District 65 Student Assignment Project gets input on magnet schools, school boundaries


Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Education Center, at 1500 McDaniel Ave. District 65’s Student Assignment Project committee met Saturday and discussed magnet school programs with the community.

Aviva Bechky, Assistant City Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Student Assignment Project committee held a meeting Saturday to gather community input on magnet school programs and school zones.

The committee was launched by the district last spring to examine the school district structure and inequities in the system. The committee looked at the district’s magnet programs, whether students were able to walk to school and the possibility of adding a school in the 5th Ward.

At the meeting, diversity consultant Gilo Kwesi Logan discussed problems with District 65’s magnet schools before asking for feedback. District 65 has two magnet schools: the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School. Bessie Rhodes offers a global studies program, while King Arts focuses on the arts. Enrollment at the schools has declined over the past five years, Logan said.

“We really need to think differently about the role and outcomes of magnet schools,” Logan said. “We want to hear community voice on these questions.”

He asked participants to share their thoughts on two questions through a program called ThoughtExchange. Participants responded anonymously and could see and rate each other’s responses.

In response to a question about why magnet school enrollment was declining, participants pointed to distance, high principal turnover, “lower achievement of Black and brown students” and unchallenging or undifferentiated curricula. 

Logan also asked about the value of magnet schools and received a range of responses. Some noted the appeal of small class sizes, school choice and diversity among the student population. Others pointed out drawbacks: the lack of neighborhood community and a failure to address the needs of marginalized students. 

“I worry that efforts to establish diversity are all for white people,” one participant wrote. “Diversity should be about safety and uplifting of historically excluded and disadvantaged communities.”

Though the demographics of the city have changed since 1967, when District 65 first desegregated its school zoning plan, Logan said the boundaries of school zones have not changed much.

“Our community has changed, but our current boundaries are based on the realities from 1960,” Logan said. “We’re looking to see if we can address that.”

Logan and Karen Smilowitz, a member of the SAP committee who worked on data analysis, displayed maps showing that students in the 5th Ward in particular — a predominantly Black ward — are divided among many elementary schools. No public neighborhood school has existed in the 5th Ward since 1967. 

At Saturday’s meeting, Logan said Black and Latinx elementary school students were less likely to go to school with their neighbors than white students or students of another race. SAP was created, among other reasons, to address these historic inequities in zoning and consider establishing a local school in the 5th Ward. 

Sarita Smith, the manager of student assignments for District 65, said SAP will likely hold a meeting later in February to discuss potential zoning boundaries before bringing their suggestions to the Board of Education in March.

“We essentially want the community’s input on the potential boundary line changes, how that impacts programming and some of the benefits and challenges,” Smith said. “Then hopefully we have some consensus as a community on how to move forward on this very large project.”

The committee provided a question form and Smith said the committee would create an online fact sheet based on questions from the meeting.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

Related Stories:

D65 Student Assignment Project discusses magnet programs, African-Centered Curriculum

District 65 Student Assignment Planning survey to close Friday

Evanston Public Library hosts second virtual discussion about history of school segregation, potential 5th Ward school