Champaign to make addition its north side schools

By Alissa Groeninger

The Champaign school board approved a proposal to renovate or possibly rebuild Washington Elementary School and add a wing to Garden Hills Elementary School.

The item was proposed to meet the requirements of a consent decree that requires the district to improve the educational opportunities of black students.

The plan, which the board approved unanimously, will provide the community and students with two great schools, said Kristine Chalifoux, Champaign school board member.

Ten years ago the Champaign School District Unit 4 was sued by two individuals who claimed black students were not receiving the same opportunities as their peers. Consequently, the district received a federal consent decree ordering them to make major changes.

“The biggest thing really is to bring the (academic progress and ability) of African-American kids up to the other kids,” Chalifoux said.

In the area north of University Avenue in Champaign, black students were not receiving the same opportunities as other students, Chalifoux added.

The committee in charge of the consent decree consisted of eight people, including two school board members, the plaintiff attorney from the lawsuit, administrators and other representatives from the district. They discussed a few options that would help them meet the requirements before they made the decision.

One idea was to create a Great Campus program, which would make Stratton Elementary School, the Early Childhood Center and the Columbia Center into a campus for students between pre-kindergarten and eighth grade.

However, Chalifoux said the board chose to make the renovations to Washington Elementary and Garden Hills Elementary because it better meets the needs of the consent decree, which specifically stated that Unit 4 needed to add two classrooms at all grade levels between kindergarten and fifth grade on the north side of Champaign.

At Garden Hills Elementary School, six classrooms, a gym and extra support rooms will be added. The board and the administration are deciding what will take place at Washington Elementary School. Chalifoux said there is a possibility of tearing it down and rebuilding the school.

“We think it was an excellent decision,” said Beth Shepperd, assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations for Unit 4.

Chalifoux said the board chose this option because the Great Campus idea would have only allowed the addition of classrooms for sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Shepperd said the plan will not only better the district’s facilities, but it will help expand the educational opportunities of all students.

“We want to make sure those kids have the option of attending school in the community they live,” Chalifoux added.

At the close of the meeting, the school board instructed the administration to start planning the additions to Garden Hills Elementary and Washington Elementary. They also encouraged the creation of a long-range plan that will focus on making all necessary changes to better the district’s programming, facilities and curriculum.

With respect to the new schools, as well as the rest of the district, the administration will look at current programs, curriculum, facilities and community outreach strategies.