HISTORY OF HAWTHORN
Today, Hawthorn School District 73 in Vernon Hills is a sizeable district consisting of six buildings serving more than 4,200 students. But, there was a time when a one-room school house served the community. The foresight of a few key individuals and ongoing community support played significant roles in shaping the district into what it is today.
Back in the 1840s, settlers began to arrive in the area. A farmer named John Locke purchased land south of Libertyville on the west side of what is now Milwaukee Avenue. Locke, the first village president of Libertyville, donated land for the first school in the area, which was known as Locke School.
In the early 1900s, Samuel Insull, one of the nation’s most well-known and powerful businessmen,purchased a large tract of land south of Libertyville that extended to Townline Road. This land included Locke’s farm and Locke School. The school building eventually became a residence on the farm. Mr. Insull took it upon himself to build a new one-room Hawthorn School near the family’s home. It included an outdoor toilet and a pump to provide water. Some say the school’s name came from Hawthorn trees he imported to remind him of his home in England.
Most of the first Hawthorn students were from families who worked the estate’s fields. Mr. Insull sent a horse and wagon to collect the children who lived farthest from the school. Classes were conducted in German in the morning and English in the afternoon. In 1918, the building was remodeled for about $6,000.
The Formation of a District
At about the time that Locke School came into existence, two other schools in the area were constructed. In 1842, Coon School was built on Route 45 in what is now Vernon Hills. In 1862, the building was moved one mile south on Route 45. In 1860, another school building, Butterfield School, opened on Allanson Road. It served the southern part of Mundelein. In 1923, at a time when consolidation of small rural schools was beginning to take place, the township school trustees of Coon, Butterfield and Hawthorn schools decided to consolidate resources, forming Hawthorn Community Consolidated School District 73U, one of the oldest districts in the state. The district was a part of Libertyville and Vernon Townships. On April 12, 1923, the community elected its first school board for the newly consolidated district.
A Reputation for Quality
Hawthorn School did not remain a one-room building for long. Mr. Insull donated the land for a new Hawthorn school building. With the passage of a $20,000 bond issue in 1924, a state-of-the-art four-room brick building was constructed along what is now Route 60. At that time, the school served about 30 students in first through fourth grades.
“Finest School is Dedicated at Libertyville” read the headline of an article in the Libertyville Independent-Register on December 4, 1924. The article talks about the dedication by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Francis G. Blair, who characterized the school as “the best elementary school in the state.” A certificate certifying Hawthorn to be a superior elementary school was presented to Principal Florence Chapman.
Addressing Growth Needs
In the late 1920s, Insull was accused of embezzlement and left the country. Hawthorn Farm was sold to John Cuneo, founder of the huge printing company Cuneo Press. His Hawthorn Mellody Farms became one of Chicago’s largest suppliers of milk.
In 1934 and 1943, township school trustees annexed land from Rondout District 72 to District 73.
With the development of the Nike air defense base and the subsequent establishment of Vernon Hills, more space was needed at Hawthorn School. In 1957, a two-story addition comprised of ten classrooms, office space, a music room and gymnasium were added to the original four-room building.
The 1960s saw the extensive development of new housing in the southeast and southwest end of Libertyville. Between 1960 and 1980, the Vernon Hills population grew from 124 to 9,827. To keep up with enrollment, a new wing was added to the Hawthorn School. The wing included eight classrooms, larger office areas, a teachers’ lounge and the first multi-purpose room. Hawthorn’s first real library was added to the front of the original building.
In 1962, the school district went through condemnation proceedings to gain some of the vast Clavey Nursery land on Aspen Drive. About $20,000 an acre was paid for the land.
As the population of the Vernon Hills area grew, the Board of Education made long range plans for expansion. In 1974, Hawthorn’s superintendent, Tom Oakson, arranged for the district to rent Killdeer, a vacant school in nearby Long Grove, to house the fifth and sixth grades until the district completed its first junior high facility. The junior high, now known as Middle School North, opened in 1975. This was the start of the multi-building campus that exists today. An intermediate school was built in 1978, which is now known as Elementary North.
From time to time, the district continued to temporarily relocate students to nearby schools to address space needs. In the 1980s, kindergarten students were housed at Half Day on Old Half Day Road in Prairie View for a period of time. Sixth grade students were also temporarily housed at the Half Day location.
In 1985, voters approved the proposed acquisition of land and construction for a new educational facility on 40 acres of land south of Route 60. The district purchased the land from Gordon Clavey. On Dec. 14, 1986, the Board of Education dedicated Hawthorn South School, a second and third grade facility at 430 Aspen Drive.
Honors for the Junior High
In 1986, the National Elementary School Recognition program selected Hawthorn’s Junior High as one of the top 24 elementary schools in Illinois. The program was administered by the National Commission on Excellence in Education under the direction of the Department of Education. In 1988, the United States Dept. of Education announced that both the Junior High and Intermediate schools had received the Excellence in Education awards. This award was bestowed on 287 schools in the nation, 12 being from Illinois.
In 1990, the Junior High was honored for excellence in drug prevention education by the U.S. Dept. of Education. The school was nominated by the Chief State School Officer and passed a rigorous federal screening and two-day site visit.
Near the end of the 1980s, the district faced financial challenges. In 1988, the Education Fund had a deficit of $1.5 million. The school board finance chairman announced that the district could go bankrupt in two years if more money could not be found. The community rallied to help solve the problem. On March 15, a tax increase proposal was approved by voters to provide additional revenue necessary to continue the education program.
Extensive Growth in the 90s
The district experienced continued expansion and reorganization in the 1990s. In 1992, four classrooms, a multipurpose room, two band practice rooms, as well as office and storage space were added to the Hawthorn Primary building (currently Elementary South). A new kindergarten center opened on the South Campus. First and second graders were in a different primary school building. The kindergarten (for 300 students) and Hawthorn Primary comprised the T.G. Oakson Campus on the south side of Route 60. The kindergarten included 10 classrooms, a multi-purpose room used for gym and lunch, a teachers’ lounge, offices and a small library.
In 1993, Hawthorn’s sixth grade was no longer isolated from the rest of the schools at Half Day. The students moved into the Intermediate Building (currently Elementary North). New additions were constructed at the South building and Primary building to help accommodate the overflow of students. Kindergarten, first grade and second grade attended classes at the South building. Third and fourth grades were at the Primary building, fifth and sixth graders were at the Intermediate and the seventh and eighth graders continued at the Junior High.
Hawthorn appeared on the Financial Watch List issued by the Illinois State Board of Education in 1994. The district was one of a growing number of collar county school districts experiencing the dramatic financial impact of the tax cap legislation which was enacted three years earlier. The Board of Education and the administration worked on developing a plan to remove District 73 from the list.
The Finance Review Committee and the full Citizens Advisory Committee recommended to the Board of Education that two questions be put before the voters in November. One question sought approval to increase the tax rate in the education fund $.45 per $100 of assessed valuation. The second asked voters to approve issuing up to $6 million in working-cash fund bonds. The community approved the referenda questions in 1995.
Enrollment growth continued to be an issue. At a meeting in early 1997, the Board of Education approved a series of recommendations designed to accommodate the growth in student enrollment. The board approved a resolution asking for voter approval of funding for new construction and renovation of the district’s schools. Recommendations included construction of a new junior high school building on the Oakson Campus for 800 students, scheduled to be constructed during the 1999-2000 school year. Plans also called for renovations and additions to several other school buildings. The plans proposed that:
- The Kindergarten Center would remain as it was.
- The Primary and Intermediate buildings would house students in grades one through four.
- The current Junior High building would house students in grades five and six.
- The new building would house students in grades seven and eight.
- The current middle school would be used as an option school for approximately 300 students.
Voters approved the $11,500,000 referendum.
Two Campuses Take Shape
The new Junior High (currently Middle School South) opened in August of 1999 for 700 students. The Intermediate School became Hawthorn Elementary North. The Primary School became Elementary South. The Option school opened in the former Middle School. District administrators moved to the Option School.
In 2002, the Gregg’s Landing Development was about half full. Another 1,000 to 1,200 homes had yet to be built. The population of Vernon Hills had grown to more than 20,000. Schools were nearing their absolute maximum capacity. The Board of Education asked voters to approve a $39.5 million construction bond issue. The proposal included constructing a new building on the Oakson Campus adjacent to the current Kindergarten Center for 350 students, demolishing and replacing the oldest school building on the original campus, refurbishing projects in the Middle School, Elementary North and Elementary South, improving and enlarging sports fields and playgrounds and enhancing learning, communication and security through continued technology improvements.
On the first try in 2002, 63 percent of voters approved the referendum. Funds were used to demolish the old Hawthorn school, which had been used for nearly 80 years, build the new Townline Elementary school in its place, put additions on the kindergarten building, gut and rebuild the now Middle School North and renovate Elementary South. A new cafeteria was added at Elementary South. The building projects were completed without raising taxes.
As the old Hawthorn school was about to be demolished, members of the Hawthorn Preservation Committee recalled the existence of a WPA mural in one of the classrooms. The 1937 mural, entitled “Children’s Stories,” was saved, restored and reinstalled in Townline Elementary.
In 2003, the District authorized the purchase of a former daycare center at 841 West End Court. The move of administrative staff to this building, called the administrative office, was completed in 2004. Also during that year, Aspen Elementary, an option school, was formally dedicated.
A New Round of Modifications
During 2005-2006, the district underwent a number of changes. The option school Aspen Elementary expanded from two to three sections at each grade level. Townline Elementary, the second option school, opened its doors in the fall of 2005 with two sections of students in kindergarten through fifth grades in the dual language program. In both schools, a lottery was conducted to fill all vacancies.
Thomas Oakson, a former superintendent, died in 2007. He had been hired in 1974. The school buildings south of Routh 60 were known as the Oakson Campus—a tribute to the longtime superintendent who guided the district through a landscape-changing growth spurt. Also during that year Hawthorn Elementary South received a new cafeteria.
In 2008, 2010, and 2012, the district was among the schools that received Bright Red Apple Awards for educational excellence from SchoolSearch. In 2011, Aspen Library hosted Hawthorn’s first art show. In 2012, the Hawthorn Middle South’s seventh and eighth grade Symphonic Band was selected to perform for the 2013 Illinois Music Educators Association annual conference.
Also during 2012, the board approved an after-school activity bus for students at the middle schools. Additionally, the district started a pilot full-day kindergarten at Elementary North and Elementary South.
To relieve overcrowding, the district signed a lease to house pre-kindergarten and early childhood special education program students at Lincoln School in Mundelein. About 180 students as well as teachers moved to six classrooms at the school.
After three out of four of its elementary schools failed to meet federal adequate yearly progress standards, the district voted in 2013 to relocate several classrooms and allow students to transfer to Aspen Elementary, the only school meeting the requirements. In this way, the district avoided losing $300,000 in Title I funds. The board also voted to establish committees to determine how best to reorganize the four elementary schools and continue discussions over the school choice system.
The board voted to convert the elementary schools into a neighborhood school format, eliminating the choice school system. The new system was adopted in August of 2015. Students began attending the neighborhood schools in which they were assigned.
A Master Plan Looks to the Future
Growing enrollment prompted the district to pursue a master plan for its facilities in 2016. It hired a consulting firm to prepare a plan to determine the best way to accommodate the growing student population. In the meantime, the district leased two mobile trailers to provide more space for classes. The trailers were placed behind Elementary South.
The board voted to adopt a 10-year facilities master plan and pose a referendum question on April 4, 2017. The $42 million referendum would fund additions at each school and the purchase of 11.8 acres of land next to the Vernon Hills District Family Aquatic Center for a potential new school in the future. The district also proposed building a $12 million kindergarten building onto the park district’s Sullivan Center using cash reserves.
The referendum request was defeated. There were 2,125 votes against and 1,463 in favor of the request.
Also in 2017, the district resurrected its education foundation. A previous foundation had dissolved more than a decade earlier. The district also began working toward expanding its School of Dual Language into the two middle schools.
In 2018, voters supported a measure to borrow $48.7 million for building projects, including the construction of a kindergarten building at the Sullivan Center. However, voters were against a second question to raise the tax rate to generate $1.3 million per year for operating the new and expanded facilities.
Today, Hawthorn serves more than 4,200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade attend one of four elementary buildings: Elementary North, Elementary South, Aspen Elementary or Townline Elementary. The Townline building also houses the School of Dual Language. Students in sixth through eighth grades attend either Middle School North or Middle School South. Preschool and early childhood special education classes are available at the Early Learning Center in Mundelein.