School district attendance maps in Evanston don’t look very different now than they did in 1966, before the elementary schools were desegregated in 1967, said diversity and leadership consultant Gilo Kewsi Logan, a lifelong Evanstonian, at a District 65 virtual presentation on Jan. 18.
As a result, hundreds of children in the city’s predominantly Black Fifth Ward are bused to schools in other neighborhoods, and in comparison with white children, Black and Hispanic/Latinx children in Evanston are much less likely to have neighbors that attend the same school, Logan said at the presentation.
The presentation, the first in a series of five, follows the launch of a multi-year Student Assignment Project. Started last spring, the project aims to address equity concerns associated with the district’s structure by developing a plan that may include new school boundaries, a more equitable selection process for magnet schools and a school in the Fifth Ward.
Last fall, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 sent out a survey to community members to gather input on the Student Assignment Project. The district received 97 surveys back from staff and 1,804 completed community and family surveys, according to a District 65 news release.
The Jan. 18 presentation shared the findings from these surveys, and sought to collect more feedback from community members. The district will continue to host meetings throughout January, accessible to Spanish and English speakers, each session with its own special focus.
“We really, really need your feedback,” said Logan, who facilitated the meeting. “We can’t do this without you.”
In addition to asking for feedback, Logan provided background information explaining why the district is looking to redraw school boundaries in the first place.
Using a series of graphs, Logan highlighted that the impacts of desegregation continue to shape the current school boundary lines. “They’re pretty out of date, and that’s what we’re trying to address,” he said.
In comparison to other wards, the Fifth Ward has the highest concentration of Black families in Evanston, Logan said. The Fifth Ward also doesn’t have its own neighborhood schools, so Black children are attending schools across Evanston.
Logan lived in the Fifth Ward for 23 years, and he recalls the school buses that drove along his street every morning and afternoon, from all different schools, picking up and dropping off children throughout Evanston.
Northwestern engineering and management Professor Karen Smilowitz also presented several slides at the presentation. She said that current boundary lines were drawn in accordance with a District 65 policy that stated “no defined racial group shall exceed 60% of a school population.”
Smilowitz shared a visual, at left above, of what the ethnic and racial breakdown would look like if all Evanston children attended the schools assigned to them based on where their families live. To the right of that image is another map that shows the ethnic and racial breakdown based on actual enrollment.
These maps show the way in which current boundaries cut into the Fifth Ward so that schools can achieve the 60% racial guideline set by the district, Smilowitz said. The red rectangle in the middle of the map includes students who are bused to Willard Elementary School. Under the actual enrollment, all but one of the schools are compliant with the 60% rule, she said.
Smilowitz also called attention to the fact that the racial breakdown is slightly different between the two maps. One of the reasons for this is because of the placement of the Two-Way Immersion Program (TWI), a program that helps students develop strong literacy skills in both English and Spanish. Because of this program, there’s a difference between where Latinx students live and where they go to school, she explained.
Smilowitz showed another graph that highlighted where children in each ward go to school.
The left side of the map shows District 65 attendance areas as well as an outline of the wards. The graph on the right shows the schools that children within that ward attend.
In order to understand the graph on the right, Smilowitz recommended that audience members look at their ward and then pay attention to the colored boxes, each of which represents a different school.
The graph shows that in wards like the Fifth Ward, students are split among many schools, Smilowitz said. There isn’t a large neighborhood school to draw in students, so parents in that ward have to look elsewhere, she said.
Logan shared the next few slides. He showed a graph that compares whether Black, Latinx and white children on the same block attend the same school.
According to the graph, in comparison with white children, Black and Hispanic/Latinx children are much less likely to go to the same school as their neighbors.
“When you look at the white population in Evanston, a vast majority, almost 80% of them attend a school that’s within their neighborhood,” Logan said. “That’s very significant to this discussion that we’re having here today.”
The presentation also focused on selective enrollment programs. Logan presented a map showing the location of two such programs, TWI and the African-Centered Curriculum (ACC).
Oakton Elementary School is the only school offering the African-Centered Curriculum, while TWI is offered by five schools throughout Evanston, Logan said.
In addition to showing the location of the selective enrollment programs, the map shows the percentage of Hispanic/Latinx children and Black children in Evanston. These programs are primarily in areas with a high percentage of Black and Hispanic/Latinx students, Logan said.
Logan said many students enrolled in TWI classes aren’t actually attending the school in their neighborhood, even if that school also offers the TWI program.
The left side of the graph shows the schools that TWI students are assigned to, and the right shows the schools those students actually attend. This highlights that many TWI students are not attending their local neighborhood school, even if that school also offers a TWI program.
“This complicated image just shows you how complex the busing is,” Logan said. “That’s costing the district money.”
The African-Centered Curriculum Program is much smaller than the TWI program and based on survey results, many Evanston residents don’t even know the program exists, Logan said. About half of the students who are enrolled in the ACC program are from Lincoln Elementary School, he added.
The Student Assignment Committee wonders whether the program would be more popular if it was offered in other schools that have a high population of Black students, who predominantly enroll in the program, Logan said.
“The survey data suggest that people want access to unique programs in their schools, and that programs should be placed where they are most needed,” he said.
Before ending the presentation, Logan also asked the virtual audience a series of questions using an interactive tool called Thought Exchange. He said the answers to these questions will help guide the Student Assignment Project.
Audience members were asked which neighborhood they feel most connected to and what factors help make a neighborhood. Community members submitted responses that indicated factors like school, facilities, parks, community centers, and a feeling of belonging and inclusivity all help make a space feel like a neighborhood.
“How should the placement of programs into schools be determined and who is best positioned to take advantage of them?” Logan asked next. Some of the responses pushed for the prioritization of children of color, while others said these decisions should be made based on need or resident’s preferences.
Logan also asked whether there are other selective enrollment programs outside of the ACC and TWI programs that the Student Assignment Committee should consider. Some of the programs that audience members proposed centered on social justice, STEM, the arts, mentoring and expanded language learning.
Sarita Smith, the Director of Student Assignments, closed out the meeting by emphasizing how much the district values community input. “We’ll be combing through all of this data and bringing that to our subcommittee,” she said.
The district is also starting to look at different attendance area boundary scenarios, which community members will be able to see sometime in February, Smith added.