Interim Superintendent Angel Turner is trying to reassure the community at Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies that District 65 is working hard to hire a principal for the program.
What’s still unclear is where, if anyplace, the bilingual magnet program will end up once District 65 closes and sells the Rhodes building.
While that’s somewhat down the road, the school is still open now, and seven Bessie Rhodes parents told the school board on Monday night that there has been no leadership since the principal left over the summer, and the assistant principal is out on leave.
Melissa Rosenzweig, spokesperson for about 50 Rhodes parents/guardians/caregivers asked the board “could we just have one interim principal in lieu of having seven different rotating leaders?”
In a letter to the Rhodes community, Interim Superintendent Turner said a central office administrator will be in charge for now, with backup from other administrators, until a new principal is brought on board.
In her letter, Turner said that a few weeks ago, D65 “had identified a high-quality candidate whom we thought would be a great fit for the Bessie Rhodes principal vacancy,” however, that person turned down the job offer.
Turner said that there are other candidates in the pipeline who will be interviewed soon.
She said in the board meeting that her hope is to have a principal named before winter break.
“We are absolutely looking for a leader,” Turner said.
“Bessie Rhodes is a community near and dear to my heart.”
But many parents are still skeptical.
Rita Kendrick, who has two children at Rhodes, said she is “disheartened by our school district.”
Kendrick also quoted a Rhodes teacher who did not want to be identified by name.
That teacher, according to Kendrick, said that Rhodes has been left leaderless and in limbo.
“‘I know the district is doing this to us because they know our community will be quiet,'” the teacher told Kendrick.
“‘They do this to us because they know they can. Would they ever do this to a North Evanston school?'”
Another parent, Mike Kendrick, questioned why anyone would want the Rhodes’ principal’s job with the building and potentially the whole program on the chopping block once the 5th Ward School opens.
“Who would want a position like that?”, he asked. “You’re a lame duck.”
Based on the current situation (which is fluid, to say the least), the Rhodes facility should remain open until partway through the 2025-26 school year, or until Fall 2026, depending on when the delayed-again 5th Ward School is open.
So a Rhodes principal would at least have a job in the Rhodes building for awhile.
But once the 5th Ward structure opens, the future of the Rhodes K-8 TWI (bilingual Spanish/English) magnet program is still uncertain.
The idea for a “school within a school,” moving the entire Rhodes K-8 to the 5th Ward structure, was dropped a few weeks ago due to cost.
And on Monday night, the school board reached consensus on shrinking the 5th Ward school to K-5, not the original K-8. So, if Rhodes is to be preserved as K-8, it will have to go somewhere else.
Board members seem committed to closing and selling the Rhodes building, which is supposed to bring in an estimated $5 million, to help pay for 5th Ward construction.
There was mention possibly moving the whole Rhodes program to the current Kingsley Elementary, but that was just one idea which was floated.
Another possibility discussed was having Rhodes kids go to the 5th Ward school for TWI in grades K-5, then to Haven for middle school. Haven would presumably then need a grade 6-8 TWI program for the former Rhodes students.
In the meantime, while District 65 digs itself out of the $25 million cost overrun for the 5th Ward school, the more than 270 students at Bessie Rhodes and their families are in a wait-and-see mode.
One parent told t the board that when he informed his young daughter that her school might close, “she was about to cry.”
“The future is now,” the parent said.
“The future is our kids,” he noted, kids with an uncertain future of where they’ll attend school.
Update 6:30 p.m. Tuesday:
One of the organizers of the Bessie Rhodes parents group, Melissa Rosenzweig, tells Evanston Now that “the Rhodes community is grateful that the school board has come up with a plan to build the 5th Ward School with minimal delay,” even if it is without the original “school within a school” plan incorporating Rhodes.
As for the future of the Rhodes magnet school and its TWI program, Rosenzweig says “the community is cautiously optimistic.”
She says the board “reaffirmed its commitment to finding the Bessie Rhodes TWI program a permanent K-8 home, which is exactly what we needed to hear.”
However, she adds that “Rhodes caregivers are going to have to remain proactive and engage with the School Board and District 65 leadership about next steps for many months to come.”
The Rhodes community, she says, is “very eager to be part of the process.”