Unit 4 board

Cooperative Strategies’ David Sturtz and Karen Daniel-Hamberg and Unit 4’s Orlando Thomas present a demographic study to the Champaign school board that recommends significant changes to the district’s student placement process.

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school district’s school-placement program will likely receive an overhaul next summer.

In a presentation at Monday night’s board meeting, consulting firm Cooperative Strategies presented its findings from a monthslong study and provided two options for school placement as the district tries to close the widening gap in socioeconomic status between its 12 elementary schools.

One involves traditional boundaries, with the caveat that two elementary schools surrounded by large pockets of families with high socioeconomic status, Barkstall and Carrie Busey, will be paired with Stratton and Booker T. Washington, which are surrounded by large pockets of families with low socioeconomic status.

The second included boundaries for three “clusters” of schools, with each family having four schools to choose from based on the boundary they live in.

A similar Schools of Choice algorithm would be used within each cluster.

“As a community, we know that it’s really important that we don’t have schools full of rich kids and schools full of poor kids,” board member Kathy Shannon said.

“I just want to make sure that we state that this is why we’re doing this.

“The reason that this is so disruptive is that we have a segregated community,” she added.

“If we had a community where rich and poor were regularly mixed throughout the community, we could do traditional boundaries and it wouldn’t matter. Every school would have a relatively equal mix of low and high” socioeconomic status.

“And so, I hate that this is going to be very disruptive — this is going to be very hard for people — but I want us to keep in mind that we’re doing this for the good of our students, and long term, maybe we want to think about ways to desegregate our city.”

According to the study, as many as 90 percent of students would attend a different school next year than they do now, although representatives from the firm said that number will likely be much lower, and some older students may be grandfathered in to their current schools.

“The transition plan will need to be taken care of, just like when you have students who transition from early childhood to kindergarten, or from fifth grade to middle school or middle school to high school,” Superintendent Shelia Boozer said.

“This is going to be a little bit bigger, and the funny thing is, the kids are probably going to be more resilient than we are, as adults.”

The district hired Cooperative Strategies in February to look into options for changing or replacing the Schools of Choice process in order to evenly disperse the number of students from low-income families across the district’s elementary schools.

Its study found that the current model of elementary student placement, which allows parents to rank their top choices anywhere in the district, is not a viable option.

Neither is a traditional boundary model, which the district will continue to use at its middle and high schools.

The firm recommended that the two balanced-calendar schools — Barkstall and Kenwood, which exchange a shorter summer for three-week breaks in the fall and spring — change to adhere to the district’s traditional calendar. A representative from the firm told the board Monday that it will soon release a survey on an informational website it is set to launch that will solicit feedback on balanced-calendar schools.

International Prep Academy also presents a complication. In the study, the bilingual school was given the same parameters as every other school. Because the nature of the school’s program, which requires the student body to include at least 50 percent native Spanish speakers, that won’t be possible.

The firm recommended reserving 50 percent of seats for native Spanish speakers and allocating the other 50 percent evenly to families from each boundary.

In addition to the website, the firm will conduct focus groups and meetings throughout the community.

In November, it will make final recommendations, according to the timeline in Monday’s presentation. The board will then vote in December to replace a system that was put in place after a 1998 consent decree in an attempt to solve the same problem.

“This has been looming since 1998,” board member Gianina Baker said.

“We thought perhaps Schools of Choice was going to give us what we needed, but here we sit, and we are ready to do something. So we hope that others will come along for this ride.

“And it may not work the very first time, but let’s figure out how we can get better demographics, how we can do better by our students.”