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What are Champaign Unit 4 schools doing for Black families?

Two second graders at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign blow up balloons to make an egg parachute in April 2022.

CHAMPAIGN — As the Champaign Unit 4 School District debates further desegregating its schools, many parents have asked — what else is the district is doing to advance racial equity?

Unit 4 Superintendent Shelia Boozer answered that question at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

“Unit 4 does an amazing job. No matter which building you’re in, you get what you need and then some. We’re spreading the wealth and we’re being very equitable,” Boozer said.

Boozer said that the district has corrected past practices where schools with fewer needs seemed to get more resources.

According to data from the Illinois State Board of Education, Unit 4 spent about $17,500 per student last year at its highest poverty school, Garden Hills Elementary. The per pupil spending at its lowest poverty school, Carrie Busey, was $12,800 – about $5,000 less than at Garden Hills.

The Garden Hills student also has the highest percentage of Black students, the second highest percentage of Hispanic students and the lowest percentage of white students out of all Champaign schools. Carrie Busey is close to the reverse, with the second highest percentage of white students in the district.

Parents ask for racial equity, not desegregation

The Unit 4 school board is currently debating how to balance demographics across its elementary schools.

Last year, the district hired a consultant, Cooperative Strategies, to suggest ways to improve its “schools of choice” enrollment process. In September, the company presented two options for what the district could do next fall.

Over the last month, parents have vocally opposed both of these options. Many have asked the district to focus on racial equity instead of desegregating and have posed ideas for how to meet that goal.

Unit 4 says ‘that’s already been done’

On Monday, Boozer and the Unit 4 Board of Education responded to this feedback.

Boozer spent twenty minutes of the meeting detailing her efforts to implement the district’s 2020-2025 strategic plan. The document focuses on ways the district can undo systemic racism and improve academic outcomes for Black students, multilingual students and students with disabilities.

In addition to balancing spending between schools, Boozer described new training for teachers and administrators, supports like therapy and more. One of her top priorities is to expand the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination) to all schools in the district. The program gives low-income students mentors, peer networks and writing training to help them excel.

Boozer framed changes to the schools of choice as one strategy – a way to remove barriers to low-income students and students of color. Board members echoed the sentiment.

“I was just talking to someone who said, ‘You just need to pour resources in.’ Actually, that’s already been done,” said Board of Education President Amy Armstrong.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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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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