Evanston/Skokie District 65’s two magnet schools would get new curricular focuses under a plan presented to the school board Tuesday night. But school board members voiced concerns about the cost of the new programs.

Evanston/Skokie District 65’s two magnet schools would get new curricular focuses under a plan presented to the school board Tuesday night. But school board members voiced concerns about the cost of the new programs.

The magnet school planning committee recommended changing Bessie Rhodes School from a technology to a global studies focus. The program would include international study opportunities and daily instruction in Spanish in elementary grades with Mandarin Chinese offered at the junior high level. Language courses would also be offered to the parents of students. 

The committee would expand the focus at King Lab School from an emphasis on fine arts to “literary and fine arts.” Students would be able to select a writing track ranging from poetry to publication writing with specialized fine arts tracks including creative movement and film.

Both schools would continue to enroll students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Committee members met every other week for several months to evaluate ideas and made site visits to Chicago area magnets schools to develop the proposals.

School board member Kim Weaver said she would like to have seen the committee propose more options to the board. And Board President Keith Terry said, “I’m surprised you didn’t come back with a math and science academy.”

“It’s kind of hard to have this discussion without talking about funding,” Board member Katie Bailey said.

Both schools built in the mid-1950s and the committee said the buildings would need to be overhauled to support the new program. In addition specialized teachers would be added to the schools.

Next steps on the project involve planning and developing a budget, with a goal to have the cost per student at the magnet schools not differ from that for students attending neighborhood schools.

“Move forward assuming that the dollar amount per child is the same,” Terry said.

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18 Comments

  1. Time to return to neighborhood schools
    The committee’s findings is to no one’s surprise underwhelming. With the recent Supreme Court decision that magnet schools can no longer take race into account when deciding enrollment, the underlying reason for the magnet schools is no longer valid. It is time for the Evanston community to return to a neighborhood school system. It will not come from the current District 65 school board, but through a ballot referendum.

    1. Magnet Schools
      I do hear wonderful things about Evanston’s two magnet schools from the families that attend them. But I agree that there appears to be little justification for magnet schools in Evanston any longer. Global studies, foreign language, a vibrant arts education, and for heaven’s sake, literacy (!), should be available to ALL of Evanston’s students, not just those attending our magnet schools. These are educational fundamentals.

      I believe that our D65 Board should consider converting our magnet schools to neighborhood schools. When our magnet schools are converted to neighborhood schools, the neighborhoods surrounding those schools will enjoy a greater sense of community. King Lab, in particular, is located within a reasonable distance of many, many households that have been bused to many different schools not in their neighborhood. Living on a block where kids on each side of the street attend different schools is challenging. Imagine if the children and families in the area attended 5,6, or 7 non-neighborhood schools? You lack neighborhood playmates and the opportunity for shared experiences among the parents. The fabric of the community is weakened. I think the need to reunify some of our neighborhoods trumps the luxury of continuing the legacy of magnet schools.

      I will allow that the proximity and combined capacity of Walker and Bessie Rhodes may exceed the student population of their neighborhood. The practical need for that classroom space could justify the continuation of a magnet school in the Bessie Rhodes location.

      Addressing enrollment imbalances can be handled through a permissive transfer program. There will always be a segment of the population that is either dissatisfied with their local school choice or desires to attend a different school in the district. A permissive transfer program should address enrollment imbalances that may arise, as long as each of our schools continues to improve in their pursuit of excellence. Plenty of school districts exist across this country that do not have magnet schools and somehow they manage. We should too.

      1. Magnets and TWI
        So, does this mean that you are also against TWI? Our district is spending big $ to teach English speakers Spanish yet somehow a parent driven arts school – at no additional cost to the district – bothers you?

        As a King Lab parent, I assert that the K – 8 system allows for plenty of “fabric of community” and this may shock you but our kids DO play with the other kids in the neighborhood – even if we do go to different schools. Not to mention the many, many children in our communities who go to private schools or are homeschooled.

        Finally, if you do not want to send your kids to a magnet school, please don’t. But why should those of us who do have our schools taken away?

        1. TWI and neighborhood school pride
          This statement is not accurate:

          “Our district is spending big $ to teach English speakers Spanish… .”

          It is obvious that you are proud of King Lab. But allow me to educate you on the fact that there are hundreds of families who are likewise proud of TWI.

          Allow me to provide you with some facts as your posting seems to highlight a lack of understanding of TWI:

          The goals of the TWI program are to teach native Spanish-speaking children how to speak and learn in English at a high level and to provide that educational experience without forcing those children to forget their native language. Based on my reading, the TWI approach is the most successful method of accomplishing those goals.

          The native English-speaking classmates are somewhat “along for the ride.” Their native Spanish-speaking classmates learn English from them on the playground, in the lunch room, in art and in music. The native English speakers learn Spanish while their other classmates learn English.

          And no, no one sits around conjugating verbs in either language. These students have the same curriculum as the general education classrooms. My children’s teachers have all been phenomenally talented educators who have helped all of my children achieve well above grade level — all while they are becoming fluent in Spanish.

          To claim that District 65 is “spending big $ to teach English speakers Spanish” demonstrates a serious lack of knowledge about TWI’s goals and successes.

          Perhaps while you blow your horn about your allegiance to and love for King Lab, you would take care not to bash (without facts) a tremendous program that has helped thousands of Evanston and Skokie children and has its own loyal following of devoted families.

          And my children’s neighborhood school has a tremendous fine arts program as well and virtually every teacher is a gem. I am proud of our neighborhood school and the TWI program that is flourishing there.

          The name of that school — Oakton. Our community has worked together to make great things during the past three years. We welcome all District 65 families to recognize the tremendous progress by our students and to wish us continued success.

  2. Magnet school help balance class size
    The magnet school are a very important tool for the district to use in balancing class size – with or without the race component. They also offer a choice to families who value the K – 8 experience, the “small school environment”, the arts focus, diversity or the special education programs not offered in other facilities and who may otherwise leave the district.

    Before you make such a bold statement, please take the time to visit a magnet school, talk to the staff and families and learn what they are all about.

  3. Magnet School True Purpose
    The idea of magnet schools is a good one, but lets not forget the real reason King Lab was created. Years ago, when the District adopted a 60/40 racial balancing policy, they faced the issue of having to bus white students into the 5th Ward. Fearing the possible response, they opted instead to shut down the 5th Ward school, leaving that community without a neighborhood school, and opened up a “magnet school,” in order to redistribute some students out of their enrollment area schools. The magnet school themes could be a great idea, but any discussion about kindergarten caps and magnet schools cannot be complete without mentioning the dramatic inequity that exists due to the lack of a 5th Ward school.

    1. New school referendum
      I would fully support a referendum to build a 5th ward school. THis may be the time to do it, too. With overcrowding at Willard, Lincolnwood and Dewey those parents would hopefully climb on board. Who else?

      1. No chance — we can’t afford it
        There are plenty of arguments for a 5th Ward school. But we cannot afford to build and equip a new school right now. From what I recall from other cities who have built new schools, building would cost at least $50 million.

        We also have excess capacity at some D65 elementary schools.

        Look around — the City is in the red, D65 is teetering on the red. A record number of foreclosures. Unemployment over 10 percent.

        Problems need practical solutions. Let’s not stick our heads in the sand on financing yet again.

  4. I second the suggestion that
    I second the suggestion that before you make such a sweeping, clearly uninformed statement about magnet schools, you take the time to educate yourself about them. I am a King Lab parent and hold the place near and dear to my heart. Our parents and children are fully vested in what goes on within those walls, and it is through the sole efforts of the King Lab community that the school is, indeed, a fine arts school. Please inform yourself first before maligning something that is highly important to many, many families.

    1. Magnet Schools
      I don’t hear anyone maligning the magnet schools. And for the record, plenty of people in neighborhood schools hold their schools near and dear to their hearts. It’s a conversation about where the district goes from here, now that the original reason for the existence of the magnet schools no longer exists.

      1. The original reason
        The original reason for magnets was to balance classes in neighborhood schools. By size, race and sex. Now it is size and sex. One of three no longer exists.

        I would further argue that now that schools can not be balanced by race, there is even more need for magnets. Families in primarily white or primarily black schools can choose a magnet for a more balanced environment.

      2. I know that you love your neighborhood school
        That is why I would never say “it’s time to drop neighborhood schools and go to an all choice district” (although that would solve our overcrowding problems). To each their own …

  5. We seem to disagree
    I do understand the definition and justification of twi in the district. I disagree, however, in many ways.

    First, there are many other much less expensive ways to teach non English speaking kids. Many are equally or more effective than twi, depending on the body of research you read.

    The reason twi thrives is Evanston is because the English speaking twi parents love it.

    Many general education parents in neighborhood schools do not like the way twi has divided their schools and in many cases racially imbalanced their classrooms.

    1. Let’s remember the problem here
      The magnet schools are the focus of this study and the process. The problem is that they can no longer use race to select students for those schools. So what are they supposed to be?

      For thousands of students and parents, TWI is not a problem. In fact, it’s a joy. It is the reason that many parents (like me) put up with the arrogance and foolishness of the District 65 administration. The TWI teachers are fabulous. The cultural exposure is tremendous. Most importantly, many, many children in TWI excel in both languages.

      And I’m not certain why you claim that TWI is costing big $. TWI is a kindergarten through 5th grade prgram and all of those students are primarily with one teacher for the day. All of the TWI students (native Spanish speaking and native English speaking) need to be in a classroom with a teacher, don’t they? Are you suggesting that if the native English-speaking students weren’t in TWI, they would attend school at no cost to District 65 Sorry but native English-speaking students would still need to be assigned to classrooms and they would still need teachers.

      What would cost big bucks are these extravagant proposals for the magnets. Sure, dream big but plan to spend within our very tight budget.

      District 65 has determined TWI is effective. The test scores establish that it is better for the vast majority of native Spanish-speaking children. And yes, the English-speaking students do very well, too. So studies about other approaches really don’t signify anything right now as no one in District 65’s administration is suggesting that we change TWI. And TWI isn’t broken.

      The racial imbalance argument is hogwash — trotted out repeatedly by those who don’t have the facts but, for some reason, want to undermine TWI. When the classroom is half Hispanic, you start with a large minority population in the room.

      And yes, many parents love TWI. You love your magnet school, don’t you?

      Please — let’s focus on what needs to be fixed without wasting time trying to trash what isn’t broken in Evanston.

      1. As to your first question,
        As to your first question, the magnet schools serve a valuable role in the district by balancing class size and offering a choice to parents. Strong magnets benefit the community. If it weren’t for the magnets, cap and transfer may have to be done every year. This was clearly communicated and supported by multiple studies and examples in the magnet school report. The magnet school committee did not, by the way, ask for ongoing additional funding but a small amount of start up money – certainly not more that twi, for example, has spent to start their program.

        Twi does cost the district additional money. At the board meeting even twi’s biggest proponent, Tracy Q, said that putting twi strands in one building would “consolidate resources” citing the recent hiring of spanish speaking staff. THere are also reading materials, etc that are new for the program.

        Finally, I find your use of the word “hogwash” to describe racial imbalance in classrooms extrememly insensitive. For most of us, a class of white and hispanic kids does not reflect the diversity of a community with a population of 30% african americans and 7% multiracial. Likewise, classrooms that are over 75% african american in general education do not reflect our community. If by “hogwash” you are thinking that it’s not true, I encourage you to look at the ‘opening day report’ on the district website. Even if the district decides the benefits of twi outweigh this negative, it is important that the magnets offer an option to parents who want to experience the diversity that Evanston has offered for generations.

        1. Yes, hogwash is the correct description
          TWI proudly has a mix of children from various races represented in District 65. Your posting inaccurately suggests that black children are not in TWI.

          Black families do elect to place their children in the TWI program. And remember — the option of TWI is available to every native English-speaking family in the District. It’s a program that used a lottery system (much like the magnets) with race as a factor in the placement of native English-speaking children.

          Expecting each classroom in every school and every program to mirror exactly the District’s racial numbers is not feasible. Will you next be asking why the African-Centric Curriculum program has virtually no Hispanic or white children? Will you likewise question why those families chose to place their children in this program? Will you argue that their program is destroying District 65 because its classrooms are not racially diverse? I certainly hope not.

          Please — I’ll ask again. Please focus on improving the magnets’ situation for the good of our children.

    2. TWI
      In my my small town grade through high school [admittedly many years ago] students only had the choices of French, German and Latin. If the wanted Classical Greek or Russian or Chinese[I don’t recall anyone wanting the later two back then], they had to wait for college.
      Two way immersion is great once students master English well enough to function at a high level in their classes. With Evanston’s schools and in particular ETHS I’m sure a lot of parents would love it if there children could take TWI in French or German or as is now popular Chinese or Russian.

  6. Glad to be home
    I was a magnet school parent, but yanked my kids out of Bessie Rhodes before winter break, and RAN back to my home school, Oakton Elementary.

    And I happen to know a number of families that are doing the same. Don’t let the silly word “MAGNET” fool you. It is just a school, more like a commuter school, and with it comes a sense of entitlement you wouldn’t believe. We are so happy at Oakton. A million times happier than we ever were at that Magnet School.

    The switch was like night and day. Oakton has a feeling of family from the moment you walk in the doors. The caliber of art work is amazing. My son is flourishing in Spanish, not in TWI, but still picked up more in a week at Oakton than two at Rhodes.

    I can honestly say that I feel as though my son is more safe and cared for at Oakton than Rhodes. It is so sad that so many neighborhood parents are even given a magnet choice, and not having given their home school a try go for the easy answer magnet school.

    Huge mistake…and we are the proof! So proud to be an Oakton family!

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