District 65’s K-8 student enrollment, excluding Park and Rice schools, is projected to decline by another 456 students in the next five years, according to a memorandum prepared by Sarita Smith, manager of Student Assignments. The memo was attached as an information item to the agenda for the School Board’s policy committee meeting on Jan. 17.

“As we have seen in the past five years, enrollment projections are trending down district wide and will continue to do so in the next five years,” Smith’s memo says.  

In the last five school years, between 2018-19 and 2022-23, actual student enrollment in grades K-8 (excluding Park and Rice schools) declined by 1,306 students.  

Much of this drop occurred after schools were closed for in-person learning due to Covid. In the two school years following school closings in March 2020, District 65’s actual enrollment dropped by 932 students. It was hoped that enrollment would bump up when schools were completely opened and things became more normal, but enrollment dropped by an additional 277 students for this school year, 2022-23.

Smith says in her memo, “Last year we anticipated an increase in enrollment from students that moved to private or homeschooling, but this was not the case. We have not recouped those students but have seen an increase in students transferring in from Chicago and an increase in students with IEPs [Individual Education Programs] and additional education services.

“We have not seen a recovery from students that left or never began school in D65 since the pandemic,” she writes.

Smith highlights trends in kindergarten and sixth grade that have impacted enrollment. Kindergarten enrollment has been on a steady decline for the last three years. In 2019-20, the kindergarten enrollment was 768. In the next three years, it dropped to 636, 634, and then 597 for this school year.

Smith writes, “The impact of Covid-19 and trend in lower kindergarten numbers are consistent across all schools. Orrington, Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Washington and Willard have much lower kindergarten enrollment numbers than they have had in the past few years.

“Most of these schools are on the north side of Evanston, and there are assumptions that many of these families are opting for private school.”

Smith’s memo does not contain an analysis of enrollment shifts at private schools in the area during the Covid years or of their capacity to admit additional students.

Another major drop is in the enrollment at sixth grade.

In 2018-19, the sixth-grade enrollment was 919. In the next four years, it dropped to 830, 780, 773 and then 661 for this school year. Smith said they were projecting 795 students for sixth grade for 2022-23, and the number came in at 661, 16.8% less.

At Haven Middle School alone, the district was projecting 272 students at sixth grade for this school year, but only 206 enrolled, Smith said.

In the next five years, student enrollment in grades K-8 (excluding Park and Rice schools) is projected to decline from 6,116 in 2022-23 to 5,660 in 2027-28.

Smith’s memo says the downward trend “has been consistent since 2017 and doesn’t seem to be moving in the other direction anytime soon.”

The chart below, prepared by the RoundTable, provides district’s 65’s K-8 actual student enrollment for the school years 2018-19 through 2022-23 and projected enrollment for 2023-24 through 2027-28. The enrollment numbers do not include Park or Rice schools.

Assumptions for the projections

There are two key assumptions used in making the projections: The first is about what kindergarten enrollment will be; the second about how many students will continue on from year to year after kindergarten, and how many will enter District 65 after kindergarten and at what grade levels. The table below shows the district’s projections by grade level over the next five years.

Kindergarten enrollment

The above table shows the district projecting that kindergarten enrollment will increase slightly but remain relatively steady over the next five years. The district’s projections for kindergarten enrollment are 622 for 2023-24, and then 618, 612, 617 and 616.

Smith’s memo does not state how the projections for kindergarten enrollment were arrived at or why the downward trend experienced in the last five years would stop.

Historically the district has used the number of births to Evanston residents as one key data point. Last year the district’s projection of enrollment for kindergarten was too high, anticipating that the kindergarten enrollment would be 678 students. But the actual number who enrolled was 597, a difference of 81 students, or an error rate of 11.95%, says Smith in her memo.

In the four prior years, the district’s projections for kindergarten enrollment were also significantly higher than the actual kindergarten enrollment. In 2021-22, the projections for kindergarten enrollment were 12.2% higher than the actual enrollment. They were higher by 18.2% in 2020-21; by 6.6% in 2019-20, and by 7.3% in 2018-19.

Last February Charles Kofron, a demographer retained by the district, presented his Geodemographic Study containing enrollment projections to the school board’s policy committee.*

Kofron found that the number of births to Evanston residents declined by more than 30% during the last decade, and that kindergarten enrollments at District 65 declined by about 26% in the last six years. He says the births are also down for the 2024 and 2025 kindergarten cohort years, and his extrapolations of the data show continued declines in births to Evanston residents.*

A chart reflecting the births to Evanstonians contained in Kofron’s study is reprinted below. It matches up births to Evanstonians with kindergarten years. As an example, births in 2010 are reported for the 2015 kindergarten cohort year.

If projections for kindergarten enrollment are too high or too low, they impact the projections not only for the kindergarten year, e.g., 2023-24, they also impact the projections for each subsequent year of the projections, because it becomes the base for projecting first grade enrollment in the next year, and then second grade in the year after that, etc.

Cohort survival rate

In projecting student enrollment for first through eighth grades, it appears that the district simply rolled the student enrollment numbers from one grade level up to the next higher grade level. For example, if the student enrollment in second grade was 624 students in school year 2022-23, the district rolled that number up for the projected enrollment of third graders in school year 2023-24.

In the past, the district computed an average of the prior three years to determine what percentage of students (called the cohort survival rate) in a given grade should be rolled up to the next year in the projections. Here, the district has rolled up 100%.

In doing his study, Kofron recognized that closing schools due to Covid injected additional uncertainty into determining a reliable cohort survival ratio to apply going forward. He computed three cohort survival ratios in an attempt to adjust for a Covid impact. The highest cohort survival ratio that he computed for any grade level in the high scenario was 1.003, which did not include Covid years. The lowest for any grade level in the low scenario was 0.963, which included two Covid years.

Enrollment projections by school

Smith’s memo also provides actual enrollment numbers for each school (not including Park or Rice) for this school year and the past four years, and it also projects the enrollment for each school (again, excluding Park or Rice) for the next five years.

Smith cautions that the enrollment projections by school “assume consistency in special education and bilingual programs and the same level of interest in selective enrollment magnet schools and programs.” In addition, the projections do not take into account the district’s decision to build a new school in the Fifth Ward and to close Rhodes magnet school, or the impact that will have on the enrollment at the various other schools. In addition, it does not take into account new attendance areas for the schools.

It is still possible the district will close another school or schools as a budget-reduction strategy. If students are no longer bused from the Fifth Ward to the elementary schools in north Evanston (i.e., Lincolnwood, Willard, Kingsley and Orrington), those school’s enrollments will likely decline further.

The table below, prepared by the RoundTable, shows the actual enrollment of the district’s schools (excluding Park and Rice) for the school years 2018-19 (a pre-Covid year) and 2022-23. It also provides the district’s projections of enrollment at the schools for the next five years.

D65 K-8 Enrollment, actual for 2018-19 and 2022-23 and projected for other years (excluding Park and Rice schools)

The chart below, prepared by the RoundTable, illustrates the same data.

Actual shifts in the schools between 2018-19 and 2022-23

Schools in north Evanston had some of the major declines in enrollment in the last four years: Haven Middle School’s enrollment declined by 176 students, Willard’s by 129 students, Orrington’s by 121 students and Lincolnwood’s by 80 students.

Other schools where enrollment declined by more than 100 students in the last four years were Dewey, where enrollment declined by 135 students; Lincoln by 104 students; King Arts by 157 students; and Nichols by 128 students.

Administrators to some degree control the enrollment at King Arts through the magnet school admission process.

Projections by school for next five years

Only four schools are projected to increase enrollment in the next five years: Haven by 36 students, Nichols by four, Oakton by 10 and Rhodes by 24. The enrollment at King Arts is projected to remain the same. Enrollment at all other schools is expected to decline.

The biggest projected declines are Lincolnwood, which is projected to lose 31 students; Orrington, 57 students; Washington, 87 students; Walker, 33 students; and Willard, 44 students. Many of these schools had substantial declines in actual enrollment in the prior four years.

Planned actions

Because “all information is pointing to an overall decrease in enrollment throughout District 65,” Smith’s memo says, it is imperative that the district continue to plan for this reduction in schools and classroom sections.

“The human resource department, finance department, student assignment and registration team, schools’ and student services teams are collaborating to review enrollment projections, budget, educator allocations, and school sections. This will help us determine projected needs and create a balanced budget.”

Smith said, “This is the third year we have collaborated with all local preschools through the Childcare Network of Evanston’s director meeting. We review the registration process, offer in-person orientation sessions, and ask them to share our orientation sessions. The D65 Specialist for Family and Community Partnerships is helping promote and lead kindergarten orientations and working with our community partners to promote our school offerings.”

She added that students from Chicago have been transferring into District 65 and that many have Individualized Education Programs, known as IEPs.

“We are also closely monitoring how we place students with IEPs to meet the [Illinois State Board of Education] 70/30 rule, which sets the ratio of students with and without IEPs scheduled in general education classrooms. This has become increasingly challenging since we have had an increase of students transfer in with IEPs after the school year begins and this trend has continued.”

Smith’s memo also says, “We are planning closely with the HR, Student Services, and Multicultural teams to review section, school and district needs to provide accurate projections that will impact future staffing needs.”

As noted, Smith’s memo was presented as an informational item at the policy committee’s Jan. 17 meeting. There was no discussion of the enrollment projections at that meeting.

_________________

*Kofron’s enrollment numbers are subject to a major caveat. His study is based on enrollment data as of some date in August, rather than as of the official enrollment date of Sept. 30. When asked, he did not provide the as-of date in August for the enrollment data he used. A comparison of the August and Sept. 30 enrollment numbers shows the August enrollment numbers have historically been significantly higher than the official enrollment numbers as of Sept. 30. A detailed analysis on this issue is available here.

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...

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  1. Loss of students reflects much more than birth rates. What do losing kids at the North part of Evanston do to our heterogeneity? Are Chicago kids transferring in by paying tuition or moving to Evanston. I regard public schools as leveling the playing field, maybe not so much now. We know people vote with their feet. Families want the best for their children and and will utilize available options. Research tells us that lowering reading standards
    helps nobody.

  2. As a long time Evanston resident whose children and most grandchildren all went through or are going through District 65 I think this is a warning shot to the current school board and administration. Have they lost their way? If people are walking away (specifically north-enders) form the District 65 system there must be a reason. Is the current administration trying to find the reasons? Could it be too much focus on social issues rather than on providing a rigorous, disciplined education environment? Declining school quality is the first stage to declining property values leading eventually to a lower tax base and a city on the decline.

  3. There are a lot of assumptions here that people are fleeing to private schools. However, it was pointed out in the article that there is no study that has been done to show that private school enrollment has increased. I personally live in a neighborhood of declining young families (North Evanston). Affordable housing is an issue here. Young families cannot afford to move to this neighborhood. Therefore, it may be very likely that some of the schools in this neighborhood will have to close. Particularly if there is a new school in the 5th Ward. (Disclaimer Iam totally in support of the new school. I believe that children should go to school where they live. Busing was an easy way to integrate Evanston schools but was not necessarily successful in retrospect)

    I see this more as a an issue of changing demographics than identity politics. And I’m very frustrated with members of my community who blame the District 65 equity curriculum for the loss in population. I don’t think there’s any correlation. I’d like to see a study that proves it. In fact, maybe in order to keep schools open on the north side of Evanston will need to convert some of these larger houses to affordable housing units. I wonder what people will say then. More white fragility. More tears.

  4. I will also add that the district could improve its handling/welcoming of transfers. If you are moving to Evanston, they won’t allow you to register your student until after the student has officially finished at their prior school. If a family finishes out the school year at their old school, they can’t register at D65 until summer. And they cannot apply for any lottery spots like TWI bc those deadlines are in Spring. There is also virtually no orientation for new families although some PTAs and principals are including transfer families in new student orientation.

  5. The exodus of students from D65 is only going to be slowed by the fact that local.private schools are full and have wait lists. Yes, there is a line of people to get out of D65. What is happening in D65 schools is the most effective marketing campaign for local.private schools ever.

  6. A few questions that I hope someone in the District can answer:

    What is the optimal student enrollment for Evanston schools?
    What is considered an overload of students?
    And what is considered an enrollment that is too small?
    Are Chicago “transfer” students new Evanston residents?
    If not, under what circumstances does the District admit students who do not live in Evanston?

    Thank you.

  7. The article makes no mention of D65 contacting parents of children age K-8 but not enrolled in D65 schools to ask them why they left or never enrolled. I only see the word “assumed” to explain it. Surely the district has hired a research firm to survey the actual parents who made this decision. It would be beyond irresponsible not to.

    1. I’ve been told District 65 doesn’t perform exit interviews with staff who’ve fled the District. They’re not going to talk to parents about why they’re leaving: too many unpleasant facts they’d rather not hear.

  8. One can only hope that the declining enrollment will help lower the tax burden that District 65 creates for property owners, or at least lower the rate of increases we’ve seen over the years. District 65 is 40% of our property tax bill, and District 202 is 26% of our bill, so together, our schools take 66% of our property taxes. Public schools are important however our very high property taxes are not sustainable for many homeowners in Evanston.

    We moved here 18 years ago from a suburban Philadelphia School District that was K-12 in one district. In that school district, with a student to teacher ratio of 14:1, 71% of students are proficient in math and 85% are proficient in reading. Our taxes there as a percent of market value were lower, and the gap has only increased through the years.

    Meanwhile, D65 with a student to teacher ratio of 11:1 only manages to achieve 46% proficiency in math and 44% in reading. No wonder so many of these families are opting for private schools.

  9. A few thoughts:
    1. I know a number of families who enrolled in preK at a private elementary, and then opted not to start at D65 for kindergarten because they have a younger sibling in preK and it’s so much easier for them to have kids at one location and on one school calendar. The district should consider offering preK at more school buildings to keep families at D65.
    2. I have looked at comments submitted re new housing proposals, new daycares, etc and the number of neighbors who protest bc they fear more traffic is astounding. If they value their neighborhood character they will want to welcome new housing that will help build enrollment to keep their local schools open!
    3. The district is having conversations about where Spanish immersion will be placed in the coming years. This is a program that attracts families to Evanston and to D65 schools. They are focusing on it in terms of costs to bus students and provide the programming, but they might also considering investing more in this popular program to attract and retain students!

  10. Are there any projections for kindergarten enrollment in future years that DO take into account the opening of the new 5th ward school and the proposed new enrollment boundary maps? As the parent of two young children zoned for Willard School when old enough, I am very concerned to read this. I don’t understand how they will even be able to keep these schools open. Their existence is the fabric of the neighborhood.

  11. I attended the meeting and gave the following statement.

    Jeremy R. Wilson Remarks to Curriculum and Policy Committee
    January 17, 2023

    Included in your packet is a Memo outlining 5 Year Enrollment Projections for the District 2023 to 2028.

    It understates substantially the likely decline in those enrollments. First, the table of projections makes no provision for the usual dropout rates from year to year. If you run your finger diagonally, you will see that the same number is maintained for each succeeding year based on the actual or assumed base year. In other words, this year’s kindergarten class is expected to have the same number of children in fifth grade. Using the data provided for the past five years, the drop out rate over the past five years is 9%,11%,12%,13% and 19%. If we use 12% the total 2028 enrollment would be reduced further by 734 children: from 5660 to 4926.

    There is a second problem in the table. Kindergarten enrollments are shown in a range from 616 to 622 for the next five years. During the past five years Kindergarten enrollment in the district has declined from 762 children to 597, a drop of 22%. The table assumes there will be no further decline. The past five years suggest otherwise.

    Assuming ONLY the usual rate of dropout, the District will have more than 1000 fewer students in 2028.

    It is likely that at least three schools will need to be closed, Orrington, Dewey, and Washington seem likely candidates. IF you build a NEW school, you will then need to close an additional school to compensate. I propose the Board reconsider the building of Foster School.

    I recommend you refer my remarks to your external consultant for further review.

  12. Did anyone consider the Administration’s (punitive) reassignment of senior, leadership staff when they looked at the decline in enrollment at Haven? Have they looked at the District’s definition of “equity” in the curriculum? Have they asked parents why they took their children out of Dist 65 schools? Have they asked how many are planning to leave in the next year? two years? or never enroll at all?
    Will the Administration and the Board address the seemingly illogical plan to spend tens of millions of dollars building (and staffing) a new school in the 5th ward in view of their own projection of continuing declining enrollment?
    What is the exact number of k-8 minority students who are bused out of the 5th ward to Willard, Lincolnwood, Kingsley or Orrington?
    I suggest considering the possibility that parents are voting with their feet. I hope they will also vote in April!

    1. My family is removing 3 as if this week. You forgot to mention the parents they arrested for complaining about 18 months of school closures

  13. I believe people are disenchanted with the administration too. Lowering standards and eliminating reading specialists are not incentives to use District 65 in my opinion.

  14. It’s interesting to me that none of the possible reasons for lower enrollment in District 65 included concerns over the direction and leadership of the District in recent years.
    The way that the equity focus is being carried out may be leading to feelings of alienation rather than inclusion and support, both among teachers and students.
    While creating a welcoming community for all students should always be a very high priority, somehow it appears that, paradoxically, this is not happening for many in District 65 schools.
    I don’t believe it’s just frustration with Covid closures that has led many folks who can afford alternative educational options to pursue them.
    From what I’ve been reading and hearing, tensions are high throughout the district, teachers are frustrated and feel unsupported, and children are being made to feel, at times, like they are guilty until proven innocent when engaging in typical childlike behaviors that are now being viewed primarily through a racial lens.
    Race relations has and will remain a challenging issue for Americans around the country. But, ironically, we may have created the opposite kind of intolerance from that which Gov. DeSantis is creating in Florida. And this is very sad, because we don’t want extremism on either side. In Florida, they are fighting against facing the realities of the American racist past in a misguided attempt to protect white students and families from some kind of sense of guilt or personal responsibility, and in Evanston, it appears that Dist 65 may be creating an environment in which students and families are made to feel ostracized if they are not sufficiently “woke” and anti racist.
    Somehow, it seems to me that we really aren’t getting this right. And I’m guessing that all the tension is leading to some people simply leaving the district.
    Leadership that looks at people holistically and treats all children respectfully, creates emotionally supportive and academically rigorous environments for all, is what is needed here, and I believe it is sorely lacking.

  15. The District is fortunate that most of their funding is not tied to enrollment. As far as I know, the only funding the District receives that is tied to enrollment is the IL “Evidence-based” funding.

    The fact that the District hired a consultant to tell them what they wanted to hear, instead of asking the parents on the way out tells you everything you need to know. I think a lot of parents felt pretty burned during COVID and when the District laid off the reading specialists for “a more collectivist, equitable approach to interventions” and then just burned the money on consultants. If anyone is interested in the subject, I’ve been documenting it over @ https://www.foiagras.com/