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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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D65 names new interim principal and assistant principal for Bessie Rhodes School

Daily file photo by Patrick Svitek
All principals that have been hired since July 1 have entered into their new roles in an interim capacity.

Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education members announced the new interim principal and assistant principal for Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies during a board meeting on Monday night.

Charlise Berkel, currently the multilingual coordinator in the district’s multilingual department, will step in as the school’s interim principal, and Elisa Lopez, the current assistant principal of Haven Middle School, will serve as the new assistant principal. 

Both have long worked in education and will step into their respective roles in January.

Berkel and Lopez’s appointments come amid a period of uncertainty for Bessie Rhodes. The K-8 magnet school, known for its two-way bilingual immersion program, is set to close in the near future. Parents have criticized District 65 administrators for leaving the principal and assistant principal roles unfilled since the beginning of the school year in August. 

“While I recognize that the lengthy search process presented challenges and feelings of uncertainty for the Bessie Rhodes community, I am confident that we found the right leaders for the school at this critical moment in time,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Angel Turner said. 

Due to Turner’s interim status, all principals that have been hired since July 1 have also entered their new roles in an interim capacity.

Before the news was announced, some Bessie Rhodes parents spoke to the uncertain future of the school. 

Parent Brandon Utter spoke about the need for bilingual education during the ongoing refugee crisis. 

“I urge you to not become the school board that dismantles the K-8 (two-way immersion) community amidst a Spanish-speaking refugee crisis,” Utter said. “This action would harm the current and future members of the unique Bessie Rhodes community during a time when this school model is so urgently needed.”

The board later discussed results from a survey on the search for the district’s new superintendent. Many respondents said they wanted to see a superintendent who is communicative, collaborative, professional and engaged with the local community. They also said they want a candidate who has experience teaching and working in a large, diverse district.

Based on the current search timeline, the Illinois Association of School Board search committee will present a slate of candidates for the superintendent role to the board on Jan. 22. Eleven individuals have started applications for the role. 

During the meeting, board members heard a presentation from Director of School Assignments Sarita Smith about declining enrollments across the district. Total district enrollment has been declining since the 2017-18 school year, and Smith said the trend is likely to continue in the near future.

According to a 10-year demographic enrollment data projection, the district is projected to have an enrollment of 5,096 students in 2032. With a maximum capacity of 9,294 students, the district would only be operating at approximately 50% capacity. 

Smith said she believes that a large portion of departing students are leaving for private schools while other students remain unaccounted for. The enrollment situation could leave the district to operate several school buildings below capacity, which may pose financial challenges. 

Among other suggestions, Smith recommended the district formulate a five-to-seven-year building consolidation plan to counteract this issue. 

“It could be financial — like, what could be the better financial gain,” Smith said. ”We’ll need a little bit of that guidance in order to bring recommendations around consolidation if that’s the direction that we’re going to go in,” Smith said. 

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