Champaign school officials enlist community for improvement plan

By Alissa Groeninger

The Champaign Community Unit 4 School District school board is working on a long-range plan that aims to better the education of students in the district and create partnerships between the district and the community.

“(The plan will) set forth the vision for where we want the district to go,” said board member Greg Novak.

The planning process is going to create a road map for where the district should go. Novak said the board feels that to successfully better the schools it needs to figure out what the community wants and what the community is willing to support. In order to voice the community’s desires there are forums, blogs and meetings to provide residents with outlets to voice their opinions.

This long-range plan is also seeking to find a way to pay for the improvements without increasing property taxes.

“(The board is focused on) exploring other ways we can pay for what comes out of this planning process,” said Kristine Chalifoux, Unit 4 school board member.

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    Novak and Chalifoux are leading the initiative, which is titled “Great Schools, Together.”

    Novak said the decision to create the plan came from discussions in May 2007, at a time when four out of the seven board members stepped down or were replaced. With a majority of the board being composed of new members, its goals took a dramatic shift.

    Novak said the new board felt the district had lost touch with the community, as evidenced by the uncommon failure of a referendum in March 2006. The failed referendum sought approval to build three new school facilities, as well as to correct the failures of other schools.

    “We’ve disconnected ourselves from our community,” Novak said.

    To begin the planning process the school created a vision committee, comprised of citizens of Champaign County. The Vision Committee is responsible for making sure the plan continues to represent the community.

    The plan targets three specific areas, each directed by a working group appointed by the Vision Committee, focusing on improving the infrastructure, redesigning the school programs and building community partnerships.

    Novak said the three areas of focus in the plan are like a tripod: all necessary for long-term improvements.

    “Each of the legs supports the others,” he added.

    Novak said the infrastructure investment is necessary because of the deterioration of school buildings.

    Many of the buildings have technology dating back to the 1950s. Some of the schools didn’t even have heat at times last winter as a result of their old structures.

    “In some cases our schools have deteriorated to a point of deterring an education,” Chalifoux said. “(The initiative seeks) to provide exemplary education to our kids through a series of facilities that are modern.”

    Abby Hobbs, a resident of Champaign County who has one child currently enrolled in the school district and one child who has graduated, said she believes the board needs to do something because the district does not have proper facilities.

    “Our schools desperately need some major upkeep,” Hobbs said. “We owe this to our kids.”