CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – The Champaign Unit 4 School Board heard a final recommendation to change the elementary student assignment process Monday night.
“I’m grateful that we addressed the elephant in the room; we do know what the community thinks and feels,” Board President Amy Armstrong said during the meeting.
In the first round of surveys and focus groups, consultants found that families were primarily concerned with disrupting their children’s education. They brought two new ideas to the table last month – one of which they recommended Monday, stating it would disrupt less than 10% of the student population.
“There could be perceived a bit of irony that we end up so close to where we started,” David Sturtz said.
Sturtz is a consultant for Cooperative Strategies, the firm tasked with designing a new elementary student assignment model for the district. After what he called a long and at times contentious process, his team suggested the board move forward with a scenario that would modify the current “schools of choice” program.
“This may come as a shock to you, but we don’t recommend that you go through this kind of process again in the next couple of years,” Sturtz said during the meeting.
The school board and firm addressed the community’s main concern, which was student disruption so soon after the pandemic. The recommended scenario is the only one that wouldn’t uproot the majority of students from their current schools.
“The narrative has been, for 25 years, that everybody hates [schools of] choice and this is a terrible system and we should change it. Boards before us wouldn’t broach this conversation because there were so many other things to do,” Armstrong said.
Cooperative Strategies’ recommendation was backed by Superintendent Dr. Shelia Boozer, although she admitted she preferred scenario two, which would have created “clusters” of schools to choose from.
“I have lost sleep over this because this has been a difficult decision,” Boozer said.
Under scenario four, the recommended model, the district would continue to use proximity and socioeconomic diversity during the student assignment process. It would also eliminate the balanced calendar. If adopted, the board said students can attend the same middle school as their siblings as long as their siblings still attend that school. Otherwise, they will be assigned one based on where they attended elementary school.
Cooperative Strategies lists transportation as both a benefit and challenge under the recommended scenario. They said while scenario four could improve efficiency, some of the current transportation issues will remain. Qualifying families would have the option of providing their own transportation and be reimbursed by the district.
They say other benefits include a standardized calendar and promoting diversity with this model. The board is set to take a final vote Jan. 23.