Majority oppose proposed changes to Champaign ‘schools of choice,’ survey finds

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – The numbers are in. The Champaign School District released survey results about two proposals that could uproot elementary students from their current schools.

The district announced it wanted to change the “schools of choice” model in September, and has since faced months of backlash. After many parents spoke out with concerns, people overwhelmingly responded negatively to both options on the table.

“I wasn’t surprised whatsoever by what those results were,” parent Jeff Hoover said. “There’s no widespread support whatsoever for moving kids around among the schools.”

That’s exactly what consulting firm Cooperative Strategies found when they surveyed 2,646 people. One of their proposed scenarios would create “sister schools,” and one would give families “clusters” of schools to choose from, but either idea could send many kids to new schools next year.

“The biggest concern far and away was the disruption,” Hoover said.

Parents have been raising that concern since the firm first brought its proposals to the school board. They’ve said moving kids around could cause social and emotional distress, especially after the pandemic. Superintendent Dr. Shelia Boozer addressed that when the ideas were introduced, saying: “the funny thing is, our kids are probably going to be a bit more resilient about it than we are.”

Results show the majority of people do not support both scenarios, with more than 70% feeling strongly against the sister schools model, and more than half strongly opposing the cluster model. Hoover said sharing the data was a “step in the right direction” for transparency.

“To their credit, Cooperative Strategies released all of the very detailed and lengthy comments that people made as they were submitting their online surveys with their concerns about these two scenarios,” Hoover said.

He also wishes Cooperative Strategies would have started collecting feedback before making their suggestions.

“We’ve spent from September until now in a debate about all of this that we probably wouldn’t have to have been,” he said.

Now, the district is open to a new set of proposals. Unit 4 updated its timeline to make a final decision and is allowing the firm to present alternate scenarios. But, some parents still feel rushed.

“They’re going to give us about a month over the holidays to provide feedback on new scenarios and then maybe vote in January on something?” Hoover said.

Hoover said if the new scenarios are still disruptive, parents will feel just as strongly against them.

Cooperative Strategies also suggested removing the balanced calendar for Barkstall and Kenwood. More than 40% of people do not support that change, but roughly 35% responded with no opinion.

Next Monday, the board will hear a presentation from Cooperative Strategies about the results and new scenarios. Families will have another opportunity to give feedback. The firm will give its final recommendation on January 9, and the board is set to vote on a new model January 23.

District officials were not available to give comment.

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