School District 65 published its Opening School Report for this school year, 2020-2021, as part of the packet of materials for the Dec. 7 School Board meeting. Enrollment in K-8th grades has declined, but a significant portion of the decline is due to a low enrollment in kindergarten, likely due to the pandemic and the shift to remote learning. 

The District also published a memo dated Dec. 1 that contains 5-year enrollment projections. The memo, prepared by Manager of Enrollment Sarita Smith, projects that student enrollment will decline by 566 students between 2021-22 and 2025-26. The projections, however, are subject to many uncertainties, including whether the students who did not enroll in kindergarten this year would enroll in District 65 in the future. If so, it would impact the projections.

Student Enrollment: The report reflects that 6,929 students are enrolled in the K-8 grade levels this school year at District 65, compared to 7,325 students last year, a decline of 396 students. Even before the pandemic, enrollment was declining.

In the last four years enrollment at the K-8 grade levels has gone from 7,496 in 2017-18, to 7,422 in 2018-19, and then to 7,325 in 2019-20.

This year the biggest decline in enrollment was in kindergarten, where enrollment was 138 fewer than last year.

Ms. Smith’s memo also estimates the decrease in enrollment at other grade levels due to the pandemic. The estimated decreases are the difference between the number of students actually enrolled for this school year and the number projected by the District before the pandemic. The estimated decreases by grade level are:

         First grade: 20 students

         Second grade: 48 students

         Third grade: 24 students

         Fourth grade: 48 students

         Fifth grade: 8 students

         Sixth grade: 60 students

         Seventh grade: 6 students

         Eighth grade: 7 students

In addition, 253 children are enrolled in the District’s early childhood education program at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center this school year, down from 332 last year.

Kindergarten Enrollment: Enrollment in kindergarten has shown the biggest drop compared to last year. There are 631 students enrolled this year in kindergarten, compared to 768 students last year. Before the pandemic, the District was projecting an enrollment of 777.

Ms. Smith’s memo explains, “Anecdotal evidence from parents/guardians proclaim many kindergarten students stayed in preschool another year, are attending private schools, or are home-schooled. Parents/guardians that spoke to registration members said they plan to come back when District 65 returns in person.”

Ethnic Breakdown of the K-8 Enrollment: 43% of the K-8 students are white, 23% Black, 20% Hispanic, 9% multi-racial, and 4% Asian. In the last 20 years there has been a drop in the percentage of Black students enrolled in grades K-8 at District 65, from 45% in 2000 to 23% in 2020; a part of this drop may be due to a multi-racial category that was introduced in 2005.

During the same period, the percentage of Hispanic students attending District 65 has increased from 8% in 2000 to 20% in 2020.

The ethnic breakdown of the incoming kindergarten class is 41% white, 22% Black, 20% Hispanic, 10% multi-racial, and 5% Asian.

Ethnicity by School: In accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Seattle School District case, the District no longer uses race as a factor in admitting students to the magnet schools or in granting permissive transfers. This year only one school, Orrington Elementary School, has a racial group that exceeds 60% of the student body at the school. Orrington is 61% white.

Low Income: 33% of the District’s K-8 students are identified as low-income, measured by those who qualify for free- or reduced-fee lunch. This is 3% fewer than last year. Of those, 93%, or 2,089 students, qualified for the free-lunch program, indicating a higher level of poverty.

The percentages of low-income students at the District’s schools range from a high of 57% at Oakton to a low of 17% at Orrington.

Homeless Students: The report estimates there are a total of 200 students from households who are classified as homeless. Of those, 71% are sharing housing, 21% are in emergency or transitional shelters, 7% are housed in hotels/motels, and 1.5% are unsheltered.

Special Education: There are 797 students, 12%, in the District’s elementary and middle schools receiving special education services. Of those, 38% are Black, 29% Hispanic, 25% white, 7% multi-racial, and 2% Asian.

An additional 40 of special education students are placed in programs outside the District.

ELL/TWI: 970 students are English Language Learners (ELL). Of these, 392 are enrolled in a Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program; 73 are in a transitional bilingual program; 405 are enrolled in English as a Second Language program; and 96 have waived services.

There are TWI classrooms at six different schools: Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington, Willard, and Bessie Rhodes.

ACC: 93 students are enrolled in the African-Centered Curriculum (ACC) program at Oakton school: 19 in kindergarten, 17 in first grade, 10 in second grade, 16 in third grade, 14 in fourth grade, and 17 in fifth grade.

District 65 Family Center: The number of children receiving direct services at the Family Center is 83, down from 314 three years ago.

Class Sizes: The average class sizes for general education classes at the K-5 grade levels are as follows: kindergarten – 15.3 students; first grade – 18.5 students; second grade – 19.2 students; third grade – 19.0 students; fourth grade – 19.7 students; and fifth grade – 20.2 students.

There is a disparity in the average size of general education classes at the schools, ranging from a low of 10.5 students in third grade at Bessie Rhodes to a high of 25.5 students in fifth grade at Washington.

The School Board members did not discuss the Opening of Schools Report or the five-year projections of enrollment.


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...