Evanston/Skokie School District 65 officials Sunday unveiled two scenarios for revamping student attendance areas to reduce busing and fund construction of a new 5th Ward school.

Both alternatives call for closing the Bessie Rhodes magnet school.

One option would consolidate the Rhodes programs at the King Arts magnet school and have the new 5th Ward school serve grades K-8.

Existing middle school boundaries in color with proposed new boundaries shown as black lines in the option that would have the new 5th Ward school serve K-8 students.

The other option would turn King Arts into a middle school and and have the new 5th Ward school serve grades K-5.

Existing middle school boundaries in color with proposed new middle school boundaries as black lines in the option that would turn King Arts into a middle school — the role it served when it was first built as the Skiles Junior High School. Under this scenario the planned 5th Ward school would serve grades K-5.

Under both those options students in the Skokie portion of the district would continue to attend Chute Middle School

Devon Horton.

During the webinar unveiling the plans, Superintendent Devon Horton said the projected declining enrollment in the district makes consolidation necessary.

He said having more students able to walk to their neighborhood schools will save enough money in reduced busing costs to fund construction of the new 5th Ward school without requiring voter approval of a referendum.

The plan would reverse the district’s half-century-old decision to bus students from the predominantly minority 5th Ward to achieve racial balance in the district.

He added that the Rhodes school has suffered a sharp enrollment decline in recent years and that the building “is pretty much at the end of its life.”

He said the recent Cordogan Clark facilities report indicates it would cost $18 million to replace the Rhodes building and $9.5 million to update and repair it.

“It’s my responsibility, and the board’s to make sure we have students and staff in buildings that are safe,” Horton said, adding that “our most marginalized black and brown students” are in the district’s most dilapidated buildings.

“We can’t keep operating in the same way,” the superintendent said. “We’re heading in the wrong direction if we maintain the square footage of space and the enrollment and quality of the buildings continues to decline.”

The proposals are to be presented at two more webinars this week and introduced at a school board committee meeting March 7, with adoption scheduled for the full board meeting March 14.

The changes, Horton said, would not go into effect until the 2024-25 school year — which would give the district time to build its planned new 5th Ward school.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. The district admin has been keeping this under wraps, not engaging with parents, and did not take substantive questions during the webinar. The committee was composed of mostly district admin and a very select group of others. Not a single parent from King Arts or Bessie Rhodes. No student input on the impact on their mental health and concerns about potentially changing schools 3 times in 3 or 4 years after two years of zoom learning. Moreover, nearly all of Dr Hortons assertions can be challenged. If Bessie Rhodes is falling apart and declining, that is on his watch and he should be held accountable. He is the principal of Bessie. There is no way an entirely new school is a cheaper alternative. School communities at King (closed), Bessie (closed), Willard (25% students lost), Lincolnwood (losing 40% of its students), Kingsley (60% of its students) will be devastated. Will he next be closing one of those three northside schools? Any financial issues leading to this are also on his watch, do not make the students pay. Most importantly with this coming to a rushed meeting in a matter of weeks, why the fear of community input? Will the people of Skokie and Evanston get a chance to weigh in on this via elections or referenda? Something so important should not be rushed and deserves the input of the whole district community. This has the potential to devastate communities, pit schools against each other, and be an all around mess. Let the community weigh in. Even in this meeting, the only way to participate was via a comically bad website to submit questions. They would not allow guests to unmute or ask questions in chat. Not a way to run an open process. The community needs to tell them to slow down and build consensus on this wreckless process. 5th Ward school should be something to positively unite people and Dr Horton and his team are turning it into an undemocratic disaster.

    1. I totally agree that there has been no input from the community. Where is the noise! The only way to connect is through the district65 website and you can’t rely on everyone to fumble through to find this information. Building a new school at this juncture and closing another one is not it. This doesn’t save money, won’t in my opinion create a more diverse environment for All Evanston schools and the existing schools are in desperate need of care such as the rodent issue within King Arts. The surveys and SAP community don’t have no KA or Bessie Rhodes representation! What’s up with that! How is majority of the input coming from the schools in the more affluent areas of Evanston? There is low input from the 5th ward and the kids of color are going to be negatively affected by this. There will be no to little change for those schools in the affluent areas. Also the thought exchange app needs to be defunct and you all need to come from behind those screens and talk to US, period.

  2. Facts: 1200 students left the district between 2019 and 2021 – a massive decline compared to surrounding public districts. A new report shows massive deferred maintenance totaling well over $100 million in the district’s existing buildings. Expenses in the district have outpaced revenues by over 3 times the last few years in part due to needless increases in administrative positions (administrators number 50% more than a few years ago when enrollment was at its peak). The district received $10 million in Covid govt relief last year much of which is unspent all the while cutting back reading specialists which are exactly the type of resources classrooms need the funds were intended for. The achievement gap continues to worsen.

    But, somehow, the board continues to fixate on building a new school despite no public evidence there are enough kids to fill it or that it would provide a superior educational experience the schools 5th ward students already attend…so much so a private funding option that was clearly on the table wasn’t good enough. The funding for the 5th ward school exploits a loophole that was likely never meant to allow districts to build schools in lieu of a referendum. It may be called a lease but it’s really a big fat loan that will burden the already disastrous financial state of the district. What does any of this have to do with bringing quality education to the very kids the board and district talk about helping? Nothing! Education is no longer the board or administration’s mandate and the budget has become something to cobble together simply to get through the next few years when Horton and the board can fly their victory flag on a new school while the rest of us are left to pick up the pieces. PS – a good chunk of the administration does not even reside in Evanston.

  3. The number one ‘voted’ comment from the Thought Exchange during Sunday’s meeting was demanding that King Arts parents have a seat on the SAP committee (#1 out of >400 comments). King Arts has 0 representatives, despite multiple applications, while some affluent north-side schools have 3 reps. Will the district listen to the community before racing to the Board with this proposal???

  4. What I noticed that appears especially striking is that the north side schools will remain clearly in place, as neighborhood schools, so their minority population will drop significantly.
    I’m pretty sure that Willard school may be the oldest building in Evanston…it was at the time the disastrous decision was made, about 30 years ago, to close Kingsley, which was about the newest building at the time, during another period of shrinking school population…Kingsley was always a pretty naturally integrated school drawing students from an area that had high income white families as well as lower income minority families.
    The Willard parents at the time showed up at school board meetings shouting about the audacity of the district to consider closing their dilapidated building and making some of their children potential be bused to other schools.
    It looks to me like this time around, Horton was advised not to fight the north end parents and just work on the rest of the community. If the Rhodes building is in bad shape, I can’t believe that Willard is pristine at this point!
    And building a new school will absolutely cost much more than any estimate currently out there. Avoiding a referendum in the community and excluding parents and community members from the decision making is unconscionable.
    My entire nuclear family was educated in Evanston schools, beginning in the 50s, and it’s a shame to see this kind of decision making happening now. I remember going door to door to fight previous redistributing plane when my kids were in District 65 schools many years ago.
    I hope the community will rise up in protest against this sneakily presented, poorly thought out plan now.

  5. The district again disregards what the community actually wants. They conducted two community surveys regarding student assignment and facilities planning in the fall of 2021. The results are inconsistent with Dr. Horton’s claim that the community prioritized walkability. A ranking of thought exchange results by community vote (https://my.thoughtexchange.com/scroll/617421911/results) reveals that the community placed greater importance on 51 topics other than a 5th Ward school or walkability. Only 9 of the top 300 requests (or 3% of responses) favored a 5th ward school or walkability, and three of those suggested that the District convert King Arts into a 5th Ward school. Contrary to Dr. Horton’s assertion, the community wants the district to maintain and improve existing facilities, empower teachers, and focus on academics. Dr. Horton is being dishonest when he claims that he is listening to the community, or he is willfully filtering out 97% of the community. Neither are acceptable.

    The board should reject any proposal that does not incorporate community feedback.

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