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Champaign Unit 4 board member speaks ahead of possible strike

Unit 4 Board of Education member Bruce Brown speaks at the board meeting on Monday, March 28, 2022.

CHAMPAIGN – As Champaign teachers prepare for a possible strike, a Unit 4 School District Board of Education member explained the district’s side of contract negotiations.

The board has otherwise declined all interview requests and provided generic, written statements instead. 

Board member Bruce Brown spoke at Monday’s meeting. He emphasized that elementary school teachers would only add 15 minutes to their day in the board’s most recent proposal — while students would still get 45 minutes more.

“To allow deeper instruction to take place. That’s it. That’s why I’m dumbfounded by all the resistance we’re receiving, because we’re doing everything in our power to do right by our kids,” Brown said.

A dozen parents also spoke at the meeting to urge the board to compromise with teachers and avert a strike.

Most parents explicitly said they supported the teachers’ position. They worried out loud whether hostility from the board would cause more teachers to leave.

The next bargaining session scheduled between the board and the Champaign Federation of Teachers is Tuesday night. If the two parties do not reach an agreement, teachers are planning to strike on April 5.

Board approves summer school alternative — WalkKits

A woman holds a clicker. She's sitting next to a man at a Board of Education meeting.
Unit 4 Executive Director of Data Rhonda Thornton (left) helps with a presentation on summer school options. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

This summer, all second through fourth graders in Champaign Unit 4 will go home with a WalkKit – a device like an iPod that only stores educational podcasts.

The Unit 4 Board of Education voted on Monday night to spend $255,000 dollars of COVID-19 relief on the devices.

The goal is to reach students unable or unwilling to attend summer school, according to Unit 4 Executive Director of Data and Accountability Rhonda Thornton. 

“They actually are listening to a conversation. It’s a conversation between a teacher and two students who are on a walk, and it leads into a lesson on the water cycle, or tornadoes, or whatever the subject is,” Thornton said.

Students could choose to log onto Google Classroom once a week during the summer to discuss the week’s podcast with a Unit 4 teacher.

Every student who participates in six out of eight weeks gets a family pass to the Sholem Aquatic Center in Champaign. Students who participate in all eight weeks enter a raffle for a one-year, family pass to the YMCA.

The Walking Classroom founder Laura Fenn grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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