Officials trying to select model for choice plan

CHAMPAIGN - Parents and students will have more options for picking a middle school by 2004, but district administrators are still trying to pick a model for the choice plan.

CHAMPAIGN - Parents and students will have more options for picking a middle school by 2004, but district administrators are still trying to pick a model for the choice plan. They're under federal pressure to balance attendance racially, one reason for changing the current geographically-based middle school rules, and they're looking for a plan that will distribute black students equally among the three schools, one of which, Franklin Middle School, is now a magnet school. Administrators also want to relieve overcrowded conditions at Jefferson Middle School on the city's southwest side. Superintendent Arthur Culver and other staff members addressed the district's first Key Communicator Network meeting Tuesday night with information about the middle school choice options and other issues. More than 80 people attended the meeting, which aims to identify a group of community leaders to spread information about schools to residents. ?Our main purpose is to get feedback, two-way communications about how the people you interact with feel about what's going on in the district,? said Culver, who was scheduled to make a 15-minute presentation that stretched into an hour because audience members peppered him with questions. ?Feedback is the breakfast of champions,? Culver said. He added that he's particularly concerned about achievement gaps separating the district's white and black students. ?We have to make changes,? he said. ?I've done it, I've seen it done, and I intend to present a plan to the school board Feb. 10.? He warned that the plan may include more frequent testing to give students more practice so they make better scores on the standardized tests that are the basis of how school success is evaluated. And Culver also warned that he believes students and teachers are packing too many academic tasks and other activities into a school day that may be too short. ?We're concerned about time on task,? he said. ?We may have to consider extending the school day. ?We're getting ready to rachet it up a bit,? said Culver, who became superintendent last summer and has been studying district operations since that time. ?This district will be a model district for this state and this nation.? Deputy Superintendent for Achievement and Administration Carol Stack presented information about the middle school choice options. She said she held the first of a series of meetings about the issue at Westview Elementary School on Monday night, and parents asked questions for more than two hours. She said federal orders to erase racial disparities aren't driving the plan. ?There's overcrowding in the schools, and the last time we remapped was in 1989,? Stack said. ?Jefferson has 30 to 31 students per class in those grades.? Another concern is that more than half the student population at Franklin Middle School on the city's north side is black. At Jefferson on the west side, and Edison Middle School in the center of the city, that percentage is slightly more than 30 percent. This year's fourth-graders will be the first to phase into the plan in the 2004-05 school year. Three models under consideration are as follows: - Making all three schools magnet schools with special programs. - A controlled choice model that's very similar to the one now in place for district elementary schools. - An elementary cluster model that's based on distribution of black students in the schools, grade size and other variables that would determine which middle school ?cluster? the schools would be placed in. Stack said she plans to make a recommendation to board members at their May meeting. ?This is also a unique opportunity to look at our practices at the middle schools,? she said. ?This month, I'm going to locations to get information and feedback, and by May, my goal is to recommend a model. This process is critical.? Stack will talk to parents at meetings currently scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at Southside Elementary School, and noon Saturday at Columbia Center School, a meeting that will include Spanish translation. Other meetings, all scheduled for 7 p.m., will be held at Jefferson Middle School on Feb. 11; the Mellon Building on Feb. 13; Edison Middle School on Feb. 17; Robeson Elementary School on Feb. 18; Stratton Elementary School on Feb. 24.; and Carrie Busey Elementary School on Feb. 25.

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