Residents at a 5th Ward meeting Thursday evening learned of a budding effort to establish a magnet school in the ward that would focus on science, technology, engineering and mathmatics education.

Henry Wilkins, a Skokie resident who was among the parents who opposed the District 65 school board’s recent decision to convert the Bessie Rhodes magnet school to an all two-way-immersion Spanish-English language program, presented the STEM school concept.

He said backers of the 5th Ward STEM school idea envision that it, too, would be a magnet school like Rhodes and King Lab, with enrollment open to students from throughout the district but a preference for students from the 5th Ward neighborhood.

As an alternative, he suggested, it might operate as a charter school, independent of the school district.

However, approval of charter schools in Illinois is largely under the control of local school districts, and given strong opposition to charters from teacher unions, it’s not clear what the prospects for winning approval of a charter school in Evanston would be.

The former Foster School building. (Google Maps)

Wilkins suggested one logical location for the school would be the former Foster School building now owned by Family Focus.

Family Focus says it can no longer afford to maintain the property and wants to sell it.

But Wilkins concedes that a community group seeking to find a new non-profit owner for the old school building isn’t on board with the idea of returning it to use as a school, fearing that would lead to displacement of the social service agencies that now have offices there.

A rendering of the proposed 5th Ward school voters rejected in 2012.

In 2012 Evanston voters rejected by a 55 to 45 percent margin a $48 million referendum that would have spent nearly half the money raised to construct a new school in the 5th Ward. The referendum carried in only three of the city’s wards.

Given current budget constraints, Wilkins says District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren has told him that opening a new STEM-focused school would probably require closing one of the district’s existing schools.

The district is spending a total of $124 million this school year to educate over 7,500 students in 18 schools.

Wilkins says the group seeking the STEM school will hold its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on May 30 at 1601 Simpson St., Unit 4.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. St. Athanasius already has a STEM lab
    St. Athanasius is the only elementary/middle school in Evanston with a STEM lab.

    I hear tuition is cheap there and it’s very close to the Fifth Ward. Rather than spending millions for a charter school just enroll at St. Athanasius. Simple.

    Luvin the free market place.

    1. What? No.
      Cause yeah, catholic school is definitely what people want when looking for STEM education. No thanks. Also, it’s not close to the 5th ward.
      I’m not saying that the 5th ward school plan is a good one but your suggestion is nonsensical.

      1. As stated in the previous
        As stated in the previous comment, St. Athanasius is the only elementary school in Evanston with a STEM lab, so it would be a good choice if a science based education is important to you. They offer tuition assistance for lower income families and welcome children of all faiths. With the changes to the laws regarding the 529 savings accounts, tax-free savings will now extend to K-12 education, up to $10K. 100% of all St. A’s kids go on to college.
        Finally, a cursory glance at a map (https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showdocument?id=4) places the northern part of the 5th ward (Noyes and Ashland) two blocks south of St. A’s (Lincoln and Ashland). Please check your facts before you comment.
        St. A’s is a welcoming and inclusive school, with rigorous academic standards and high-achieving alumni. Any child would benefit from attending St. A’s.

        1. Clearly I was wrong on the
          Clearly I was wrong on the geography. I live near the opposite end of the 5th ward and I didn’t realize it extended that far.
          As for the rest – regardless of how welcoming or how good a school St A’s is, it is still a Catholic school and many families would not be comfortable having their children there.

  2. A Fifth Ward school
    Henry Wilkins is completely right, the Fifth Ward needs its school back! The district had no right to take it away and without consultation of us taxpayers, by the way. They didn’t need any referendums to close the school. A travesty. A terrible unfairness that lasted years and years. I walked my four kids two blocks to our Orrington school watching all the time little kids bused from far away. I walked two blocks every time I wanted to talk to the teachers and Ms Wilkinson, the principal. I walked 2 blocks to pick up my kids from after school programs. But in the Fifth Ward….mothers like me had to either not do any of that, not talk to the teachers or the principal, not enroll their kids in programs, or have to drive far to pick them up. Horrible. Unfair. Unjust. How could Evanston’s caring citizens support this? I don’t know. The Fifth Ward deserves its own school just like we had our own school in my neighborhood. And like other citizens had a school in their own neighborhoods.

    1. Wards have nothing to do with the school district
      Let’s get the basics of political geography down.

      The wards are arbitrary boundaries set up for CITY representation. They have absolutely nothing to do with District 65.

      City Hall is in the 5th Ward and you don’t see people complaining.

      The first Ward doesn’t have a school. Why aren’t they complaining?

      The High School used to be in the Fourth Ward. Are they complaining?

      A simple solution would be to extend the 5th ward boundary one block to include Kingsley, which currently is about 50 feet from the fifth ward.

  3. No to a 5th Ward School
    It was only 6 years ago when voters resoundingly defeated the proposal to build a school in the 5th ward.

    Politicians, community activists, and all other Politically “Correct” activists advocated for this school.
    Movies were made, speeches given, and “everyone” who spoke out, spoke out in favor of the school, including
    school board members. Publicity was all over Evanston about the importance of building this school.

    However, people who didn’t want the school for various reasons were “discouraged” from voicing their concerns.
    The “silent majority” to whom Mayor Hagerty recently referenced were silenced.

    Voting day came, it was a beautiful, sunny day.

    Voters cast their ballots in private and the results demonstrated the actual opinion of Evanston.
    As a side note, go look at the number of voters in the 5th Ward. Very, very low turnout.
    What does the low turnout say? Many 5th Ward residents didn’t want the school either.

    D65 has many important issues to address including their recent focus on early childhood education.

    Let’s focus our time, attention and limited resources where we can have the biggest impact on helping all students realize their potential.

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