C-U schools

C-U schools

By JODI HECKEL
jheckel@news-gazette.com

Champaign and Urbana are each served by their own school districts. Here are a few facts you need to know about the districts.

1) People.

Champaign is the larger of the two districts, with about 8,800 students, compared with Urbana’s enrollment of more than 3,700.

Both districts are diverse. The racial breakdown for the students in the Champaign district, according the latest available state report card, is: white, 45.7 percent; black, 37.3 percent; Hispanic: 6.8 percent; Asian/Pacific Islander: 9.8 percent; and Native American, 0.3 percent. The low-income rate for the district is 47.1 percent; the mobility rate is 18.4 percent; and the percentage of students with limited English proficiency is 5.0 percent.

In Urbana, the racial makeup of the school district is: white, 43.6 percent; black, 34.4 percent; Hispanic, 7.3 percent; Asian/Pacific Islander, 5.9 percent; and Native American, 0.2 percent. The low-income rate is 60.8 percent; the mobility rate is 20.3 percent; and the percentage of students with limited English proficiency is 9.8 percent.

Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver came to the district in 2002, from Longview, Texas. School board President Dave Tomlinson is a Champaign firefighter who has been a school board member since 2005.

Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams was chosen to lead the district in 2007, having already spent 20 years in the district as a teacher and administrator. School board President John Dimit also has a long history with the district, having been a school board member for more than 20 years.
School board members in Urbana are elected from seven subdistricts, while in Champaign they are chosen at-large.

2) Schools.

The Champaign school district has 19 school buildings, including its Early Childhood Center, 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, its Academic Academy (a small alternative high school setting) and the Columbia school building, which currently houses Washington Elementary School students and staff while Washington school is rebuilt.

Two of the district’s elementary schools — Barkstall and Kenwood — operate on a balanced calendar, with the fall semester starting in late July and three-week breaks in the fall and spring.

The Urbana school district has nine school buildings, including Washington School, which houses its early childhood program, six elementary schools, its middle school and its high school. The school board is considering whether to reduce the number of elementary schools from six to five in the future.
King Elementary School is considering moving to a balanced calendar schedule in the future.

3) Champaign: Schools of Choice.

In Champaign, families with children entering kindergarten are assigned to a school through the district’s Schools of Choice program.

It allows parents to select their top three choices for an elementary school for incoming kindergarten students. A computer program then assigns children to a school, based on those choices and other factors, including balancing the schools by economic status within certain guidelines. Siblings of current students get first choice of available seats, and those who are within a mile and a half of their first choice school also receive a preference.

Parents register their incoming kindergartners and inform the district of their choices during the month of March. They can learn more about the school assignment process and each school from the district’s Family Information Center, 405 E. Clark St., C., which conducts information sessions prior to registration. The center can be reached at 351-3701.

4) New construction projects.

The Champaign school district broke ground this summer on two new construction projects. It is building a new, larger Washington Elementary School on the same site, 606 E. Grove St. Washington school will become a magnet school, with a science, technology, engineering and math theme.

The district is expanding and renovating Garden Hills Elementary School, 2001 Garden Hills. That school will also become a magnet school, with an international education theme and an emphasis on fine arts.

Champaign also plans to build a new Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy, which does not now have an elementary school. The district received a donation of land on Prairie Rose in the Prairie Fields subdivision, and it plans to open a school there in 2012.

In Urbana, the district will begin work on a renovation and expansion of King Elementary School this fall. The school will get an addition that will include a new gym and multipurpose room. It will remodel the old gym into dedicated fine arts classrooms, and it will add air-conditioning to the building.

The project is the first in a series of projects to renovate the district’s elementary schools and provide them all with similar improvements, including separate gyms and multi-purpose rooms.

One of the priorities for the district in terms of facilities is to improve the space for its early childhood program. The school board is discussing options for doing so that include building a new school on the same site, on another site already owned by the district, remodeling the current building, or moving the early childhood program into a “repurposed” elementary school.

5) Spotlight schools.

State Superintendent Christopher Koch was in Urbana in April to recognize local schools who were part of the 2009 Illinois Honor Roll of 975 schools. The local schools were either Spotlight Schools — high-poverty, high-performing schools that are beating the odds in overcoming the achievement gap; or they received Academic Excellence Awards — given to schools that have sustained high performance over at least three years.

The Spotlight Schools included Carrie Busey Elementary School in Champaign, and King, Prairie and Wiley elementary schools in Urbana.

The Academic Excellence Award winners included Barkstall Elementary School in Champaign.

6) Honors.

U.S. News & World Report recognized Urbana High School last fall as one of the best high schools in the country. The magazine analyzed 21,786 public high schools in the country and recognized 1,750 schools with a gold, silver or bronze award. Urbana High School received a bronze award.

The magazine looked at test scores and which schools were outperforming the state average, as well as schools where the least-advantaged students were performing better than average. It also looked at college readiness.

Urbana High School dropped remedial classes several years ago and put in place support classes that help students perform well in the more rigorous classes they now take.

Champaign’s Jefferson Middle School was certified as a national demonstration site for AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination. The AVID program supports students to help prepare them for taking upper-level courses and for college.

Teachers from school districts around the country will visit Jefferson to learn how it implements the AVID program. It is one of 100 demonstration schools in the country, and one of five in the Midwest Region.

Jefferson was also chosen as a SMART Technologies Showcase School for its use of Smartboards, flip cameras, podcasts, blogs and other technology. It will host seminars to demonstrate how interactive whiteboards can be used in the classroom.

7) Redistricting.

Champaign approved a redistricting plan for its high schools last year, and that plan will be put in place this fall. The school district went through redistricting to better balance the enrollments between its two high schools, Central and Centennial. The plan includes a policy so younger siblings can attend the same high school as their older brothers and sisters, depending on the grade level of the siblings and the current high school students.

The Urbana school district plans to look at its elementary school boundaries and redistrict to equalize enrollments in its elementary schools. The district commissioned a demographic study during the last school year to provide information when it makes decisions about redistricting.

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