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.