What are public schools supposed to do?

I have often asked myself variations on the question “what is the purpose of school?” When asked, my then 9-year-old daughter offered her perspective, “to learn how to learn.” I asked her a year later about the purpose of the teacher, and she said “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, 3)


I find myself aligning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and many others both before and after MLK, who paints a picture that the purpose of education is to generate successful citizens. Citizens that can navigate and participate in society, that know how to collaborate and compromise, engage in healthy debate to voice different ideas, and overall “be family.”



A related question is “what is the purpose of the board?” (part 1, 2) Basically, the school board sits at the 10,000 foot level (right below the clouds) and determines where the bus is going to go in the long run.


Having laid all that out as a preamble, I now turn your attention to the November 16th school board meeting, the agenda of which can be found on boarddocs (I still do not have a way to deep-link the agenda – you will have to navigate there manually). In particular, the interesting presentation on High School Configuration. First, I think it is great that this board is trying to 1) be very open in their discussion, and 2) are trying to invite the community to the table on “big issues”.


The High School Configuration document is interesting because it starts off with a summary of Lisa de la Rue’s literature review. For those that want to rewind back to the June 11th, 2012, meeting, I have a couple notes you can look over; June 9th, before the meeting, and June 12th, after the meeting. Basically, there is a weak correlation between school configuration and student achievement (too many other variables). This current document goes on to list several pros and cons between a 1-HS model, a 2-HS model (current) and a 3-HS model. I noticed a trend in the carefully phrased “possibilities” – the single high school model might increase the number of opportunities/services while at the same time might decrease climate, while at the other end (not really an extreme) the three high school model looses the number of offerings (due to lack of consolidation) but increases the innate intimacy. Funny how the two high school model has one and only one “concern” listed. Oh, by the way, the current HS principals will be spearheading this presentation. :)


I am not shy about my own preference, but the point I want to make with this post is that I believe the board as a whole needs to focus first on what kind of students they want to produce. Regardless of configuration or location, when you hand a diploma to a kid, what qualities and traits will they have acquired because of Unit 4? What exactly is a successful citizen? What about those students for whom the current system is not working at all? What are we doing wrong if students (young citizens) are “failing” the public school system?


The district administration has recently taken a stronger stance in support of Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF, a concept originated by Dr. Edna Olive who has a book by the same title). Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell are pushing PBF, with good effect, with ACTIONS staff used throughout the district. During a recent email exchange with Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the district is looking at including PBF and cultural relevancy more thoroughly within Professional Development in the near future. Having read Dr. Olive’s book, I find myself agreeing with her belief that “relationships are everything.” In fact, Dr. Olive goes so far as to call PBF a paradigm not a program; it is more of mindset, a method of taking a step back and thinking about all the factors going on in a given situation, starting first with yourself.


My own high-level goals for any student going through Unit 4, regardless of the physical building they happen to be in, are:

  • her sense of curiosity, creativity and wonder are encouraged and enhanced; she is a critical thinker who, because she is a life-long learner, questions everything
  • although she is a single citizen, she is a valuable citizen who appreciates the value of others around her; ergo she seeks to resolve conflict, collaborate, and compromise as needed
  • alongside her repertoire of reading, writing and math skills, she also gains the confidence that she can acquire new skills as desired
  • she is both street-wise and world-wise


What goals do you have? What goals do our students have? And how will we realize those goals?


I hope lots of people show up for the chat tomorrow, and I hope many more continue to provide input on their own priorities. I urge the board to focus more on the purpose of Unit 4 schools, and provide course corrections to the administration as necessary. Personally, I don’t think the board as a whole should decide the location or the configuration; certainly as individuals and voters they have an opinion that should be expressed, but as a board, I see their job as setting the big picture first.


Let’s make learning fun. :) And let us learn how to learn. Always.

Schools of Choice: 10 tricks to get the school you want



  1. There are no tricks. It was just a catchy headline. But I do have 9 pieces of advice
  2. Why do we have Schools of Choice? Because our neighborhoods are not economically diverse, and the leadership wants diverse schools.
  3. Figure out your own goals. Do you want a “balanced calendar” school? Does location matter? What is most important to you?
  4. Read up on the Magnet programs and the school profiles to see what schools offer (56-page booklet)
  5. Look up which school you have “proximity priority” to: http://choice.champaignschools.org/proximity.html (here are the schools in google maps)
  6. There are (currently) 12 elementary schools, each with a limited number of seats. You can list any or all in an order of preference (aka, “rank order”). Your “priorities” (sibling, proximity) apply to your first choice. I suggest ranking them all. If you do not, are you ok with the slim possibility of having an “assignment pending” status?
  7. There is a small chance you might not get one of your top choices – is such a case, you will be placed on a waitlist. Hypothetically speaking, would you relocate your child a week after school started?
  8. Talk to other parents: chambanamoms is a really good resource for connecting with other parents and sharing thoughts on Schools of Choice. Or start a conversation here.
  9. Visit the schools. Even before January or after March. Visit the Family Informatiodon't-panic-iPadn Center (also called FIC).
  10. Don’t panic. I know there is a lot of information to consider, but all the schools have something great to offer. It’s ok.

Other resources

Final notes

At a recent Choice Committee meeting, there was a general lament that there is a lot of misinformation “out there”. To the best of my knowledge, everything I share about Choice is accurate – if not, I ask that you call me out. Likewise, understand the difference between opinion and facts. Everyone has a difference experience going through “Schools of Choice”, and some people will want to deep-dive on all the nuances, while others just want to go to the closest school. If at any point you feel frustrated or confused, know that you are not alone and that there are people who want to help.

Calling out for the “Teacher Voice” (#TheJLV, #thisIsNotATest)

I have been reading up on José Luis Vilson (aka, The Jose Vilson, @TheJLV), and his book “This is not a test” (related to his #SOS march on the White House spoken poem) challenged me in several ways. But that is a post I am still working on. He packs a punch. :)

One of my takeaways from reading his book is that it seems the people inside the system, our teachers, are positioned to make the greatest change. TheJLV is a teacher himself, and making his proud voice heard loud and clear – our current practice of standardized testing is killing education, and that the lack of building relationships pushes away a significant portion of kids that really need it. Mr. Vilson makes an excellent point, again and again, that the teachers are the ones who know best what our children need, so why aren’t they the ones writing policy? Matt Damon even chimed in (several times, you can search for more clips) that the White House should be embarrassed by the fact that renowned teachers were marching in protest, instead of sitting at the table.

So here is a little experiment. I have no idea if this will fly or not. I am searching for teacher voices in Unit 4. I am not looking for any particular slant, nor will I filter any content based on if you agree with me or not – I am looking for straight up honesty and truth. Moreover, if there are problems or challenge areas, what solutions can you bring to the table to rectify them. I am happy to feature “teacher voices” right here, anonymously or with open identification (I will want to verify you are a teacher offline). If you want a platform, here it is. You write it, and I don’t touch it.

And maybe there are already teachers expressing their voice. If so, please let me know so I can tune in.

#EdCampCU, PBF, and the Achievement Framework

I have been wanting to post about several things, so instead of shoving them into the background again and again, I thought to wrap them up in a 3-for-1 deal.

edcampcu-9-26-15EdCampCU 9.26.15

On the last Saturday in September (back when it still felt like summer), a number of Unit 4 staff, area teachers, parents and community members gathered at Kenwood for the second EdCampCU. For those not familiar with an “edCamp”, it is labeled as an “unconference”, where participants bring the topics that are near and dear to their hearts, in the form of a question. It is specifically meant to be a group dialog, not a lecture/monologue at all; and the interaction is where cool things happen. It is an excellent way of exploring topics in a non-threatening manner. A certain board member attended as well, and wondered about the possibility of the entire school board being involved in a future EdCamp; the next EdCampCU will be in early February, so keep your eyes and ears open.

I love the conversations and the exchanges we shared. For next time, I personally would find it extremely helpful if we tried a few things:

  • Have a note-taker at each session that updates a public document (google doc, etherpad, etc) so everyone can read about other sessions during or afterwards
  • Have homework. What do we do when we leave the building? Or like Lekevie Johnson (recently in the News-Gazette) asks, “what can I do to help?”
  • Have a longer or more intense large-group discussion about the main topics covered in smaller sessions; common themes, action items, reflection, etc.

Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF)

pbf_bookA couple weeks ago I had the privilege to sit down with Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell to discuss discipline in Unit 4. As we were discussing numbers, Mr. Thomas started to share with me about PBF. PBF is not new to the district at all – we have been holding PBIS and PBF sessions for quite some time. However, with ACTIONS coming online within the past couple years, the district has started to train staff who specialize in PBF and are resources not only at the location housed with the Family Information Center, but also who go out to all the schools to observe, consult and proactively intervene.

I am a big fan of PBF and have written about it before. During my visit to ACTIONS, I was very much impressed by the focus on restorative justice and the way staff gave both respect and guidance to students of all ages.

But I also understand it isn’t a silver bullet – it is not the Holy Grail that will solve all our problems. At the September 28th Board Meeting (held at Centennial), Mr. Terry Townsend spoke about the Letter of Complaint he filed with the Office of Civil Rights. I also had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Townsend in early October to gain a very different perspective. I was encouraged that Mr. Townsend wants to work on these issues together; moreover, I think we all agree that the only way we can address issues of race, class, equity and discipline is by doing so together.


Achievement Frameworkachievement_framework

Back in April I took advantage of an opportunity to chat with Angela Smith about Unit 4’s Achievement Framework. There is a lot going on to help our students succeed, and I was quite impressed.

If you click on the image to the right, it will take you to a Word document prepared by Ms. Smith that explains the 10,000 ft view of the Achievement Framework. In her own words, “[t]his picture shows the relationship between our non-negotiable goals that will help all students achieve.  It refers to what we teach, how we teach, how we monitor, and how we grade.”

I asked a number of follow-up questions and Ms. Smith provided some excellent responses. For instance, I asked about differentiation, and I learned that in the middle school level, there are a number of built-in opportunities to accommodate different learning paces; FLEX time (a 40 minute block with variable content), ENCORE remediation supports and summer school slots that are prioritized for those who need it the most.

Ms. Smith also told me about “power standards”, essentially over-arching curricular themes that build in intensity over the course of several semesters (as opposed to being wrapped up in a single class). Taken in the context of the Achievement Framework, teachers can better track progress towards mastery and assess growth along the way. Student growth is important because not everyone comes in with the same skill set or the same educational background, so it is not helpful to compare students to each other, but rather the Framework allows students to be compared against themselves.

Ms. Smith also made a point to explain how teachers can make their practice “authentic” (her word) by “explaining, modeling, demonstrating, group-work, independent work” and allowing students to respond in their own way.

One of my concerns is that this is just a framework. A really good one, to be sure, but still only a skeleton. I wonder, how does it work when applied? What do teachers think of it? What do student think?

The other concern I have is how exactly children are assessed. If done organically and within the flow of teaching and learning, that’s cool. If the intent is to depend upon standardized tests, that does not sit well with me. Especially when a test result takes 6 months to come back! That is just insane.

Oct 19th BOE special meeting: Advisory questions #futurefacilities #taxref

Looks like the Board is planning to talk about Advisory questions on a future ballot:

The option of placing advisory questions on an upcoming election ballot to obtain feedback from voters on possible facility options will be discussed by the Board of Education.  Discussion will focus on what is legally allowed, format options, and the benefits and challenges of this approach.

Included is a document of dates listing when resolutions/ordinances have to pass in order to appear on a ballot:


I believe the context for this discussion is the Big Talk about future facilities and how to fund capital expenditures in regards to a possible new high school and maintenance for other schools. I like the idea of advisory questions, and I hope that if they are utilized, they prove very informative. This also tells me that the board really is trying hard to figure out how to listen to the entire community. Ultimately, this is our tax dollars we are talking about, regardless of whether you have kids in the system or not; everyone should and does have something to say.

“draft” agenda for the Oct 12th BOE meeting is up

For those that like to read ahead:


I bet we will see something soon on the U4 Board Corner as well. *grin*

Observations about this draft:

  • Why is the document typed up on a computer, then printed, then scanned in, then posted online?
  • Report from Angela Smith about EEE; the EEE website has not been updated in a while (since 2014).
  • Semester update from Orlando Thomas about ACTIONS; I had a fantastic chat with Mr. Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell a week ago on this topic – I hope they talk about the Edna Olive PBF book. Good stuff! I also chatted with both individuals about getting more information online.
  • 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan: Once this is actually online, I encourage folks to look through it (now online). The last time I saw it, it seemed to represent a very small percentage of the maintenance items the district has to work on. Like, A/C at Central was rated as a low-priority. :) This will apparently be approved in the Consent Agenda.
  • Special Board meeting on October 26th at Garden Hills – I hope they have a huge turnout.

Next Choice Committee meeting: November 3rd

A “save the date” was recently sent out for the next Schools of Choice Committee meeting:

Please save the date for our next Schools of Choice Committee meeting on Tuesday, November 3rd from 10:0011:30 a.m. at the Family Information Center!

Additionally, here is a link for the meeting minutes from the last meeting (June 2nd):


I expect that an agenda will be sent out in the days before the meeting. I am quite pleased that the district is considering the possibility of posting historical data for the purposes of showing trends and informing parents; as such, this may be the last Choice meeting I go to. In my opinion, the next big hurdle is dealing with the frustrations that come out of being unassigned, and the inherrant confusion for parents trying to choose only one or two schools. I believe the district is very much aware of these issues, and it seems like they are going down a better path than previous years.

Schools of Choice will always be contentious; we will always have parents that move near a school and expect/hope to go to their nearby school (which makes a lot of sense, who wouldn’t?!?). But because our housing patterns are very much segregated, the current approach to promote and promise diversification of our schools is to assign and bus students hither and yon. On that note, the late Greg Novak had an idea to address these issues:


Personally, I really like the idea of community schools, and I would augment Mr. Novak’s plan by placing one or two “community schools” in traditionally low-income areas – if anything, those areas are more in need of community (I think, I could be wrong). The one big question is one of equity (as opposed to equality); how do we ensure that every child is receiving and has access to all the tools they need to succeed? Every. Single. Child.

Ultimately we must answer the question “What problem are we trying to fix?” My response to that question is that I see a problem of kids who drop out, commit crimes and end up in a punitive, misnamed “correctional facility”. It is our moral and societal obligation to do all we can to make sure each child is successful and supported, and we have to do that while working together.


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