Before she was a principal, before she was Superintendent, Judy Wiegand was a young parent who found herself in the Champaign-Urbana area after her husband took a job at the University of Illinois. (Sound familiar, anyone?) “We were going to stay maybe a couple of years and move back to Wisconsin,” she said. “Here we are 28 years later, we’ve really grown to love it.” As Superintendent of the Champaign Unit 4 School District since 2012, Dr. Wiegand now finds herself architecting the future of one of our community’s most important assets — the area’s largest public school system.
On the eve of a $149 million referendum vote seeking taxpayer approval of the construction of a new Central High School on undeveloped farmland north of the city and renovate Centennial High School, chambanamoms.com Mom-in-Chief Laura Bleill sat down with Dr. Wiegand. They discussed life as a parent in the public eye; the referendum; the School Board; and the future of Champaign Unit 4 Schools.
Chambanamoms.com: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
Dr. Wiegand: I’m one of nine children. My mom had to leave school after eighth grade in order to help the family. She worked as a maid. For her education was a top priority because it was denied to her. I always credit her with instilling in all of us that if you want to better yourself through life you do it through education.
Chambanamoms.com: What do your daughters think of your career?
Dr. Wiegand: Now that they are adults I think they take pride in it. Certainly growing up it wasn’t easy. My oldest was at Centennial when I was principal. If I had to do it over again I don’t know if I would have had her at the same school that I was principal at. Even now, there are certainly times when we’re in Champaign and they’re like , “Can we go anywhere where people don’t know who you are?”
Chambanamoms.com: How do you address the community’s doubts about the Interstate Drive site for the new Central High School?
Dr. Wiegand: There was no perfect site. The School Board, in my opinion, used objective criteria and applied that criteria to all available sites. It was by a process of scoring and elimination that this came out to be the best of the sites available. The growth for Champaign is planned for where the acreage was purchased for a new Central High School. It’s difficult for people to project out what the next 50-70 years will look like out there. I know that’s hard for people to see. But I do believe that the location will serve the community and Champaign quite well.
Chambanamoms.com: Is the Dodds Park option completely off the table?
Dr. Wiegand: As far as I know. I would like to see it at Dodds myself. I don’t think there’s a board member that wouldn’t like to see it at Dodds. That’s not under our control. We have to respect the decision of the (Champaign) Park (District) Board.
Chambanamoms.com: Did the district consider creatively renovating Central in its current footprint, perhaps buying other properties around it and staying in the neighborhood?
Dr. Wiegand: Renovating Central itself does not address the capacity issue, even with buying other properties. It didn’t pass the point where it would be financially more cost effective to do that versus building at Interstate and Neil. Still, 50 years from now, you would be in the same situation where you are landlocked.
Chambanamoms.com: What is Plan B if the referendum doesn’t pass on Tuesday?
Dr. Wiegand: Plan B is if the referendum doesn’t pass, taking a look at analyzing why it doesn’t pass. The board will have to evaluate if it will change the resolution and put something back on the ballot in April. If you look at the history of school-related referendums in Champaign, we would certainly be making history if we pass it on the first time.
Chambanamoms.com: There seems to be an air of distrust between the community and the School Board. How do you address that?
Dr. Wiegand: The board has certainly made it known that they are willing to put together an oversight committee for the $149 million, just like there was for sales tax proceeds with the Promises Made, Promises Kept committee. (The Promises Made Promises Kept Committee was formed to ensure that the promises made by the Board of Education prior to the vote on the 1% sales tax increase were kept by the School District.)
Chambanamoms.com: There wasn’t a lot of time for the community to digest the site once the board voted on it, and decided to put the referendum the fall ballot. Was that the right decision?
Dr. Wiegand: I think the board made the right decision to put it on the ballot. Some will counter, we didn’t have enough time. This was a solid plan. This has been eight years in development. Someone in my Rotary said, “You can’t keep kicking that can down the road. You have to stop, take some action, and see what happens as a result.”
Chambanamoms.com: I see the upgrade of the high school facilities as essential to future economic growth in our community – not just attracting top faculty and industry to Champaign-Urbana, but also in laying the groundwork for the education of our future workforce. How important are those issues to the district?
Dr. Wiegand: We want to be able to show that we value education and we see that through our facilities. I’ve sat on the Champaign County EDC (Economic Development Corporation) board for two years and I continually hear that our schools need to be more responsive to industry and developing that pipeline. You take a look at the economic growth of this community, it certainly will help all aspects of our community.
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