CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Monday night was the first chance families had to face the Champaign Unit 4 School Board since a consulting firm laid out proposals two weeks prior that many parents worry could disrupt their kids’ education.
“I’ve talked to different parents who are excited about a change – who are excited about doing something different or seeing some changes coming to Unit 4,” Kyle Kirchhoefer said.
A group of parents, including Kirchhoefer, rallied for “change not chaos” before Monday’s school board meeting. “Unit 4 Families for a Smarter Solution” formed to voice their concerns about possible changes coming to the schools of choice model.
“Not because it’s us versus them, but simply just because it’s a group of people who want to involve the community in what is a really important decision,” Kirchhoefer said.
They encouraged people to speak up during public comment.
“If it’s about social class, we need to think about the root cause of the problems,” one speaker said.
The school board said their elementary schools are not socioeconomically diverse enough, and that’s why they’re considering proposals from an outside firm called Cooperative Strategies that could send many kids to a new school next year.
“You can’t shuffle kids in and out of IPA. I’m sure there’s not English native speakers learning Spanish on the side, let alone being taught in Spanish,” Cyndi Hitchens said.
Hitchens is worried about what the changes could mean for bilingual kids like hers. Cooperative Strategies suggested reserving half the seats at International Prep Academy for Spanish-speaking students, or keeping it as a magnet school.
“But what does that mean? Does that mean that kids have to reapply across the district with both scenarios?” Hitchens said.
At the meeting, a spokesperson for the Champaign County NAACP said the organization has no position on the issue yet, but he thanked the school board for addressing equity in the community.
“Do not collect and spread rumors. The position of the NAACP will be based upon actual information as we receive it and synthesize it,” he said.
Superintendent Shelia Boozer assured every parent in the room that no final decisions have been made yet.
“I’m anxious and excited to see what comes out of all this, because I honestly do believe with all the feedback we’re getting, that we’re going to have something that none of us thought of,” Boozer said.
Families have less than a month to share their thoughts through a survey and focus groups. Boozer sent an email Monday afternoon thanking parents for their feedback so far. Read the full message below.
Thank you for the initial feedback you have shared with our partner, Cooperative Strategies, regarding updates to our Schools of Choice student assignment process. Cooperative Strategies is a national firm with experience crafting models to diversify schools. While they care about student achievement, that is not the purpose of their work on this project. As Superintendent, I will continue to focus my efforts on strong outcomes for every student regardless of the decisions the Board of Education makes regarding how students are assigned to specific campuses. As we continue to gather feedback, Cooperative Strategies has asked me to share an update on a few topics that have emerged. We understand that there have been some questions regarding students with IEPs, 504s, and other programmatic needs. As Cooperative Strategies is reviewing the proposed changes to our Schools of Choice system, they are taking into consideration the needs of all students, including those with IEPs and 504 Plans. Most students with IEPs or 504s can be served in any of our elementary schools. As Cooperative Strategies further develops potential changes to our student assignment process, they will continue to ensure all students’ needs are met. The focus group sessions are intended to supplement the online survey shared last month. The sessions to date have included between 10 to 20 participants who pre-registered online. The intent is to keep the focus groups small in order to have productive discussions and allow every participant to share. Each meeting is designed to include an introduction and a brief presentation that clarifies some frequently asked questions. The rest of the session is for open discussion and Q&A. The feedback from the focus groups will be summarized and shared with the Board of Education. To date, there have been over 400 community members who have completed the focus group form, and Cooperative Strategies has engaged with over 120 individuals during just two days of sessions. It is anticipated that up to 25 total virtual sessions (October 5-13) and at least 10 in-person sessions (October 17-18) will be held. The interest form for focus groups will close on Thursday, October 13th, and every effort will be made to place all interested people in focus groups. Please register here for a focus group if you have not already done so and wish to participate. If you prefer not to register for a focus group but would like to stop by one of our “Open House” listening sessions, you are invited to join us on October 17, 2022 at Carrie Busey Elementary School beginning at 7:30 p.m. or on October 18, 2022 at Garden Hills Academy beginning at 7 p.m. Please remember: feedback is being collected via the online survey, focus groups, and in-person open houses. All feedback is considered with the same weight regardless of collection medium. We will continue to share updates and look forward to hearing from you as we work together to diversify our schools. As I have mentioned in previous communications, the feedback you provide will be used to help formulate final recommendations to our Board of Education. While no decisions have been made at this time, it is imperative that you participate in this process and I appreciate your continued willingness to do so.Superintendent Dr. Shelia E. Boozer