Forum: Fifth Ward school would foster neighborhood identity

Jackie Chiang

A public forum Wednesday night on a proposal for a Fifth Ward school quickly focused on the neighborhood’s absence of identity and community, a problem residents said stems from the lack of a school.

“I don’t even know my neighbors,” said Gabrielle Logan, a Fifth Ward resident. “But I promise you if our kids went to the same school, we’d know each other by name.”

The Fifth Ward school proposal, prepared by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy and administrators, was first presented to the community at the Oct. 7 school board meeting. The plan proposes to create a school that houses kindergarten to third grade at the former Foster School, now owned by Family Focus, a social services organization.

Evanston residents publicly voiced their opinions on the proposal at two community forums, the first held Oct. 10 at Chute Middle School and the other held Wednesday night at Fleetwood Jourdain Center. The meetings, run by Murphy and board members, were a chance for the board to receive input from the community but not to make a decision on the school.

The Fifth Ward has lacked its own school since Foster School closed more than 30 years ago. Currently, Fifth Ward students — the majority of whom are black — are bused to other schools in the district. Busing originally was intended to help racially integrate District 65 schools. Today, it continues to assist schools to satisfy a guideline stating that no school population may consist of more than 60 percent of any racial group.

“They called it integration,” said Jerome Summers, a Fifth Ward resident who attended Foster School. “But none of the white kids ever came here.”

Summers’ statements reflected widespread concern over busing, which residents said has placed an unfair burden on black children and has failed to decrease the achievement gap among minorities. Many Evanston residents support the proposed Fifth Ward school because of the negative effects of busing on children.

Quoting Langston Hughes’ poem, “What happens to a dream deferred?,” Ald. Joe Kent (5th) said, “It ends up in increased incarceration rates, increased drop-out rates, increased unemployment rates.”

Many Fifth Ward residents spoke about the fragmentation of the Fifth Ward’s community and how there is a lack of cohesiveness and pride among members that results from the lack of a school. Residents are unable to do simple things liking taking their kids to school together and participating in bake sales, Logan said.

Community members said they also were concerned about students’ lack of self-understanding and self-pride.

“If we don’t have a sense of self, then nothing else matters,” said Gabrielle Logan’s husband, Gilo. “If (students) can’t love and respect themselves, then they have nothing to give to you.”

Most residents who spoke said a Fifth Ward school was necessary. But several suggested more forums and meetings are needed to facilitate real communication among community members.

“To reach a consensus, we need to hear each other,” said Evanston resident Michael Gelder at the Oct. 10 meeting. “This is a chance for us to realize how deep our divisions are and how important it is for our children to get along.”

Other residents said the proposal might be moving ahead too fast, causing a school to be built at the sacrifice of quality. Patty Sprague, an Evanston resident, said she did not believe the current proposal would work, saying the plan was built “on the cheap and on the fly.”

Others said simply that building a school will not solve the academic problems.

“It’s not a magic bullet,” said Evanston resident Shayle Miller. “I think (the school) is a good idea, but it’s not magic.”

Residents also complained about the lack of communication between the board and community, saying that more information about the plan, the 60 percent guideline and community response should be provided.