Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is scrambling to reassure families at Bessie Rhodes school that the move to the new 5th Ward School building will still happen, but differently than originally envisioned.

Closing the Rhodes building and moving the K-8 global studies program to the 5th Ward school (when it opens for 2025-26) was approved by the D65 school board earlier this year.

The concept was called “a school within a school,” with Rhodes having its’ own name and portion of the 5th Ward structure.

But in a message beginning with “Dear Bessie Rhodes Community,” Interim Superintendent Angel Turner and Student Assignment Manager Sarita Smith said that an upcoming public meeting will discuss “how to move forward without a school within a school model.”

Smith told Evanston Now that the district did receive some emails from families wondering if the move was off, and the Rhodes magnet school program would end.

However, Smith said that the Rhodes kids and teachers will still go to the 5th Ward building, but not as a “school within a school.”

“We won’t have the space for a separate administration office, separate entrance,” and “having a separate bell schedule would not work.”

The plan had envisioned Rhodes students attending from 8 a.m.-2:45 p.m., and the K-8 5th Ward students from 9 a.m-3:35 p.m.

Smith said having “two identities” in the same building would be similar to segregating the Rhodes kids away from their fellow students.

It’s still unclear exactly how things will work out, however, with Rhodes’ global studies curriculum.

The message to families had a paragraph called “5th Ward Building Constraints,” which said that while the “school within a school” will not happen, the district wants to determine how to “honor the Rhodes community and legacy.”

Artist’s rendering of 5th Ward School.

The communication also said the upcoming public meeting will “Review the original plan and goal; Understand the City of Evanston’s building amendments,” and discuss “Curricular focus desires.”

The communication also seems to suggest that the City’s “building amendments” had something to do with the end of “school within a school,” although it’s hard to understand how.

District 65’s architects originally proposed the 5th Ward School as a four-story building.

But after community protests that the building was too big and too ugly (one person said it resembled “a jail”), plans were redrawn for a three-story structure.

District 65 did that. There was no public indication that the city forced the building to be shorter, nor does the city have any say in what goes on inside.

City spokesperson Jessica Mayo told Evanston Now in an email that “The city has no purview over the programming within the building, including the number of students.”

That number is not expected to change, despite the building going from four stories to three.

Capacity (K-8) will be 900, although it is expected to open with only 700, including the kids from Rhodes. 5th Ward children are currently bused to a several schools in the district, with many attending the magnet program at Rhodes.

City Council allowed the 5th Ward School to be taller than what is usually permitted at that site, approving D65’s variance request for three stories, when the zoning code calls for no more than two-and-a-half.

Council also added about two dozen conditions, mostly related to parking, traffic flow, and lighting. It’s hard to see how any of those could force an end to the “school within a school.”

The community meeting on the future of the Rhodes program will be at the school on Sept. 21, at 6 p.m.

Another item for discussion that night is expansion of the TWI (two-way immersion) dual English/Spanish language program in middle schools.

TWI expansion might also impact what happens to the Bessie Rhodes program.

Minutes from the City Council meeting where the 5th Ward building was approved noted that “In response to questions, [then-] District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton says it’s likely that the Bessie Rhodes program proposed to be moved to the new school is likely to transition to a two-way-immersion (English/Spanish) program.”

In urging the Bessie Rhodes community to attend, the two D65 officials said “It’s extremely important that we are thoughtful, transparent, and that we deeply engage the Bessie Rhodes community during this time of transition.”

There is a potential irony in all of this.

Once the 5th Ward School opens, District 65 plans to sell the Bessie Rhodes building. The proceeds could help pay for the … 5th Ward School, which may or may not have a global studies curriculum in there somewhere.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. I have to agree I don’t like the idea of a school within a school, again causing seperation! Why can’t it be just one school one everything is a 5 the ward school and it should be 1 5th Ward school not a 2-1 deal!
    Great move I love it

  2. This entire process is incredibly misleading. The D65 administration has repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot be trusted in any regard. Budgets consistently fail to add up, and the necessity of this new school is highly questionable. Why would anyone construct a new school within half a mile of an existing one, especially considering the declining enrollment and the dire financial state of the district? D65 struggles to maintain a balanced budget and is on the brink of depleting their referendum funds. It’s time for our city to see through the facade of equity being played here. The only certain outcome of this new school appears to be a boost in property values in the 5th ward and further gentrification. One can’t help but wonder if this has been the hidden agenda all along.

    1. The hidden agenda was to boost Dr. Horton’s chance of career advancement so he could move on to a bigger district before the problematic financial and logistical realities became obvious. Mission accomplished.

      The new school plan is not financially sound. It will not be paid for by “transportation savings,” not even close. The new school will cause further gentrification in the 5th ward and the school may not even end up being majority Black. It’ll probably lead to more closings of underused schools like King Lab and Oakton which have significant Black populations. Orrington will have to go too, which may require more busing money. Those changes aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t what was envisioned when the 5th ward school was planned and I’m not sure the majority of Evanston residents think that it’ll be worth a $50M+ investment (that includes interest payments), especially considering the physical condition of the existing D65 schools. Dr. Horton and the D65 school board purposely avoided another referendum so they wouldn’t have to answer tough questions about these issues. Fortunately for the school board, 80% of registered voters don’t pay any attention.

      1. Horton gave a presentation to a superintendents group that you can find on YouTube where he was bragging that they didn’t have to go to the voters to fund the school.

        Definitely a feature, not a bug.

        It is pretty depressing that voters supported the incumbents. So I don’t see any way out of it.

        If the rise in property values materializes as a result that will be the only silver lining. A stable population of homeowners who have spent a lot for housing may be more invested in school excellence and, hence, demand accountability from the Board.

  3. One of many promises, statements, and/or claims that D65 will walk back regarding the 5th ward school.

    Isn’t D65 way overdue in providing a cost update? There must be emails going back and forth on it.

  4. The whole school within a school idea was a sham from the start. No office space for administrators in a building that hasn’t broken ground yet? That should be your hint.

  5. When I saw the headline, I thought they were backtracking on closing Bessie Rhodes. Which would not surprise me, at all.

  6. Well the people who “ thought up” the concept of the 5th ward school, the school within a school, and how it is to be paid for are GONE They left us holding the bag. Good luck with redrawing attendance lines or closing Orrington School. If you think attendance is declining now just wait till they try that.

  7. The lack of civic engagement, combined with the fear of being called bad names, the privilege of not having to care, and just plain old laziness in thinking is the perfect formula for what we have before us today. The “school within a school” was a sham from the beginning — meant to simply quiet the growing discontent of the BR school community when those increasingly vocal parents realized their building was being sold and their community was being broken, after years of turmoil and recent recommitment to making BR the TWI hub of Evanston. Dr. Horton got exactly what he was after — professional advancement for himself at the expense (he could care less) of the community & kids here. Sadly, this situation is only going to get worse — when the true cost of the school is announced; when the true “savings” are disclosed — all while the student numbers continue to drop and gentrification of the 5th Ward continues to rise. All of this was so predictable for anyone willing to exercise some independent thinking…thinking that requires more than merely placing a yard sign in your yard. We really screwed this one up, neighbors.

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