History of District 65

A History of the Lake Bluff Schools

By Janet Nelson, for the Lake Bluff History Museum
with additional information provided by Jane Lair, District 65
Photos provided by Lake Bluff History Museum

1869 - 1930’s Establishing a School District

In 1869, the newly elected school trustees purchased a site at the northeast corner of Green Bay Road and Route 176 from Edward Mawman for $35.00, and a one-room schoolhouse was built in 1870. Known officially as the Rockland School, it is usually referred to as the Little White School. The villagers were pleased to pay the teacher in cash from property taxes; whereas in neighboring schools, each patron was required to take turns housing and feeding the teachers for a specified period of time. (Elmer Vliet, “Lake Bluff, The First Hundred Years”)

East School circa 1895The school population grew, and in 1895, the brick four-room Lake Bluff School was built on the east side of town. Location of the new school was selected through a hotly contested election, as many of the residents wanted the building to be closer to the population center at the intersection of Green Bay Road and Route 176.

East School old classroom
7th and 8th grade - circa 1913

Each of the four large classrooms in the new building held two grade levels, 1st grade through 8th grade.

Announcement of first PTO meetingThe first meeting of the PTA was held on Friday, October 2, 1914. The organization separated from the national PTA around 1960 and continued as a local Parent Teacher Organization. Over the years, the Lake Bluff PTO has provided volunteers, enthusiasm, and dollars to help the schools.

The Lake Bluff School building served the Village well until about 1920 when the enrollment reached 186 students.

Lake Bluff students in 1922A new addition was completed in 1923. It was quite modern for its time, as it placed the seven new classrooms around the perimeter of the gymnasium. Each morning all of the students would march into the gym to sing The Star Spangled Banner accompanied by music on the Victrola, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and hear announcements. The new gymnasium was also designed to serve as a community room. It contained a stage and a built-inprojection booth where movies were shown on Saturday evenings. The highlight of this new area was the big brick fireplace above which was a large mural painted by Lake Bluff artist Marguerite Kreutzberg. The painting depicted Joliet and Marquette meeting Native Americans on our bluff above Lake Michigan.   

Mural over the East School fireplaceAnother feature of this new addition was the creation of a landscaped area to the west of the building. Designed by local architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, it had an outdoor stage with evergreens as a backdrop, a lawn/seating area, and white gates at the entry. The area was used for graduation exercises and student plays.

Lake Bluff elected its first School Board in 1923. In 1935 the Board of Education decided that the school district should join with the Lake Forest/Shields Township High School District. This action allowed Lake Bluff 8th grade graduates to attend the new High School building on McKinley Road in Lake Forest. Up until that time, Lake Bluff students went to high school in Waukegan, Highland Park, or Libertyville and District 65 paid for their tuition.

1940’s – 1960’s The Growth Years

In 1943, District 65 hired its first Superintendent, Orville Bright. Mr. Bright was faced with the population boom after the end of the Second World War. Returning servicemen and their rapidly growing families were filling up the Village and the classrooms. In 1946, a bond issue of $150,000 was passed and a one-story six classroom addition was added on the west side of the East School building. Upon the acceptance of a bond issue for $110,000, the second floor with eight classrooms was added in 1950. The basement was completed in 1958, providing four more classrooms.

Mr. Bright also brought about curricular changes: Lake Bluff was featured in the Chicago Tribune (December 29, 1955) as an example of how standardized test scores reflected the positive impact of the new phonics program he had introduced.

Middle School musicians circa 1957In 1959, Floyd Weshinskey was appointed Superintendent. He was a resident of Lake Bluff and had been a member of the Junior High School faculty and the assistant superintendent. He faced the demanding task of providing classroom space, new teachers, and high-quality education.

From 1955 to 1960, there was continuous discussion at the Board level on whether to build new neighborhood schools or enlarge the existing buildings though space for building and play areas was limited. In 1953, a bond issue for $450,000 was passed and a new Junior High School was built. It opened in 1955 for grades seven and eight.

Lake Bluff Middle School circa 1960New housing developments in the Terrace area plus expanding population in Knollwood continued to bring in many new students. In 1960, a six-room addition to the Junior High was approved and constructed.

The School Board decided to direct its energies to the concept of neighborhood schools. After a successful referendum for a $370,000 bond issue in 1962, West School on Muir Avenue in Knollwood opened for Kindergarten – 6th grade.

Central SchoolIn 1966, voters passed another bond issue for $520,000 and Central School on Green Bay Road opened for the children of the Terrace area for Kindergarten – 6th grade.

Despite concerns about increasing population, classroom space, and play yard areas, District 65 continued to develop programming to fully include the fine arts, school libraries, and improved student services.

An active Volunteer Bureau was formed. Teachers could request help and the Bureau provided guest speakers and helpers for classroom enrichment opportunities.

Middle School basketball players in 1964Highlights of "Living in Lake Bluff" 1960, a pamphlet published by the League of Women Voters of Lake Bluff >>

1970’s – 2012 New Ideas – State and National Education Reform

Enrollment started to decline during the next decade. In 1969, there were 1,289 students enrolled and by 1981, there were only 683 students. The concerns had shifted from not enough space to more room than needed.

A new Superintendent, Dr. L. Thomas Moore, was hired to start in the 1979-80 school year when Floyd Weshinskey retired.

Middle School cheerleaders circa 1966The 1982-83 school year brought the end to the “Neighborhood School” concept. The inability to maintain balanced class sizes across the District forced the Board of Education to divide schools by grade level. They also closed the East School that was greatly in need of repair. There was organized community opposition to the change in philosophy because it involved busing students – in the past, most students were within walking distance of the schools. 
Central School served Kindergarten – 3rd grades; 
West School served 4th and 5th grades; and 
The Junior High served 6th – 8th grades.

East School housed the administrative offices and many of the classrooms were rented to other educational entities such as day care providers and the Northern Suburban Special Education District.

Miss O'Hara's class in 1970Busing also brought about a change in each school’s scheduling. The earliest buses brought children to the Junior High School followed by buses to West School and then to Central. The 75-minute lunch break to allow children to walk home for lunch was no longer feasible. Almost all children were now bringing their lunches, and it became necessary to provide lunchroom areas plus the cost of employing lunchtime supervisors.

Dr. Moore initiated curricular changes that focused on more relevant social studies and science programs, and added the opportunity for advanced math at the Junior High. A program for “gifted” children was put in place modeled after Renzuli’s idea of services within the regular classroom. Staff members were encouraged to take advantage of staff development opportunities and enroll in additional courses to stay abreast of the many educational innovations that were being introduced in the early 1980’s. Another of Dr. Moore’s initiatives was to recruit teachers from outside the immediate area.

In 1984, the District 65 teachers formed an independent union that allowed them to participate in salary negotiations with the Board of Education. Two years later, they voted to become part of the Illinois Education Association.

Groundbreaking for the Middle School addition in 1985In 1986, the Junior High was renovated and another addition built.

In 1987, Dr. Edward Noyes was hired as Superintendent.

In April 1988, a Task Force studied Land Use/Development, Population and Trends, and Facilities, including a report from the Illinois State Board of Education on enrollment trends and facility utilization.

Middle School addition, completed in 1986From that initiative, a Strategic Planning process was started to formulate a ten-year plan to take District 65 into 21st Century. The process included community-wide participation to study the best use of school buildings, enrollment projections, and future growth.

Dr. Noyes organized the school administrators into a cohesive team and encouraged the principals to make productive changes to improve student achievement.

Middle School science classroom in 1987In 1989, the Alliance For Education, a nonprofit foundation, was formed to help support teaching innovations to enhance the quality of education for the children of School District 65. Over the years, the Alliance has worked with faculty, administrators, and staff to identify and significantly fund high-priority opportunities that enhance curriculum, introduce new technologies in the arts and science, and recognize excellence in teaching and learning.

Illinois was attempting to raise the level of instruction across the state and initiated statewide tests. In November 1989, the Chicago Tribune highlighted Lake Bluff School District 65 as the only district in the state with overall high scores in all areas on the newly initiated Illinois state tests.

From 1992 to 2003, Dr. Mark Van Clay served as District Superintendent.

In 1992, the Junior High was renamed Lake Bluff Middle School, and that same year, the Middle School received the Department of Education’s Excellence in Education Award.

The school population was once again on the upswing and more studies of building use were undertaken.

A complete Facilities Study and Report was undertaken in 1993. East School reopened as the K-2 building after renovating and updating the electrical, plumbing, heating, and phone systems. Old chalkboards were replaced, TV screens were placed in each classroom, and the building was wired for computer use.

The West School was no longer used as a student center. Space was rented to several organizations, including Shields Township for its administrative offices. The building was eventually sold with the playground area retained by the Lake Bluff Park District.

2001 and Beyond: Moving into the 21st Century

In spring 2003, the community approved a referendum to increase the District’s operating tax rate by 25 cents. The District had experienced several years of deficit spending and now had negative fund balances, resulting with the District being listed on the State’s Financial Warning list. After the referendum, the District was able to increase revenues to a point where there were positive fund balances within a couple of years. Since 2006, the District has appeared on the State’s Financial Recognition list as having a very healthy financial profile.

In 2004, David Vick was appointed as Superintendent.

In 2007-2008, the District initiated a 1:1 student laptop program beginning with 6th grade students. Each year thereafter, the program continued until each student in 5th through 8th grade was provided his or her own laptop. The prior year, teachers were provided their own laptops so they could prepare for students receiving their laptops.

In 2004, the District established a Strategic Plan that included a goal to determine future facility needs and assessment of current facilities. An Action Team made up of community members met for several months in 2005 and ultimately recommended to the Board to discontinue the use of East School as a school building and to either add onto or replace Central School to provide space for students in Kindergarten through 5th grade.

Other goals established by the 2004 Strategic Plan were differentiated learning, technology, and community resource coordination.

The Board hired new architects in 2006, and that fall, undertook a community engagement process where a series of public meetings was held from September through December. From that process, a recommendation was made to discontinue the use of East School, and to raze Central School, and build a new K-5 facility on its site. They also recommended renovating infrastructure of the Middle School, including the addition of air conditioning, building a stage, and adding square footage to the lunchroom, and make improvements to Green Bay Road near the new school to help improve traffic flow.

In spring 2007, voters approved by 20 votes the issuance of $24.4 million in bonds to fund the construction of a new K-5 school and to provide for a small addition and renovations (including air conditioning) of the Middle School.

In June 2007, work was begun to include the community at large in the design of the new school and with the renovation work at the Middle School. At the kickoff meeting, a group of citizens urged the Board to seek LEED certification of the new school with emphasis on indoor air quality. The Board ultimately agreed to seek the certification with a goal of Silver Level – which was achieved.

Four public design teams met over several weeks to provide input into the design in the areas of:

  • Common area;
  • Site and playgrounds;
  • Classroom spaces; and
  • Formation of the Green Team for the environmentally friendly LEED aspect.

There was also a group that focused on the Middle School. This group then recommended to the Board that a band room be added in lieu of adding space to the lunchroom, and the Board accepted this recommendation.

The Green Team submitted a grant to the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation, securing $100,000 to pay for the commissioning (engineer verification of construction which is a requirement for LEED certification) costs. The grant was awarded by Governor Pat Quinn.

Lake Bluff Elementary School. Photo by Steinkamp Photography for BLDD ArchitectsConstruction of the new school began in summer 2008 and was completed in September 2009. LEED certification was achieved and finally awarded to the school in spring 2012. (photo by Steinkamp Photography for BLDD Architects.)

Dr. David Vick retired as Superintendent in June 2009, and Dr. John Asplund took the reins as Superintendent in July 2009.

Dr. Asplund conducted an abbreviated strategic planning process in fall 2009 to review the status of the 2004 Plan and to establish new goals. The plan’s goals centered on Fiscal Austerity, Facilities, and 21st Century Learners. Action Teams were created and presented their findings to the Board in May 2010. The Facilities Action Team met over several months and ultimately recommended to the Board that East School be razed. They also recommended that Middle School science rooms and student bathrooms be renovated and that a comprehensive long-term facilities assessment for future planning be developed.

East School was razed in summer 2011, and Middle School science classrooms and student bathrooms were also renovated in summer 2011.

A mural that hung over a fireplace in the gymnasium of East School was preserved and donated to the Historical Museum in Lake Bluff.

Frontise pieceThe Board also preserved the "frontispiece" of the school, and this important historical element was later installed on the wall of the library of the renovated Lake Bluff Middle School, where it became the centerpiece of the new space.

Dr. Asplund resigned in June 2011. The District then secured the services of retired superintendent Dr. Ben Martindale as interim-superintendent for one year so the Board could conduct a professional search for a new full-time superintendent. Dr. Martindale was instrumental in negotiating a final contract agreement with the teachers union after many months of negotiations.

After an extensive search, the Board hired Dr. Jean Sophie as Superintendent effective July 2012. In October 2012, the District began work on a new Strategic Plan to guide future decision-making. So that the Plan would build upon a common mission, vision, and guiding principles held by the District 65 community, the process began with 23 focus groups, followed by an online survey. This process captured essential feedback on the District’s present condition and future direction from 521 participants in total, a broad cross-section of District 65 stakeholders from among parents, employees, and the community at large. That input was converted into data on what stakeholders care about and their beliefs regarding the future of education in Lake Bluff – and the Board used that data to set the District’s Mission: To provide a premier educational foundation that enables each student to thrive and the Vision: Excellence in Education, Enthusiasm for Life, Every Student, Every Day.

Goals set were: 

  • Strategic Goal I – Maximize the academic achievement and personal growth of each student.
  • Strategic Goal II – Optimize the teaching and learning environment.
  • Strategic Goal III – Ensure long-term fiscal stability and efficiency.
  • Strategic Goal IV – Engage all stakeholders through effective communication and collaboration.

The Board then turned the process over to District administrators, who guided the development of the implementation plan. Dr. Sophie reached out for input to over 80 community members, parents, staff, and administrators, and in August 2013, approximately 40 of them gathered and spent a full day working through each of the four goals, discussing specific objectives that would be used to meet them, and the ongoing metrics by which they would be measured. These recommendations were then presented to the Board of Education.

In the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year, the Board twice took specific action to decrease tax bills. In December 2012, the Board cut the operating funds levy for the coming year by $2 million over the last year’s extensions, and abated an additional $1 million in debt services payments for the 2014 Fiscal Year, impacting tax bills issued in May 2013. In late October, the Board of Education restructured existing school bonds, using $5.75 million from the Education Fund to pay toward the debt, which will save the District slightly over $2 million in interest over the remaining term of the bonds without impacting the ongoing educational budget and expenses.

During the 2013-2014 school year, after the retirement of the Lake Bluff Elementary School principal, the District conducted a nationwide search for a new principal, using interim principals to provide a solid foundation at the school while the search was conducted. Margaret St. Claire was hired, and began work July 1, 2014.

Instructional shifts and other curricular work continued as the District realigned the curriculum in keeping with changing standards. The District teamed with the Lake Bluff Schools for a “Math Camp” Algebra Academy at Lake Forest High School that not only assisted students in grasping algebraic concepts but also further trained teachers in their crucial classroom roles.

During the 2013-2014 school year, District administrators emphasized joint meetings with administrators of Lake Forest Elementary School District 67 and Lake Forest High School District 115. With a common set of curricular materials in the area of math, the two elementary school districts worked together with the high school district to explore the implications of this alignment on programs for the high school's students.

Physical activity was emphasized during the 2013-2014 school year, as Lake Bluff’s Physical Education and Wellness teachers garnered state attention for their researched-based program that demonstrates combining physical activity with classroom studies to increase learning. Dr. Sophie presented their program to her Superintendent peers statewide.

The revamping of the math curriculum was reflected in the Illinois State Board of Education's 2015 report that District 65 students had the highest math growth scores on the North Shore. The new curriculum's collaborative approach inspires students to work together, share thinking and use precise math vocabulary while testing ideas and discovering mathematical patterns and rules.

Curriculum work continued into the 2016-2017 school year, as teachers and administrators continued revising the curriculum and developing new programs. Emphasis on a balanced literacy program to foster a strong reading/writing connection led to efforts to expand writing into all subject areas.

Dr. Sophie’s values parent and community communication.  Under Dr. Sophie’s leadership, the District continued efforts toward shared partnerships. The administrators of the Village of Lake Bluff, the Lake Bluff Park District, and the Lake Bluff Schools continued to meet on a regular basis in the Tri-Board to explore ways to work together to benefit the community in both small and large ways. The three governments launched the shared "On the Bluff" print newsletter as a way to cooperate, provide mutual support, and share services to increase efficiencies for their shared taxpayers.

Other intergovernmental initiatives included an agreement with Lake Bluff Park District and Shields Township to financially support the traffic signal and push button crosswalk on Waukegan Road/IL Route 43 at Foster Avenue in Knollwood, and an agreement with the Lake Bluff Public Library to provide library services to Lake Bluff students who live in unincorporated Knollwood and other surrounding unincorporated areas outside Library District boundaries.

Following nearly two years of analysis and planning, work began in late winter 2016 on renovations to Lake Bluff Middle School. the renovation plans grew out of study and input by community members, parents, students, seniors, non-users, faculty, administrators, village officials, teachers, police, the Board of Education and staff, guided by the District's architects.

Next, tasked with implementing the broader vision of the community, a smaller working group made up of a subset of volunteer representatives from across the community was formed. This Core Design Team was charged with making the community vision a reality. The team met every two weeks with the architect and was guided by two principles that were reflected in the final design: First, LBMS was to be designed with an eye to the future so that it would not be obsolete in 20 years. Second, LBMS was to be designed as a beacon that attracts new families to Lake Bluff and enhances our community.

This work led to plans that include:

  • Renovation of the entire front entrance to make it ADA accessible and to add a vestibule to further secure the building for safety;
  • Complete renovation of the three Science classrooms;
  • Major renovation and revamp of the Library/Media Center to make it the core of the building;
  • Relocation of all Student Services classrooms in the loft of the Library to the main floor of the school;
  • Relocation of classrooms from the basement to the main floor, with Fine Arts classrooms moving next to the Band room to create a Fine Arts wing, along with another additional wing that will most likely house World Language classes; and
  • Relocation of the District office into the newly renovated "Garden Level" of the building. After moving from East School, the office had been in an office building off Waukegan Road.
the new Chorus room

The new fine arts classrooms are airy and spacious. Photo by Paul Schlismann for Wight & Company.


The new library is the core of the building.

Science lab

The three science labs were renovated for modern learning.


The new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) laboratory is adjacent to the library.

presentation stairway

The main and lower levels are now linked by a dramatic presentation stairway that allows for large and small, formal and informal gatherings.