From WILL - News Headlines -

Community Forum Provides New Input for Unit 4 Supt Search

A search firm has nearly completed collecting its criteria for what the Champaign community wants in a new school superintendent.

A forum Monday night brought out new input from parents and others who say Unit 4 needs someone with close tabs on the community, and puts the student first, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

Jennifer Shelby will serve on a committee that will conduct the second round of interviews. She said she is concerned about low-income students that can fall through the cracks.

"The kids that go home hungry, and the level of poverty in the school district, which I think the community likes to keep under wraps," Shelby said. "I'd like to see that brought to the forefront."

The forum at Centennial High School brought out about 50 people, and lasted just over an hour. Parent Charles Schultz said he was surprised more didn't attend, but was happy to hear calls for fiscal discipline under a new superintendent, the hiring of more minority teachers, and better communication lines overall.

"They need to work with the board," Schultz said. "Because the (Unit 4) board is responsible to the community, and if there's no chain of command between the community and the board and the superintendent, then the community is not going to be very happy, and the board may not be very happy."

Others at the forum suggested improved school safety, working on a tight budget, and improving the district's school of choice system to add to what's already been compiled from nearly 900 on-line surveys. Laura Bleill says the lack of communication between the district and parents in that school of choice process is frustrating. The co-founder of the Chambana Moms.com web site also believes that Unit 4's next leader needs to open lines of communication that extend beyond the classroom.

"Interfacing with the community is key," Bleill said. "I think this district does a lot of things behind closed doors that should be opened up to the public, and that the public should have more input into how the schools are run and how the future is for our children."

Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said the new superintendent needs to bring about a change in culture within the classroom, noting that some teachers are afraid to talk to their students.

The search firm School Exec Connect will use the forum and surveys to form a profile for a new superintendent. Edward Olds with the search firm says the turnout was typical for such a forum. The comments from the event will be combined with input at smaller meetings Tuesday that include the local NAACP chapter, Champaign County's Chamber of Commerce, and a local teachers' union. The top replies on Unit 4 surveys included finding someone who had worked in a similar size district, and encouraged positive student behavior.

The firm will choose 12-to-15 candidates from more than one-thousand applicants, then narrow it to 5-to-7 finalists that the Unit 4 school board will interview in November. The new superintendent will be hired late this year, and start next July.