The Champaign Unit 4 School District is on a roll.
Nearly 11 months after its $183-million school referendum passed on the second try, the district announced Friday it was awarded a $9.6 million magnet grant by the U.S. Department of Education through the Magnet Schools Assistance Program.
“I think for our three schools and our community, it’s going to a difference-maker in allowing us to have funding for innovative program design, development and building adult capacity over the next five years,” Unit 4 superintendent Susan Zola said.
The five-year grant will support the implementation of magnet themes at three schools: Franklin Middle School (STEAM), Garden Hills Elementary (math and science) and Stratton Elementary (fine arts).
Unit 4 is one of 32 school districts nationwide to receive the grant. The MSAP program is designed to support districts that are committed to educational methods and practices that promote diversity and innovation.
“One of the aspects of the grant is to recognize when you serve in a diverse community you want to establish public school settings that are attractive to families across your community, which is the theme and framework for magnet schoolwork,” Zola said. “By allowing us to receive additional dollars for programming at Garden Hills, enhance the current arts work at Stratton and then add Franklin, it really does give us several places across the community where instructional practice will be significantly different from what you experience across other communities in Illinois and the nation. It allows our families those choices which they might not otherwise have.”
One benefit of the grant is it will allow Unit 4 to offer a middle school curriculum – in this case at Franklin – that makes it possible for students who have already received STEAM or arts training to continue that path as they get older. Booker T. Washington, Barkstall, Dr. Howard and Garden Hills are the elementary schools that feed into Franklin.
“That was one of the unique discussions as the team was beginning the planning work,” Zola said. “How do we support (the current work at Stratton and Garden Hills) and extend it for students K-8. That’s been a thoughtful decision on the district’s part that we’ll see play out in very profound ways for our students. And our staff is excited about the opportunity for additional professional learning.”