Ahead of the Crowd
|Just as the rosy glow with which some parents recall their high school days has influenced the debate so far, so does the painful memory of the district's being torn apart to create two schools.|
The school would emphasize individualized learning within and beyond the classroom. "There would be more opportunities for reflection, for interaction, and to make connections between types of knowledge," says Doug Springer, a speech and debate teacher who is part of the design team.
Board member Phyllis Myers offers a more concrete description. "It would be a small school with block scheduling," she says, referring to scheduling that lengthens the standard 40- or 50-minute period to allow for sustained work, often across disciplines.
Even the option of putting all the freshmen together at the West campus has a size aspect to it. Of the three alternatives being considered in lieu of one very big school, it might be the moderates' choice.
"I think this place is daunting for freshmen," says Carol Duffy of the parents' association. "A place just for them could be turned to the advantage of the kids."
But even more, she favors that solution because "I think it's truly democratic--everyone will go that way."
Matt Berke, a senior and the president of New Trier's student government, calls it the option with "the least cons but maybe not as many pros."
It would relieve enrollment pressure at New Trier without constructing a new building and without the enrollment uncertainty that would go with the lab school. And like two other choices, it avoids the dreaded issue of drawing a boundary line through neighborhoods where children have grown up and parents have bought with New Trier High beckoning.
Just as the rosy glow with which some parents recall their high school days has influenced the debate so far, so does the painful memory of the district's being torn apart to create two schools.
It's one reason why the school's 280 faculty members are unlikely to take a stand as a body.
"We have fought this battle many years ago," says Doug Chase, a social studies teacher and the co-chairman of the All-School Forum. The forum brings together board members, staff, students, and parents. It deemed the issue "too hot to handle" for a discussion last spring.
"It was a very emotional decision going from two schools to one when most of us felt we could teach kids better in a smaller environment, and it was difficult to make two schools out of one," Chase says.
Joanne Bowers, the president of the New Trier Support Association, the support-personnel union, agrees. Just in the past two years, 10 years after New Trier West closed, the school and its staff have finally felt unified. "The scars are deep," she says.
Marion Huyck, an English teacher, has uppermost in her mind the boundary that would have to be drawn to re-create two comprehensive high schools. She hears rumors already that some residents have made inquiries with real estate agents about moving east, nearer the existing campus.
Last time around, in 1965, the boundary for determining high school attendance was drawn roughly north to south, dividing four of New Trier Township's villages into an east section bound for the Winnetka campus and a west section destined for the new school. Wealthier residents tended to live east, closer to Lake Michigan, and continued to go to the original school.
Jewish residents tended to live west. As a result, the Northfield school had a higher Jewish enrollment, with teenagers dubbing it--some derogatorily and some affectionately--"Jew Trier West." (Similarly, the nearby Roman Catholic Loyola Academy was known as "Goyola," playing on the Yiddish word for non-Jew.)
More than a few people suspected then that the boundary lines were drawn with respect to wealth or ethnicity, though officials denied it. Now, some are beginning to worry that a north-to-south line, which geographically makes the most sense, would slice off most of the existing school's Jewish and Asian-American students. Asian-Americans comprise about 12 percent of the student body, while other minorities--including African-American and Hispanic students--together make up just 3 percent.
And even if boundaries don't raise the ghost of prejudice, many agree that any split is likely to leave a residue of bad feeling, especially among those who must go to the new school. Thirty years ago, "the perception was that New Trier East had everything because of history," says Sam Mikaelian, the superintendent of the Wilmette elementary district.
|School officials do not underestimate the difficulty of the decision they face, but they hope to foster more public understanding by the time the seven-member board votes on the issue next spring.|
School officials do not underestimate the difficulty of the decision they face, but they hope to foster more public understanding by the time the seven-member board votes on the issue next spring. Postponement is out of the question because whatever the board decides will almost certainly require a bond-issue referendum in the fall, with renovations or building to begin in spring 1999. A new arrangement could be in place by the 2001-02 school year, although reopening a four-year school on the New Trier West campus most likely would have to wait another two years because of lease agreements.
"There has to be further education of the community," says school board member Onnie Scheyer, who attended the Glencoe meeting. Scheyer, like the four other board members elected with her last month, has not publicly supported any one option over another.
Some of the new board members say that they are waiting to see the results of a $60,000 survey officials plan to send to all 24,000 households in the district by the end of January. By design, the survey does not ask people to choose but rather to rate what is important to them in the high school experience and to assess each option on its own merits.
And there will be more meetings--one in each of the six elementary districts served by the high school--and if Scheyer has her way, a number of smaller, more informal get-togethers.
"If people know one thing, it would tend to be the cost," Scheyer says. "I want to start them thinking about other things, like competition, stress, dividing lines, commuting between schools."
As for reaching the parents of the children who will be affected five or six years from now, that, too, will take time.
"Things have to evolve here," warns Becky van der Bogert, the superintendent of the Winnetka elementary district. "There's just years of tradition."