A ceremonial groundbreaking took place at Evanston Township High School Tuesday for a series of high-tech science labs flexible enough to handle multiple classes in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The new labs will be funded by a $500,000 “challenge grant” from 1963 ETHS graduate Leonard D. Schaeffer, augmented by additional contributions to the school’s educational foundation of more than $100,000 that was raised in less than six months from the school’s alumni, according to Fran Caan, the foundation’s executive director.

Schaeffer, who was on hand for the event, claimed that his educational experience in Evanston “changed my life.”

After his 1963 graduation, the philanthropist went on to Princeton University and then to escalating positions in government, not-for-profits, and for-profit organizations.

Among other experiences, he founded WellPoint Health Networks, Inc. in 1992 and served as its chief executive officer and chairman. He was also president and CEO of Blue Cross of California.

“Giving money away is harder than it looks,” he told his audience Tuesday, for the results are often not visible. But in the case of his contribution to ETHS, “the money will be used, and used very well.”

ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon assured him that he would not be disappointed with the results as construction begins as soon as the school year ends in June and is to be completed in time for the new school year that starts in August.

He said that some of the science labs, located on the school’s third floor, were constructed before 1963, when Schaffer was a student. “This is no small step forward for ETHS,” he declared.

Mayor Tisdahl speaks beneath a photo of Schaeffer as a student and as he looks today.

The new labs will augment a move by the school into high-tech education represented this fall by the distribution of Chromebook computers to all incoming freshmen that will be utilized when they move into the more advanced science courses as their high school experience progresses.

Science Department Chair Terri Sowa said the main advantage of the new space will be its flexibility, as furniture and equipment can be quickly rearranged to accommodate various modes of instruction, from class lectures to group corroboration to individual research.

Also on site at the school is a fulltime Northwestern University employee, Kristen Perkins, whose job is to facilitate coordination, primarily in the STEM area, between the high school and the university.

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who for many years served on the ETHS District 202 School Board and was a founding member of the educational foundation, asserted that “ETHS is the glue that holds the community together.”

She added: “ETHS always tries to get better…and it always does.”

Top: Witherspoon, Foundation President Sarah Wagner, and Schaeffer don hard hats to wield the ceremonial shovel.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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