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Urbana school board votes to permanently end Wiley Elementary classes, reopen building as sixth grade center

Wiley Elementary School supporters protest its closure at a February 2023 school board meeting.

Urbana will soon have one of the only sixth grade-only schools in the state.

The District 116 school board voted 4-to-3 on Tuesday to open sixth grade classes in the school building that formerly housed Wiley Elementary School. The sixth-grade classes will move to the Wiley building from Urbana Middle School, which will become a school for seventh and eighth graders only.

Urbana Middle School teacher Natajia Stampley is excited to move to a smaller school.

“Imagine your little 4-foot-6 kid with their light-up shoes and their big bookbag trying to make it across the building, versus the 6-foot-3 8th graders who are running and jumping,” Stampley said. 

She added that all 900 middle school students are moving through the halls during the four-minute passing period to get to their next class. 

The board closed Wiley this summer for asbestos removal and other renovations. This decision means the majority-Black elementary school will not reopen, leaving District 116 with five elementary schools. 

Deliah Murphy was the secretary at Wiley. She’s now at Thomas Paine Elementary and mourns the loss of a successful school.

“We have students who we have fought to get them where they are educationally, socially, and those needs aren’t being met now. Those students will fall through the cracks. Trust me, they will. I’m seeing it,” Murphy said. 

According to the 2022 Illinois State Board of Education Report Card, about 20 percent of Wiley students were white, 56 percent were Black, 6 percent were Hispanic and 16 percent were multiracial. 

Those in favor of the sixth grade center hope it will ease middle school discipline issues and overcrowding and improve academics. It is an uncommon school structure but there is at least one other public, sixth-grade-only school in the state in Cahokia

A committee of teachers, parents and administrators met for months to discuss what to do and look at research. While some outside the committee did not trust that it had a voice independent of administrators, teacher and parent members at Tuesday’s meeting talked about how much time they put in and how their voices were respected.

The district plans to sell bonds in January to pay for renovations at Wiley. The estimated cost is about $20 million. The district aims to open the sixth grade center in the fall of 2025. 

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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