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By now, you’ve probably heard that Urbana has a whole new crew in charge, Unity is home to a sports complex that rivals some colleges’ and you’d be advised to keep a hard hat handy if you plan to be in the vicinity of certain Unit 4 schools. But there’s plenty more new in store on the local schools scene in 2019-20. Here is our fourth annual list of 100 new this and that across the area.

Franklin STEAM staff

The staff at Franklin STEAM Academy with the school’s three portables on the eve of the start of school: Beth Viselli, Michelle Kim, Jeanette Brosam, Zanne Newman, Stephanie Clifton, Iracema Quintero, Malik Berry, Kristy Mrozek, Nathan McCallum, Suzanne Price, Lucy Christianson, Evan Anderson-Bliss, Regina Stevenson, Suzie Berkes, Jasmine Henderson, Gillian Seals, April Hart, Terrance Stevenson, Jan Briggs, Jason Maddux, Georgia Powell, Kia Johnson, Sara Sanders, Kyle Issleb, Ranece Fondia, Abby Krows, Katrina Flynn, Barbie Morse, Christine Jolly, Nick Henthorn, Jeniece Mitchell, Mark Freedman, DJ McClain, Rashod Seaton, Tracey Jones, Katie Vanhootegem, Jeff Buhnerkempe, Dave Mast, Morgan Trajkovich, Myra Gillespie, Charles Butts, Joe Pickell, Joe Pittenger, Nightrain Epton, Danielle Gray, Kyle Carter, Darwin Ellis, Brittany Sanders, Kim Saveley, Samantha Anderson, Shontelle Mapson, Kristin Monahan, Chris Brunson, Kathy Hughes, Staci Starkweather, Laurel Hall, Barb McGrath, Sarah Park, Tamika Gardner, Nita Truax, Kayla Leitschuh, Chris Taber, Susan Kim, Tina Wolfe, Melanie Demma, Ashley Franklin, Eric Immke, Daniel Sohn, Sam Flowers, Leah Wicks, Amy Wise, Katie Lessaris, Robyn Smith, David Collins, Whitney Tatman, Blanca Bustos, Katie Goslin, Steve Whiteley, Rory Wallace, Ashley Livingood, Paul Suh and Sarah Wallace.

1 North Champaign’s newest development is a modest, three-structure space that caters to kids and sits next to a middle school.

Cost: $47,500 annually.

Comfort: Not nearly as bad as a portable classroom might sound.

“We call it The Franklin Estates,” Sara Sanders, principal at Unit 4’s Franklin STEAM Academy, says of the three portables that sit outside her school — one more than last year but still one shy of the count at Jefferson Middle School.

“As our community grows and our schools are growing, we are facing space challenges. Great ‘problem’ to have. But it has required us to get creative with making room for our scholars and teachers.”

It’s a good time to be in the mobile classroom business, with Unit 4 and Monticello both undergoing multi-year, multi-project, multi-million-dollar makeovers that took three tries to get voters’ blessing and require temporary housing for scores of students.

Of the 17 portables now sitting outside nine Champaign schools, 14 are leased (at a cost of between $13,250 and $17,000 apiece), three are the property of Unit 4, and seven are expected to be removed once referendum work is complete.

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Monticello’s new modular has four classrooms and room for about 120 students.

Monticello’s lease — for a four-classroom modular that sits on the high school lawn — is for two years and $160,000 from Innovative Modular Solutions of Elkhart, Ind. Each classroom can accommodate about 30 students and comes with everything but restrooms, Superintendent Vic Zimmerman says: “Carpet and A/C. Whiteboards and projectors. Probably nicer than the classrooms the teachers came from.”

2-4 Well, if no one else is going to come up with the cure for America’s teacher shortage epidemic, a few Vermilion County high schools will take a crack at it. Among those adding electives this school year geared to grooming future educators: Hoopeston Area, Schlarman Academy and Georgetown-Ridge Farm, whose second-semester class for juniors and seniors will include job shadowing.

5 Coming soon to the backs of stalls at Rantoul High: Toilet Talk, a must-read roundup of information, upcoming events and motivational thoughts — part of a broader initiative at the school. (More on that at No. 92).

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One-time Simeon Career Academy quarterback and 2010 graduate Antwan Funches is now an area school resource officer.

6 From the same Chicago high school that gave us some of the greatest basketball players in Illini history comes the area’s newest school resource officer: one-time Simeon Career Academy quarterback and 2010 graduate Antwan Funches.

Topping the Champaign Central SRO’s to-do list: bridging the gap between the community and law enforcement and building positive relationships with the kids.

7-11 Out: The high school curriculum Mom and Dad experienced.

In: Classes like ...

Medical Detectives, in which students at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High, Potomac Grade School and other Project Lead the Way schools “play the role of real-life medical detectives as they collect and analyze medical data to diagnose disease. They solve medical mysteries through hands-on projects and labs, measure and interpret vital signs, dissect a sheep brain, investigate disease outbreaks, and explore how a breakdown within the human body can lead to dysfunction.”

Social Studies Laboratory, taught at Urbana Uni High by Andrew Wilson in collaboration with the UI Department of History. The goal: “to facilitate autonomous and creative research by allowing students the opportunity to dive deeply into a topic they find particularly interesting,” Wilson says.

Aviation Science, part of a Schlarman curriculum that Principal Mark Janesky describes as “more rigorous than ever.”

Veterinary Science and Robotics/Animation, among the new offerings at Hoopeston Area.

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Unity West’s Buddy Bench is dedicated to the beloved Donna Eckerty, who passed away this month.

12 In honor of its late, great playground supervisor, Unity West Elementary has added the Donna Eckerty memorial buddy bench. It’s a fitting tribute, Assistant Principal Floyd Fisher says, given that “Mrs. Eckerty was always willing to be a buddy for a student who needed one.”

13 For Champaign’s Academy High, a record-high freshman class of ... 13. That brings total enrollment at the third-year secular school to 37.

14-16 Mark your calendars for ...

Dec. 20: The day Paxton’s Eastlawn School is scheduled to be put to rest after a full, 94-year life. Asbestos abatement is scheduled for this month, with demolition to begin around the end of October.

Jan. 10, 2020: The deadline for communities to apply to host the 2021, ’22 and ’23 IHSA state boys’ basketball tournaments. Is this the year Champaign-Urbana, the gracious host from 1919-95, one-ups Peoria, which has had it since 1996? We should get an answer next March 21.

July 1, 2020: When any full-time teacher earning less than $32,076 will be due a raise. That’s phase one of the state’s newly rewritten school code, which will bump up the minimum teacher salary to $34,576 for the 2021-22 school year, $37,076 in 2022-23 and $40,000 in 2023-24.

17-18 Think Latin bullfight set to music. That’s the feel new Arcola band director Emily Henderson is going for with the new halftime show, “A Spanish Celebration,” not to be confused with “Landscapes of Spain,” the field show Centennial’s band will put on.

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For Arcola’s five-time IHSA football champs, an all-new locker room.

19-26 A special thanks to ...

To: The Avery Foundation. From: Arcola High’s football team, for covering the cost of the lockers in the spiffy new room they’ll spend their pregame, halftime and postgame in.

To: New Mahomet Lincoln Trail Principal Megan Hunter. From: Email-weary parents, who this year will have the option of watching short video messages on the elementary school’s new YouTube channel, which Hunter hopes is a precursor to her grander vision: Trail TV.

To: Farmer City leaders. From: Schneider Elementary families, for signing off on a summertime road renovation project that includes a circle drive, safer for dropping off and picking up pre-K-3’ers.

To: St. Matthew Catholic School. From: the neighbors, who’ll be less likely to have a foul ball land on their lawns now that the ballfield fence damaged by a summer tornado is being replaced with a taller version.

To: Workers who spent the summer making their spaces special and safer. From: Everyone at Paxton’s Clara Peterson Elementary (63,400-square-foot addition); DeLand-Weldon (new parking lot, roof, entryways all part of $4.3 million project); and Heritage Junior High and Elementary (new hallway lockers and gym roof).

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Safe entryways topped DeLand-Weldon’s $4.3 million in upgrades.

27-34 A few area firsts:

Four years after Danville hired its first black female superintendent (Alicia Geddis), Urbana did the same in giving Jennifer Ivory-Tatum the district’s top job.

Choir, the class, will be offered at all three Unit 4 middle schools. Up until now, it’s strictly been an after-school activity.

Art & Design, the AP version, is available at C-U’s three largest high schools now that Champaign Central has added it to the curriculum. (It will be taught at Centennial in one of two new art rooms).

Debuting at Fisher, Gibson-City-Melvin-Sibley and PBL high schools: entrepreneurial training, via the Midland Institute’s increasingly popular CEO program. The three-school partnership will have students team up with mentors from the business community, visit area companies, even have a chance to start their own business.

New at Rantoul’s JW Eater Junior High: a School Climate Team, made up of one student from each grade. Designed to give students a bigger say, the team will meet twice a month to brainstorm ways things can be improved, then get to share their suggestions with administrators.


Lucia Maldonado, the Urbana school district’s liaison for Latino families.

35 For immigrant families — documented or undocumented — anxious about the future, this promise from Lucia Maldonado, the Urbana school district’s Latino family liaison:

“I want families and students to know that they are welcome in our school community. This year, we are going to keep increasing our reach and support to immigrant families. We are going to keep working with community organizations to bring resources and services into the schools and closer to our families.

“Immigrant parents in our district will continue to have opportunities to get involved in ways that are most comfortable for them. We are going to build strong partnerships and empower all parents to become leaders in our schools and community. We are better and stronger together.”

36 For Milford High students, a few good reasons to get through a semester with all As and no detentions, suspensions, expulsions or unexcused absences. Do all that, and they’ll be treated to free admission to home school activities (except prom or homecoming), lunch line and parking privileges, a tardy pass, Bearcat apparel, a pizza party and a treat TBD.

The new perks program is “designed to reward positive behavior,” Principal Steve Totheroh says, and includes four levels — blue card, white card, black card and starter card.

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Who’s up for golf? Count Countryside School second-grader Devyn Pugh in.

37-40 Taking it up a notch:

Rantoul elementary schools’ bilingual programming, which will have twice the number of instructors teaching it — 10 — as a year ago. Says district bilingual director Scott Woods: “Most of our bilingual students come from Spanish-speaking homes, and research shows that providing high-quality bilingual instruction at the elementary level will make our emergent bilingual students better students with stronger academic outcomes.”

Montessori of Champaign-Urbana’s toddler program, added last year to existing preschool and elementary programs. Among the shared activities on tap this fall for students of all ages: gardening, timed to harvest season.

Hoopeston’s John Greer Elementary and STEM. A newly created lab is outfitted with a 3D printer, virtual reality viewers, Lego kits and more.

Athletic Director Shane Woodcock, who brought middle school golf to Champaign’s Countryside School several years ago, will now introduce the First Tee golf program to lower elementary students. It’s one part sport, one part character building, with an emphasis on nine core values.

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Mahomet-Seymour Junior High spruced up its courtyard this summer.

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Salt Fork North Elementary spruced up its courtyard this summer.

41-42 Out: Uninspired courtyards.

In: Courtyards by Mahomet-Seymour Junior High, which has been transformed into an outdoor eating area, and Salt Fork North Elementary, repurposed into a peaceful reading spot that’s conveniently located next to the library.

43-49 What’s a new school year without a theme? Such as ...

“Relationships, Rigor, Results” (Rantoul’s Eastlawn Elementary).

“Building Community, Fostering Success” (Urbana Middle School).

“#YourLegacy” (Hoopeston Area Middle School, where the walls will be decked out with #Kindness, #Perseverance and other hashtags “to encourage students to choose positivity and block out the negative noise in their lives,” Principal Michelle White says).

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Bement teachers chose a theme of their own this school year.

“Armor Up: Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be a Problem Solver” (Arthur Grade School, home of the Knights).

“Habits of Success” (LeRoy school district).

“What Drives You?” (Urbana’s Dr. Martin Luther King Elementary, where “drive” is an acronym for Determination, Readiness, Involvement, Vision and Empathy).

“Living Our Vision” (the choice of teachers in the Bement district, where “we walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk,” Superintendent Sheila Greenwood says. “We believe that nurture is an important part of education and we are going to reach them all this school year.”

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A cool new July development at Villa Grove: air conditioning in the gym.

50-52 It’s the first summer/fall with air conditioning at PBL High, which no one’s happier about than band director Tim Hess: “Normally by the second week of camp, the band room is warm and smells of sweat and dirty feet. Not anymore. We are spoiled.”

Also becoming cooler places to spend sweltering late-summer days: the main gyms at Villa Grove and Heritage high schools.

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Young thespians in Tuscola gathered for a Students in the Spotlight series kickoff.

53 Tuscola drama students will get to play teacher — part of a new Students in the Spotlight camp series that will have first- through eighth-graders learning about performing arts from the high schoolers they’ll be paired up with. “Each camp will end with a performance, giving our youth a chance to showcase their creative talents,” says high school Drama Director Johanna Steffens.

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Now gracing the walls of Urbana’s Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary: a mural created by students and their families, titled ‘Colored Voices of the World.’


Out: Bland walls and halls covered in paint.

In: Marvel characters, murals and motivational messages:

Now showing at Urbana’s Dr. Preston L. Williams, Jr. Elementary: “Colored Voices of the World,” a multicultural mural created by students and families. “The aim,” Associate Principal Christina De Joy says, “was to create a mural based on the principles of diversity, equity and cooperation.”

Since school let out in the spring, the library at Champaign’s Bottenfield Elementary has added 187 books and one eye-catching display. Quoting from R.J. Palacio’s best-selling “Wonder,” it reads: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose KIND.”

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The handiwork of Gifford Grade School’s Positive Behavior Support team.

Gifford Grade School students will see inspiration everywhere they turn — with messages like “Be The Best Version of You!” and “Spread Your Wings and Fly!” in the hallways, the ceiling tiles, even the little girls’ and boys’ rooms.

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Oakwood Grade School’s Avenger-themed walls.

The kids at Oakwood Grade School are in for a special treat when they return from summer break Monday: walls decked out with Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow and other favorite Avengers.

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Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s marching band will sport a new look this year.

58-61 Look good, play good. That’s the plan for four squads that will debut new uniforms this school year: Uni High’s boys’ soccer, Bismarck-Henning Rossville-Alvin’s girls’ volleyball, Cerro Gordo/Bement football and the GCMS Marching Falcons.

62 Business classes are returning to the Cissna Park High curriculum for the first time in five years. “With the teacher shortage going on around the state, is has been difficult to find the right person for this position,” Principal Mark Portwood says.

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Carrie Busey’s Christine Cahill keeps the Prairie Fields Little Free Library stocked.

63-74 It’s the little things. Like:

A Little Free Library of Carrie Busey Elementary’s own, one of six built in Savoy as part of Mayor Joan Dykstra’s idea to promote literacy and community.

Mulch and fencing for the playground at Champaign’s St. John Lutheran.

A second instructor to teach driver’s ed a few hours a week in the three new Honda Civics Danville leased last year.

A baritone saxophone for the Urbana Middle School band, replacing a 25-year-old clunker.

Painted lines in the parking lot, a first at Cerro Gordo.

The new smoothie maker in the Georgetown-Ridge Farm cafeteria.

Much-needed kitchen cabinets and sinks at Prairieview-Ogden Junior High.

Plus: Handrails for the staircases at Armstrong High, an ice maker for the teachers lounge at Arthur Grade School, a new floor for Uni High’s weightroom and a new app/website to find all things PBL.

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St. John Lutheran’s new-look playground.

75-78 Attention, opposing teams and fans ...

Fisher’s newly sanded and refinished gym floor features a supersized sketch of what Superintendent Barb Thompson describes as a “fierce Bunnie” at midcourt. Beware the Bunnies.

They might not like the look of the scoreboard when time expires but fans of high school football teams playing at Arcola ought to at least enjoy the comfort of the visiting side’s new bleachers.

Along with signs directing Franklin STEAM Academy students one way and opponents’ the other, the Champaign gym has an all-new sound system. You know what that means. “I am sure the middle schoolers will want to be playing the warmup music very loud,” jokes Franklin AD Kim Saveley.

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That’s Georgetown-Ridge Farm administrator Lisa Cramer, right, transporting food service workers to summer training in a new activity bus.

79-80 Out: Long rides for small groups in gas-guzzling Georgetown-Ridge Farm district school buses.

In: The district’s smaller activity bus, purchased used this summer for $33,000. With only 18,000 miles on the odometer, it remains “a nice ride that will save the district transportation cost,” Superintendent Jean Neal says. “Win-win.”

St. Joseph-Ogden also did school bus business this summer, leasing four new ones.

81 For the kids at Tuscola’s North Ward Elementary: a sparkling new playground, thanks to the Kiwanis and the Tuscola Foundation.

82-84 Their school’s $96.3 million extreme makeover — including far better band accommodations — won’t be finished for another 1,100 or so days. In the meantime, Champaign Central’s Marching Maroons will enjoy a new concert bass drum; a new bell cart (“made by a crafty parent,” band boss John Currey says); and a grant-funded visit by professional trumpeter Terell Stafford, who’ll fly in from Philadelphia to work with all of Unit 4’s secondary band programs.

85 For Danville teachers, extra incentive to be on the lookout for prospective future co-workers. Help lure one for what the district considers a “hard-to-fill position,” and teachers will be rewarded with $1,000 to put toward classroom supplies and materials.

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St. Joseph Middle School’s band is switching to online ‘Smart Music.’

86-89 Technically speaking:

How much more sophisticated is the new security/surveillance system the GCMS district put in? “Our upgrade is the equivalent of going from black-and-white TV to HD,” Superintendent Jeremy Darnell says.

So long, sheet music. Hello, Smart Music, the new online program St. Joseph Middle School’s band is making the move to.

The week ahead at Westview will be recorded by Principal Nick Swords and Assistant Principal Christina Ray, then posted in video form on the Champaign elementary’s new Friends of Westview Facebook page.

Splurging for an all-new IT network will allow Salt Fork High to join the area’s 1:1 technology club come spring.

90-91 Homecoming kings of yesteryear will be back on campus for fall football Fridays at Tuscola (honoring the 2009 state champs) and Monticello (inducting into its Athletic Hall of Fame the Hud Venerable-coached powerhouses of 1988-91, who didn’t lose a single regular season game).

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Rantoul High’s longtime trophy case is being repurposed into a spot to celebrate students, staff and faculty.

92 After years of playful nagging (her word), Brooke Billings has been given the keys to Rantoul High’s longtime trophy case, which will look a little different this school year.

Gone are the old trophies. (But not gone gone, Superintendent Scott Amerio promises, just relocated). Taking their place: a showcase of what’s happening in every corner of the building.

There will be four themes, says Billings, Rantoul’s assistant principal of attendance and discipline.

The centerpiece is a student and “staffulty” spotlight section, which will include awards for those who, in the eyes of their fellow Eagles, show effort, attitude, generosity, leadership, encouragement and self-motivation. (As in E-A-G-L-E-S).

Other themes: a “who are we?” section (including school hashtag ideas submitted by all); an information station; and a quarterly spotlight on six to eight clubs and organizations in the school.

There are other creative elements to Billings’ vision — like the aforementioned Toilet Talk and staff and faculty being asked to fill out personal information sheets, which will hang outside their doors or be shared around the building as a way for everyone to get to know each other, whether their title is cook, custodian, bus driver or business teacher.

“My personal favorite part of this is ‘What’s on your mixed tape?’” Billings says. “Staffulty will list three or four of their favorite songs — that is, after we explain to the young ones what a mixed tape is.”

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A newly installed gym floor awaits the 750 students at Westville’s Judith Giacoma Elementary.

93 Out: The synthetic linoleum gym floor at Westville’s Judith Giacoma Elementary.

In: A new hardwood maple surface, put in just in time for Year 2 of intramurals, which 150 of 200 fifth- and sixth-graders took part in last year.

94-99 They can’t all get Unity-sized upgrades. But these athletic improvements won’t go unnoticed:

At St. Joseph-Ogden, four new poles and lights at the football field, a discus cage for the throwers and a resurfaced track, which should be ready for running on any day now.

For St. Thomas More’s soccer field, a 21x24 storage shed and brand-new bleachers. Cost: around $10,500, with funding provided by generous parents and Sabers alums.

In Oakwood, an indoor batting cage for the junior high baseball team and a new backstop for the high schoolers.

At Rantoul Eastlawn, new baskets and backboards for the gym.

At Centennial, new lights for the current gym, which itself will be replaced come 2020-21 by a facility that’s bound to be the envy of the Big 12.

100 With the wrecking ball flattening the forever-long homes of Champaign’s Dr. Howard Elementary (est. 1910) last fall and Monticello’s Washington Elementary (1894) last month, the list of the area’s oldest active school buildings looks different than it did at this time a year ago.

Now tied for sixth place: Champaign’s Edison Middle School, which opened the same year — 1914 — as World War I and Chicago’s Weeghman Park (or, as it would come to be known later, Wrigley Field).

With $25.1 million in major renovations on the horizon starting next year at Edison, the plan is for staff and students to devote this school year to working on a unique history project.

Says social studies teacher Zach Cain: “We are going to be spending quite a bit of time digitally documenting the pieces of the building that are going to disappear in 2020.

“Specifically, we will be looking at photographically preserving the cafeteria, our tech lab, the gymnasium and various other parts of the building so that future generations can understand and see what the building looked like in 2019 — at the age of 105 — and be able to appreciate how it has grown and changed over the years.”

Here’s what the new list of the area’s oldest active school buildings looks like:

1. Bement Elementary (1899).

2. Danville Garfield Elementary (1903).

3. Champaign Columbia School (1905), temporary home to Dr. Howard for one last school year.

4 (tie). Bismarck Grade School and Monticello Lincoln Elementary (1911).

6 (tie). Edison, Rantoul St. Malachy School and Urbana High (1914).

9 (tie). Armstrong and Chrisman high schools (1915).