I. Prep School Origins

In 1996, University Laboratory High School — or Uni as it is better known — celebrated its 75th anniversary. In truth, however, the actual beginning of the school was in the latter half of the 19th century, when a preparatory class for older students who needed some extra preparation before entering a college or university was started in 1876 in the basement of University Hall, located where the Illini Union now stands. Preparatory school students had to be no less than 15 years of age and were required to pass exams in arithmetic, geography, English grammar, and U.S. history. The level of difficulty of these tests was said to equal that required for a second-grade teacher’s certificate. The Preparatory School offered a one-year course of study, and the cost of attending was a mere $5 in tuition and $7.50 in incidental fees. In 1890, the U of I Board of Trustees was advised that the Preparatory Department could be eliminated as soon as adequate provision for doing its work was made by some public or private institution. Two years later, a proposal was made to the Trustees to establish a township high school for the cities of Urbana and Champaign. The proposition called for the University to give such a high school every support compatible with the interests of the University and the laws of the state. In June 1892, the Preparatory School was reorganized and tuition was raised to $10 per term but the Trustees took no further action on the proposal concerning a high school. Despite much discussion concerning the phasing out of the Preparatory School, it continued through the end of one century and into the beginning of this one. In March 1901, U of I President Andrew S. Draper advised the Principal and instructors of the Preparatory School that their services would not be needed at the end of the 1902 academic year. Soon after that announcement, in December 1901, President Draper recommended that the entity commonly called the Preparatory School be maintained by the University and be renamed the Academy of the University of Illinois. In June 1910, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachers questioned the relation of the Academy to the University and apparently prompted the Board of Trustees to discontinue the Academy in June 1911. The Board’s action also was tied to the U of I Faculty Senate discussion of the purpose and function of the Academy and its recommendation that the Academy be replaced with a training, experimental, and observational school for secondary grades which would serve as a laboratory school for the College of Education. In April 1910, the College of Education and the forebears of what is now known as the Urbana-Champaign Senate asked the Board of Trustees for permission to establish a laboratory high school. In October 1910, a special committee of the Board of Trustees endorsed the construction of a separate building for the school of education, which contained a provision for a model high school. At that time, the committee asked for $250,000 for the erection of the building. Because the building was to house a laboratory for the study of applied methods of teaching, school records tell us that many felt its location should be determined more by the area from which students of high school age were to be drawn than by its relation to any particular group of existing university buildings. In October 1913, the Board of Trustees appropriated $30,000 to purchase enough land on the block bounded by Springfield Avenue and Mathews Street to build a high school. In June 1914, the first design for the school building was turned down, but in July, after extensive discussion, the English collegiate Gothic structure won approval. A year later, the supervising architect, J.M. White, estimated the cost of the building at $143,500. The building planned for completion in 1915 was an H-shaped structure with one wing planned to house classrooms, shops and laboratories of a senior high school (grades 10 to 12) and the other wing reserved for junior high school, grades 7 to 9. The auditorium and gymnasium for these two units, together with the offices, classrooms and other facilities of the College of Education, were to be housed in the connecting unit. In short, the “wing” in which all 300-plus Uni High students attend classes today was not even the original complete senior high unit, let alone a complete junior-senior high school. The Board of Trustees gave the green light for construction of the west wing in May 1916 and groundbreaking took place in early 1917. The first wing was completed and ready for occupancy by October 1918, but it was not immediately turned over to the College of Education. In its Oct. 16, 1918 session, the Board of Trustees discussed and approved plans to convert the building into a general hospital for the Students’ Army Training Corp and School of Military Aeronautics until the end of World War

II. The Uni High Era Begins

The building finally opened its doors as a school on Sept. 12, 1921, welcoming 63 students and 14 faculty members. The instructional program at the University High School was similar in most respects to high school programs throughout the central part of the state. For a tuition fee of $25 per semester, the same fee charged to University students, high school pupils could study English, the social sciences, mathematics, science, foreign languages, music, art and design, home economics and industrial education. Although there is no evidence that girls enrolled in industrial education in the 1920s, a one-half year course in home economics was offered for boys of junior and senior standing. The new high school did not totally abandon the tradition begun by the Preparatory School: It offered a course in advanced algebra primarily for students who planned to enter the College of Engineering. Only three years of math were offered, but the four-year science curriculum included classes in general science, botany, zoology, chemistry and physics. The 1922 Uni High graduating class of 15 students included seven who had transferred from high schools in Champaign and Urbana, two had come from Philo and the remainder, except for a student from Tennessee who was living with relatives in town, were from rural areas throughout Illinois. Their parents’ occupations ranged from elevator operator, postal clerk, dressmaker and watchman to engineer, surgeon and professor. Three students were children of parents associated with the University. Two were children of professors and one had a father who worked in the mail department at the University stadium. A College of Education publication titled “Instructional Activities in the University High School” highlights the wide variety of educational techniques employed by teachers and the degree to which many staff members were student-oriented rather than simply subject-matter oriented. The University High School Gymnasium was not constructed until 1926 at a cost of $30,000. Prior to that time, the South Attic was used for physical activities, and basketball backboards of some unknown vintage were just removed in 1996 as part of renovations of that space to improve acoustics and lighting for the orchestra, chorus and jazz band programs.

III. The Best-Laid Plans

Twenty years later, in 1943, plans for a new University High School building were under way. Although the project got no further than the planning stage, the preliminary scheme called for a structure that would have been one of the University’s most imposing buildings. The basic plan for a new University High School goes back to 1937 when a proposal was brought before the Board of Trustees to extend Main Street through Illinois Field. The construction of a new College of Education practice school would then have been undertaken — moving the school from its present site about two blocks north and adding facilities for prekindergarten-age children. The southern part of Illinois Field would have housed the practice school, and the Men’s Old Gymnasium was to be assigned wholly or partially to Uni. The Gymnasium “Annex” was tentatively scheduled for conversion to some other use. The proposal suggested that the old University High School building be remodeled for the use of the College of Engineering or the Department of Journalism. In 1944, the College of Education noted in a 17-page report: “On the whole, the (Uni) building is not very satisfactory and in many respects inadequate for the educational program which this school is expected to provide. It is indeed too bad that a school of this design and purpose should be so handicapped in regard to a gymnasium, locker rooms, and showers … . “Lacking an auditorium, the University High School has been using a fourth-floor attic for this purpose. It is now necessary to question such use as a result of unsafe conditions reported by the University Fire Station. In view of the University’s obligation to follow the accepted public building codes, it seems that serious consideration should be given to discontinuing the future use of this area.” Along with these criticisms of the present high school building, the College of Education also included in the report an outline of a proposed new site in what is now north of Illini Grove, the site of the Lincoln Avenue Residence Halls. Preliminary plans called for a building of 225,000 square feet to house a nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school, secondary school, and the classrooms and administrative offices of the College of Education. The entire complex included two gymnasiums, one two-story auditorium, a swimming pool, and a cafeteria. Some members of the College also suggested the building of a junior college next to the laboratory school. Obviously, most of the changes called for in this proposal never moved beyond preliminary consideration except for the turning over of the Old Mens’ Gym (Kenney Gym) to Uni High for its physical education and athletics programs. More recently, in December 1962, a College of Education committee reported that funds for a new school were urgently requested. The committee’s tentative plan called for an experimental school to accommodate an enrollment of 700 pupils from kindergarten to grade 12 on an unspecified 25-acre site. Like earlier proposals, this one also failed to materialize.

IV. Early School Administrators

Complete List of Past Administrators The helm of Uni High has been held by some 21 administrators over the past three-quarters of a century. The first two lasted eleven years each. The third served the longest, enduring fourteen years. Since that time, administrations of shorter duration have led the school. The first Principal in Uni High’s relatively short line of “chief executives” was Lewis W. Williams, who served as Principal from 1921 to 1932. In the 1921 yearbook, he stated the purpose of the school as being threefold:

Williams’ 11-year administration contributed much to the building of solid foundations and meaningful traditions. The legend of the school seal selected by the first graduating class was “Unity of Spirit,” a goal that describes the Williams’ administration at its best. The fall of 1932 saw a new administration led by Charles W. Sanford who served as Principal from 1932 to 1943. His administration had an auspicious beginning due to the addition of the subfreshman class in September 1932 and was characterized by an enormous amount of extracurricular activity. In fact, the demand and interest became so great that in 1938 one hour was set aside each week for participation in activities such as the radio, industrial arts, handiwork, typing, checkers, and book clubs. This period also was characterized by the reputedly marvelous marionette shows for which Uni High became well known. Sanford reportedly encouraged students to buy war stamps and join the First Aid Club, War Discussion, Camouflage Club, and Red Cross. In 1943, Sanford left Uni to become Associate Dean in the College of Education. Uni’s third administration was its longest, lasting from 1943 to 1957 under the direction of Charles M. Allen. During this period, Uni not only continued the programs of the preceding years but undertook a systematic and steady modernization and improvement in preparation for the big leap forward of the late 1950s. Many more extracurricular activities and academic projects were available, and the administration cooperated in establishing a football team while presiding over the most successful period of competitive athletics in Uni’s history. These years were characterized by a period of innovations designed to meet the challenges of postwar society head-on and set the stage for the advent of Uni’s most impressive years. The period of 1957 to 1966 has been dubbed Uni’s “Golden Era” by many. The school was under the direction of Dr. David M. Jackson and the entire curriculum laboratory project directed by Dr. Max Beberman came into full swing with Math, English, and Social Studies projects leading the way. At this time, Uni students were well aware of the history that they were helping to create. In fact, the 1964 yearbook stated: “Uni High has long been known as one of the two national demonstration centers of experimental projects in Illinois and the spearhead of the program.” The Jackson administration was receptive to changing views in regard to national priorities and interests and the expanding world. This resulted in curriculum revisions to reflect these changes, including the addition of Russian to the program of instruction and the development of the cultural areas curriculum to include Japan, the Soviet Union, and Africa. Also, in the period during which science and mathematics reigned supreme, Jackson presided over the birth of “The New Math,” product of the genius of Beberman and cradled at Uni. At the time, contemporary sources referred to Uni as “the center of the most exciting experimentation in education today.” Succeeding Jackson, who became Associate Dean of the College of Education, was Dr. Wilfred L. Shoemaker who for many years had been Director of Guidance at Uni. Shoemaker served as Acting Principal from 1964 to 1966 and was named Principal from 1966-67, when he resigned for reasons of health. Shoemaker was followed by Robert Carlier from 1967-68. This year was a period of consolidation and assessment of goals, perhaps in anticipation of the national changes at the end of the 1960s. In 1968, Uni’s sixth administration took hold under the direction of Dr. Anthony F. Gregorc. In the presence of the past failures to secure new quarters, Gregorc undertook a face-lifting building program from which today’s students continue to profit. In addition to building improvements, his five-year plan included changes in staffing and curriculum. The naming of executive teachers in each of the major programs of study is one of his most successful innovative ideas that continues today. Dr. Robert E. Boyd assumed the reins of the school in 1971, assisted by Principal Russell Zwoyer. Dr. Robert B. Davis served as both Principal and Director in 1975-76, followed by Dr. James Raths who was Principal in 1976. Next, former Uni journalism teacher Warren Royer became Principal and Dr. Alan C. Purves assumed the duties of Director in 1977. Their tenure was marked by a financial crisis that almost resulted in the closing of the school when the U of I College of Education withdrew financial support. In early 1983, the Illinois State Board of Education approved funding guidelines for laboratory schools and opened the door to state support for Uni as a public laboratory school. It previously had been funded as a research unit of the College of Education. In spring 1983, a committee studying University Laboratory High School recommended “fundamental changes” in the organizational structure of the school so that it could function as “an active center for research and curriculum development,” as “an outstanding college preparatory school” and as “a resource for the secondary school teachers of our state and nation.” The committee recommended that Uni report jointly to the U of I Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the Vice-Chancellor of Research as of July 1, 1983. The school was later reassigned solely to the auspices of the office of the Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs, who also holds the title of Provost, in 1995.

V. Recent Administrators and Notable Teachers

More recent administrators at Uni’s helm have included:

The 1996-97 school year brought the resignation due to health reasons of the Uni teacher with the most years of service since it opened: Carol Unzicker Bond retired after 35 years as a French teacher and Foreign Language Department Head. Other teachers who helped shape the lives of more than two decades of students include the late Pauline Chagnon, who also taught French and who was at the school from 1932 to 1966; Dr. Connie Curtin, who taught Russian from 1966 to 1989; and Dr. Ella Leppert, who taught economics and history and headed up the Social Studies Department from 1954 to 1975. As of 2014-2015 school year, the following teachers have influenced Uni students for 20 + years: Gene Bild and Lisa Micele (22); Bill Sutton, (23); Paul Weilmuenster (24); David Bergandine and David Stone (31); Rick Murphy (33); and Chris Butler (36).

VI. Shifting Student Profiles, Programs

When Uni High opened its doors in 1921, the Board of Trustees set up three basic admission requirements: graduation from the eighth grade or evidence through examination or other means that the pupil could do satisfactory high school work; residence in the state of Illinois, and age not exceeding 21 years. Transfers were accepted. Until the last 10 years when some 45 to 50 more students have been admitted to swell the student body to 296 students, the enrollment of the school has traditionally been limited to approximately 250 students. The curriculum reflects the size and, to a certain extent, the changing interests of the student body and the national priorities at a given time. When the school first opened, it admitted students in a four-year high school program. As early as June 1926, however, a petition for a junior high school in connection with the University High School was signed by 38 citizens of Urbana and submitted to the President of the University. The University President recommended the proposal be rejected, and the Board of Trustees concurred that summer. However, this early effort set the stage for the admission of Uni’s first subfreshman class — combined seventh and eighth grades — in 1932. For a long while, the class consisted of only 20 to 25 pupils who had completed the first six grades. They were chosen on the basis of school records, scores on achievement and intelligence tests, and health examinations. In 1934, the U of I Board of Trustees ordered that each accepted subfreshman make a $5 deposit toward the $25 tuition fee to reserve his or her place in the class. Subfreshmen were required to take English, arithmetic, social studies, industrial arts (boys), home economics (girls), music appreciation, and physical education. Their only elective was instrumental music. Although it may appear that the subfreshman program has remained relatively unchanged over the past 60 years, it actually has undergone radical revisions in content and methods through the years as a result of experimentation. Occasionally, the subfreshman class has been required to participate in pilot projects such as the mandatory study of Latin in the late 1960s or the short-lived Form One experiment of the 1970s. And, in 1932, a “Special Freshman Class” was admitted. It consisted of 20 to 25 pupils who had completed seven grades. These students had regular ninth grade subject matter and eighth grade essentials at the same time. They were required to take English, algebra and physical education and were given the choice of two electives from general science, French, Latin, ancient and medieval history, music appreciation, art and design, and home economics. Pupils who completed this course entered the regular sophomore class. The Special Freshman Class was discontinued in 1945. In 1934, remedial classes in Reading and Arithmetic were established to give students special aid if they were weak in these subjects. The remedial classes were continued until 1940, when a new program called “Directed Study and Learning” was instituted. Directed Study and Learning Program class periods were 70 minutes long, with approximately one-half of the time spent in carefully planned, directed study led by the teacher. A summer program of studies was offered until 1946. As an aid in oral work, a language laboratory was installed in 1962. Russian was introduced into the curriculum in 1963, followed by Japanese in the mid-’80s and Spanish, which was introduced in 1995. With the hiring of Beberman as a mathematics teacher and the establishing of the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics, Uni moved into national prominence as the proving ground for what came to be known as “The New Math” in the 1960s and 1970s. That tradition continues today as Uni leads the state in a curriculum-design program for bringing Mathematica software into classrooms all over Illinois via “notebooks” or examples developed at Uni and shared over the Internet. Of note is the fact that Uni alum Theodore Gray, Uni Class of 1982, was one of the creators of the now widely used Mathematica software. In 2000, Chris Butler was awarded the 2000 Beveridge Family Teaching Award for Excellence in teaching history. The award was presented by the American Historical Association, for developing “…an innovative method of incorporating detailed flowcharts to help student mentally “map” history…” This award is the only award the American History Association gives for K-12 teaching. Chris Butler developed a “method for teaching history, using a series of about 200 cross-referenced flowcharts and powerpoint multimedia lecture outlines to help students see history as a dynamic process of causes and effects.” http://www.flowofhistory.com/

VII. Some Uni Traditions

Since the early 1970s, hundreds of students have used brightly colored paint to leave their handprints on the walls of the student lounge. In fact, this rite of passage is now an official part of graduation week festivities and is preceded by the Senior Supper, a candlelit meal served by the faculty to students in the first floor hallway. Agora Days — a four-day program usually held in the spring — is another of the school’s more recent traditions. Agora, which is Greek for the market, involves more than 100 special-interest classes taught by students, parents, alumni and faculty instead of regular classes.

VIII. Today's Student Body

Today, about 60 percent of Uni students participate in fine arts activities, and the school’s “no-cut” athletic policies encourage about 65 percent to participate in sports. As in the early days of the school, virtually all graduates go on to college, although some defer their college careers for a year or two in favor of service programs in this country or travel, both near and far. Alumni data show that about 40 percent of Uni High graduates earn bachelor’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a figure that has remained fairly constant for several decades. While some outside the school perceive Uni as a school for children of U of I faculty, in fact only about one-third of the students enrolled in the 1990s have a faculty parent. Students from as far away as Danville and Paxton attend the school and are integral to its diverse population. About 86 percent of current students reside in Champaign-Urbana. The racial/ethnic makeup of the student body is 63 percent White, 20 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 5 percent African-American, and 5 percent Hispanic, 1% Native American. Uni is involved in a long-term effort to encourage even greater diversity among its student body. Hanging in the hallway at University High, just across from the Counseling Office, is a proclamation signed by students, parents, and teachers several years ago that states: “We are committed to a school climate which respects and celebrates individual differences. We believe there is strength in diversity. We categorically oppose discrimination of all forms.” As the school examines its laboratory mission and what it means today, Uni seems to be experiencing a renewed sense of interest from researchers in many disciplines across the U of I campus. Their requests to use Uni as a sample of culturally and racially diverse academically talented students are weighed carefully to make sure such research does not distract from the central mission of the school. That mission states: “As a catalyst for educational innovation, University Laboratory High School seeks to spark the creative fervor and high aspirations of talented young people; to inspire them to excellence; to challenge them through traditional and experimental strategies; to ignite their potential for active, responsible involvement in the adult world; and to influence positively the larger educational community.” And while the early tuition charge of $25 at University Laboratory High School may seem difficult to comprehend in an age when gasoline costs more than $1 a gallon and a burger-for-less-than-a-buck is a bargain, it is important to note that since the mid-’80s, Uni has been a true public school which cannot charge tuition and makes no admission decisions on the basis of student ability to pay. Today, the operating budget of University High School is funded from three main sources: Approximately 60 percent of its operating expenses is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education through the general state aid formula. The university provides salary support, utilities and building maintenance. Voluntary contributions from parents cover 25 percent of costs. Because it is not part of a local school district, Uni receives no local property tax dollars. Instead, Uni parents contribute about $400,000 in tax-deductible donations a year to support the school while alumni, alumni parents, friends and corporate supporters donate another $75,000 to the annual fund and the Endowment Fund, begun in the 1980s. The Endowment is now approaching a market value of $200,000. In addition, a number of alums have generously included University Laboratory High School in their estate plans and/or designated Uni as the recipient of memorial donations. For example, in early 1996, Eugene and Virginia Pomerance of Elmhurst, grandparents of Uni students Hannah Koenker, Class of 1995, and Emma Koenker, Class of 1998, who died due to a brain tumor the previous August, announced a gift of $100,000 to renovate the school’s three science laboratories on the third floor of the school as a way of showing their appreciation to the students and staff. Annual book costs run about $400 per year, and additional fees are about $400. Because admission is never based on a student’s ability to pay, Uni is seeking corporate and individual underwriting for deserving students whose families cannot afford these costs.

IX. Uni Alumni: A Tradition of Excellence

Uni’s some 3,000 graduates and attendees since 1922 can be found pursuing an array of interesting vocations and avocations. Some have joined the ranks of the professions and trades, while others have become educators, scientists, businessmen, administrators, and artists. Uni has the distinction of counting three Nobel Prize laureates among its graduates:

Uni also counts Pulitzer Prize-winning writer George Will, Class of 1958, among its alumni. His conservative views appear via a column syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group in newspapers across the nation and Newsweek magazine. He is a regular panelist on the ABC Sunday morning news program “This Week,” and he has written a bestselling book on baseball titled “Men at Work.” Award-winning playwright Tina Howe was a member of the Uni Class of 1955. Her works include “The Art of Dining,” “Painting Churches,” “Museum,” “Coastal Disturbances,” “One Shoe Off,” and, most recently, “Pride’s Crossing.” Of more recent note is Frederick Marx, Uni Class of 1973, who is one of three co-producers of the much-touted documentary “Hoop Dreams,” with its climactic ending filmed at the U of I Assembly Hall. Marx’s work was nominated for Best Documentary Editing in 1994 by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, the late William Max Harnish, a member of the Uni Class of 1937, distinguished himself by attaining the starred rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy in 1968. Harnish was decorated at least seven times, receiving the Legion of Merit twice, the Distinguished Flying Cross Air Medal three times and the Navy Commendation Medal twice. Uni also is the alma mater of a former Postmaster General, Ben Bailar, Class of 1951; a federal judge, Mary Murphy Schroeder, U.S Circuit Judge, Ninth Circuit, and Class of 1958; world-renowned author Iris Chang, who wrote “The Rape of Nanking,” Class of 1985; and Lucia Lin, Class of 1979, a former concert mistress of the London Symphony Orchestra now with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Closer to home, Uni alums have recently been at the helms of three downstate Illinois cities in the mid-1990s: Dannel McCollum, Class of 1954, has been mayor of Champaign; Kent Karraker, also Class of 1954, is mayor of Normal; and Tod Satterthwaite, Class of 1971, is mayor of Urbana. Francis ‘Bud’ Barker, Class of 1955, also has served as chairman of the Champaign County Board. In recent years, Uni students have twice won first place and once taken second place honors in the international National Science Teachers Association/Toshiba ExploraVision competition, the world’s largest K-12 science competition. The Class of 1997 achieved the highest ACT average composite score in the nation (30.6). In closing, it may be appropriate to share an observation made by former Uni Principal Royer at Uni’s Grand Reunion held in 1985. He said: “Institutions age as people do, slowly and while no one is looking. Uni High, through most of its history, has been engaged in struggles: to establish an identity, to find a home, to discover what are the best ways of educating young people, to ask questions about how we learn and what it is that is worth learning... . “We’ve become more than an institution, we’ve become a family, a family that has drawn together over the basic issues of education and its values. We have a history and a national reputation for excellence. But the process of becoming goes on. Ten years from now, or fifty, we will have become something else. There will be more ghosts in the halls, striding with youthful steps and with laughter.”

NOTE: Information regarding the early years recounted in the preceding history of University Laboratory High School is largely taken from a piece titled “In Retrospect” that was written by Uni alum Laurence Lo in 1971, the 50th Anniversary of Uni opening its doors. It originally appeared as a series in Gargoyle, the student newspaper. Some information is based on a doctoral dissertation written in 1978 by William Renner, Assistant Uni Principal from 1977 to 1979.

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