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Champaign Central Chronicle

Champaign Central Chronicle

Petition to Remove Unit 4 Superintendent Puts Multiple Controversies Into the Spotlight

Petition to Remove Unit 4 Superintendent Puts Multiple Controversies Into the Spotlight

After months of controversy surrounding transportation woes and district response to September’s shooting at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Northeast Champaign, the emergence of one petition on in early February demanding the removal of Champaign Unit 4 School District Superintendent Dr. Sheila Boozer, which has since received nearly 800 signatures, has put relations among the school district at a boiling point.

Critics of Superintendent Dr. Boozer listed a variety of reasons as to why they want to see her removed from the role, claiming Dr. Boozer has sent inflammatory messages to parents and staff in response to recent district controversies, including the district’s response to the shooting outside B.T.W, the “Change Not Chaos” Movement from 2022 which emerged in response to proposed elementary school reassignments by the district, and that Dr. Boozer’s administration team have made a multitude of what they consider poor decisions, including calling an E-learning day less than thirty minutes before many schools were supposed to open their doors to students.

When asked in an interview about the sudden switch to an E-learning day, one of the authors of the petition, who requested their name remain anonymous to potentially avoid negative consequences regarding their involvement with the district, remarked, “It is a perfect example of Dr. Boozer’s poor decisions that this community has every right to question. She directly violated school district policy and made up a last-minute change that no one was prepared for.” Elaborating on the believed negative consequences of a last-minute switch to an E-learning day, they answered, “as elementary students in this district do not take their Chromebooks home every night, and some grades do not at all unless the actual emergency e-learning procedure is being followed, her poor decision took an entire day of learning away from grades K-5. It also added stress to all of the middle and high school teachers scrambling to figure out what virtual plan they would come up with less than an hour before school started.”

According to Unit 4 E-learning guidelines, the possibility of E-learning days must be called no later than 2pm the day before, and traditional snow days must be called by 6am the day of. However, unexpected weather conditions on the 19th led to district officials calling school off around 7:05am, sparking criticism by parents and teachers as some students were already leaving their homes for school.

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Others however criticized the method which this movement is being approached with, claiming that starting a petition online is unprofessional compared to simply voicing their concerns straight to the board, with some outraged at community opposition to minority leaders such as Dr. Boozer.

“Instead of stopping to talk to me, instead of trying to talk to other black elders in this community, instead of signing up for a damn task force, or committee, or working group, that instead you would want to get confused and organize to try to bring a black woman leader down, are you out of your minds?” asked Imani Bazzell to the crowd during public comments at February 12th’s board meeting. “Our ancestors are rolling over in their graves, and I want to give you an opportunity tonight to listen more clearly and change your mind, change your direction.”

Bazzell’s comments to the board raised further ire by other community members, as Bazzell was allowed to exceed the allotted three minutes public commenters receive without being cut off by the board, leading to an ongoing investigation by the Illinois Attorney General over an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act. The Chronicle attempted to reach out to Bazzell for an interview, but did not receive a response.

Proponents of the movement to remove Dr. Boozer point to the current situation revolving around B.T.W.’s administration team in what made them begin the petition, believing their recent absence is due to retaliation from the district.

“We are adamantly against the targeting of this team. Being the last straw that initiated the petition, enough is enough,” claimed petition authors on what made them begin their movement. Answering on their views of B.T.W.’s administration team, they stated, “B.T.W. administration has built a strong foundation for their school. The culture they have cultivated there is one of love, support, and stability. With their higher low socioeconomic status and homeless student population, the culture they’ve built is so impactful and should serve as an example of how to improve the district as a whole.”

Unit 4’s showdown between district leadership and B.T.W. administration has already entered the courtrooms, with B.T.W.’s Principal Jaime Roundtree and Assistant Principal Rebecca Ramey having obtained a lawyer as of late last month. Ramey has also filed a discrimination charge against the district, alleging that she was being forcefully reassigned to Kenwood without being guaranteed employment following this school year in what she and her lawyer believe is retaliation for her wife’s outspoken criticism of district leadership following September’s shooting.

When asked at a student-held event by Central High School’s Junior State of America Club on the status of B.T.W.’s administration team, Dr. Boozer declined to comment, citing Unit 4’s policy on not speaking on personnel matters. Afterwards however, Dr. Boozer did hint towards the situation in a way to question its accuracy, commenting, “I will say this, don’t believe everything you see on the internet.”

Dr. Boozer is not the only recent Unit 4 superintendent to have been on the receiving end of controversy, however. Authors of the petition pointed out a few issues with the administration under the previous superintendent, Dr. Susan Zola during an interview, commenting on issues regarding a lack of renovations on Jefferson Middle School, and other district staff members allegedly misusing funds.

“Why did you leave Jefferson out of your facility needs recommendations in favor of athletic upgrades that weren’t as dire of a need?” argued the petition authors. “Before her (Dr. Zola) coming here, Jefferson was included in the 10-year master plan for needed facilities upgrades. (as stated in their 2014 temporary portable classroom inspection report). After her arrival and her district admin team’s recommendations to the future facilities committee, somehow the plan to get rid of the trailer classrooms no longer involved a plan to renovate Jefferson.” Some have found the disappearance of Jefferson from renovation plans to be another long-term disappointment by the district, with Jefferson’s oldest temporary portable built to alleviate overcrowding at the school dating back nearly three decades. Commenting on other top district staff, authors of the petition remarked, “Why was the CFO who helped make the fraudulent purchases public forced to resign, but Dr. Angela Ward who spent over $2,500 on her daily drinks from Smoothie King, and Dr. Laura Taylor who spent $3,000 on gift cards, are both still employed as top district admins to this day?” Some have pointed to this and other incidents in the district over the past few years as reasons for why they believe major change has been overdue.

Recent events in the district have already led to a shakeup on the school board, with Unit 4’s Vice President Jamar Brown resigning during March 4th’s board meeting.

In his resignation speech, Brown acknowledged, “We are not always going to make the right call, and even when we do we will not always be able to please all of our constituents all the time.” Elaborating further, Brown continued by stating, “In both these moments, we should always maintain a level of humility, compassion, and a willingness to adjust. And it has become apparent that those values are lacking.”

Continuing his reasons for resigning, Brown told the board, “The District’s decision to not maintain a level of humility, compassion, and adjustability has forced us to focus on adult-oriented issues instead of student centered ones that could help raise reading and math scores and comprehension.”

Another board member, Mark Theis, also resigned in an email to the board on March 19th, claiming in his letter, “In my time on the board, it has become clear that my vision is not aligned with the future direction and initiatives of Unit 4.” The remaining five board members, plus Dr. Boozer, will have 60 days from the time of resignation to fill the two vacant seats.

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Adam Edwards, Opinions Editor
Hello, my name is Adam Edwards (Class of 2025) and I am the new Opinions Editor with The Champaign Chronicle.  I began writing articles with The Chronicle in August of 2023, and assumed the Opinions Editor position in Janurary 2024. Feel free to contact me in the links below.

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