CHAMPAIGN — The group that gathered at the Champaign Public Library to talk about education and Champaign schools was small, but it covered topics both about education nationwide and specific issues in local schools.
The forum, hosted by local residents Charles Schultz and Chuck Jackson, both the parents of students, gathered as a starting point to encourage more community involvement in local schools.
The group started by talking about money, including briefly about the controversial working-cash bond issue and what it means for Champaign schools.
On one hand, money's not the cause of all of the issues in Champaign schools, Jackson said.
But it's also necessary to make things work, Schultz said.
"Money is the oil that lubricates the machine, but it's not the machine itself," Schultz said.
They also talked about climate in school buildings, discipline and consistency in classrooms and academic expectations.
Attendees Bill Vavrik and Karen Roese said they both worry that expectations in their children's classrooms aren't high enough. Vavrik said that even though his daughter gets As, he worries that she isn't reaching her full potential.
Roese also expressed concern about the consistency in discipline, and that her daughter has trouble learning because her classroom is so loud.
Vavrik suggested a magnet school for students who have alternative learning styles.
Jackson said he'd like to see an educational system that's family-centered and would let students gather with their families and academic professionals on a regular basis to talk about the child's strengths, interests and talents.
Vavrik said he could see a first step in that direction if teachers were required to list students' strengths and weaknesses on every report card, and if that information was saved for future reference.
He'd also like to see an organizational change within the district, where the highest-ranked jobs are principals working directly with students, rather than administrators working in a central office. Those people would support the principals and might work up to being principals one day, he theorized.
Board member Tommy Lockman attended, as did new school board member Ileana Saveley, who will be sworn in to her seat Monday.
Saveley said she'd like to see more communication between the schools and families, not just when there's a problem.
"I think that parents would be actively involved and are willing to be actively involved in the schools, but there's a disconnect," Saveley said.
Jackson said he believes that the school district needs to set intermediate goals on its way to establishing excellence.
"I think as the home of the state university, we need to have the best K-12 education in the state," Jackson said. "We need to be the leaders in the state."
As the group continues, it will continue to break down the topics. Schultz said he plans to invite more people to participate. The next forum is scheduled for May 15 at the Urbana Free Library.