Board Member Kerris Lee @ Cafe Kopi, Wednesday, December 17th, 3:30 pm to ?

Just a heads up that Kerris will be at Cafe Kopi tomorrow (Wednesday, December 17th) from 1:00 to 4:00 pm 3:30 pm to ? Hit him up with school board issues, the high school site, CTRL -Shift, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

 

If you are lucky, you may even run into another board member candidate (hat tip to Kathy Richards) as they hash out ideas.

A few more board member candidates

I found out that this morning three more folks submitted all the necessary paperwork and signatures for the April 2014 BOE positions (I’ll try always listing candidates in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Chris Kloeppel (I pronounce it “Kleppel”)
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon

 

Both Kathy R and Kathy S hang out here from time to time, and I know they would love to answer your questions and/or interact with you. I know Chris personally and would be happy to pass along questions to him if the need arises.

 

There are a couple other folks that I am waiting to hear the final word on. All in all, it looks like April is going to be an interesting month. I encourage you to learn as much as possible about the issues and candidates.

“If this protest isn’t considered a teaching moment, I don’t know what is.”

Just reading through the comments on the various NG articles. The heading of this post comes to you from the handle Soy Guapo (or “I am handsome/good looking”). In a sidebar conversation with Imani about this, she related to me that “back in the day” these types of things would have indeed been a very real teaching moment, enough so that “normal” classes were taken over by the topic of the day.

The comments are an excellent running commentary on what people are thinking, and they vary from the egregious to the obnoxious, from the sane to the those craving more attention. Some say they are students, some say they are parents. The back and forth dialogue is a treasure trove of what our community is thinking no matter how you slice it.

I would highlight those who are asking if this is what we want “school” to look like. This would be a most awesome forum discussion (and in some ways, it is happening, albeit in a less-than-optimal way). What is school?

I wish we had more of these discussions. I want my child to go to a school were this is the norm.

a glimpse at what is going on

No doubt, most of you have read about several things in the News-Gazette recently, or heard things on the radio. I am not going to go into much detail, but do want to mention them because there is a lot happening. And this will just be scratching the surface.


TODAY: Craft Tech Fair Saturday at Kenwood (from Todd Lash)

I wanted to invite you to come play this Saturday from 1-3 at the Kenwood Craft Tech Fair. The event will include:

  • Widgets and tools showcase (Fab Lab-Jeff talking to parents)
  • Electronic cutters (Fab Lab-stickers, paper snowflakes, etc…)
  • Graphic drawing tablets (Fab Lab-Photoshop or PaintTools)
  • Raspberry Pi Mini-Computer Demo (w/ Adriana from Wolfram/ Tech Time)
  • Scavenger Hunt of the Champaign Urbana Wiki  (InfoCity)
  • Photography Station (Erin Knowles, Parent Volunteer)
  • Makey-Makey Music (Mr. Lash)
  • Computer Hardware (Tech Time Volunteers)
  • Scratch/Code.org Demo Station (Student Volunteers and Travis Faust (Tech Time Coordinator)
  • Minecraft Lounge – Creative Mode
  • Adult Computer Station w/ Printing
  • Foam bracelets
  • Holiday bookmarks
  • Kaleidoscopes
  • Scratch board ornaments
  • Holiday photo frames
  • Snowman puppets
  • Bags for decorating to take your items home ??

Equity and Civic Action at the high schools

First, some really good news: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-12-04/central-centennial-land-honor-roll-doubling-access-ap-classes.html

I thanked both Nicole Lafond and the school district administration/BOE for all their work towards this goal. This demonstrated an excellent collaboration to address real and perceived issues of access. These are not easy issues to deal with, and I am glad that Unit 4 is not shying away from them.

On that note, you have probably already seen/heard the news about the planned peaceful protest at Centennial, but just in case you have not:

Centennial Principal Greg Johnson sent a note to staff and parents that reflected these thoughts as well. There are obviously two sides to this coin; I am proud that so many students elected to voice their chagrin at the injustice in New York and Ferguson in such a manner as to convey a strong message while not resorting to needless violence and spreading more hate. However, on the other side of the coin there are those that take things too far for one reason or another. It is easy to repay hurt with hurt, but it is both better and significantly more challenging to respond with some form of love and/or forgiveness.

Imani Bazzell has been running a series called “Why Black Folk Tend to Shout” on WBCP 1580 AM. While I have not had the privilege of listening to this fascinating series, I appreciate that folks like Imani are getting these things out in the open and provoking discussion. Our prejudices damn us, and we need to learn how to live with each other.

UPDATE: Several related stories in WILL’s Illinois Public Media page, including a video of the car being driven among protesting students:

Additionally, Imani has responded to the City’s investigation into the student who damaged the vehicle’s window, and has posted this elsewhere (still looking for a link):

http://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/imani-bazzells-response-to-the-city-wrt-centennial-protest/


“Other people’s children”

At Thursday’s PTA Council meeting, three groups were featured that are proving assistance and aid to the needy in our school district. It was a heartwarming display of how people have a heart to reach out and provide essentials for those are lacking. The three groups were:

  • Helping Hands
  • Feeding our kids
  • His Kid’s Closet

I strongly encourage you to learn more about these efforts, or any number of similar work going on in our community. For those that are already involved, I sincerely say “thank you” for all your time behind the scenes and doing what you can to improve the lives of the entire community.


April board member elections

As mentioned previously, I was aware of at least two efforts to form a slate of board candidates for the April 2015 elections. I am still seeking permission to post a number of private emails (being sick has dogged my efforts) as there are many fascinating conversations revolving around why individuals wish to run for the board. One citizen has already made a very public announcement via the NG last week. What strikes me the most is that there is a wide array of specific issues that folks are passionate about, it is seems difficult at times to find the common ground we all know is there. Aside from the “unofficial” news, the PTA Council is making plans to host a board candidate forum in April. I hope all the candidates are able to attend.


Hour of Code

The official Hour of Code begins next week, even though technically speaking, anyone with a web browser can start coding right now, either as a guest or after logging in to track your progress:

http://code.org/

Kenwood has embraced Hour of Code as an entire school, and Mrs. Slifer’s 4th grade class at Carrie Busey will be participating as well. I am sure there are many other teachers/classes getting involved. The last time I visited Mrs. Slifer’s class (this past Thursday), we observed that the students are doing a great job of collaborating without even realizing it. For instance, a student will get an idea that will quickly spread like wildfire throughout the class, and pretty soon variations start popping up. It is really cool to witness. I must emphasize, the focus is not merely about using computers or “coding” per se, but exercising critical thinking and problem solving skills. The computers and the technology is merely a tool to help achieve this goal.

There is a lot more here, but I’ll have to save it for a dedicated post.

The Purpose of the School Board, part 2

Two years ago, I wrote a post about “The Purpose of the School Board“. Recently, a number of events have persuaded me to revisit this topic. In particular, at least two groups (possibly more) are actively seeking to form a slate of board member candidates for the April 2015 elections. I have asked, but I am not yet at liberty to disclose more details. I will say that I am involved in one of those efforts.

 

But this post is more about what role the school board plays. Or to look at it from a different angle, what would happen if there were no school board in Unit 4 as it currently exists? Who would hire the superintendent? What else would be different?

 

I have an ongoing conversation with Ms. Cathy Talbert of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB). She has been very helpful in giving me a broad, 10,000ft picture of how the IASB’s stance towards governance affects the way they train board members. I have also learned that John Carver’s “Policy Governance” has had a huge impact and heavily influences how those perspectives are formed. Ms. Talbert has warned me that while Carver’s philosophy is definitely a significant ingredient, it by no means implies that the IASB follows “Policy Governance” 100%; while giving me some ideas of how to get started in my understanding of IASB’s philosophy, she mentioned that I should read John Carver’s books and also cherry-picked a few IASB websites for me to look at.

Diving into John Carver’s world is kind of like swimming in an ocean; it is vast, deep, and not much land in sight. I started with “Boards That Make a Difference“, the official primer for Carver’s “Policy Governance”; in this post I’ll focus on that which seems ideal for our school district. And hopefully I can present a much simpler, much more concise version while still being true to the source material.

 

The purpose of the school board is to be the moral compass of the school district. Not strictly dividing “right” from “wrong”, but more generally painting the long-term description of the “products” or “benefits” that the “owners” desire of the “organization.” There are several salient points that make this fundamental and critical:

  • The people who pay the taxes and vote are the owners; they must fully take ownership of the public school district (Unit 4 Board Policy 105).
  • The board merely represents the will of the people; they are not necessarily experts in education, but they are the people when it comes to the boardroom table.
  • As such, the board is obligated to build relationships with the community over and above the staff; an inherent part of a board member’s job is to seek out diverse opinions and to make himself or herself readily available to the “owners”; they are to be collectors of opinions and perspectives across the wide gamut of community members.
  • The board policies should be very broad, very global, categorized into perhaps 4 distinct groups, and able to be easily summarized in 5 pages such that every decision made by the school district can be measured against those 5 pages. Carver calls this the “Policy Circle”, and allows for more detail as necessary, but the starting point and the thrust is that these are overarching statements of motivation which drive the direction of the entire school district; in other words, the board policy should succintly determine “who gets what benefits for how much”.
  • The board’s business should boil down to deciding whether or not anything put in front of them is in alignment with the clearly documented, widely communicated, simplified board policies.

 

The IASB’s official “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance” reflects many of the virtues espoused by Carver, going so far as to adopt Carver’s terminology and use of “Ends”. I wish to clarify that while the Board’s primary job is to govern and take responsibility that these Ends are clearly defined and adhered to, it is the people who give breath to the Ends in the first place. The Board cannot and should not adopt Ends as put forth only by the organization and/or its staff, but the board should be engaged “in an ongoing two-way conversation with the entire community. This conversation enables the Board to hear and understand the community’s educational aspirations and desires, to serve effectively as an advocate for district improvement and to inform the community of the district’s performance.”

 

The IASB has another page dedicated to “connecting with the community“; this page repeats much of what is already on the “Foundational Principles” page, but also links to a new report that strives to put forth good community relationship building practices.

 

I do have one major criticism for IASB, and I’ll have to think of a polite way to ask this question of Cathy Talbert when I talk to her next; “If the IASB is responsible for board member training, why the hell do we struggle so much to exercise that ongoing two-way communication?” Obviously this criticism does not apply to all board members – I place this on the IASB shoulders because they are the ones telling board members how to do their jobs.

 

Five seats are up for board positions in April; five out of seven. I think people sense that if they truly want to make changes to the board, now is a really good time to do so. Here is the measuring stick I am going to urge the entire voting community to consider when contemplating board members candidates and even whole slates (taken directly from the IASB “Foundational Principles”):

  1. The Board Clarifies the District Purpose
  2. The Board Connects With the Community
  3. The Board Employs a Superintendent
  4. The Board Delegates Authority
  5. The Board Monitors Performance
  6. The Board Takes Responsibility For Itself

 

This is what board members should be doing. This is what I will want successful board member candidates to set their agendas on. And for any slate, I would want them to fully embrace these guiding principles. Granted, this calls for a lot of work – we have a lot of bad habits we need to correct. I love how Carver casts the ideal board meeting; it should be lively, filled with debate, but also well kept on track (“moral compass”). A 4-hour, boring board meeting means you’re doing it wrong. A board policy manual that measures 8 inches thick when printed means you’re doing it wrong.

 

The people elect school board members to exert their will upon the school district; those five people you elect will effectively become your voice.

Keep your eyes open

Just a few things to mention.

 

Monday, November 17th is a “special” board meeting, which typically means there are more opportunities for public comment. However the agenda is exceptionally small this time around, with the one and only thing really being discussed is a “public hearing” (*cough cough*) on “Physical Education Waiver Request”.

 

Last Thursday, Tim Ditman wrote an article covering how board member Kerris Lee is “exploring other Central High School sites“. Perhaps what I found most odd is that there are zero (nilch, nada, none) comments to the article. Granted, while Dodds Park and Bristol Park do offer some really interesting possibilities, they seem like extremely remote possibilities, but hey, Kerris is good at getting people to talk, so I dare not say impossible.

 

Next Thursday (November 20th), the national Learning Spaces Collaboratory will be holding a webinar on “Connecting the Dots between Planning and Assessing 21st Century Learning Spaces: Lessons Learned from the Field“. There is a $125 registration fee, so not for the faint of heart. I am hoping to hear from some local folks that attend this webinar and are willing to report out.

 

And lastly, save the dates for a few Saturdays in January; we are starting to make plans to offer design charrettes around the topic of the Unit 4 High Schools. Tentatively you can pencil in January 10th, January 17th and January 24th. I have spoken with the fine folks at the Douglass Center as well as the principal at Stratton and there is a distinct possibility we will be able to use their gyms. Pattsi, how can I help get your “charrettes 101″ material online and available to all?

Collaboration and compromise

Recently, Kathy Richards presented her petition to the Board (Nov 10 BOE meeting). I have been waiting for it to pop up on Vimeo, but I might just try to record it off CGTV 5 at some point. Maggie Hockenberry of WCIA caught up with Kathy and interviewed her yesterday:

http://www.illinoishomepage.net/story/d/story/support-for-district-if-location-changes/42339/8oXxaq0_E0S1BKl9TAWIgQ

 

I think one thing Ms. Hockenberry perhaps missed is that a vast majority of us support the school district regardless of the referendum, there are just details about the referendum that we disagree about. For some it is location, others it is Dr. Howard, and a whole bunch of other reasons are thrown in the cart.

 

A recent twitter thread evolved into a sort of a challenge, calling folks to get together and hammer this thing out; Park district, city council, MTD, CCRPC, the YES Committee, those who voted “no”, UIUC students urban planning, LA, ARCH, NRES…. I am sure we could pile on more. Obviously, we should have done this two years ago. But here we are.

 

I don’t know how else to say this, but perhaps we should in a sense just shut up about it and start “doing”. For those that support the referendum but are willing to look at other options, can we open up the box and think about sites that are smaller than 47 acres? For those that opposed the referendum, find a site that works and meets all the needs of the district (sans 47 acres). Pattsi has one idea that we need to flesh out a bit more. Others have re-suggested Spalding/Judah. It is not enough to say that Interstate Drive is bad for this and that reason; we need to go beyond that and come up with a real, practical solution. And we will have to compromise – it has been said a bajillion times “there is no perfect site.” So we need to prioritize and figure out what we really need. What are the non-negotiables? We have to be willing to give up some things, on both sides of the fence, to focus on what is really important.

 

From my point of view, the biggest driver is sheer capacity. If we reduce the number of children that are jammed-packed into the current buildings, we solve a lot of problems just with that alone. I agree, there are still other ramifications that need to be addressed. So let us stop talking and start addressing. Pattsi, when is our first charrette scheduled for? :)

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