D65 plans to sell the Rhodes building once it closes.

Parents, guardians, and caregivers of students in the Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies are demanding that the District 65 School Board work on “rebuilding trust with the Bessie Rhodes community,” by either keeping the Rhodes building open, or moving the entire K-8 program to a school other than the upcoming 5th Ward facility.

Melissa Rosenzweig, a spokesperson for the “Rhodes Community” organization of about 50 people, tells Evanston Now that the group is not opposed to the 5th Ward School, but now that the district has backed out of its promise to move Rhodes there (“school within a school”), other options must be pursued to keep the Rhodes magnet program intact.

The group’s first proposal is to keep the Rhodes building open.

The district had originally planned to close and sell the structure, but in her email to Evanston Now, Rosenzweig says “the money saved from closing down Bessie Rhodes would be negligible in the overall scheme of things, and … selling the building would not provide a financial boon to the District as originally suggested.”

The original $40 million budget for the K-8 5th Ward School has skyrocketed to $65 million.

In addition, Rosenzweig says, the number of Spanish-speaking students in District 65 is increasing, so maintaining Rhodes, and expanding its bilingual TWI program from its current K-5 to K-8 would be “welcoming to a school community that has seen a lot of disruption.”

The group’s other option is that if D65 still wants to close and sell the Rhodes building, the whole Rhodes program could be moved to a school other than the 5th Ward. However, “the conditions of that move have to be amenable to supporting K-8 TWI,” which means “also bringing along the excellent TWI-trained teachers and staff already serving students and caregivers at Bessie Rhodes.”

The caregivers stress that they know the importance of the 5th Ward School to that neighborhood. The best way to build something there, they say, is to “decouple” K-8 TWI from the new school. Doing that “would allow construction to take place on a smaller K-5 building, closer to the $40 million price tag originally envisioned, that would focus on serving the families of the 5th Ward.”

Artist’s rendering of 5th Ward School.

Rosenzweig says that at a September meeting with D65 officials, the Rhodes group was told that 5th Ward residents would prefer a smaller school footprint that the originally proposed K-8 structure.

“So removing K-8 TWI from the equation would address both the District’s financial constraints and the 5th Ward community’s concerns,” she adds.

The 5th Ward School is not supposed to open until Fall 2025, but the Rhodes group wants something done now about the leadership vacuum in their current building.

They are calling on the school board to fill the vacant principal and assistant principal positions, vital to the learning process for the school’s 270 students.

Rosenzweig says D65 has not updated the community on the hiring process since mid-August.

The school board is scheduled to discuss the 5th Ward school on Monday and potentially vote on a couple of bid packages for site clearance and foundation construction.

Board members might not vote yet, however, on what exactly will go on that site and foundation (K-5 or K-8) until a future meeting.

Before whatever does happen on Monday, several Rhodes community members are expected to give the board an earful.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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