URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – In a nearly five hour meeting Tuesday, Urbana School Board members voted to: remove the high school’s principal next year, re-assign two other high school administrators and fix the middle school’s gym floor after a pipe burst. The most heated part of the meeting, however, was the debate over a plan to close Wiley Elementary while the building is renovated.
“This is a horrific decision. I’m very much torn,” President Paul Poulosky said during the meeting.
But in the end, Poulosky was one of the board members to approve closing Wiley for the 2023-24 school year.
A district survey of Wiley staff and families asked how important it is to keep students together while the building is closed. Half the staff members who responded selected “very important.” Another 38.9% chose “somewhat important.”
Only 23% of families completed the survey. 47.5% feel it is “very important” to stick together, while 37.5% say it is “somewhat important.”
The majority who took the survey support removing asbestos but they want assurances they’ll return.
“It’s scary,” board member Anne Hall said, addressing Wiley families. “I share your fear.”
The crowd quickly responded with: “you don’t.”
A clear divide between families and the Urbana School Board, even among members themselves.
“I will vote against this because I think the plan is ridiculous,” board member Ravi Hasanadka said.
The plan is to close Wiley next school year before deciding whether it will re-open as a neighborhood school.
“To me, it remains extremely irresponsible to not know what we are going to do,” board member Brian Ogolsky said.
That was the biggest point of contention during two hours of public comment.
“We are counting on you to keep our Wiley Strong community intact and maintaining a stable learning environment for the sake of our students,” parent Brittany Tammen said during public comment.
Families asked the board to wait and bring a comprehensive plan back to the table in a year. Members debated the urgency of the issue.
“The idea that it’s a health crisis in that building – I just walked through there. I think it’s insulting to the teachers that are in that building to say that,” Ogolsky said, met with clapping from the crowd.
Over the past two weeks, a big concern has been disruption.
“Mental health is part of health and safety,” board member Lara Orr said.
Board members voted 4-3 to move forward.
“We’re not making permanent plans tonight. We’re voting on asbestos, which is a health issue,” Hall said.
At one point, the crowd dressed in Wiley colors turned their backs to the board.
“The faith in our administration has just floored out. We are gone,” parent Rob Bennett said.
Some walked out of the meeting in tears. Others walked out frustrated with their elected leaders.
“History and research teaches us that when you have a large population of students of color in a school, that school boards tend to ignore their voices, even when they organize and come together,” parent Ruqayyah Perkins-Williams said.
But they say they’re prepared to keep fighting for the future of Wiley. The district says a planning committee will be formed to decide the building’s fate.
“I hope that the board members are ready for a bigger fight than this,” parent Nathan Tanner said.
There’s also an asbestos issue in the middle school gym. Board members approved a bid to get rid of it, and crews have already gotten to work. On top of that, board members approved an emergency contract to replace that floor entirely because it was damaged by a burst pipe during a deep freeze in December.
The board also decided Urbana High School Principal Taren Nance will not return next year, and two assistant principals will be re-assigned. Wednesday, Nance told WCIA once everything is settled, he will tell his story. Nance says he is continuing his mission of ending gun violence.
A couple people spoke in support of Nance during public comment, praising his leadership and commitment to anti-violence.
“By getting rid of Fresh Principal Nance, I don’t think we’ve given him enough time. I think he’s developed a heck of relationships. He actually amended a relationship I had with Urbana High School,” one speaker said during public comment.
“He’s always around the hall. He keeps us safe,” a current student said.
WCIA reached out to district leaders Wednesday. They say they can’t comment further on personnel matters, but confirmed a nationwide search for a new principal will start soon. The communications director says there will be an opportunity for UHS stakeholders to participate in that process.