At the Aug. 16 School Board meeting, District 65 administrators presented this map showing the location of the proposed new school, which would be sited on Foster Field, behind the Family Focus building between Foster and Simpson streets. The map also shows proposed attendance areas for that school and other schools in the District.

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On Aug. 16, the District 65 School Board picked up the discussion of how to manage increasing student enrollment on a long-term basis. While no vote was taken, it appears the Board is focusing on adding classrooms to several schools, and possibly on a referendum asking voters to approve bonds to fund the establishment of a new school in the Fifth Ward. The site of the school under discussion would be Foster Field, which is adjacent to the Family Focus building, the old Foster School building.

Two School Board members, Bonnie Lockhart and Tracy Quattrocki, were unable to attend the meeting.

The District currently projects that enrollment will increase by 462 students in the next five years. In February, John D. Kassarda, Ph.D., a demographer retained by the District, estimated that the increase would be about 597 students in his “most likely” scenario. His ten-year estimate is higher.

The District’s administrators say there is an immediate need for additional classrooms at Dewey and Willard schools. They expect additional classrooms will be needed at five other schools within the next five or six years.

‘Cap-and-Transfer’ Off the Table

As a stop-gap measure, in March the Board adopted, by a 5-2 vote, a “cap-and-transfer” policy to address student enrollment on a one-year basis. Under that policy, enrollment in each class was capped, and students in excess of the cap were to be transferred to another school based on a priority system.

The cap-and-transfer policy was unpopular with many parents and generated objections from parents whose children were slated for involuntary transfers to other schools. Rather than involuntarily transferring many students from Dewey, Orrington and Willard schools under the policy, the administration subsequently decided to add an additional classroom at each of those schools to accommodate the additional students at certain grade levels. At Willard, classrooms were created by using the teachers’ lounge (the lounge was moved to a smaller room) and a room used for art class.

At this point, it appears the cap-and-transfer policy has died a natural death. In June, the Board asked the administration to analyze whether increased student enrollment could be addressed by moving programs, by redistricting, by adding classrooms, or by building a new school.

At the Aug. 12 Board Finance Committee meeting, Mary Brown, chief financial officer, presented two options to address space needs: add classrooms to Willard and Dewey schools and/or build a new school in the Fifth Ward.

At the Aug.16 Board meeting, Paul Brinson, chief information officer, presented information on redistricting and transferring programs, and he filled in some details on the proposed new school. He began his report by presenting information on the capacity of each school.

Capacity of the Schools

Mr. Brinson presented a table showing the current capacity of each of the District’s schools. In preparing the chart he used the enrollment for each school as of Aug. 15, and the number of core classrooms in each school, as determined by the District’s architects in a building capacity study completed last year. He computed capacity assuming an average of 20 students per classroom, and additionally assuming 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25 students per classroom.

The number of core instructional classrooms used in the analysis does not include 44 classrooms devoted currently to art, music and special education across the District.

An accompanying table shows his computations assuming 20 students per classroom, which he said is the average class size for the District. The table reflects that seven of the District’s schools are at or above 94% capacity. In all, 13 schools are at or above 83% capacity.

If the average class size is 23 students, two schools are above 93% capacity; and seven are at or above 83% capacity.

“Based on the model that we ran,” Mr. Brinson said, “we came to the conclusion that a school will become stressed or potentially stressed when it reaches 80% capacity or 80% of its capacity at a grade level.”

Board member Andy Pigozzi, an architect who specializes in the design of school buildings, said, “When you design for a new school building, you design for 70% capacity.” He told the RoundTable that additional classrooms are built because additional space is always needed for programmatic purposes, such as for art classes or technology.

If enrollment increases as projected, the schools where growth is occurring will operate at higher rates of capacity.

Moving Programs to Create Space

Mr. Brinson concluded that moving the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program from Willard and Dewey schools to another school would not solve the overcrowding issues at Willard and Dewey.

He said that the number of Spanish-dominant TWI students at Dewey (45) and Willard (45) was not enough to solve the crowding issues at either school. In addition, he added, “There is no guarantee that the English-dominant TWI students will follow the TWI program from their schools.” Some may prefer to stay at their home schools, rather than transfer to another school.

Mr. Brinson also said one goal in the District’s strategic plan was to maintain programs at the school at which they are now located. Board member Kim Weaver added, “I have a real issue with moving programs,” because it is contrary to the strategic plan.


Mr. Brinson said he had run some computer models that redrew attendance area lines for schools in the District. “What we came down to,” he said, “is that the capacity for change is in Oakton and down at the south of town. The need, in terms of full-up, is on the north side.

” So we could create an ‘Oakton Island’ in Willard and bus those kids down to Oakton or the other schools where we have capacity. But that probably wouldn’t be workable, and it certainly would be an expensive proposition.”

Because the north end schools are all operating at high capacities, he said minor changes to the attendance area lines would not be sufficient to address the projected increases in student enrollment. Building new classrooms would still be necessary to accommodate the growth.

He concluded, “In our mind’s eye, the solution of redistricting and the solution of moving programs are really tinkering around the edges. They did not offer long-term solutions.”Adding Space at Willard and Dewey

Dr. Brown said Dewey is projected to need three additional classrooms over the next three years. She presented four options to create the additional classrooms, with costs estimated at $885,975, $1.4 million, $2 million and $2.8 million. The less expensive options include converting the current cafeteria into classroom space, and then converting the auditorium into a multi-purpose room which could serve as a cafeteria.

Willard is projected to need five additional classrooms over the next five years, Dr. Brown said. The cost for the addition and renovation to create these classrooms and address other building needs is estimated at $5.2 million.

Dr. Murphy said at the Aug. 9 Finance Committee meeting, “At this time, at these schools, it will solve the problem. As time goes on there will be problems at other schools.” He added, “In the next two to three years, there will be issues at three to five schools.”

Mr. Brinson said at the Board meeting, “Willard and Dewey are just the tip of the iceberg.” He said if the District is going to maintain its current class size, “seven schools are above 94% capacity.” He said construction would be needed at those schools in the next five, six or seven years.

He said adding to the footprint at these schools would be expensive, and it might make sense to build a new school as an alternative option.

A New School in the “Central Core”

Another option for addressing space concerns is to build a new school in the “central core” of the District, said Dr. Brown. “This school would provide space relief for all District 65 schools and will eliminate the need for additions/renovations at other schools,” she said.

The estimated cost to construct a “very modest 14-classroom school” is $13 million, she said, adding that it would increase operating expenses by about $1 million per year to staff the school.

At the Board’s Aug. 16 meeting, Mr. Brinson said the administration is now considering a new school with 18 classrooms. He said the proposed site is Foster Field, which is adjacent to the Family Focus building, the old Foster School building.

Mr. Brinson presented a proposed attendance area map, reprinted on page 8, showing the new school. He said the attendance area for the new school is roughly that of the old Foster School. The map redraws the attendance areas for other schools in the District, as well.

The administration’s reports do not analyze the impact the proposed new school would have on diversity in the District’s schools. Many supporters of a new Fifth Ward school have said that the District’s north end schools have been desegregated for years by busing African American children from the Fifth Ward to those schools.

Board member Jerome Summers, who has long supported establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward, said by the time the District did expansion projects at three to five schools, the cost would exceed the $13.5 estimated cost of a new school. He said the Fifth Ward is the only ward in the City that does not have a school. He said a new school presents “an opportunity to build culture and a community.”

Mr. Pigozzi said work on the District’s existing schools would still be necessary to improve security and to bring them into the 20th century. He added that doing work at Willard and Dewey would not preclude the establishment of a Fifth Ward School.Timing and a Referendum

Dr. Murphy said the time involved to establish a new school was a concern. He said funding for the new school would need to be approved in a referendum, which could not be scheduled until the April 2011 election. The District’s architect said it would take until January 2013 to construct a new school if the process began in April 2011.

Meanwhile, Willard and Dewey have space needs that will need to be addressed for the 2011-12 school year.

In terms of a referendum, Mr. Pigozzi said the Board would have to define the facts first, including the location of the new school, the building footprint, and the attendance area. He said a community group would have to form and work independently of the Board to build support to pay for the school by issuing bonds. He said a referendum could be contentious, and that a whole year might be needed to “ramp it up and tell the story.”

Keith Terry said, “To me it has gotten rather simple. …We’re supposed to be visionaries and helping to set a pathway for where this District should go.

“And I really am trying to move toward action, because redistricting and moving programs are off the table in my mind. That takes us to construction, so I want to propose something. …My proposal is we move very quickly to relieve the pressure at the schools, Willard and Dewey, but we should also be seriously mindful of putting forth a referendum to the community about a centrally located school.”

Katie Bailey said, “Philosophically, I’m in agreement. But we have to look at this economically as well.”

Dr. Murphy said he asked Dr. Brown to put together additional cost figures and an estimate of the impact on taxpayers.

Ms. Bailey asked if the Board approved adding classrooms to Willard and Dewey and the community subsequently approved a referendum for a new school, would the District “have built something we don’t need?”

Dr. Murphy said, “I think the answer to that is no.” He said the District would use the space.

Mr. Terry said the Board would consider whether to add classrooms to Dewey and Willard schools at its Sept. 13 meeting. He asked the administration to present information on how to proceed with a referendum at that meeting.

In February 2010, Dr. John D. Kassarda, Ph.D., a consulting demographer, projected District 65’s K-8 enrollment using three different assumptions concerning the rate of turnover in existing housing. The lower the turnover rate in housing, he said, the lower the increase would be in enrollment. He estimated that K-8 enrollment would increase over the next five years by between 150 and 929 students, with 597 being the “most likely scenario. He projected that the “most likely” increase for the K-5 grade levels was 396 students.

He projected that highest increases (using the most likely scenario) in the next five years at the District’s K-5 schools would be at Willard (an increase of 70 students), Dewey (64 students), Washington (47 students), Lincoln (38 students), Walker (34 students), Lincolnwood (30 students), and Kingsley (19 students). At the middle school level, he projected the biggest increase would be at Haven (180).

According to Mr. Kassarda’s report, the District had 6,902 K-8 students ten years ago in 2000-01, and enrollment has been increasing since then. Last year the enrollment was 6,339. He is projecting a K-8 enrollment of 6,936 in 2014-15, and 7,099 in 2019-20, under his “most likely” scenario.


          Table Showing School Capacity

                    Capacity at This 
                    Average Class Size

School                20      23

Dawes                83%   72%

Dewey                108     93

Kingsley               87     76

Lincoln                 83    72

Lincolnwood         108    93

Oakton                 84   73

Orrington              97   84

Walker                  83   72

Washington            94   82

Willard                   98   85

King Lab                 74   64

Bessie Rhodes          99  86

Chute                     95  83

Haven                    84  73

Nichols                   78  68

The Closing of Foster School

In 1960, the percentage of African American students at Foster School was 99%. As part of a desegregation plan that was implemented in 1966, Foster School was closed as a neighborhood school, and became instead a laboratory school open to the entire District. It was designed as a magnet – a carrot – to draw white children to the school and thereby desegregate it. About 400 white children were bused to the school.

As a second part of the desegregation plan, all of the children who had previously attended Foster School were reassigned to other schools. Many students were reassigned to a new school within walking distance of their home. A substantial part of Foster School, however, was carved into seven districts and children in those districts were assigned to one of the District’s periphery schools as their attendance area school. Approximately 450 African American children were bused to school under this plan.

In the 1970s the District closed seven schools in light of drops in student enrollment. As part of this process the magnet school program at Foster School was transferred to Skiles Middle School, now known as King Lab.

In 1979, the School Board considered whether to reestablish Foster School as an attendance area school and to close Willard or Orrington schools. The Board decided not to reestablish Foster School, and the District subsequently sold the building. The building, now known as the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, is used by Family Focus and other non-profit groups.

In late 2002 the School Board considered whether to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward. The Board decided, by a 5-2 vote, not to do so in light of financial issues.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...