Board hires Garden Hills dean, hears of possible rise in kindergarten enrollment

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school district Monday hired an interim dean of students at Garden Hills Elementary, a position that replaces the current assistant principal position there.

The board voted 5-0 to hire Jill Johnson as interim dean of students.

Johnson is currently a technical assistance coordinator with the Illinois Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Network, a job in which she worked closely with the Champaign schools.

She was formerly a school social worker at Barkstall Elementary from 2000-2004, and has also worked as a school social worker in Danville.

The position was created after the assistant principal position opened up there.

Board members Kristine Chalifoux and Ileana Saveley were absent.

The board also voted unanimously to appoint Azark David Cobbs, Lee Ann Kelly, Minnie Pearson, Judy Reynolds and Mabinity Tarawaillie to two-year terms on the Education Equity Excellence Committee. The committee was created in accordance with the federal consent decree that ended in 2009, which required the school district to eliminate unwarranted disparities between black and white students in achievement, discipline, attendance, assignment to special education and access to gifted and honors classes, among other things.

The committee must represent "a diverse cross-section of the community," according to board documents. It reviews and discusses equity areas such as academic progress of students, attendance rates, discipline rates and graduation rates and more.

The school board also heard a report on work the district's facilities committee has done over the last month, and about the district's possible need to plan for three or four more kindergarten classrooms for next year, based on projected enrollment.

Susan Zola, the school district's assistant superintendent for achievement, curriculum and instruction, said the board and facilities committee could consider using several extra classrooms at the south end of the school on Kirby Avenue this year.

Bottenfield students are using that school this year and Kenwood students will attend next year because of renovations.

That could be the start of a 12th elementary school within the district, Zola said, or the board could explore the idea of associating it with another Champaign elementary school, which would then have two campuses and have certain grades attend each school.

Whatever the board decides, Zola said, the school district needs to have a plan in place by January to share with parents who will be registering their students for kindergarten.

Board member Lynn Stuckey reiterated that she wants the school district to examine the idea of a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, which might reduce the need for a 12th elementary school. She's also concerned about how a school with two campuses would eventually affect middle school enrollment.

Board members Scott MacAdam, Jamar Brown and board President Laurie Bonnett said they'd like more information from the facilities committee as they work toward a decision.

The committee will soon get the results of an analysis using special software from BLDD Architects to help it decide the most cost-effective solutions for its building needs, said Matt Foster, the district's executive director of business services.

The board also heard a report on this school year's enrollment. On Sept. 30, the school district had a total of 9,717 students, which is up from last year's 9,659 students. Elementary enrollment is up by almost 135 students compared with last year, middle school enrollment went up by four students, and high school enrollment went down by 81 students compared with last year.

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