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The District 65 School Board decided by a 5-0 vote on Sept. 27 to seek bids to add classroom space at both Dewey and Willard Schools to address projected increases in enrollment at those schools. The Board also decided by consensus to form a committee to explore establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward. A new school would need to be approved by a referendum.

The committee’s charge will include examining the possibility of building a new 18 classroom school adjacent to the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, the site of the old Foster School. The committee will also examine other options such as leasing space for the school from Family Focus and even Evanston Township High School.

Board members Katie Bailey and Kim Weaver were unable to attend the meeting. 

Space Needs at the Schools

District 65’s K-8 enrollment this year is 6,566 students, an increase of 170 students over last year. In February, Dr. John D. Kassarda, Ph.D., a demographer retained by the District, projected that District’s 65’s K-8 enrollment would be 6,936 students in 2014-15 and 7,099 in 2019-20 under his “most likely” scenario. His “most likely” scenario assumes a consistent birth rate and a normal turnover rate in existing housing.  

On Sept. 20 the administration presented the Board’s Finance Committee with a set of charts that analyzed the space needs at five of the District’s elementary schools, which administrators believe may have space needs in the next five years: Dewey, Lincoln, Lincolnwood, Orrington and Willard. Two of the schools, Dewey and Willard, are expected to need additional space for the 2011-12 school year, said Mary Brown, chief financial officer. 

Dewey needs an art room and is expected to need one additional classroom for the fall of 2011 and another classroom for the fall of 2012, Dr. Brown said. 

Willard needed two additional classrooms this year. These were obtained by converting the staff lounge and the art room into classrooms. Dr. Brown said Willard needs an art room and is projected to need two more classrooms for the fall of 2011 and one more for the fall of 2012. 

A Sept. 16 memo prepared by Dr. Brown indicates that there is not an immediate need to build new classrooms at Lincoln, Lincolnwood or Orrington. She said the space needs at these schools will be monitored. 

Proposed Work at Dewey and Willard – Up to $8 Million  

On Sept. 20, the Board’s Finance Committee considered the administration’s recommendations to add and renovate space at Dewey and Willard schools. They asked the administration to itemize certain costs and to present less costly alternatives. 

At the Board’s Sept. 27 meeting, the administration presented a revised proposal. The administration recommended that the Board authorize the District’s architect to prepare drawings and to obtain bids for the following work at Dewey and Willard schools: 

  • At Dewey: convert the auditorium into a multi-purpose room that could be used for lunch and music, and convert the current lunchroom into two small classrooms at an estimated cost of $932,900. The administration also recommended that separate bids be obtained to build space for three new classrooms (estimated to cost $1.3 million), and to add a new stairway to the third floor to replace an aging fire escape (estimated to cost $757,981). 
  • At Willard: add a single-story addition to provide two new classrooms, a new main office and secure front entrance, and a staff lounge; convert the current lunchroom into a classroom, convert the current main office into another classroom, and add a multipurpose room that would be used for lunch, at an estimated cost of $4.2 million. 

The combined total of these proposals is about $8 million. Board member Andy Pigozzi, an architect who specializes in school design, said, though, “I strongly believe that both these projects can be done for below $5.8 million.” He added that by seeking bids on this work the Board would not be committing to do the work, but it could decide to move ahead after reviewing the bids. 

New School in the Fifth Ward – $14 Million 

One way presented by the administration to address the space needs of the District is to build a new school in the City’s Fifth Ward. In an Aug. 9 memo to the Board, Dr. Brown said, “This school would provide space relief for all District 65 schools and will eliminate the need for additions/renovations at other schools.” 

The estimated cost of building a “modest” new school, with 18 classrooms, is $14 million, Dr. Brown said. The annual cost to operate the new school is estimated at $1.8 million, she said. Under questioning by Board member Tracy Quattrocki it appears the estimated cost to operate the school does not include all personnel, technology and perhaps other costs. Superintendent Hardy Murphy said these costs will be included in a subsequent estimate. 

The site of the new school under discussion would be Foster Field, which is adjacent to the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, the old Foster School building at Dewey Avenue and Emerson Street. As part of the District’s desegregation plan, Foster School was converted into a magnet school in 1966; it was subsequently closed in the late 1970s. Children in the area have been bused to other schools for almost 35 years.

At the Board’s Aug. 16 meeting, Paul Brinson, chief information officer, presented a proposed attendance area map for the new school, which was prepared for “illustrative purposes.” He said the attendance area is roughly that of the old Foster School. 

Assuming the new 18-classroom school had the attendance area proposed, it would draw 115 students from Kingsley, 107 from Lincolnwood, 72 from Willard, 32 from Orrington, and 21 from Dewey, Mr. Brinson said. An analysis he prepared showed that the new school may reduce the need for a total of about 13 classrooms at these schools. The impact varies by school and by year, with little impact on the classroom needs at Dewey. 

The administration did not present demographic data of the student body at the new school, but presented demographic data of students in the wider Fifth Ward: 51% African American, 22% Hispanic, 15% white, 8% multi-racial and 3% Asian. 

In reviewing the data, Bonnie Lockhart noted that 600 students in the Fifth Ward attend 13 different schools in the District and that not a single student walks to school. She said, “There’s one group of students that’s being moved all over the City, some by choice, some just because of what happened a long time ago.” 

Jerome Summers, a long time advocate of establishing a school in the Fifth Ward likewise said, “All these children [in the Fifth Ward] go somewhere other than where they live. The implications of that are that children don’t know each other, which means that parents don’t know each other, which means that long-term relations aren’t built, which means that a lot of time people don’t have allegiance to their community. And it disintegrates the community over time.” 

The new school would need to be approved in a referendum, which could not be scheduled until the April 5, 2011 election, said Dr. Brown. The District’s architect said it would take until January 2013 to construct a new school if the process began in April 2011. 

Board Approves Moving Ahead With Dewey and Willard Additions 

Board members agreed there was a need to address space needs at Dewey and Willard. The main sticking point was whether additional classroom space would be needed at Dewey and Willard schools if a new 18 room school was built in the Fifth Ward. 

Ms. Quattrocki framed the issue saying if the District does not need 26 additional classrooms, then building new classrooms at Willard and Dewey would reduce the chance for a successful referendum to build a new school in the Fifth Ward. 

At the Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 20, Katie Bailey said that was a valid point, “I think that’s a risk. I think we have to say that’s a risk.” She added though, “There’s an immediate space need at Willard and Dewey.” 

The timing issue in some ways put the Board in a corner. Dr. Murphy said the District needs space at Dewey and Willard for the fall of 2011, and the District needs to move forward with those projects now so they will be complete when school starts next year. He said if the District waited until after a referendum on April 5, 2011 to decide what to do, new classrooms at Dewey and Willard would not be ready by the fall of 2011. He added that even if a referendum for a new school passed, the new school would not be built until early 2013. 

Ms. Quattrocki said she did not think the District needed all the classrooms proposed at Willard. She said Willard would have 24 classrooms if the proposed additions were done, but the data presented by Mr. Brinson showed that Willard would only need between 17 to 20 classrooms if a new school was built in the Fifth Ward. “To me the evidence seems to refute” the need to put additions onto Willard and also to build a new school “pretty convincingly,” she said. 

Mr. Pigozzi said he thought if the District went ahead with the additions at Willard and subsequently built a new school in the Fifth Ward, the risk was there would be two extra classrooms at Willard. He said, though, that Willard had three relatively small classrooms and any extra classrooms could be used for small group instruction or for other purposes. 

He added that classrooms needed to be larger today than in the past to accommodate new instructional techniques to meet the needs of diverse learners in the same classroom. “To me this is the beginning of a strategy over time where we do go through our buildings and take a second look at these rooms and ask ourselves, ‘Are these rooms adequate for 21st Century learning?’ A lot of districts ask themselves these questions.” 

A motion to approve the administration’s proposal to obtain bids to make additions to Dewey and Willard passed by a 5-0 vote. 

While voting to move forward at Dewey and Willard, Ms. Quattrocki said, “I think we’ve overlooked some creative and less costly options,” to address space needs at the District. She added, “I think if we’re serious about supporting a referendum to build a school in the Fifth Ward – which I would support over adding classroom additions to our northside schools – going forward with these new additions jeopardizes the need for the new school.”

Mr. Summers said, “ We have an opportunity here to improve what I would consider are north side schools that are well-to-do, or even privileged, and I’m okay with that … I don’t want to do that at the expense of children who have been at risk and who have been nomadic for 30 years at this point. I think we can do both. Evanston has a sense of great love for its children.” 

He added, “We know there have been clear inequities here. We have a chance as a whole community to do the right thing for the right reason and really be that lighthouse, really be that model community that we claim we are.”  

Formation of a Committee to Explore a New School 

Board President Keith Terry suggested the Board establish a committee to explore establishing a new school in the Fifth Ward. Two Board members will be on the committee. 

Ms. Lockhart suggested the Board hold three town hall meetings. She said, “The conversation about the school … is a conversation we have to take to the community. …We have to talk to the parents.” 

In line with Ms. Lockhart’s suggestion to gather parents’ views, Ms. Quattrocki suggested that parents of students in the Fifth Ward be surveyed to gather their views about the new school. Ms. Bailey made the same suggestion at the Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 20. 

Mr. Pigozzi suggested that the committee should also explore the possibility of leasing space at the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building for the new school. “I think utilizing that building should be talked about,” he said. “I would even like to explore the idea of leasing space from Evanston Township High School.” 

Dr. Murphy said the administration had been exploring options to lease space, possibly without the need of a referendum. The Board considered a proposal to lease space to establish a school at the Family Focus building in 2002, but decided not to move forward at that time due to financial concerns. 

Mr. Terry said, “I don’t consider this just as a space issue. This big issue for me is the achievement gap.” He suggested the Committee explore creative programs for the school that might address that issue. 

Mr. Terry added, “I think we have to take our time to ensure that the way this subcommittee moves forward it doesn’t tear our community apart, that we address every sensitive issue, because diversity matters in Evanston.” 

The deadline for the School Board to put a referendum question on the April 5, 2011 ballot is December 13, 2010, said Dr. Murphy.

The Closing of Foster School

As part of a desegregation plan implemented in 1966, Foster School, which was 99% African American, was converted from an attendance-area school into a magnet school designed to draw white children to the school and thereby desegregate it. African American students who had attended Foster School were assigned to other schools in the District to desegregate those schools. In the late 1970’s, the magnet school program at Foster School was transferred to King Lab school, and Foster School was closed. For a history of the role of Foster School in desegregating School District 65, and the closing of Foster School, click on the link below. 

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...