THE HISTORY OF AVOCA SCHOOL DISTRICT #37
Avoca School District #37 was first registered with the Suburban Cook County Superintendent in 1870. The District includes portions of Wilmette, Northfield, Glenview, and unincorporated Winnetka and is the only common element shared by the multi-community residents who have consistently supported the District.
The word Avoca means “fountain of knowledge” and comes from Gaelic mythology. It is related to an actual geographic location; a confluence of rivers in Ireland called, “The Vale of Avoca.” The name “Avoca” was voted upon and approved by the original settlers of the District.
The original “Avoca” school was a wood frame building. In 1923, a two-room brick building was constructed on the site of the present Marie Murphy School. All grades were included in these two rooms. A two-room addition was constructed in 1930. The original frame school was sold and moved to Northfield where it remains a private residence — with additions.
Mrs. Marie J. Murphy, who eventually became Superintendent, was initially employed as a teacher in the District in 1932. There were 45 students in Grades 1 – 8, and two students graduated that year. An Avoca school bus route was initiated in 1934. The North Gym was constructed in 1940.
Originally, the District was composed primarily of farmland. Residential development began after World War II, initially in the area west of Hibbard Road to Edens and south of Illinois Road to Wilmette Avenue. The resulting increase in students necessitated the addition of a wing to the Avoca School in 1950. Another wing was constructed in 1953.
Avoca East Elementary School was built in 1957 in Wilmette. Avoca West Elementary School was built in 1959 in Glenview. The 1960s were years of expansion. In 1961, six classrooms were added to Avoca East; in 1964, Fine Arts, South Gym and eight classrooms were added to the junior high school; and Fine Arts rooms, South Gym and eight classrooms were added to Avoca West in 1967.
In 1968, after 36 years with the district, Mrs. Murphy retired as Superintendent and passed away at age 90 in 1999. Avoca Junior High School was named Marie Murphy School in her honor that same year. When Dr. Alfred J. Price was engaged as Superintendent in 1968, District enrollment had increased to 1,530 students. During the 1970s and 1980s, the District experienced a significant decline in enrollment. In 1986, Dr. Price retired, and Dr. John W. Sloan became Superintendent. The District then experienced enrollment growth during the 1990s and updated and expanded District facilities. As of 2015, current enrollment in both schools is 729 preschool through eighth grade students. When Superintendent Sloan retired in June 2002 after 16 years of service, the Marie Murphy School Computer Lab was named in his honor. Dr. Joseph M. Porto assumed the position of Superintendent in July 2002 and retired in June 2011 after nine years. Many innovations were implemented during his tenure. The Marie Murphy School Community Center was named in his honor. Following a nationwide search, Dr. Kevin M. Jauch, at the time the principal of Avoca West Elementary School, was selected to replace Dr. Porto in July 2011.
Northfield-area residents are the second and third generations of families to attend Avoca. These people were shopkeepers and tradesmen from neighboring villages. The Northfield area, west of Edens along Happ Road, is the site of the most recent residential construction. These town homes and condominiums have been attracting families with children, where before they were primarily housing for seniors or young singles.
The area south of Skokie Blvd. to Wilmette Avenue, east of the Edens Expressway, also developed residentially after World War II. Over the years, these homes have changed owners. Recently, a large number of our families, new to the country, have settled in this area.
The Wilmette Golf Course and surrounding homes were originally developed by Northwestern University for their professors. These homes have changed owners over time and are no longer primarily associated with Northwestern University. The Northwestern golf course was acquired by the Village of Wilmette and is now a public course.
The area east of Harms to the Edens Expressway and south of Lake to Wilmette Avenue was developed in the ’50s. At that time, the homes sold for about $28,000. Many people have stayed and enlarged their homes, creating more housing diversity.
Avoca West Elementary School has experienced several additions. In 1991, a kindergarten, nursery school, orchestra room and Pupil Services facilities were added. The courtyards were renovated in 1996 with plants and other materials to attract insects and birds, enhancing the elementary science curriculum. Work renovating the existing library into classrooms and the addition of a new library and stage were all completed in 1998. Windows were replaced throughout the building, and new hot water heating boilers were installed in 2000. During the 2004-2005 school year, four classrooms, four small conference/meeting rooms, and a restroom were constructed on the far east side of the building, in addition to reconfiguring the front entrance for security purposes. The additions were occupied at the start of the 2005-2006 school year. An outdoor classroom in the open courtyard adjacent to the new wing at Avoca West Elementary School was dedicated in the fall of 2008 in memory of former Principal Carol Ann Rak, who passed away in 2007. Dr. Kevin Jauch joined Avoca West as the school’s principal in July 2006 and was then selected to serve as District Superintendent in 2011. Dr. Jennifer Gendel succeeded Dr. Jauch as principal that same year. Upon Dr. Gendel’s resignation from the district, Jessica Hutchison became the principal of Avoca West in the fall of 2014.
The rebuilding and renovation of Marie Murphy School took place in 1992. The original 1923 structure was demolished, and the other wings were upgraded with new lighting and heating systems. A technology wing was built, housing computer labs, creative technology lab, library, and school administrative offices. Gymnasium seating and lighting were upgraded in 1994 and 1996 respectively. A large community room was created from the former woodshop in the summer of 2000 and also serves as the Board’s meeting room. A Northern Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) classroom opened at Marie Murphy School in the fall of 2000 and served as a homeroom for six to eight special needs students until June 2007. The parking lot on the west side of Marie Murphy School was enlarged in 2001, and the front office and main entrance were reconfigured for security reasons during the 2004-2005 school year. Keyless entry systems were installed at both schools in 2007. Dr. Deanna D. Reed served as the school’s principal from 1989-2012. Matthew Palcer replaced Dr. Reed upon her retirement. The Avoca Community Preschool, a blended preschool, opened in the fall of 2008 and is housed at Marie Murphy School with an enrollment typical ranging between 25-30 three- and four-year-olds attending morning or afternoon classes. The art room was relocated to the second floor of the building to accommodate the new preschool.
Lutheran General Children’s Day Care, had been housed in District school buildings since 1983; first at Avoca West Elementary School, and then at Marie Murphy School until 1995. In 1995, the District regained possession of the Avoca East Elementary School building, which had been leased to New Trier High School. The designation of the Avoca East building was changed to “Avoca Center.” At the time, Lutheran General Day Care moved to occupy the entire East/West wing (8 classrooms, offices and gymnasium), and Arlyn School leased the entire North/South wing of Avoca Center. The East/West wing was upgraded by Lutheran General for its day care operation to conform to the state’s licensing requirements. One Hope United took over the day care program at that location in 2009-2010. The District replaced windows throughout Avoca Center, improved the heating system, and, in the spring of 2001 roofing shingles were replaced.
As a cost-saving move, District #37 formally withdrew from the North Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) cooperative in June of 2008 and immediately entered into a partnership with Wilmette School District #39, which now serves District #37’s special needs students. The partnership between the two districts is referred to as the Wilmette Community Special Education Agreement (WCSEA).