CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – “We put the burden for desegregating society on the backs of children,” community organizer Imani Bazzell said.
Equity starts in schools. That was the topic of a town hall meeting Thursday night, where activists and researchers shared their ideas on improving the education system. There’s been a lot of talk about desegregating elementary schools in Champaign, but experts say it’s bigger than that.
“The issue of desegregating schools around race and class is always going to be controversial because the adults haven’t done the work to desegregate society,” Bazzell said.
The Champaign School District has made socioeconomic desegregation a priority over the past few months. Imani Bazzell said while it’s an important mission, there’s broader work that needs to be done.
“What became schools of choice was just a tool to address racial equity issues in the district,” Bazzell said.
She was there when the district first implemented the schools of choice process to combat segregation. Bazzell was concerned with an overrepresentation of African American students in special education programs and low-performing schools.
“And an underrepresentation around gifted and talented education, around advanced placement – issues like that,” she said.
She’s still concerned about that, so she joined a panel to expand the conversation beyond the potential changes the district may make to the student assignment process.
“Assignment is just one concern that gets us to a goal. The goal is greater equity in schools,” Bazzell said.
“What are parents, communities, and young people in the city of Champaign asking for out of schools?” U of I education professor Asif Wilson said.
The answer is more resources. These educators say while the research supports desegregation, it’s a complicated issue.
“I work with a lot of parents who don’t have cars. I work with young people in Chicago who have to travel and hour and a half to go to school,” Wilson said.
Bazzell said she has ideas for a model that would monitor and support families before, during and after they choose where to go to school.
“What even happens after graduation? Do we know? We really want to put a system in place where all the kids in Unit 4 can be successful,” she said.
Bazzell’s idea is a Pre-K through 8 model called the “Great Campus.” She said it would be a way to engage the whole community and provide support for every school across the district.