Champaign looks at how to educate next generation

Champaign looks at how to educate next generation

CHAMPAIGN — To get students ready for careers in 2030, how do you decide what to emphasize in school? Should it be academic, joint ventures with private companies, being ready for tests like the ACT and SAT, or having the opportunity to attend virtual classrooms and alternate hours?

Champaign community members discussed these educational topics and many more at a Futures Conference at the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign.

The school district, along with DeJong-Richter, the educational facility planning firm it's working with, hosted the Thursday afternoon conference. There, community members talked about education and filled out individual and group surveys.

Groups of participants also discussed how student can be prepared for a global society, what they should have learned by the time they graduate from high school and how technology might affect teaching, learning and jobs in the future.

These will set the ground rules as a future facilities steering committee works to develop options for Champaign's schools, said Tracy Richter, chief executive officer of DeJong-Richter

The steering committee comprises community members, teachers, administrators, school board members and those who work for other community organizations and agencies.

Champaign schools spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart estimated Thursday's crowd at 120. The survey participants took is now online, and the school district is asking those interested to fill it out in the next week. It's available at futurefacilities.champaignschools.org.

The survey and presentation materials will also be available for residents at the Champaign Public Library's main and Douglass branches, Stuart said.

The school district also asked those attending to sign in with information about their own demographics. That way, if any one group of community members was underrepresented, the school district can contact some people in those groups and get their opinions, she said.

The participants also heard from elementary school students from Booker T. Washington STEM Academy and Carrie Busey Elementary, which have gotten new schools over the last couple of years. Students from Garden Hills Elementary, which went through an extensive renovation, also addressed them.

They spoke about liking spaces where all students in one grade can collaborate and being able to work in an area with lots of windows they could look out.

Students from Booker T. Washington said they liked the bright colors throughout the building. A student from Carrie Busey said he liked having a separate cafeteria and gym, and a student from Garden Hills said she liked being able to do school performances on the school's new stage.

Richter told attendees that, until now, the design of schools has been left over from the industrial revolution, when schools were meant to turn out industrial workers.

Now, schools can use interactive spaces and technology to create a more engaging learning environment, he said.

Teachers do well working with the tools they're given, but that doesn't have to be the way it works.

"Let's just give them the tools," Richter said.

DeJong-Richter Associate Director Scott Leopold said he'll put together information from the individual surveys and group consensus into a report. The steering committee will be able to use it with coming up with options for school buildings.

The steering committee will start putting together options for what to do with Champaign's school buildings in December.

Richter said he expects Superintendent Judy Wiegand to make a recommendation on the school district's facilities this spring.

Community members will have more chances to participate in the process, Leopold said, especially after the steering committee comes up with a list of options. DeJong-Richter is also working with a company called Fallon Research to do a phone poll of residents and conduct focus groups.

Superintendent Judy Wiegand said people who participated Thursday told her they thought they'd had good conversations at the conference, and it opened their minds to new ideas when it came to schools and how to figure out what the school district needs.

"I think it's a good start," Wiegand said.

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