On April 30, the District 65 Policy Committee voted to recommend three changes to the criteria that will be used to select students to Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies and King Arts Magnet School.

The first change gives students who have a sibling at Bessie Rhodes a priority over all other students. The proposed change would add this sentence to Board Policy 7:32: “When selecting students for admission to Dr. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School, siblings of students currently enrolled in the school will be selected prior to selection of any other students.”

This change was proposed in light of the School Board’s decision to convert Bessie Rhodes into a Two-Way Immersion School beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The conversion will take place on a phased-in basis, starting with kindergarten and then adding one grade level year by year. The Board committed at the time that siblings of students who attended Bessie Rhodes would be ensured a spot at the school.

The second change relates to the criteria that establishes preference areas for King Arts and Bessie Rhodes. The preference area for King Arts is the area bounded by McCormick Boulevard, Church Street, Dodge Avenue and Dempster Street.

The preference area for Bessie Rhodes is for students who reside in the Kingsley, Lincolnwood and Willard school attendance areas and who reside east of McCormick Boulevard and north of Church Street.

Under the current policy, 20% of new admissions to King Arts are allocated to students in the King Arts preference area, and 20% of the new admissions to the Bessie Rhodes are allocated to students in the Bessie Rhodes preference area. These preference areas were established in the mid-1990s in recognition that students residing in these preference areas lacked a neighborhood school. 

The proposed change would combine the two preference areas into a single preference area, and under the revised policy 20% of the new admissions to the King Arts would be allocated to students in the new preference area, and 20% of the admissions to Bessie Rhodes would be allocated to students in the new preference area.

In light of the conversion of Bessie Rhodes to an all TWI school, this change would give students in the two preference areas an equal choice of the two-way immersion model at Bessie Rhodes or the monolingual model at King Arts, said Peter Godard, Chief Officer of Accountability, Equity & Organizational Development.

 Several Policy Committee members raised a concern that families residing in the preference areas were not consulted. The Committee members opted to recommend the change, however, stating that it was a positive change for persons residing in the preference areas. Mr. Godard said if they delayed moving forward with the proposal it would not be implemented until the 2019-20 school year.

Mr. Godard did explain, though, how the change might impact residents in the current Bessie Rhodes preference area. While the proposed change would give them a better chance of being admitted to King Arts, it might dilute their chances of being admitted to Bessie Rhodes. With the change, residents of the current Bessie Rhodes preference area would no longer be entitled to 20% of the slots at Bessie Rhodes, but they would share those slots with residents of the current King Arts preference area.

Similarly, while the change would give residents in the current King Arts preference area a better chance of being admitted to Bessie Rhodes, their chance of being admitted to King Arts might be diluted.

The third change would add the following paragraph to the policy: “The Superintendent may also establish criteria for selection of magnet programs in grades 1-5 for students transferring into District 65.”

The School Board is expected to vote on these proposed changes on May 7.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...