CHAMPAIGN — As it works toward deciding how to replace Central High School, the Champaign school board is dedicating time each month to studying what model to adopt for a new high school and where it might be located.
The board is studying the issue at its second meeting of the month. The board and administration have both mentioned that they'd like continued community input throughout the monthly discussions.
The school district is also working with a doctoral student in the University of Illinois College of Education to research which model is best for a new high school, said Superintendent Judy Wiegand.
The school board started studying high school issues at its Monday meeting, when Centennial Principal Greg Johnson and Central Principal Joe Williams, along with two assistant principals, presented the school board with research about creating one high school, 10th through 12th grade. If it decides to go this route, the school district would also create a prep school for all its eighth- and ninth-graders.
The principals presented research about academics, financial efficiencies and what it could mean for the culture of a school.
John Woods and Brian Easter, assistant principals who handle athletic issues at Central and Centennial, presented information about how creating one large high school could affect athletics.
You can see the principals' presentation slides at http://bit.ly/wWGD9j.
Creating one large high school could mean adding more Advanced Placement classes or always being able to offer those that are sporadic now because of enrollment. It could also mean providing students better opportunities in career and technical education.
However, there will be more competition for "academic distinction," like being in the top 10 percent of one's class, and it might lead students to feeling disconnected from the school or getting lost in the cracks.
The district could save money transporting students to one school or on utilities, but a larger high school would need more administrators. Williams said each high school now has six, and a larger school would need more than 12.
The principals compared a potential Champaign High School to 30 in the state that would be larger, and found that those schools' department chairs are administrators, because general administrators wouldn't be able to stay on top of the curriculum.
Johnson and Williams said they couldn't find any research that recommended having a high school smaller than 300 students, or larger than 900 students. A possible combined 10th- through 12th-grade high school in Champaign would have 1,800 to 2,000 students, Johnson said. Many high schools of that size in Illinois that make academic yearly progress (as defined by No Child Left Behind) either spend far more per student or are selective magnet schools.
As far as athletics, teams might be more competitive, Woods said, but there'd be a loss of tradition at both campuses, and teams would have to travel to the Chicago area or the St. Louis suburbs to find teams on the same competitive level. That could mean a loss of classroom time for students, Easter said.
As for other extracurriculars, more students at one school could mean higher numbers of choir participants, but could, for example, mean more competition for roles in plays. The school might prepare for two performances almost simultaneously, so students could have enough opportunities to participate.
Board member Stig Lanesskog asked if there was a way Champaign's two campuses could collaborate on classes now, either physically or online.
Johnson said that this year, the school district has a virtual Advanced Placement European history class.
Williams said it's possible to shuttle students between schools, but they'll miss some class time. But that may also remain a challenge even if the school district changes its high school model, because some younger students may accelerate and need to take high school classes.
At the school board's March 26 meeting, an master's student in urban planning who is studying potential high school sites will present some of her research.