by Laura Weisskopf Bleill
This is it. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for.
We learned a few weeks ago that current superintendent Arthur Culver and Champaign Unit 4 Schools would be parting ways. I’m not going to rehash Culver’s tenure or get into the rumors swirling around his departure (although they are juicy). This is the opportunity we have been waiting for — to move the district forward.
How, you ask?
It is my belief that the next superintendent will set the agenda for the district’s future. So much of what happened during Culver’s tenure was about addressing the mistakes of the past. While we must not forget the past, it cannot DICTATE our future.
That future is now.
One of the most pressing items on the agenda for a new superintendent will be the school assignment process. And that’s not because I said so, it’s because Unit 4 School Board president Sue Grey said so when asked that question on Friday morning during a news conference.
“We know that we have to look at our schools of choice and that process,” she said. “We know that it’s one that is of concern to many many parents. We’ve heard about that this spring quite a bit.”
The school assignment process is the gateway to the district — and for many, it has been a source of frustration and anxiety. It also has set a tone of negativity within the community and is a major reason why some families may choose not to live in Champaign.
Champaign Unit 4 has an image problem, pure and simple. And the school assignment process is not the only reason for that — but it is a big part of it.
And reverting back to neighborhood schools is what some may want, it’s not likely to happen. (Speaking of which, did anyone notice that Urbana school district soon will be redistricting its neighborhood schools soon? More on that in the next few weeks.) While improving all of the schools will make a dent in resolving some of the issues related to the school assignment process, it will not solve all of them. The school assignment process itself needs a major overhaul, as been expressed in this space many times.
And I believe that much of the community will say so, too, when it has the opportunity to discuss its concerns with the board. On Friday, Grey emphasized community engagement as being a key component in building a profile of the person the board may hire as the district’s next superintendent. She made the comment that the board needs to, “for lack of a better term, shut up and listen.”
Grey made several announcements regarding the pending search (and the district has posted a webpage devoted to the Superintendent Search as of 5/16). Here’s what you need to know:
- The board wants candidates for a community search committee. As of 5/16, a “committee interest form” is available via the Unit 4 website (opens as a PDF). The form is simple; it asks for information including where you live, your connection to the district, and what your availability is. The board will ultimately choose the committee members; the deadline to apply is June 15.
- The board also will be soliciting input from the community via a survey on the Unit 4 website. Faculty and staff input will be gathered before school closes for the summer.
- Grey says the board also plans to go out into the community to gather input, and will set up meetings with small groups and others over the summer. (If your “group” is interested, contact Grey.)
- The board hopes to have an interim superintendent in place by July 1. That person will be an external candidate; no internal candidates are being considered “to avoid upsetting the apple cart” in the district, Grey said. Most likely, he or she will be a retired superintendent; the plan is that that person will not have any interest in the permanent position.
- The board will hire a search firm with the goal of conducting a national search.
- It could take anywhere from four to nine months to complete the search process, Grey estimated, depending on a lot of factors.
Grey emphasized that she wants the search and hiring process to be “thorough, inclusive and transparent.”
I pressed her on the transparency comment, as I believe the district has a long way to go in this regard. She responded that the district will make sure to provide continuous updates as the search moves forward. I hope it goes furthers than that, but it remains to be seen.
If you have any connection to Unit 4, I would urge you to take this opportunity to give feedback. The board has officially put us all on notice that they are willing to listen and hear what we have to say.
It’s incumbent upon all of us to seize this opportunity — and build upon these relationships for the future, so the board knows that it’s not only during a time of change and transition that we want our voices to be heard.
Community engagement knows no season. Not when it is this important to the future — our children’s future.
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.