Champaign school to start reconstruction

A ceremony will be held Sept. 3 to mark the beginning of Booker T. Washington Elementary School’s much anticipated reconstruction.

Attendees will be present as students and faculty gather to sign the first steel beam incorporated into the metal structure of the Champaign school.

The school will be converted into a science and technology magnet school for the next academic year.

Lynn Peisker, community relations coordinator for the Champaign Unit 4 School District, said board of education members and representatives, including the school principal and several students, will be signing the first steel beam.

“It is well under way,” Peisker said.

She added that the ceremony represents “a symbol of the future of that school.”

The elementary school will implement a program called STEM that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math for its students, she said.

Kristine Chalifoux, board member, has a positive outlook on the changes at Booker T. Washington.

“We are trying to provide the best education for kids,” Chalifoux said. “We can offer a much richer education. I, personally, am thrilled. I think it’s so important for kids to have focus — it takes it to a higher level.”

Peisker said the new magnet school will also operate on a lottery system for the community as do all of the other schools within the district. Families who have children entering kindergarten or transferring from another city will enter this lottery system and give their preference of the top three schools they want their child to attend. Peisker said 90 percent of families are offered a school within their top three picks. Preference will be given to students living in proximity, she added.

Chalifoux said the district is committed to magnet schools despite the approval of a federal grant, which helps districts establish magnet programs.

“A magnet school has an enriched curriculum with a focus on a particular topic,” she said. “It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. This is what the community has asked for — to improve our schools.”

The commitment to magnet schools has been funded in part by the 1 percent sales tax regulation, which was added to basic consumer goods such as clothes and furniture. The money was then distributed to the school districts based on number of students. The money, however, can only be used to build and improve facilities, Chalifoux said.

She added that she does not have any concerns about this project.

“I think concerns are something that needs to be ironed out before you embark on a project,” she said. “We had open, public meetings to make sure that people wouldn’t have objections.”

However, some concerns have already been articulated concerning the reconstruction. Angie Yamamoto, treasurer of the Champaign Parent Teacher Association, voiced concerns.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I believe it will bring more up-to-date technology as a positive situation. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, (but) I have a strong feeling that it will not be finished when they say it will be finished.”

She added that the board was met with a lot of negativity at first because Booker T. Washington was to be torn down to be rebuilt for the magnet school.

Despite this initial negativity, Peisker said she believes this is an exciting chance for the students, parents and educators.

“Our biggest concern is getting the word out about this school,” she said. “Parents will understand what an outstanding educational opportunity Booker T. Washington will be for our community.”