Central High School restructuring after not meeting AYP

By Alissa Groeninger

Members of the Central High School community are planning for mandatory restructuring of the school’s programs and services.

Central has failed to make the required adequate yearly progress, as mandated by No Child Left Behind, for five straight years, resulting in a restructuring requirement.

The committee behind the restructuring, which comprises administrators, teachers, school staff, students, parents and community members, identified five key areas that need to be looked at: curriculum, instruction and assessment; student services; school organization and management structure; community and parent engagement; and personnel.

“I was thrilled by the enthusiasm of the teachers and staff,” said Kristine Chalifoux, board member.

She said the plan took a tremendous amount of work.

In order to address these five areas the committee developed 57 action steps. Some of the recommended action steps include encouraging more students to take honors and Advanced Placement courses, aligning graduating requirements with college entrance requirements from the University and other area colleges, and hiring a counselor whose goal will be to expose students to colleges.

One of the biggest possible changes is the lengthening of the school day, to add a period so students can receive additional support or take more electives.

Freshmen will have the benefit of added attention. All freshmen will be assigned to a group of teachers who will monitor their needs and progress.

Another possible change is a closed lunch for freshmen and sophomores. Chalifoux, board parliamentarian Susan Grey and other members of the community expressed concern about the current open lunch program, which allows all students to leave school for lunch.

Keeping the younger kids in the school would allow staff to keep a closer eye on them.

“Most of them don’t drive and don’t have a car so they … are going to be out driving around with the older kids. We see a lot of discipline problems during the lunch hour,” Chalifoux said.

One of the action steps involves the creation of a three-tiered diploma system in which students who have taken more rigorous schedules receive a higher-level diploma.

A standard diploma would be given to students who meet graduation requirements but do not meet the requirements for a silver diploma, which requires a 3.0 grade point average on a 5.0 scale and 15 hours of community service, among several other requirements. Students who earn a 3.5 grade point average and complete 10 hours of community service, in addition to other coursework requirements, would receive a gold diploma.

Champaign resident and activist Imani Bazzell said at the meeting that she was excited about the plan, until she heard discussion of a three-tiered diploma system.

She said that this diploma system might have racial implications and that lower-income and minority students would be more likely to receive standard diplomas.

Beth Shepperd, assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations, said the diploma program would provide incentive for parents to work with their children toward a higher-level diploma.

“The kids have to know a clear threshold,” Chalifoux said.

Superintendent Arthur Culver said the new system would not result in great changes in the classroom, as students already take different course schedules.

“We’re really not doing anything different. (We’re) putting a name on a diploma,” Culver said.

While Centennial High School has met adequate yearly progress, many of the changes made to Central, including the diploma distinctions, could be applied at Centennial.

If Centennial does not meet adequate yearly progress for the testing that will take place this spring, it will be forced to restructure.

Gene Logas, chief financial officer for the district, said the estimated cost of the restructuring is $400,000.

“We have to fit that in,” he said. “This becomes the most important new expenditure in next year’s budget.”

Logas said that there may be funds available from the revenue generated from property taxes, and that the district may create new funds because it is tightening its schedule.

The board must approve the plan or a revised version in February, as the restructuring must start next school year. Meetings will be held before the decision in order to encourage community involvement.

“We want to hear from parents,” Chalifoux said. “This affects their kids.”