My buying clients often ask me about whether the local school systems are good. “Good” is such a loaded word. 🙂 Does it mean that a school has a good fine arts program or offers many foreign language options? Does it churn out high AP test scores or consistently wins the conference title in a certain sport? Are there bully-prevention measures in place? Does it have a diverse student population? “Good” for one person is completely different than “good” for someone else.
I attended a luncheon recently, hosted by Champaign Unit 4 schools. The speakers were: Dr. Judy Wiegand (Unit 4 Superintendent), Dr. Laura Taylor (High School superintendent), John Woods (Athletic director at Central), and Marc Changnon (District Coordinator, Education to Careers and Professions Program). I do my best to stay informed in the topics that are important to my clients, such as schools, and wanted to share my “notes” from the meeting with you. Please remember that what I have written here is my best account of what was said.
Dr. Wiegand gave a quick overview of Unit 4, saying that close to 10,000 students are served in Unit 4 schools. There are 12 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 2 primary high schools, and 1 alternative high school (the Novak Academy). 50% of the faculty members hold at least a master’s degree. Unit 4 may be the only district in central Illinois to have district technology coaches, who are available to assist faculty.
Dr. Taylor reviewed some of the accomplishments that had recently happened in the high schools. There have been several perfect ACT scores; $6 million in scholarships given to the 2014 graduating class. There are a lot of opportunities after high school. About 100 students per year attend the U of I; one student received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago.
AP courses – Unit 4 recently won the AP Honor Roll award, which means that more minority and low-income students take AP classes while maintaining or increasing AP test score performance. AP test scores are above the Illinois and National average. There are 19 AP course offerings. Unit 4 also offers dual-credit courses, where enrollment has increased by 93%. These courses are taught by teachers certified at Parkland College, but taught at the high schools. Dual-credit is not related to AP, so a student’s dual-credit English composition class counts as credit for English general education classes at the U of I. The schools have also introduced 4 computer programming classes for the first time this year (2014/15). 100 students signed up right away. AP Computer science will be added next year. They have also have started collaborating with Wolfram Research to introduce networking classes next year.
John Woods is a graduate of Centennial High School. He was an all-state athlete in basketball and track, played football, and was Homecoming King. He started at Central in 1992, when his father hired him as the assistant girl’s basketball coach. One of his buddies asked him, “‘Why are you at Central?’… Later, some kid said, ‘No one at Central does anything'”. This really struck him.
When he started as Central’s athletic director in 2002, his goal was to recognize the excellence in the Central athletes. You cannot manufacture tradition and pride, and it’s something that’s happened at Central since 1894. John talked about some of the past great athletes that played at Central, like Olympian Bob Richards (first athlete on the cover of a Wheaties box). Bob still remembers his Central football days and recalls them fondly, so John Woods is striving to instill that excellence in all of the athletes. Central has had 168 Hall-of-Fame athletes and 63 individual state champions. They have an excellent swim program, even though they don’t have their own pool. 🙂 His goal is for Central “To be the standard of excellence in the Big 12 Conference” by making kids feel valued, not just by adults, but by other kids. Trust, Care, Commitment, and Action – these are Central’s 4 core values. Why Central? It’s real simple. The tradition, the pride, the vision, the mission, the core values, and the academic excellence.
Academically, the IHSA recognizes teams for the team GPA (average 3.0 or higher). 19 of their 21 varsity sports earned that award and they were 3/10’s of a point away from having 21/21. This year so far, 8/9 (2/10’s away from 9/9). There are 71 scholar athletes out of 260 students that maintain a 3.0 GPA while earning a varsity letter their junior or senior year.
In 2014, John was awarded the Athletic Director of the year title. He is humble about it and said that it is a result of the efforts of the entire department.
To learn more about Champaign Unit 4 Schools, visit their website and schedule an in-person tour with one of the staff.