New school year: New buildings, uniform codes, principals ... the list goes on

New school year: New buildings, uniform codes, principals ... the list goes on

It's a new school year, and across East Central Illinois, a year for breaking in new or newly-renovated buildings, new policies, even new leaders.

Today, Middletown Prairie Elementary School Principal Carol Shallenberger welcomes 221 kindergarten and 55 pre-K students into a $14 million new building, which also houses the Mahomet-Seymour district's administrative offices. The building replaced one constructed in 1923.

"They're excited to start the new year," said Shallenberger, who gave students and their families sneak peeks at two open houses. "They were thrilled to see the school, especially the playground and the cafeteria. One of our big goals in kindergarten is to create independence. And if we're going to encourage that, it's very important to have the appropriate environment."

In Champaign, Bottenfield Elementary students will settle in to their school, which underwent a $6.3 million renovation that updated classrooms, the gym and cafeteria and technology.

In Danville, T-shirts and blue jeans are a thing of the past. Students districtwide are sporting collared shirts — mainly polos this time of year — and solid-colored pants, skirts and shorts under the district's new uniform standard of dress.

Villa Grove is also trying something new this year. It's combined two principal jobs — one for K-8, the other for the high school — into one. That job is held by Stephen Killion Sr.

In Tolono, Lanee Reichert, former assistant principal at Champaign's Westview Elementary, moved into her new digs, the principal's office at Unity West.

"I've already had the joy and privilege of meeting a lot of students and parents, and I'm looking forward to continuing to build relationships with them this year," said Reichart, who will welcome around 500 K-5 students today.

What else is different at area schools this year? Plenty.

Amish Country isn't the first place you'd expect to find the region's techiest district. But come Oct. 1, that's what Arcola will become, thanks to $625,000-plus in community support that went to iPads for every student and staff member and new MacBooks for every teacher.

Used to be, students needed to score 92 to earn an A at Bement. Starting this year, the school district will adopt the 10-point grading scale, where a 90 is an A and an 80 is no longer a C. Monticello did it last year, fearing the stricter scale led to lower GPAs and hurt students' chances at college admission and scholarships.

As Champaign Central embarks on a 76th school year without air-conditioning — today's forecast: a high of 88 — there's cooler news elsewhere. Among the districts that installed A/C this summer: Armstrong-Ellis Grade School and DeLand-Weldon, which borrowed its largest amount ever — $1.7 million — for upgrades that include new heating and cooling for the elementary and high school.

Rantoul High is bringing back soccer — as a club sport, for now — while St. Thomas More expands the area's first full-fledged high school Aviation Club, led by students pursuing pilot licenses.

Every time the kids at Urbana's Leal Elementary hit the playground, they'll now be reminded of Amanda Burton, the guitar-playing, church-loving 11-year-old who passed away last fall. A new bench has been dedicated to her memory.

If you can't stand the heat ... take the ice bucket challenge. That's the Day 1 plan for Vic Zimmerman, superintendent of another A/C-less high school — Monticello — which was born in 1923, making it the same age as Memorial Stadium, the portable radio and the Hollywood sign.

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