FROM KING LAB TO KING ARTS
“A teacher may talk to a whole class, but learning is an individual process. A group listens, but a child learns individually. And he will only learn what seems important for him to learn. In short, education for today’s child must be individualized and relevant and as exciting as we can make it. That is what we are working toward in our new Laboratory School.”
The speaker is Dr. Gregory C. Coffin, Superintendent of School District 65 in Evanston, IL and the quote is as relevant today as it was in September of 1967 when the district’s “new idea” elementary school began full operation.
The Laboratory School arose from a program to integrate Evanston elementary schools, and a desire to develop new and better ways in education. Until 1966, the school was Foster elementary school, comprised of an entirely African American student population. In the fall of 1966, an integrated laboratory kindergarten was begun and in September 1967, following a decision of the D65 School Board to adopt a comprehensive all-school integration program, of which a laboratory school was an integral part, a K-5 integrated laboratory school was initiated. Through voluntary enrollment, nearly 900 applications were received that year and a total enrollment of 600 was selected from a cross section of racial and socio-economic groups throughout the district. No effort was made to select a high ability group of children for the school.
The school partnered with Northwestern for research and teaching practices, and experimented with team teaching, pioneered the use of audio-visual equipment in classrooms, and emphasized music and the arts as a way to enrich learning. Focusing on each student as an individual and fostering personalized learning were the prevailing philosophies.
In the seventies, under the leadership of Principal Corinne Schumacher and D65 Superintendent Joseph Hill (who had attended the predecessor Foster School), the school – by now called “King School” after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., grew and thrived and was often credited for being the “keystone” of Evanston’s desegregation program, as well as an innovator in the District and beyond. The school was known for its tight-knit community and as a special place to learn – and demand to enroll in the school remained high. It was often visited by researchers, students and educators from across the country to study its practices.“There’s always been a special pride at King – we’ve always seen ourselves as the crux of the desegregation program...there’s a burden on teachers here to come up with innovative ideas, but it’s an exciting burden.”
Principal Corinne Schumacher, as quoted in The Suburban Trib, Monday Dec. 12, 1977
King Arts continues to thrive today – and while it has evolved from its original roots and is now a K-8 magnet school with a Literary and Fine Art focus in a different location from the old Foster School, much of its core essence and that which makes it unique can be traced back to its origins – and the ideals, principles and values which inspired its formation are as alive today as they were then.