New Urbana school board officers, principals seated
URBANA – At times, it looked like a game of musical chairs at Tuesday night's Urbana school board meeting.
In about an hour-and-a-half, the board said goodbye to an old member, hello to a new member, elected new officers and approved two new elementary school principals.
Sandy Cooper, the current principal at Gerber School on the Cunningham Children's Home campus in Urbana, will move within the district to become the next principal at Thomas Paine Elementary School, where her daughter attended.
"I know some of the staff still from my days as a parent," Cooper said. She said that she is already planning on spending time easing into her Thomas Paine position before her official start date.
"There's challenges there to help the kids make progress and renew the trust from the parents and the community," she said.
"I think that's all achievable."
She said she will also continue to be a resource for the children at Gerber School, which has about 30 students enrolled through the Urbana school district who are wards of the state, all of whom have special educational needs.
Barbara Sartain, the current principal of Robeson Elementary School in Champaign, will become the new principal of Wiley Elementary School, replacing Joan Fortschneider, who is retiring. Carmelita Thomas, the district's human resources director, said Sartain had 12 years of experience as principal.
Joyce Hudson retired from the board after 10 years. Currently board president, she presided over the meeting only minutes before turning over her responsibilities.
Most of those minutes were filled with praise from Superintendent Gene Amberg and board members.
"We have always felt you to be a solid, solid school board member," Amberg said, "always listening to people."
"You're not one to run from problems," said board member Mark Netter, praising Hudson's integrity.
After the comments, Hudson herself made one: "I cannot say I will miss all these meetings, but I will miss all the wonderful people."
After the four newly elected members – incumbents Steve Summers, Benita Rollins-Gay, John Dimit and newcomer Brenda Carter – took an oath of office, the meeting recessed and reconvened in a matter of moments.
Without discussion or dissent, Netter was nominated and voted president of the board, Dimit voted vice president, Ruth Ann Fisher voted secretary and Rollins-Gay voted secretary pro tem. Board member Cope Cumpston was absent.
"Right now we need to focus on the shorter term," Netter said, mentioning union negotiations and aiding in the transition of the new superintendent, Preston Williams, as two priorities, as well as legal issues stemming from the Jon White case.
Netter also said he wanted to bring attention to the "good things going on" in the district.
The board also heard plans for a Sunday reception for Amberg, who is retiring after 15 years as superintendent. The reception will take place at the Urbana Middle School from 1 to 4 p.m., with remarks at about 2:30 p.m.