Urbana school board votes to convert Wiley from elementary to sixth-grade learning center

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When Urbana’s Wiley School reopens in 2025, it will be as a sixth-grade learning center.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

URBANA — After a summer’s worth of committee meetings, three public hearings and hours of discussion and debate, Urbana school board members voted by a 4-3 count late Tuesday night to convert Wiley School from an elementary to a sixth-grade learning center starting in 2025-26.

The vote came four hours into Tuesday’s meeting, with board President Paul Poulosky casting the decisive “yes.”

Ben Baxley, Ravi Hasanadka and Citlaly Yuritzi Stanton voted against the change, with Tori Exum, Lola Jones and Sheri Langendorf joining Poulosky voting in favor of the measure.

The move means Urbana will be a five-elementary district, as it is this school year while 73-year-old Wiley undergoes asbestos abatement.

Among those who spoke during the public comment portion and board members who voted in favor of the conversion, a common theme emerged Tuesday: Urbana Middle School is overcrowded, putting both student safety and academic performance at risk.

Freeing up space at the middle school by sending sixth-graders to a repurposed Wiley will help solve that.

“Teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn unless there’s a safe learning environment,” Langendorf, a retired teacher, said during prepared remarks explaining her reasoning for voting for the change.

Cindy Adamek, a sixth-grade social studies teacher and AVID site coordinator at Urbana Middle School, made a compelling case for why Wiley ought to change.

Prefacing her remarks by telling board members “I love my job. … I love going to work,” she then expressed why she believes “we can do better by our middle school students.”

“Our school is incredibly crowded. There are too many people in the hall,” Adamek said, noting that teachers frequently get pushed in the hall “not because we have horrible, awful students. It’s because it’s too crowded. There are too many people in a small space.

“I think we have a great idea to try something new, to try something different, to try something that will serve all of our students — serve our elementary kids coming into the middle school setting and help our sixth-graders going into seventh and eighth grade.”

She added: “The thought of being able to have two lunch periods for sixth grade instead of all 300 of our students in one spot, at one time, is amazing.”

The board’s vote affirmed the opinion of Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum and the recommendation of the district’s facilities committee.

Doing otherwise would have been “a huge slap in the face” to the committee after a summer of meetings, public commenter Julie Duval said.

Stanton said her hesitance in supporting the switch was based in part on the district not having a firm enough plan in place. Former district employee Jennifer Hixson was among those who urged the board to put off a vote until more research could be done.

“Research supports keeping sixth-graders in the elementary schools,” she said.

While many of the details still need to be worked out — from the bell schedule to the impact on the district’s dual-language program — Ivory-Tatum repeated a familiar line on why the move is the right one for Urbana.

“We want to do something different, we want to do something innovative,” she said. “I’m going to say this again … we want to be trend-setting.”

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