Montessori High School Eyes Downtown Evanston

Beacon Academy, a Montessori high school, is hoping to open for the 2014-15 school year at 622 Davis St. and seeking financial support from the city.

A group hoping to start the first Montessori high school in the Chicago area is looking at downtown Evanston for a fall 2014 opening. 

Jeff Bell, founding head of school for Beacon Academy, recently submitted a request to the city for a special use permit to open the school at 622 Davis St., a four-story building with three floors of office space above retail. In order to fund the opening, Beacon Academy board is also seeking financial support from the city.

Officials from Beacon Academy submitted a letter to the city earlier in August, formally requesting a construction loan guarantee of $650,000 or support of $650,000 to back a letter of credit. Members of the economic development committee considered that request on Aug. 21, but it has yet to go before the full city council. 

So far, Beacon Academy has raised $800,000 of the $2.5 million that school officials estimate would be necessary to cover start-up costs, according to city documents. The school is hoping to obtain a loan from MB Financial for the remaining amount of money, but needs the backing of a creditworthy guarantor—which is why they have approached the city of Evanston. 

Assuming Beacon Academy is able to obtain funding and secure a location at 622 Davis St., school officials plan to open to 9th and 10th graders in September 2014. Curriculum will combine Montessori principles and the International Baccalaureate program, according to a letter from Beacon Academy officials. Officials hope to partner with Piven Theatre, the Evanston Public Library, the YWCA, the Evanston Art Center and Northwestern University, among other local institutions.

Ultimately, the goal is for Beacon Academy to enroll between 250 and 300 students and draw from several feeder in the area, including Chiaravalle Montessori School in Evanston, Rogers Park Montessori School, Near North Montessori School in Chicago, Forest Bluff Montessori School in Lake Bluff and Montessori School of Lake Forest.

According to the letter, tuition at Montessori schools is typically slightly lower than the average private school, and there will also be scholarships and financial aid available. 

Beacon Academy was one of four entities that submitted statements of interest in the Harley Clarke Mansion after the city of Evanston distributed a request for interest in June 2012. Only Jennifer Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises went forward with an actual bid on the property, however.


jim September 16, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Sounds like a high risk loan to me. School with no students and no money.
Jimmy James September 17, 2013 at 07:33 AM
Jim, you obviously have no idea what you are talking about. The Montessori elementary schools have waiting lists to get in. And the families who send their kids are pretty well off. The high school would do just fine. But thanks for your brilliant insight based on zero actual information.
E-Towner September 17, 2013 at 09:39 AM
Welcome to Evanston Beacon Academy. I wish you much success. But please don't ask the City of Evanston for money or for a loan guarantee. You are a private school, and you should seek private financing. If you can't secure private financing - loans from banks, donations from individuals, grants from foundations - you need to revisit and revise your strategic plan. NO PUBLIC MONEY OR GUARANTEES should be granted.
Joey Fatone September 17, 2013 at 09:46 AM
Jimmy James how about you put your money where your mouth is and fund it with your money not my tax money. If these families are soo well off then they can invest in this school and reap the benefits of a profitable return.
Allison Maguire September 17, 2013 at 11:19 PM
I moved to Evanston to provide my children convenient access to a top notch Montessori education. Would love to see this happen and would be more likely to stay with my family in Evanston for longer if it did. I imagine I'm not the only one, so it would be a boon for Evanston and give local families like ours another reason to stay in the area by offering more choice in private high school education.
Procrustes' Foil September 18, 2013 at 07:10 AM
E-Towner, I agree with you. Public-tax dollars should be primarily used for public purposes. There are a few Chicago Public Schools that have an International Baccalaureate Program. They are highly successful. Evanston could also offer an International Baccalaureate Program in some of its schools, using those same tax dollars that the Beacon School wants. That should satisfy Allison and offer more choice in Evanston Public Schools.
Mildred September 18, 2013 at 08:49 AM
Was there a Montessori School in Evanston when you moved here Allison?
Mildred September 18, 2013 at 08:55 AM
montessori schools near Evanston, IL Chiaravalle Montessori School www.chiaravalle.org 3 Google reviews 425 Dempster St Evanston (847) 864-2190 Evanston Montessori School and Child Care www.evanstonmontessori.com Google+ page 949 Ridge Ave Evanston (847) 890-2225 Midwest Montessori School midwestmontessori.com Google+ page 926 Noyes St Evanston (847) 328-6630
Allison Maguire September 18, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Yes, my children currently attend a Montessori elementary school and we already planned to stay with Montessori through middle school. I understand the concern about public funds going to private institutions but why doesn't this stop the city from investing in Dominicks or Trader Joes for instance (the city spent $2.05 million to buy land and lease it back to the store)? Why is choice in education valued less than choice in food shopping?
Mildred September 18, 2013 at 01:34 PM
&0% of my property tax bill goes for Education. Besides you have a choice you chose a rich private shool
Mildred September 18, 2013 at 01:35 PM
oops 70%
Allison Maguire September 18, 2013 at 02:25 PM
That's true Hilda, we all make our choices, though I didn't feel the need to imply judgement in my posts. I would much prefer to have full choice in public education, much like what is available in England. However, unfortunately, Montessori is usually not an option in public school systems. I believe Chicago has one public Montessori school, the rest are private. Also not sure what a "rich" private school means to you (other than a subtle attack) as most private schools are not for profit, unlike grocery chains.
Mildred September 18, 2013 at 09:39 PM
actually a simple Google search came up with 6 Montessori schools in Chicago. probably don't meet your needs. I assume from your comments you don't approve of current Evanston choices
Joey Fatone September 19, 2013 at 09:48 AM
Allison how about the rest of the people in Evanston who do not have kids, we already pay property tax which funds education. I do not have kids but I do shop at Trader Joes so your argument on grocery stores really carries no weight when comparing it to private education. You want a private school for your children then you as the parent should have the responsibility of paying for it!
Blu September 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM
Just to clarify, this would be a loan and not a gift correct? meaning it would be paid back with interest? Also, the article mentioned Beacon had some interest in the Harley Clarke Mansion, hmmm I can vision a nice Montessori style school in that building, they need us... maybe we could use them? roll the repair cost into the loan? I know it is not that simple, but maybe...
Allison Maguire September 19, 2013 at 12:52 PM
The city would not be making the loan, they would simply be guarantor of that loan. So essentially no money changes hands unless the school defaulted on the loan. But it would affect what the city could then potentially borrow. Joey, I don't get your argument as I would no doubt still pay for my kids education (as I do now). This is not a handout that would benefit the families who chose that school, it's simply an investment decision for the city. Is there a mutual benefit to Evanston and the school that would warrant the city guaranteeing their loan? It's clearly a business decision for Evanston and I am simply indicating that it's something I would support based on what's important to my family. You likely have different priorities and so you would support different investments. However it doesn't invalidate my argument that we have differing opinions.
Mildred September 19, 2013 at 01:37 PM
@Allison FYI: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0215-co-signing-loan
Mildred September 19, 2013 at 02:46 PM
@Allison FYI: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0215-co-signing-loan
Jimmy James September 19, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Blu, don't confuse them with reason. It's so much easier to whine about it if they say its a hand out. A loan that gets paid back with interest doesn't help the narrative.
Blu September 19, 2013 at 03:05 PM
gotcha :)
Procrustes' Foil September 20, 2013 at 06:55 AM
Guaranteeing a loan that could default IS risky. Second, since this is a school, it would be exempt from taxes. How would that help Evanston? Again, Evanston should consider an IB program for a few of its public schools which would give Evanstonians school choice. IB programs are inexpensive to run and require a three-year commitment from the school and teachers who are trained in the International Baccalaureate curriculum. IB programs incorporate methods that are similar to Montessori methods and are more academically and intellectually rigorous.
Jimmy James September 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Every loan could default, and is inherently risky. But if it doesn't default, it would be paid back in full, with interest. That means more money for the city.
evanstonslim September 22, 2013 at 10:46 AM
I've heard no consideration of the traffic congestion this school would add. Having lived near Sacred Heart in Edgewater, it's really annoying to have the parade of suv's twice a day jamming up the streets. A second though, this group seems to be only interested in prime desirable real estate. Why not go for a more affordable - and slightly less trafficked area. No need to put a school in either area when affordable options are around.
Procrustes' Foil September 23, 2013 at 07:20 AM
Evanstonian, good point. Further, these affluent kids will probably have their own cars, which would make matters worse.


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