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Champaign School Board Seeks to Cut Overcrowding at Central HS

The Champaign School Board continued Monday night talking about how to relieve overcrowding at Central High School.

Unlike past discussions, which have centered around building a new high school, this meeting focused on other options to reduce congestion at Central.

Among the proposals discussed, the board looked at having three high schools, fixing up the district's two existing schools, or merging Central and Centennial High Schools into one building that houses up to 3,000 students.

Champaign resident Mark Briggs has a son who is a junior at Centennial High School. He said merging Central and Centennial would open up more academic and extracurricular opportunities for students, like his son.

"He should have the same opportunities that everybody at Central has," Briggs said. "Everybody at Central should have the same opportunities that the students at Centennial have. They're two great schools. Bring them together, and it's going to be a fantastic school."

But Laurie Andrews, a parent of a 2nd grader at Westview Elementary, does not buy the merger idea. She taught at a large high school in Chicago for several years, and she said she found it difficult to regularly interact with many students and fellow teachers. Andrews said she worries having a single high school in the Champaign School District would make it difficult for teachers to connect with their students.

"I am totally against one high school," Andrews said. "I think it's very easy for students to slip through the cracks. It's hard for teachers to get to know students. It's hard for students to get to know each other. "

The school board voiced opposition to that plan, citing its roughly $160 million dollar price tag, the increased likeliness of gang activity, and the possibility some students would have trouble adjusting in a larger school.

"Some students just won't fair well at all in that type of environment because they need smaller one-on-one contact," school board member Jamar Brown said. "I don't know in this community if we can accomplish that in a large school."

Central High School Principal Joe Williams said he would like to stick with the status quo of two high schools, but added that Central should be in a new building. Williams said he is not sure the school district would want to staff a larger school to ensure "students don't fall through the cracks."

He also noted that moving to a larger school would likely force Champaign out of the Big 12 conference to compete against schools in the Chicagoland area.

"So, instead of traveling to Danville, Decatur, and Bloomington, Mattoon, and those areas," Williams explained. "We would actually be traveling north of Kankakee, even north of I-80."

Williams encouraged the school board to study student performance at other schools with varying enrollment sizes.

School board member Greg Novak agrees that having two high schools in Unit 4 has served the community well. He said building a third high school may not be the best idea because it could divert attention away from fixing up Central High School, which he acknowledged has some major problems.

"It doesn't matter how good wireless internet gets, it's still not going to go through the walls at Central very well," Novak said. "We're talking about trying to run a school for the 21st century in a school that was built in the mid-1920s."

If a new school is built, voters would have to approve a tax referendum of at least $50 million to begin construction.

Ideas for the Unit 4 restructuring plan can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org

Categories: Economics, Education