Unit 4 superintendent sees challenges, progress
SAVOY — The Champaign school district is facing some challenges, but the school district is making progress, Champaign Superintendent Judy Wiegand told a small crowd of parents and community members Thursday.
Wiegand gave a "State of the District" address at Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy.
She went over her goals for the school district, which ranged from her goals for student academics, the school district's finances, facilities, ensuring equitable experiences for students for things like elementary enrichment or after-school programs, retaining a high-quality faculty and staff, and more.
"We have a lot of great things happening within the Champaign Unit 4 schools," she said. "It's really an honor and a privilege to serve as the superintendent."
Wiegand said one need within Champaign and Urbana as a whole is early childhood services.
More than 200 students in both communities are on a waiting list for early childhood services.
Wiegand said she and Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams have been talking to the Microurban Transformational Leadership Group, which came out of a transformation leadership conference that involved University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise and the Champaign and Urbana mayors, about the services and funding needed.
"We cannot rely on the state and federal government to come in and help," she said. "We have to solve our own problems as a community. I'm hopeful that in the future we're able to provide more services."
In the meantime, the district has partnered with the Champaign Public Library and used a grant from Altrusa International to create literacy bags, with books and magnetic letters and information for parents.
Those will be given to students on that waiting list. The school district will also do a kindergarten screening for all students in May, and the bags will be given to families at that time, Wiegand said.
The school district is also looking at its 11 elementary schools' enrichment programs, which are all different at this time.
"Everyone needs to have the same experience," Wiegand said, in terms of the quality of these programs. "A goal moving forward to promote programming in our schools that serves all our students."
Similarly, the district will look at after-school programs and who has access to them.
"Do you truly have access if you don't have transportation?" Wiegand said.
She also mentioned a possible new program that will be presented soon to the school board, a program that allows students being disciplined to be away from their classrooms, but not sent home on an out-of-school suspension.
The student would be taught, as a part of the program, as well as visit with a social worker to talk about what led to the problem. The program would help the student transition back to his or her regular classroom.
"We're just taking a look at different ways to address student behavior," Wiegand said.
She also spoke of her goal to hire and retain a high-quality faculty and staff.
The district works to offer competitive salaries for teachers and administrators, and make the most of exit surveys when staff members leave. The school district will continue its mentoring program for first-year employees, even as the state has cut funding for such programs.
"I tend to be a competitive person," Wiegand said. "I want Champaign schools to continue to grow and be the best."
She also spoke about the school facilities process the district has been going through since last fall and said she expects educational facilities planning consultant DeJong-Richter will give a final report, which Wiegand will present to the school board this spring.
The school district is especially focusing on what to do about replacing Central High School, but will also include thoughts on what to do with its middle schools and South Side and Dr. Howard Elementary schools.
Wiegand reiterated that the school district is financially sound for now, even in the face of state and federal funding cuts and uncertainty about teacher pensions. However, the district may need to carefully make some cuts in the 2014-15 school year.
"We're going to be very cautious as we move forward," Wiegand said.