HOW TO REGISTER YOUR CHILD FOR KINDERGARTEN IN CHAMPAIGN UNIT 4
Heads up, Champaign, Bondville and Savoy families: If you have a child entering kindergarten at Champaign Unit 4 School District in the 2020-21 school year, the process to determine where your child will go to school starts now — and we’re here to help.
First, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions we hear about the Champaign Unit 4 Schools kindergarten registration process. In addition, we’ve compiled important dates from the district.
(Do you have a question about the process? Email us. We will do our best to get your questions answered and will publish them anonymously, with answers so others can see them too.)
- HOW DO I REGISTER MY STUDENT?
It may seem like August of 2020 is very far away, but for parents of incoming Champaign Unit 4 Schools kindergarten students, the time to think about registering your kiddo is … now. That’s because the district follows a process called “schools of choice”. Unlike a traditional neighborhood school model, families in Unit 4 are able to choose a school regardless of their address. Before the March deadline, families rank their five schools. Using a formula that includes a variety of factors (more on that below), a computer system processes the applications and provides the family with a seat. Families are notified in April of their school assignment. Students who register after the registration period will be assigned to schools according to seat availability.
- WHY DOES CHAMPAIGN UNIT 4 ASSIGN CHILDREN TO KINDERGARTEN USING THIS PROCESS?
Well, the history behind why Champaign Unit 4 has Schools of Choice is a long one, but its goal is to foster diversity across the 12 elementary buildings. The kindergarten assignment process provides the best opportunity for families to get their children the school placement they desire. In recent years, the data has been about the same: 85 percent of families received their first choice while roughly 95 percent received one of their top five choices, out of roughly 700 families.
- HOW DO WE KNOW WHICH SCHOOL IS RIGHT FOR OUR FAMILY?
There are many variables to consider when finding the right school fit for your family (and notice I say family, not just the child). Before you even start touring the schools, consider these different options and opportunities:
A. Calendar: do you want a traditional school calendar (mid-August to late May) or are you interested in a balanced calendar option (mid-July to early June, with a shorter summer, a lengthy fall break, and extra time at spring break) known more commonly as year-round school)? There are two balanced calendar schools: Kenwood and Barkstall. Something to consider: the balanced calendar schedule is only available in those two elementary schools, something we don’t see changing. Once the child goes to middle school, they will be on the traditional calendar schedule.
B. Start Time: Do you want a school that starts at a certain time, either early (before 8 a.m.) or later (around 8:55)? The early start time schools also get out, well, early.
C. Curriculum: Are you interested in specific curriculum options such as dual language (French at Stratton, or Spanish at International Prep Academy), STEM focus (Booker T. Washington), or perhaps computer programming (Kenwood)? Be sure to check out the new magnet programs at Garden Hills and Stratton.
D. Special Needs: Does your child have special needs? All Unit 4 elementary schools serve children with special needs, but some offer more specialization than others. For instance, Carrie Busey Elementary has specific programming for children with hearing deficits.
E. Location, Location, Location. Do you want a school close to home? Every family gets ONE proximity priority school, which is either within 1.5 miles from your house or the closest one as determined by the district. While some families might be within the proximity zone for multiple schools, they can only elect one as a proximity priority school. What does this mean? You get priority for only one school. And – if you don’t pick that school as your first choice – the priority doesn’t matter. You can check your proximity area online.
F. Building Facility. Dr. Howard will debut a brand new building in the fall of 2020. At this point, most of the elementary school facilities have been renovated, updated, or have been built in the last 20 years. International Prep Academy is slated for renovations soon.
F. Middle School Placement. In Champaign Unit 4, where a child attends elementary school dictates where s/he will go to middle school (currently there are three middle schools). If this matters to you, you should understand which schools feed where.
- HOW DO WE GET TO KNOW THE SCHOOLS?
It’s difficult to get a sense for school climate without taking a well-rounded temperature. Here are a few ways:
A. School Tours: Take advantage of the school tours offered by the district during the Schools of Choice registration period, see dates below. If you can’t make those tours, ask the district or school to arrange others.
B. Attend the info forum on Jan. 23. The information forum agenda has been revamped this year to allow families more time to talk with the school building principals. Talking to building principals is very important to get a sense of a school.
C. Ask Your Network: Network to meet people connected to the schools — parents, teachers, aides, building staff, specialists, volunteers. How to network? Ask your friends, neighbors or colleagues who have kids in the schools or know parents of kids in certain schools.
D. Talk to Students: Probably most overlooked in the process: talk to kids who attend those schools!
E. Attend a PTA meeting. Parental involvement important to you? Attend a school PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meeting. Call the school to get the dates; some PTAs are more active than others.
- HOW DO WE GUARANTEE THE SCHOOL WE WANT?
You can’t. Really, you can’t. However you can maximize your chances by gaining a more thorough understanding of the process.
A. Understand your proximity option (or options) as you have the best chance to get that school. Your student will only get the proximity school “advantage” if you preference that school FIRST on your list. One common mistake: putting the proximity school somewhere else on the list and thinking that it will matter.
B. Look at the data from last year. You can see which schools tend to be “overchosen” and which ones tend to be underchosen.
C. Some schools simply have more seats than others. South Side is the smallest elementary school, with only two elementary classrooms per grade. Some schools have higher populations of children in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs or have specific programs for children with special needs.
C. Sibling preference is pretty much guaranteed when families register within the timeframe.
D. Socioeconomic status (which includes income and educational attainment) is factored into the equation. If your family qualifies, your child may get preference at some schools.
A comprehensive look at the process can be found at the district’s website. This has links to all of the elementary schools, the registration forms, and information on proximity.
- IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE TO REGISTERING EARLY?
Parents can register a child for the kindergarten lottery between Jan. 2-March 31, 2020; but early registration provides no advantage to the child’s placement. The long window of time is purely for convenience sake and there is no correlation between WHEN someone registers a child (as long as it is before the deadline) and one’s placement.
- IF WE HAVE A YOUNGER SIBLING HEADED FOR KINDERGARTEN, DO I NEED TO GO THROUGH THE PROCESS AGAIN?
The short answer is, YES. All families with an incoming kindergartner should register during the assignment period to ensure that child gets a seat in their desired school, and siblings are no different. New this year: the district will provide a way for families with siblings to register AT SCHOOL. More on this later. Oh, and one more tip: families can always choose to request a different school for the sibling; the district does not assume to know your preferences.
- WHAT IF WE DON’T GET OUR FIRST CHOICE?
Don’t get the school you wanted? Families have the option to get on waiting lists for other schools if they don’t get their first choice. The district will even tell you what number you are on the list. If your student is put on a waiting list, you don’t give up the seat you receive. Many people have gotten into their school of choice after being put on a waiting list! (We speak from personal experience.)
IMPORTANT DATES FOR CHAMPAIGN UNIT 4 SCHOOLS KINDERGARTEN REGISTRATION
REGISTRATION DATES: Jan. 2-March 31, 2020. Students must turn 5 on or before Sept. 1, 2020, to be eligible. Parents must provide a birth certificate and proof of residency at the time of registration. For new families, registration must be done in person at the Center for Family and Community Engagement (703 S. New St., Champaign). There is no online registration available, although forms are available for download and printing elsewhere. (NOTE: This is the former Mellon Building).
TOURS: The 12 Champaign Unit 4 elementary schools will be open for tours, from a staff member, on Tuesdays and Thursdays in February at 9:30 a.m.
INFO SESSION: Thursday, Jan. 23, at Garden Hills Academy (2001 Garden Hills Dr., Champaign). Meet building principals and get more information about the process from choice specialists. From 5:30 to 7 pm.
EVENING OPEN HOUSES: There are two evening open houses; however, plan ahead to see the schools you want to visit as only six are open each night:
- Thursday, February 6, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Kenwood, Carrie Busey, South Side, Robeson, Booker. T. Washington and Stratton. Shuttles will be available to tour multiple schools.
- Tuesday, February 11, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Barkstall, Garden Hills, Bottenfield, Westview, Dr. Howard, and IPA. Shuttles will be available to tour multiple schools.
INDIVIDUAL QUESTIONS: Unit 4 has Choice Specialists available to answer questions by phone (217-351-3701) or in person at the Center for Family and Community Engagement, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
ASSIGNMENT NOTIFICATION: In the past four years, families received notification of kindergarten placement via mail, in mid- to late April. Notification dates are not guaranteed. (Here’s our article about letters going out in 2019. One thing we do know: they typically go out on a Friday or a day before the district is closed for the weekend.)
For more information visit the Unit 4 kindergarten process website.
Looking for how to enroll in a Unit 4 School when you move into the district with a child who is not in kindergarten? Stay tuned.
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the mom-in-chief of chambanamoms.com and an amateur School of Choice expert.