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At the District 65 School Board’s Feb. 22 meeting, two planning committees presented proposals to change the focus of Dr. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School to a “global studies” school and to enhance the focus of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School as a “literary and fine arts” school. Each committee asked for a “green light” to move forward with the implementation of their proposals.

A little over a year ago, the District’s Magnet School Committee recommended “global studies” and “literacy and fine arts” themes for these magnet schools. At that time the Board asked that an “investigation team” be authorized to investigate the Magnet School Committee’s recommendations further, the financial issues in particular, and then report back to the Board.

At the Feb. 22 meeting, School Board members were impressed with and supportive of the planning committees’ proposals, but asked for financial information and an evaluation plan. After receiving that information, the Board will vote on the proposals.

Bessie Rhodes Magnet School – Global Studies

The committee formed to investigate the proposal for Bessie Rhodes school looked at the global studies theme and asked, “Are we really sure this is what we should be doing? Why not science and technology?” said Wendy Woodword King, PTA president at Bessie Rhodes. She said, “There was a reaffirmation of global studies.”

While no poll of parents was taken, “there’s been a lot of support,” said Tamar Fogel, a Bessie Rhodes parent.

“Our vision will be to equip young people with the skills to become good global citizens who will contribute to and thrive in a dynamic and diverse world,” Ms. King said. “It is truly the lens through which we want to approach this.”

Ms. Fogel said the school would integrate four pillars into the curriculum, supplemented by co-curricular (before- or after-school) activities. The first pillar is science and technology, which would be taught through a global lens. As examples, she said the curriculum would approach environmental issues from a global perspective, students would study emerging technologies, and they would use technologies, such as Skype and ePals, to connect with schools and students from around the world.

A second pillar, Mr. Fogel said, is to have service and volunteer programs for the entire school. One concrete example she mentioned is to implement a “model United Nations program” in partnership with School District 202 and Northwestern University.

A third pillar is to study cultural and physical geography. Some examples include having teachers focus on a specific continent or geographical area, to conduct field trips and to travel, and to develop relationships with schools in other countries.

A fourth pillar focuses on foreign languages. The plan is to expose students as early as possible to Mandarin and Spanish in the elementary grades through co-curricular programs, said Adrian Harries, principal of Bessie Rhodes. At the middle-school level, the plan would be to offer an option of Spanish or Mandarin as part of the curriculum, said Ms. Fogel. 

Mr. Harries said, “The goal is that these global studies activities would be embedded, integrated into the current curriculum.” He added, “We’ve already begun this process,” but “we did not want to go too far” before getting a green light from the Board. He said the plan was to phase in the shift over a period of time.

Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said Bessie Rhodes would continue to use the same curricular content that is taught at the District’s other schools, but “it’s developing it through this global perspective.”

King Lab Magnet School – Literacy and Fine Arts

At King Lab, “The mission is to provide all students a dynamic educational program that focuses on the fine and performing arts and emphasizes literature and writing,” said Dr. Jeff Brown, principal of King Lab. Like the Bessie Rhodes plan, this proposal incorporates four pillars.  

First, he said, “Arts will be integrated into all aspects of the school. Our vision is to produce students who look at the world in the eyes of an artist.”

Teachers in the core content areas will collaborate with fine arts teachers to truly integrate arts into the curriculum, said Jamie Duerciagrossa, a drama teacher and fine arts chair at King Lab.

The second pillar is to provide enhanced fine arts and learning. In grades K-5, students will receive an additional fine arts period each week. The subject would vary depending on grade level, such as visual art at kindergarten, dance and creative movement at first grade. In grades 6-8, seminar classes will be offered throughout the year on topics such as playwriting, songwriting, cartooning, and African dance.

The third pillar focuses on performance, publication and enhanced literacy, which may be offered as co-curricular activities. Some ideas outlined by Ms. Duerciagrossa include publishing a literary and fine arts journal on an annual basis, having a debate team, having a poetry slam team, having a radio broadcast program. 

The fourth pillar focuses on inclusion of students with special needs. Dr. Brown said, “It is generally understood and supported by research that the arts give children with disabilities a means of expression and opportunities to feel confident in their abilities in ways other subjects cannot.”

Ms. Duerciagrossa said, “Our classroom teachers are ready. It’s another key that unlocks learning.”

Board Discussion

Board members were favorably impressed with the proposed programs, and asked if there were ways to export some of the proposed programs to other schools, and asked for an evaluation plan and cost estimates.

Referring to the debate club and the model United Nations program, Katie Bailey said the District needed to look at similar opportunities for students in the three middle schools. She added that she would like to see an evaluation plan that would lay out year by year the implementation steps and how the District would evaluate the programs, as well as a cost estimate to implement the programs at each school.

Tracy Quattrocki said she would like to see a ballpark estimate of the cost to put the vision for each school in place, so the Board would know what it is committing to. She asked, “What could we put in place to evaluate these programs and try to export them to the neighborhood schools because they are so wonderful and they seem like they would enrich so many lives if we could broaden this?”

Board president Keith Terry said, “I feel strongly that we are slow in re-magnetizing our schools. We should have done this a long time ago. … From my vantage point, I love this. We should definitely do this.” He added, “We should look at the financial aspects. We should have an evaluation plan.”

Board member Andy Pigozzi asked if there was a way to create learning studios in which students could work creatively and collaboratively, “possibly rethinking the way we’re using our schools.”

The Board is expected to vote on the proposals in the near future.