District 65 school board historically approves new Fifth Ward school

On March 14, the District 65 school board approved the creation of a new school. This school will be located in the Fifth Ward, as it has not had one since the closing of Foster School in 1967. 

“We have the opportunity to repair the historic harm [and] engage in systematic change,” D65 board member Marquise Weatherspoon said prior to the vote. 

The school will be K-8, which will cause a change in elementary school boundaries. The new school will take in students from Kingsely, Lincolnwood, Willard, Dewey and Orrington, but the current feeding pattern for middle schools will remain the same. 

Bessie Rhodes students, teachers and programs will move to the Fifth Ward school. However, the closing of the current Bessie Rhodes building as well as the construction of the new school will not begin until the 2024-25 school year. Burns hopes that the Fifth Ward school will provide a reason for new families to move into the area. This will integrate schools without the need to bus students. 

“I see a tremendous amount of opportunity to attract young families to the Fifth Ward who would like to move in an area that has a strong presence and also see it as an opportunity to revitalize the area in general,” said Fifth Ward alderman Bobby Burns. 

Busing children to and from school was an effort to diversify the schools, but in order to do this, Foster School was closed. The closing of the school caused businesses in the area to decline as well as a lack of a sense of community for children growing up in the neighborhood. 

“If, on one side of the street, kids go to Lincolnwood, and (on) the other side of the street, the kids go to Willard, how do we have that community?” said Mark Rochon, fifth ward resident, in an interview with The Daily Northwestern.

As time passed, there were more and more people calling for a neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward. This led to the 2012 referendum for an elementary school. Burns was a part of Citizens for a Better Evanston, a group which worked to get the referendum passed. Although the referendum was shot down, the community did not forget the many reasons a Fifth Ward school is necessary. 

“[The school will make] sure that students can stay after school for tutoring or extra curricular activities and not be rushed to the bus stop because they need to get home.” Burns said.

The long-awaited new school also brings about many expectations for more individualized learning and parent involvement, especially after leaving the Fifth Ward without a school for half a decade. 

“[I want to see] teachers make a commitment to getting to know each student and building a plan for each student that is based on their needs,” Burns said. “Also involving the parents in every decision… and [making sure] that they feel comfortable attending parent teacher conferences [and] feel comfortable and welcome attending different schools events.” 

Additionally, the building can act as more than just a school. When the space is available it may be used for health services, substance use programs or job readiness. 

“The sky’s the limit,” Burns notes.