West side residents divided over 5th Ward school

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.

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