Unopposed candidate has plenty of ideas for schools

Unopposed candidate has plenty of ideas for schools

CHAMPAIGN — Without a single opponent running against him for a two-year unexpired term on the Champaign school board, Jonathan Westfield isn't sweating the results on Election Day.

But, while he may be a shoo-in for the board's shortest term, that doesn't mean the father of five's plans for his time as an elected official are small.

With the goal of looking long and hard at creative ways to address over-capacity issues in Unit 4 schools, Westfield says he's open to exploring any "sound" option, even the possibility of building a third Champaign public high school in the future.

"I'd really like us to explore greater options in education and expanding what we do. The city of Champaign in the next 20 years will reach 100,000 population and we will no longer be a two-high-school community, we'll need three," he said.

And Westfield has big dreams for what a three-high-school community could look like.

"We could completely change the way we use education in our community. Instead of continuing with the routine, standard high school programming, why not devote each high school to a different idea? Similar to what we see in our magnet elementary schools," he said. "We could have a STEM high school, a creative arts school and a vocational training school so the kids that aren't interested in going to college could have the opportunity to explore other fields."

But Westfield doesn't propose rushing into any major decisions without proper planning. That's why he doesn't support the $144 million school facilities proposal Unit 4 will put on the April 7 ballot.

"We do need a new high school, no doubt. I know this has been eight years in the making, but right now it seems a little rushed. I think we need to take more time and explore more options," he said. "The effort to add Dr. Howard seems like an appeasement to get those parents to support it. Schools like Dr. Howard and Edison, our century-old buildings, should have been included from the start."

As a school resource officer at Edison Middle School (he is currently on leave to recover from an injury), Westfield acknowledges he's partial to that building, but says the insight he's gathered from spending each day inside of a school will offer the board a unique perspective.

"I get to spend a lot of time inside the schools with students, staff and parents. I get to see the daily workings of the school environment," he said, adding that connection with the kids — and parents — is what prompted him to run in the first place.

If the $144 million ballot question fails next month, Westfield says he is all for a plan that "takes the whole community into consideration" in terms of location and programming for a new Central High School.

"I believe in this community and what Unit 4 can provide. I think we really all need to reconnect. Over the years, we've sort of drifted apart," he said. "It's important we all come back together as one because education touches every aspect of life in Champaign."

Other issues Westfield would like to address during his time on the board: growing strong academic programing for pre-K through third grade, reevaluating the impacts and necessity of standardized tests and helping the community "take pride" in the school district.

He said he decided to run for the two-year term to see how it would work with his family life. And if things run smoothly, "I can always run again."

"I've had the opportunity to sit down and meet and talk with all the candidates running and I was just amazed at how we all seemed to share ideas," he said. "I'm really looking forward to the new configuration of the school board."

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Tags (1):2015 election