Suppose you formed a committee that came up with a new name for your school and then you announced a public meeting to gather input from stakeholders…and even paid good money to advertise the meetings… and nobody came. That’s the scenario that played out with two Evanston schools.

It all began about two years ago when the magnet schools of Evanston/Skokie District 65 formed committees to “rebrand” the two schools in an effort to attract additional students.

Magnet schools draw their students from the entire district, which includes all of Evanston and a portion of east Skokie, and cover the entire gamut from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

Parents are invited to apply to the district for their kids to attend the schools, and the district has traditionally used the voluntary approach to help equalize the racial balance in the other elementary and middle schools and to add or subtract students from neighborhood schools as needed.

Part of the strategic planning process for the two schools—Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School and the Bessie Rhodes Magnet School—was to come up with a unique theme for each school.

They finalized on a literature and fine arts theme for King Lab and a global studies theme for Bessie Rhodes and decided that the two schools ought to be renamed to reflect their themes.

The suggestion was to name the schools the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies and the Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School.

Because school renamings can get personal, not to mention controversial, the committees scheduled public meetings for May 16 at each school. They even purchased ads in Evanston and Skokie newspapers to encourage public participation.

While a few email comments were received, no one from the public showed up at either of the two meetings.

It was an easy sell, then, for the two principals—Dr. Jeff Brown of King Lab and Carlos Mendez of Bessie Rhodes—when they made their final pitch at the board meeting Monday night.

There was little discussion, except for Richard Rhykus, who questioned the $16,000 cost for new signs at the schools, and Claudia Garrison, who wondered if the name change had any effect on the curriculum.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy assured the board that the curriculum would only be enhanced by the new themes. “The district curriculum is the district currriculum,” he said. He assured the board that the new signs would be produced as economically as possible.

And that ended the matter. The vote was 7-0.

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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  1. Branding means nothing without the specifics

    A better use of the District's time would be to produce a simple table with three columns showing the standard curriculum and the curricula for each of the two magnet schools.

    Branding the schools as "Global Studies" or "Literary and Fine Arts" means nothing without providing specific context for the differences in curriculum.  

    What will my kids be learning that is specific to these schools?

    As an aside, the District's website is pathetic from a design and information retrieval standpoint and needs serious improvements.  It reminds me of sites from the late 1990s.

  2. These changes are already over a year old

    They might not have been official, but that's what they have been calling these schools since the 2011-2012 school year. King Lab even has car magnets with the new name, and that's the name that went on the 2012 yearbook and literary magazine. That's why no one showed — this was old news.

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