue that proponents of the 5th ward school do not address and must be addressed is the expected socioeconomic composition of the proposed 5th ward school.  Among the wards in the city the 5th ward has experienced significant economic distress. And this was true even before the current foreclosure crisis.  One fact we know for certain is that concentrating and isolating lower income children within a single school is a recipe for perpetuation of an achievement gap.  There is very solid research evidence that lower income children who attend school with higher income children do better than lower income children who receive substantial additional resources—like much smaller classes, extended days, additional parent/teacher contact, etc.
    We can speculate about the reasons, but the fact remains that concentration of poverty is bad for kids and economic diversity is good for kids and lower income kids especially. When the District draws the redistricting map (which it will need to do) it should also provide estimates on the expected proportion of children who receiving free and reduced lunch who would attend the new 5th ward school.


    1. Main Issue should be District Capacity

      I tend to agree with all of these sentiments.

      However–the main issue needs to be district-wide capacity.

      If the district is really over-capacity, then the question should be: what will cost more, expanding existing schools or building a new one?

      The distict should use simple geographic information systems programs to determine maximum accessibility for each existing school and draw borders based on maximum proximity to the school.

      Kids beyond a certain distance–say 3/4 mile could be bused to the closest school.

      The decisions should be based on cost-benefits, first and foremost.

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