"A Possible Plan" by Greg Novak

The following was sent to me with permission to post from members of Greg Novak’s family. It is my understanding that Greg wrote most of this while he was in the hospital in January of 2012, and shared bits and pieces with various board members and people close to him. We have waited to allow an appropriate amount of time to pass to give respect to Greg and his family. With the recommendations from DeJong-Richter now in Dr. Wiegand’s hands, which will be presented to the new board this coming Monday (May 13th), I felt the time was right to give light to Greg’s thoughts as a way of continuing the ongoing discussion of what to do with our schools. Speaking on a personal level, I tend to listen whenever Greg speaks because he knew what he was about and was no slouch in the research department.

One final note: it’s totally ok to disagree. 🙂 All I ask is that you present a viable alternative.

A Possible Plan
By Greg Novak

Champaign High School (Country Fair)
Grades: 10-12

Champaign Academy (Centennial)
Grades: 8-9

Champaign Middle School (Franklin)
Grades 6-7 (North-East Regions)

Champaign Middle School (Jefferson)
Grades 6-7 (South- West)

Elementary Specialty Schools

Garden Hills
Dr Howard (2 strand +gifted)*
South side (2 strand K-7 balanced calendar )*
Westview (balanced calendar K-5)

*. These two buildings would be three strand at K-1, and two strand above that level. Dr Howard would have additional gifted

All of the above schools would have class limits imposed and monitored

“Neighborhood” Elementary Schools

Boulder Ridge

These six schools would each have a large “neighborhood” assigned – and any student from the “neighborhood” would have a seat there. Class size is NOT capped at neighborhood schools.

Families would have a choice of either their “neighborhood” school or attending one of the magnets.

5 Responses to “"A Possible Plan" by Greg Novak”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    Greg liked to talk in person a lot; he didn’t shy away from forums and email conversations, but always did prefer a good sit-down face-to-face chat. Hence, while I have some of our conversations squirreled away electronically, most everything else is stored in my neurons.

    If I recall correctly, Greg was very concerned about the “big school” environments surrounding transitions; for example, 6th graders going to a school with 8th graders, 9th graders going to school with 12th graders. In fact, I believe he noticed the most issues (at the time) for the 8th grade to 9th grade transition, hence the idea for the Champaign Academy that presents a “stepping stone” into high school. I believe his goal, at the higher levels, was to reduce the anxiety and social complexity of such dramatic age differences. I think.

    I have read competing research about the number of transitions in a child’s career. For me, I tend to lean towards the “fewer is better” camp. However, I cannot say with certainty that fewer transitions (and thus much larger ranges of ages) or more transitions (and smaller age spans) is “better”. How do we answer that?

    What I really like about Greg’s ideas for the lower grades is that it presents a bit of flexibility and variety. I confess, it would also present a bit of adjustment, both in the way we think about schools (they are not all cookie-cutter, nor are the teachers plug-n-play), but also for transient students if they come from/go to environments that differ so drastically. But the idea of having several different formats I find appealing. Also, the idea of making the “fringe” schools neighborhood schools makes a lot of sense. Is it practical? How do you not have caps on the classroom? How do you plan for that? Having the schools near the middle of town be “magnet” or themed schools also sound rather interesting. This only works if the folks in the middle of town (ie, not on the fringes) are actually very happy with the magnet schools – they will effectively be locked out of the fringe schools.

    It is not clear to me if Greg’s plan for a 10-12 school at the Country Fair site would be large enough to accommodate the projected large high school classes in another 15 years. But perhaps that is up to us to decide.

  2. pattsi Says:

    I am terribly impressed that Mr. Novak never stopping caring for the education of our community children. I, too, enjoyed challenging conversations with him, mainly because we were most often on opposite sides. This makes for the best dialogue because one really has to think.
    All of this preamble stated, I am not on board with creating educational environments within which children have two years to climb to the top only to start at the bottom once again and repeat this pattern during K-12. Then what happens when these very students enter higher education at schools with 40,000 plus students. We do not have sufficient number of smaller colleges for all of these students who have been insulated from adjustments. Part of K-12 education is progressively preparing students to think dynamically and work within the non K-12 environments.
    Does anyone know about research done on this issue of student adjustment to new learning situations?

  3. Rebecca Says:

    Interesting idea at the elementary level, although I’m not sure a combination of magnet/neighborhood schools would work when this plan doesn’t have a neighborhood school in the historic north end, and there is still the problem of balancing socioeconomics. Not to mention this plan has us building yet ANOTHER elementary school at Boulder Ridge. The 6/7, 8/9, 10-12 scheme is a terrible idea. There are way too many transitions for best practices. Further, one mega high school would be a travesty for Champaign kids.

    Although a 10-12 center would host fewer kids than a 9-12 center, IHSA would still count 9th grade for school size for sports, meaning that the only schools a single CHS could compete with would be far away. Further, kids already fall through the cracks with two relatively small high schools, I can only imagine it will be worse with one mega school. In addition, more kids get opportunities in the arts (solos in band or choir, leads in plays, and so on) and other club activities (like leadership opportunities, spots on math teams, etc.) with two high schools. A mega high school would shut some kids out. Frankly these “extras” are the things that keep many kids in school and allow them to feel successful and engaged. I don’t know why we would consider eliminating those opportunities for students.

    Best practices indicate that a high school of about 900 is actually ideal (according to Unit 4’s own research and reports in the MANY facilities studies over the last 10 or so years), Admittedly, three small high schools is impractical financially for Champaign, but it is unclear to me why we are still even discussing a mega high school with this data out there. So, in my opinion we need to stick with two high schools. The question then is where to put the new Central. Ideally it would remain central, of course.

    Although Unit 4 is unwilling to use eminent domain, the Champaign Country Club would be an ideal location with plenty of acreage for a high school, sports fields, etc. But that is unlikely to be a popular suggestion! Instead, Unit 4 should discuss a land swap with the park district. One of the large parcels on the edge of town that Unit 4 has under consideration for Dodds Park. The Dodds Park site has several advantages: It’s not over 74; it’s still relatively central; students could walk over to Parkland for dual credit classes; there is plenty of land for sports fields, the school, parking, etc.; It is walking distance to some neighborhoods; and so on. Although the new Dodds Park would be on the edge of town, it wouldn’t be a bad deal for the park district users because those fields are mostly used nights and weekends in season, so traffic congestion would not be terrible on the roads crossing 74 at rush hour daily. The Dodds Park location is a superior location for a new Central high school over many (if not all the sites) Unit 4 is currently suggesting. I’d be really curious to know if it has ever been seriously considered.

    In addition, I see in today’s paper that Unit 4 is discussing two high schools, but also discussing making K-8 centers (perhaps at Barkstall). Several years ago, the school board was reluctant to return sixth grade to the elementary schools (leaving two 7-8 centers) because people believed there was a huge difference between kindergarten and sixth and the idea was to keep the littlest kids away from the sixth graders. It seems like every time the school board changes over, we start over as a district because ideas like this come and go. At this rate, we’ll still be discussing these issues in another ten years, which is very disheartening.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    Rebecca, thanks for dropping by.

    Incidentally, the idea of using Dodds Park and also other lands to the east of Parkland come up at one of our Houlihans charrettes. In fact, if you look very closely at the picture, you will see we even put one of the monopoly hotels there (next to the big pinkish orangish block almost right smack dab in the middle of the picture). The idea of partnering with Parkland for a vo-tech school was discussed, maybe making it a third high school. I mean, with that awesome new automotive center at Parkland….. Lot’s of interesting ideas.

    These are exactly the kinds of discussions I wish DeJong-Richter had stirred up.

    As to the constant flip-flopping of how to organize our schools, I think Unit 4 has lacked a solid, community-backed long term plan for quite some time. They tried with Great Schools, Together; even though the school district administration officially adheres to it (you can find alignments in almost every board meeting), the public has largely forgotten about it. Additionally, if GST had really worked the first time, we should not have needed DR in the first place. Pattsi Petrie has said over and over (and over and over) that the district needs a true Planner, not just one that works for the City and we subsidize. After our last talk with Dr. Wiegand, I get the sense she is chewing on this – she indicated that the City Planner does not work well for us when the District’s best interests are not represented. Also, I have been trying to say that the high school site selection is WAY MORE than just a high school site selection; if we are wise, we should be setting the plan for the next 20 years or more.

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