Community members learned about the options for building the first neighborhood public school in the 5th Ward in 50 years and modifying school district 65 magnet curriculums in Evanston/Skokie on Tuesday.
The Student Assignment Project Committee devised two school reassignment scenarios which Sarita Smith, Manager of Student Assignments, presented on Sunday and Tuesday. She will present them again on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for more feedback from the community.
The district launched the SAP committee last spring to examine the structure of the school district and the inequities in the system. The changes the committee is working on are long overdue, District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton said at the meeting.
“Our policy requires us to redistrict and review student assignments every five years, but we didn’t stick to it,” Horton said. “It has been nearly 30 years since the last time a student assignment plan was reviewed.”
The committee used six criteria to create new scenarios: fostering community through neighborhood schools, modernizing attendance limits, reducing transportation expenses, addressing historical inequities, mobilizing community input, and incorporating data planning of major facilities and projection of registrations.
Scenario A would build a K-8 school in the 5th district. Smith said the new school would help address historic inequalities that remain after the old neighborhood school in the predominantly black neighborhood closed in 1967.
The elementary schools most affected by this would be those with high proportions of students from the 5th district, she said.
Under Scenario A, one of District 65’s magnet schools, the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, would be closed. Its immersion and two-way global studies programs would transfer to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School of Literature and Fine Arts, the other magnet school in District 65, and possibly other schools. district as well.
Should the change occur, Bessie Rhodes students would have several options.
“Bessie Rhodes families will have a choice though,” Smith said. “If for some reason they don’t like the new location, there is a choice of neighborhood schools where they can continue their programming.”
In Scenario B, a 5th Ward school would still be built, but it would only be grades K-5.
This scenario expands magnet school programming throughout the district rather than centralizing it. The Global Studies programs currently offered at Bessie Rhodes would be incorporated into the district’s social studies curriculum framework. King Arts would become a non-magnet college.
“That script really came from parents and community members asking for programs everywhere,” Smith said. “This scenario also allows us to focus more on our program, our core program and the programming merger.”
Two-way immersion students would be assigned to neighborhood or nearby schools with the appropriate curriculum, she said.
Schools would see more changes in enrollment under this plan, as many students from schools with magnet programs would transfer.
Transportation costs would drop under both plans, Smith said, which would help fund construction of a modern school building in the 5th Ward. Under both plans, pupils could choose to stay at their current school until their final year there – either in Year 5 or Year 8 – although school-provided buses could end.
Smith asked participants to share their feedback on SAP scenarios through an anonymous program called ThoughtExchange. More than 100 people participated.
One response pointed out that a survey conducted in the fall of 2021 underrepresented families in the 5th Ward. The community member asked how the committee would gather more feedback. Smith said the team was working with various community groups on other outreach activities.
After receiving a question about the staff changes, Andalib Khelghati, deputy superintendent of human resources for District 65, said that staff members will not lose their positions as a result of the redistricting project.
Smith also clarified that while bus transportation will be significantly reduced, there will still be buses for students who live more than a mile from their assigned schools in both scenarios.
Other ThoughtExchange reviews are available here.
The SAP committee will hold a similar meeting on Wednesday to gather more information. On March 7, the committee will present the scenarios to the Curriculum and Policy Committee, and on March 14, the committee will present its final recommendation to the school board.
If the Board approves, the review of funding scenarios will begin. Redistricting assignments will not take effect until the 2024-2025 school year at the earliest.
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