In 1960, there were approximately 11,000 students in the District’s schools, 22% of whom were African American. At that time, most of the District’s elementary schools were segregated. The percentage of African American students at Foster school was 99%, at Dewey school – 66%, at Noyes and Central schools – 33%, and at Haven, Miller and Washington schools – 5% to 10%. Few or no African American students attended the District’s nine other elementary schools. The four junior high schools were closer to being racially balanced, with African Americans comprising about 15%-25% of their student bodies.
Overcrowding at Foster and Dewey schools led to desegregating some of the District’s schools in the early 1960’s. In September 1963, the School Board authorized a voluntary transfer program to relieve over crowding at Foster and Dewey schools. By 1966, 450 African American students were bused on a voluntary basis to eight previously all white schools under this program.
Under pressure from local groups, the School Board adopted a resolution of intent in December 1964 to desegregate and racially balance the District’s schools. Two years later, the Board adopted a formal desegregation plan.
Under the plan, Foster School was closed as a neighborhood school, becoming instead a laboratory school offering innovative educational programs for grades K-5. The laboratory school, later named the Martin Luther King, Jr. Experimental Laboratory School, was open to the entire District and was designed as a magnet – a carrot – to draw white children to the school and thereby desegregate it. In its first year, 650 students were accepted at King Lab, 25% of whom were African American children. Students who lived outside the Foster School area were bused to the school at their parents’ expense.
As a second part of the desegregation plan, all of the District’s school attendance areas were redrawn so that the enrollment of African American children at each school in the District ranged from 17% to 25%. All of the children who had previously attended Foster School and 59% of the children who had previously attended Dewey School were reassigned to new schools. Many of these children were assigned to a new school within walking distance of their home. A substantial portion of the area around Foster school, however, was carved into seven districts and children in those districts were assigned to one of seven schools on the District’s periphery as their attendance area school. Approximately 450 African American children were bused to school under this plan at the District’s expense.
According to a report “How Evanston, Illinois Integrated All of Its Schools,” Jan. 24, 1972, signed by Joseph B. Porter Superintendent, the creation of an innovative educational program to draw white children to Foster school on a voluntary basis and the assignment of African American children to schools on the periphery of the District was not viewed as “totally fair.” The report said, however, “we were pragmatic, and to work in this case meant to be acceptable by the Board and the Community.”
Before the desegregation plan was implemented, interviews were conducted with the parents of the 450 African American children who were to be bused under the plan. Ninety-two percent responded favorably to the question, “If the cost of integrated education is busing, then I am willing to have my child bused.”
According to Spt. Porter’s report, this survey was proposed as a compromise to having a community-wide referendum on integrating the schools: “We felt that such a referendum would yield a negative vote, so after a vigorous debate, a compromise was reached.” The desegregation plan was implemented in September 1967.
Impact on Achievement
In March 1968, the Rockefeller Foundation gave District 65 funds to conduct a three-year study to determine the effects of its desegregation plan. The research was conducted jointly by District 65 and the Educational Testing Service. An extensive report, issued in August 1971, concluded in part, “after desegregating all elementary schools, white pupils’ performance in standardized achievement tests remained constant. Black pupils have made slightly greater gains in most subject areas. Busing did not adversely affect black or white pupils….”
The report also reflected that in the Fall of 1967, African American third and eighth graders scored on average at the 27th and 39th percentile ranks nationally in reading and mathematics. White third and eighth graders scored on average at the 64th and 76th percentile ranks in those subjects.
The average test scores have improved for both groups since 1967, but a wide gap in achievement levels persists. In the 2000 Stanford Achievement Tests, African American fourth and eighth graders scored on average at the 41st and 44th percentile ranks nationally in reading and mathematics. White fourth and eighth graders scored at the 86th and 88th percentile ranks in those subjects.
On the 2001 Illinois Standard Achievement Test, 9 percent of Asian and white students, 52 percent of African American students and 46 percent of Hispanic students did not meet State standards.
School Closings and Redistricting in the 1970s
Student enrollment dropped from 10,860 students in 1967 to 8,413 in 1976 and 7,061 in 1979. Closing schools and simultaneously redrawing attendance areas in order to avoid overcrowding and maintain racial balance in the schools was a major challenge.
In September, 1976, the District implemented a plan under which College Hill, Miller, and Noyes Schools were closed, and Kingsley School was opened. In addition, Skiles Middle School was closed as an attendance area school and turned into a magnet school serving grades 6-8.
The District approved a second school closing plan in early 1979. Under this plan, the Board decided to close Timber Ridge, Central and Kingsley schools and to transfer the King Lab School program to join the laboratory school program for grades 6-8 which had been started at Skiles Middle school, now known as King Lab.
During the debate, Beverly Coker and Bennett Johnson on behalf of a group called Coalition for Dignity in Evanston and Hecky Powell on behalf of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations urged that the old Foster School building be used as an attendance area school. Ms. Coker suggested that the entire Willard student body be bused to Foster School for racial balance.
On January 30, 1979, the Board asked Superintendent Joseph Hill to analyze two alternative configurations of schools to serve the northern part of Evanston, under which Foster school would be reestablished as an attendance area school and either Willard or Orrington school (in addition to Kingsley) closed down. It would still have been necessary to bus a substantial number of students under these alternatives, but the proportion of African American versus white students being bused would have changed substantially. Closing down Willard or Orrington school would have necessitated redrawing attendance areas and shifting many students to new schools, an exercise not required if Foster school were closed down because Foster school had not been used as an attendance area school since 1967.
At a February 5, 1979 Board meeting, the Board decided by a five to two vote not to use Foster School as an attendance area school, and the District subsequently sold the building. The Foster school building, now called the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, is currently owned by Family Focus and used by Family Focus and other non-profit groups.
Going forward, the District is projecting a drop in enrollment from 6,783 students this year to 6,455 students in 2006. Dr. Judith Levinson, Director of Research, Planning and Development for District 65, projects the District will have 53 excess classrooms by 2006.
The 60% Guideline and Redistricting in 1985
In 1985, the School Board adopted as a building use criterion that “no defined racial group shall exceed 60% of a school population.”
Since that time, the District has attempted to racially balance the schools by redrawing attendance areas, by establishing Timber Ridge as a second magnet school in the mid-1990s, and by monitoring race in admitting students to the magnet schools and in granting permissive transfers between schools. Over the years, the District has also located bilingual and other programs in certain schools to draw students of a particular race to those schools and achieve racial balance.
In the 2001-02 school year, all schools in the District were within the 60 percent guideline. According to Enrollment Projections prepared by Dr. Levinson on February 4, 2002, all schools will remain within the guideline through 2006.
Many children have been bused to school in District 65 since the 1960s. While busing was originated to relieve overcrowding at Foster and Dewey schools and then to implement a desegregation plan, busing is provided today for an interrelated set of reasons, including to racially balance schools, to provide transportation across major roads for student safety, and to provide transportation for special education students.
In 1979, 651 African American students and 828 other students were bused to school. Excluding students bused to King Lab, 413 African American students and 321 other students were bused because of distance.
In December 2001, 1,024 African American students, 790 white students and 367 other students were bused to school. Excluding students bused to magnet schools and to schools with special programs, 635 African American students, 416 white students and 65 other students were being bused to school.
A substantial number of students in the old Foster school area are bused to Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Orrington and Willard schools, which are located in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Sources for this story include the following: A report entitled “Integration in Evanston, 1967-71: A Longitudinal Evaluation”, Aug. 1971; a book entitled The District 65 Story, chapter I, “Responding to Changes in the Community/Society”; a paper entitled “How Evanston, Illinois, Integrated All of Its Schools”, Jan. 24, 1972; a report entitled “A Long Range Plan For Achieving And Maintaining Quality Integrated Education in Evanston/Skokie District 65”, May 5, 1992.
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