District 65 has postponed seven community engagement meetings about the multiyear Student Assignment Plan process that were scheduled to take place this week, Superintendent Devon Horton announced Monday.
The meetings, both virtual and in person, were supposed to be conversations with parents and families of students in specialty programs that could be affected by the school redistricting process required as part of the plan to build a new neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward. Those programs include the district’s two magnet schools – Bessie Rhodes and King Arts – along with Spanish language two-way immersion (TWI), Oakton Elementary’s African Centered Curriculum (ACC) and services for students with disabilities.
So far, the district has announced that Bessie Rhodes will be moving inside the new Fifth Ward school as a “magnet school within a school.” Other than that, the district has not made any final decisions about moving programs to new locations or changing existing programs, Manager of Student Assignments Sarita Smith has said at multiple meetings.
A committee of teachers, parents and other residents during the first phase of the process only made the recommendation “that programs be placed closest to where students who qualify for them live” and “that we not introduce new programs but improve our current offerings.”
About the postponement of the meetings, Horton said in a note, “In hindsight, we realize the need to slow this process down a bit and ensure that we allow ample time for community voice and authentic dialogue to inform future decision-making. Building in extra time will allow our Phase II Committee the time and opportunity to process community feedback in a meaningful way given these calendar and time constraints.”
10 meetings since February
So far, the second phase committee mentioned by Horton, which includes about 40 parents and staffers, has met 10 times since February. The charts below show the district’s currently proposed attendance boundary changes for elementary and middle schools, which would go into effect when the Fifth Ward school opens its doors in fall 2025, according to the current timeline. The colors show the current boundaries, while the solid black lines show the possible new boundaries.
If the district sticks with these drafted maps, Kingsley, Lincolnwood and Walker elementary schools would lose a portion of their student populations, while Orrington Elementary would gain students from Dewey and Kingsley. Haven Middle School would also lose all of its Fifth Ward students to the new neighborhood school under development. Dawes, Oakton and Lincoln elementary schools on the south end of the city would remain mostly unchanged.
Minutes posted online from the phase two committee meetings reveal that it is considering a number of recommendations for reshuffling programs and the use of different school buildings. Among the changes that the committee has thrown out as tentative ideas:
- Move the TWI strand at Willard to Dewey, Dawes or Lincoln because the Willard attendance boundary has the lowest population of native Spanish speakers needing a bilingual education
- Give the Rice Center (kids with high needs in the foster system) a separate building for students there to attend school, instead of having to take classes in their residential facility
- Split Kingsley students among Lincolnwood, Orrington and Willard, and use the Kingsley building for Rice students or for a pre-K for all programs
- The district’s Master Facilities Plan shows that Park School, a therapeutic day school, needs major repairs or replacement, so use the vacant space created at Haven for Park
- Or make Haven a K-8 school, move Kingsley students there and turn Kingsley into the new Park School
As these ideas suggest, the committee is a long way from a concrete attendance plan. Once the Fifth Ward school is built, Kingsley and Haven will likely have large amounts of empty space, so the district also needs to decide how to use that space and what programs could go there with minimal impact on families and their schedules.
“We recognize that this time of year is especially busy in our schools. We know how important these conversations are for our students and families and the future of our schools. We also know the significance of our upcoming leadership transition,” said Horton, who is set to depart Evanston for a suburban Atlanta school district on July 1. “In addition to rethinking this portion of the process and rescheduling our community meetings, we are also postponing our Phase II programming discussion that was originally scheduled for the Curriculum and Policy Committee Meeting on June 5.”