A neighborhood school is made of brick and mortar.

But it is so much more.

From the one-room schoolhouses of the 19th century, where children from every corner of a community learned together, played together, grew together and discovered the world together, the symbiotic relationship between a school and a community was forever cemented.

Can there be any doubt that the strength of a community is inextricably linked to the strength of its schools? That families move to and choose to remain in a particular neighborhood because of the school located in that area? That a good school is considered an essential component of any thriving community?

Yes … a neighborhood school may be constructed merely of brick and mortar.

But it is the neighborhood school – as much if not more than any other public institution – that is the heart and soul of a community.

There was once a neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward of Evanston. 

Foster School.

It was the school my grandmother attended.  It was the school my father attended.

It was closed in 1979.

As many of your readers know, the City of Evanston is currently grappling with the issue of school overcrowding and how best to address this issue. The District 65 School Board recently approved a $13 million bond issue which included $8.2 million specially earmarked for additions at Willard and Dewey, where overcrowding is most severe. The present need certainly justifies the expansion of existing facilities. But the School Board is also forming a committee to examine the merits of building a Fifth Ward school.  The job of this committee, at least at this early stage, is to conduct a feasibility study and then make a recommendation to the full Board. Pending the outcome of this recommendation, the question of building a school in the 5th Ward could be put to public referendum as early as March of 2012.

The District 65 School Board should be commended for taking this important first step. The issues associated with building a new school  are varied and complex; information, public input and community feedback will be key. So I will do my part. I intend to use the time until this matter is put to public referendum—as long as that might be – to make a public and Socratic case for a Fifth Ward School. A disclaimer is necessary. My work is purely voluntary and completely independent of the District 65 Board. I am speaking merely as a concerned citizen. But this is a cause that I believe to be fair and just.

How will I make my case? I will use my website and multimedia tools such as Facebook and  Twitter to inform, engage and encourage open discussion and debate. Everything will be done openly; I intend to make my case by taking my case directly to the good people of the City of Evanston. Because, ultimately, the choice is theirs. Without public support, there will never be a school in the 5th Ward. 

But I am confident.  The City of Evanston is a city that has consistently risen to meet the needs of all of its residents. This is a city of visionaries, leaders, educators and critical thinkers. This is a city that has a long history of fighting for what is fair and equitable. 

The people of the City of Evanston, I truly believe, know how to do the right thing.

Martin Luther King once said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase.  Just take the first step.”

This is my first step. 

But not alone.

For more information, visit www.michaelesummers.com/E3/a_school_for_the_5th_Ward.html or our School for the 5th Ward page on Facebook. We need each and every concerned citizen, whether you live in the Fifth Ward or not, to step up, speak out and to join this effort. Because every child in every community deserves the right to attend a neighborhood school of his or her choice. Right now, every child in every neighborhood in the City of Evanston enjoys that right. 

Every child – except the children of the Fifth Ward.

Thank you, one and all, for your consideration and support.