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Parents at Champaign Unit 4 open houses: don’t move students next year

A man with a white scarf and a beard smiles at the camera.
Former University of Illinois basketball player Sergio McClain attended the open house at Garden Hills Elementary in Champaign on Oct. 18, 2022.

CHAMPAIGN — Two open houses at Champaign Unit 4 schools this week yielded the same response – parents don’t want their children to change elementary schools next fall.

Parents and grandparents assembled in the Garden Hills Academy gym on Tuesday to discuss the proposal to reassign students to help desegregate the district. Like the first open house at Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy on Monday, no one spoke in favor of that change.

Audrey Mock is a former Unit 4 parent liaison and the great-aunt of current students. She says the school board should slow down before making this decision.

“Don’t wait until you’ve made up your mind to do something to get the community’s outlook on it,” said Mock. “Let the community be in the discussion group when you are discussing these things.” 

Former University of Illinois basketball player Sergio McClain attended the open house too. He works with Unit 4 students through the nonprofit he founded, the Wayne McClain Pipeline Foundation,  named for his late father, a longtime assistant basketball coach for the Illini. The younger McClain says the district should focus on differentiating instruction to students at different levels instead of putting them in different schools.

“Instead of rearranging furniture, maybe they need to take a look at [more teachers],” said McClain. “It’s no different than in sports, where you have a head coach and assistant coaches – you have three or four teachers in the classroom and they have a game plan on the development of the kids .” 

What is Unit 4 proposing and why?

Black and white parents and grandparents sit in the gym at Garden Hills Elementary.
Parents and grandparents raised their hands in the Garden Hills gym to ask why desegregation is a top priority for the Champaign Unit 4 school board. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Over and over on Tuesday, parents and grandparents raised their hands to ask what makes further desegregating worth potentially moving up to 90 percent of students?

The Unit 4 Board of Education has hired a consultant, Cooperative Strategies, to reduce segregation in its elementary schools. Last month, the firm proposed two options for improving the district’s choice process.

One proposal would be similar to neighborhood schools, except that students from segregated neighborhoods on opposite sides of town would attend together. The second option would reduce the number of schools parents can rank in the choice system from 12 to four.

Scott Leopold represented Cooperative Strategies at the open house in Garden Hills. He says the firm is working on one piece of Unit 4’s broader plan for achieving equity.

“We’re talking about equity of choice and equity of opportunity,” said Leopold. “We’re not talking about equity outcomes with this.”

Leopold’s coworker, David Sturtz, says student outcomes often improve too, because students with higher needs can get more attention when they are more evenly dispersed throughout different schools.

Cooperative Strategies has been collecting feedback this month from parents, school staff and community members on the two proposals. The open houses on Monday and Tuesday were part of that process.

The Unit 4 school board is scheduled to vote in December on what changes to make.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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