The District 65 New School Committee met on Aug. 16 to review a draft of its report and recommendations to be submitted to the School Board. The report will contain the Committee’s recommendation to establish a new K-8 school in the Fifth Ward west of Green Bay Road, as well as additional recommendations concerning the proposed school.
A substantial portion of the meeting was devoted to discussing a revision of the proposed attendance area for the new school, and the results of a telephone survey of District 65 parents who reside in the area.
The Proposed Attendance Area
At its last meeting, the Committee decided that the proposed attendance area would include a triangular area in the Fifth Ward bounded by the Northshore Channel, Green Bay Road, and Church Street, excluding roughly four blocks in the southeast portion of that area. The Committee also decided to include an area south of Church Street and west of Dodge Avenue.
On Aug. 16, the Committee appeared to reach a consensus to reduce the size of the proposed attendance area by excluding the area south of Church Street.
The decision to limit the attendance area was driven in large part by a desire to limit the size of the new school to about 600 students. Paul Brinson, who just retired as the District’s chief information officer, presented data showing that 602 K-8 students currently reside in the revised attendance area (excluding students who attend magnet schools). Assuming three strands at each grade level, there would be an average of 22.2 students per class in a 600 student school.
If all parents in the revised attendance area opt to send their children to the new school, Kingsley would lose 113 students, Lincolnwood would lose 74 students and Willard would lose 99 students, according to data presented by Mr. Brinson. The ethnicity of these students has not been reported, but it is virtually certain that Kingsley, Lincolnwood and Willard school would be much less diverse if these students were transferred to the new school.
Students residing south of Church Street and west of Dodge Avenue are currently assigned to Lincolnwood or to Walker, depending on their location. Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the administration recommends that all students in this area be assigned to Walker School. According to data presented by Mr. Brinson, this would increase the enrollment of Walker School by about 50 students. Mr. Brinson said he thought Walker has capacity to accommodate these students. Committee members asked for an analysis of the impact.
A report prepared by the District on March 20 reflects that Walker has one excess classroom using District 65’s enrollment projections, and that it would have a shortage of two classrooms using a separate set of projections prepared by Dr. Kasarda, a consultant to the District.
The Committee appeared to be leaning toward a recommendation that the administration and the School Board decide how to assign students in the area south of Church Street and west of Dodge Avenue who are currently in Lincolnwood’s attendance area. The Committee plans to suggest that the Board address this in a way that would not create a non-contiguous attendance area.
The Committee will vote on these issues as part of its vote on the final report.
Dr. Murphy presented the results of a telephone survey of District 65 parents who reside in the potential attendance area of the proposed new school. ECRA, a firm that has previously conducted a survey for the District, called 569 households, made contact with 263 of those households, and completed interviews of 247 households.
The interviewers asked parents if they were satisfied with the school their children were currently attending and, if they had a choice, would they send their children to the new school.
In its report, ECRA presents the following general finding:
“The vast majority of parents residing in the 5th Ward are content with the schools their child(ren) currently attend, and believe their children are receiving a quality education. They are especially complimentary of District 65 teachers. Parents are open to the idea of a new school, but feel they need detailed information regarding what is being proposed and competing options before they are in a position to judge their support.
“Should the District choose to build a new school in the 5th Ward, the majority of parents feel they should have a choice as to whether to send their child to the new school – regardless of the type of school (magnet, charter, neighborhood, etc.). The greatest concern from parents regarding a new school in the 5th Ward is most do not want to withdraw their children from their current school, and do not want to disrupt their children’s education or the friendships they have formed.
“That being said, parents are not against a new school being built in the 5th Ward, and recognize there could be benefits, especially in the area of transportation, where there is discontent among many parents with length of bus routes. Parents would like additional information about exactly what is being proposed so they are in a better position to judge the likelihood of sending their children to a new school.”
If a new school is built, “parents value above all good teachers, quality instructional programming, and maintaining small class sizes.” ECRA’s report says other areas cited by parents were:
- “Better behavioral interventions and safety measures.
- “More focus on ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and balance in the student population, including a reflection of that diversity in school staff, and an increased focus on multicultural education.
- “More support and programming for special needs students.
- “Better overall facilities and updated technology.”
Parents were asked if their level of participation would increase – such as in PTA or school programs – if their children attended a school in their neighborhood, versus their current school. ECRA ‘s report says, “Few parents responded in length to this question. Most indicated they participate in their children’s education, but are not actively involved due to work obligations and time constraints at home. Work and other obligations appear to be the primary reasons for lack of involvement, and there is no indication whether parents would increase participation or not if a school was built closer to home. Of those who indicated they are actively involved, nearly all felt they would remain involved if a new school were built.”
As to whether their children would be more likely to participate in after school activities at a school within walking distance of their home, ECRA says, “Responses were split between ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ About half of the respondents indicated their children probably would increase participation if the school were closer to home, while the other half indicated it would not have an effect or that they are satisfied with where they are now.”
As to the importance of students being able to walk to school, ECRA’s report says, “Responses were evenly split on the importance of being able to walk to school, with half indicating it is important, and half indicating it is not important. Many parents prefer their children to be bussed for safety reasons, but they are unhappy with long bus routes. Parents that indicated being able to walk to school is important also cited a number of additional factors that should be considered when deciding whether or not to build a new school.”
Dr. Murphy noted that about one-half of the parents said their children would probably increase their participation in after-school activities, if a school were closer to home. Jean Luft, a member of the Committee and president of DEC (the teachers union), added that research shows that participating in after-school activities is very important to school success.
Ms. Luft added that the survey supported the Committee’s view that parents and students would become more involved if a new school were built in their neighborhood.
School Board and Committee member Jerome Summers expressed reservations about ECRA’s comment about whether parent participation would increase. He said that at 10 PTA meetings he has attended, he has seen less than 10 African American and Hispanic parents in attendance. By comparison, he said, at events sponsored by the African Centered Curriculum program at Oakton School, many African American parents attend.
Betsy Jenkins, a member of the Committee, said she would like to see a breakdown of the ethnic make-up of the parents surveyed. She said many African American parents in the Fifth Ward have told her busing is an issue.
Lloyd Shepard expressed a concern about how reliable answers to a telephone survey would be, particularly if parents were hesitant to give candid answers to someone in a position of authority.
Kim Weaver, a member of the Committee and the Board, suggested that the parents be resurveyed after architectural drawings for the new school were prepared and a location selected.
Committee members were asked to provide any final comments they have concerning the draft report by Aug. 22, and a meeting is scheduled for Aug. 30 to vote on the final report. The Committee is scheduled to present its report to the School Board on Sept. 12, and the Board could be asked to vote on the recommendations as early as Sept. 26.