Learn how one district is partnering with their community to enact transformative change in their schools.


Champaign Unit 4 Schools is a district of 18 schools serving over 10,000 students in Champaign, Illinois. The district developed a robust strategic plan, setting a clear vision with measurable goals to improve student experiences and outcomes. Their plan identified a number of challenges they needed to tackle as a district. In addition to concerns about low student performance, particularly among some of their most vulnerable student populations, the district determined: 

  • “We are lacking the basic building blocks of a high-performing education system: a coherent and demanding curriculum, assessments, and instructional methods all aligned to student performance standards.
  • Our educators have few opportunities to learn with and from one another in structured settings.
  • We rarely and/or unsuccessfully engage educators, families and students in helping us understand and address challenges in classrooms and schools.
  • Our central office is not set up to manage change or implementation effectively – as a result, initiatives often fall by the wayside or are implemented ineffectively.” 

(Champaign Unit 4 School District Strategic Plan p. 2-3)

Three years into their strategic plan’s five-year lifespan, the district recognized that they were not fulfilling its promises. While the dedicated educators and leaders across the district worked tirelessly, the challenges their strategic plan was designed to address persisted. The district didn’t have a formal process for monitoring or adjusting its efforts toward implementing its plan or measuring its impact. There also weren’t any mechanisms for connecting stakeholders to the strategic planning process. Under new leadership, the district decided they needed to develop an infrastructure for aligning their efforts, monitoring their strategic plan, adjusting their approach if they weren’t seeing the impact, and engaging stakeholders across their community in the process.


Leadership Development and Technical Assistance

As part of a comprehensive partnership, Focused Schools provided direct support to Unit 4’s district Instructional Leadership Team, consisting of the superintendent, assistant superintendents, department directors, and other members of her cabinet. Through this collaboration, Focused Schools assisted Unit 4 in organizing and leading its first Unit 4 Data Day, aimed at bringing together representation from across the Champaign community to take an honest look at the district’s progress towards achieving the outcomes of its strategic plan. The Focused Schools team supported the Data Day by:

  • Devising communication materials 
  • Developing the day’s agenda and presentation materials
  • Partnering with the district to create summary data reports related to the district’s progress towards its strategic plan’s goals
  • Facilitating the Data Day session
  • Compiling participant feedback from the session
  • Facilitating a debrief and planning session with members of the district ILT to plan next steps

The first Data Day brought together close to 50 stakeholders, including CUSD4 teachers, district staff, community leaders, and representatives from the local community college and university. Together, participants identified some of the district’s most urgent challenges and offered suggestions for how to address them. The following day, the Focused Schools team met with members of the district ILT to develop a targeted response plan. This process led to the development of coordinated work teams to lead district efforts around key initiatives, including designing a comprehensive multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), streamlining communication, and engaging family and community members. They also established regular opportunities for the teams to connect, communicate, and collaborate to ensure their efforts were aligned.

THE IMpact

A Model for Collaboration

The district held two more Data Days throughout the school year to reassemble stakeholders, report on progress towards the priorities identified at the first Data Day, and identify additional next steps. Each time, stakeholders came together to share their time and insight to further the common goal of strengthening their school system for the more than 10,000 students in their community. After one session, a community member shared, “I feel valued and included even though I don’t work for the district.” When asked to share their feedback on the Data Day process at the end of the year, participants commended these opportunities for:

Over the course of the year, Focused Schools continued to provide support by coordinating and facilitating each day’s agendas, developing data reports and other materials, and partnering with the district ILT to assist with the implementation and alignment of efforts between sessions. Plans are in place to continue these community Data Days in the upcoming school year and to expand participation to include additional stakeholders.

Progress Towards Promises

In addition to developing this collaborative inquiry process, the district is now on its way to fulfilling the promises set forth in its strategic plan. Some highlights include:

  • Development of a districtwide MTSS team that has presented the district’s first-ever comprehensive MTSS plan to all principals
  • Defining common expectations and processes for Tier 1 instruction and Tier 2 interventions
  • Creation of a system of District Champions who will serve as liaisons between each school’s Instructional Leadership Team and the district Instructional Leadership Team
  • Expansion of the district’s ILT to include members of the district Communications Team to enhance district-wide communication efforts
  • Drafting of the district’s first comprehensive Communications Plan

Is your district ready to ignite transformative change? Contact us to learn more about our strategic planning, leadership development, and technical assistance offerings. We would be honored to partner with you!