Basic building blocks of community: trust and relationships

I have been referred to a number of books, research papers and TED Talks in the past couple of months, and I have observed a common lens through which I am viewing most of these resources – the blueprints for how people optimally work with each other.

Since this post is a little long, I’ll give you the cliff note up front (aka, “too long; didn’t read” or tl;dr). If you want things to get better in our community, you gotta put your pride on the shelf and go listen to someone else. You gotta walk in someone else’s shoes for a little while.

Make sure you check out the references before you completely walk away from this post; the TED talks in particular are quite engaging (Mitra, Semler, Sirolli, Varty).

And now for the full-blown version…. Read the rest of this entry »

This is racism, and it is absolutely wrong

This morning I was forwarded a news article about the “cleansing” of Haitians from the Dominican Republic:

http://m.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/14/1393198/-Dominican-Republic-to-be-Socially-Cleaned-in-two-days?detail=facebook

 

Google shows me several other news stories along that line. And it makes me angry. How can you possibly treat other humans that way?!?

 

Is there even another lens to view this through? I mean, under what circumstances is this even acceptable?

 

Lastly, how does this tie into a Unit 4 blog? As the article starts off, we do have racism in America, just not quite as bad as the Haitians have it, apparently. So on the one hand I am glad we are not dealing with this level of crap. On the other hand, I am reminded that we need to look out for our fellow humans, our brothers and sisters.

Summer Youth Employment Program Fundraiser (@Unit4Schools @MerryAnnsDiner #cusyep)

I am hoping to drop by Merry Anns Diner tomorrow to pitch in a little towards the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Unit 4 has quite a social media following supporting and advertising for this opportunity. You can read Unit 4’s blurb about it:

http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/10516

They raised $6000 last year, and are aiming for $10,000 this year. I think they can do it.

Here is the thing that really warms my heart about this program; from my point of view, it is an excellent example of how local parternships can form mutually beneficial bonds via an internship. The collaboration in and of itself is amazing to witness, but to go one step further by giving kids an opportunity to put their skills to use in the real world is icing on the cake.

School board events today and tomorrow

Tonight (Monday, May 18th) the school board meets with Illinois Assocation of School Boards (IASB) representative Dr. Patrick Rice, the Field Service Director for our area (“Illini region”). Even though the entire meeting is essentially dedicated to an OMA-blessed executive session, you can read the one-page brochure from IASB:

http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/files/9WH8CK73C454/$file/StartingRightbrochure.pdf

 

For anyone who has been reading for a little while, you know will I fully support the IASB’s efforts and I consider this a “good thing.” Based on that brochure, I can see that the “2.5 – 3 hour” meeting will summarize the  main areas of the IASB’s “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance.” I am altogether excited because five of the seven board members are new and they have stated a desire to change the way the school board operates, and given that the topic of tonight’s meeting is “Starting Right”, I am quite confident that this “board retreat” will further transform the board into a successful agent of the people.

My hope and request for the board tonight is that they ask a lot of questions as they wrap their heads around these concepts. “Question everything.” :)

 

Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 19th) the school board will be available for a “meet & greet” at the Mellon Building (703 South New Street, Champaign) from 7:00 – 8:30 pm. The event is sponsored by the PTA Council – the following is from an email blurb sent out last week:

Please join Champaign PTA Council for an informal “Meet & Greet” to introduce yourself to the new members of the Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education, K-12 principals in Unit 4, and the PTA presidents at each school. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be provided.

Please RSVP on the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1607091012869879/

e-mail me at csmcarthur@gmail.com or call/text 217-637-0968 by 6pm on Monday, May 18th.

 

This is a great opportunity for community members and organizations to network with key players in the educational system in one place!

 

We look forward to seeing you!

Cathy S. McArthur, President

Champaign PTA Council

 

Analyzing choice data

In my previous post, I mentioned that the school district provided some new choice data for me. Ironically, I had asked for aggregated data, but the district pleasantly surprised me with disaggregated data. For those not familiar with the jargon, basically I asked for the summary and they sent me the details. I like details.

One major caveat: all the data below, and the analysis thereof, are from snapshots at specific points in time. I am told, and I believe, that the assignment data is very fluid. I have tried to focus on data that is fed into the relevant software at the time of the “big run”, when parent choices are inputted en masse.

First off, I had to massage the data quite a bit. Even though the district provided a PDF spreadsheet, the document does not convert well to a real spreadsheet; one program I used removed all the “empty” boxes, another program put all the pages on separate worksheets. So in the end I wrote my own script to convert the PDF to a SQL script which inserts data into a database. And from there, we can do all sorts of magic – like dumping it back down to an Excel spreadsheet:

My typical question is along the lines of “how many people chose each school?”

total_choice_count_2015

u4Dashboard_sample_2015The term “overchosen” is a bit nebulous, and perhaps even outdated at this point. But I use it intentionally because the school district still uses it, even though the district has had a history of not telling which schools are actually overchosen. :) This past year I understand that the Family Information Center (FIC) provided a dashboard snapshot to help answer that question, but this was never provided online – you had to visit the FIC in person. You might wonder, why is this important? Sure during the registration process it is helpful to a degree, but afterwards? The purpose of this post is to address that question head-on, in two different aspects.

First, let us pretend this is the middle of March; you are a parent of a child who is entering Kindergarten in the Fall. Let us say that you are busy and have not had time to visit all the schools (all twelve schools!), but you have a pretty good idea of which ones you like, and there are two you least like (maybe the balanced calendar does not fit your work schedule). You visit the FIC and a choice specialist frowns upon your first choice because it is an “overchosen” school and your chances of getting it are less than 100%. This is where the fun starts. Are you the type of person that just really wants to know exactly what your chance is so you can weigh your options? If so, you will be frustrated because nobody will tell you. However, if you can let it go and not get hung up over it, you will be much happier, just pick a couple other schools that you want. The choice specialist will look at your list and tell you if all your top three or five choices are likely candidates. For instance, if you choose Barkstall, Bottenfield, Carrie Busey, Westview and Robeson as your top five and nothing else, there is a good chance you will not get any of them. Why? Again, are you the type of person that needs to know, or can you let it go and take the FIC counselor’s advice in choosing other schools?

Here’s the thing. The FIC staff are smart people; they understand the “system” and they know about the back-end software. However their communication styles/methods differ from person to person. I have talked to many parents who get extremely frustrated with the FIC staff, and I have also talked to many parents who are totally thrilled with the FIC staff. Some people click, some people don’t. Don’t let it ruin your day. :)

And here is the second aspect. There is a wealth of information that the school district does not initially make available. Why? I am not sure. At one Choice Committee meeting I raised this question, and it seems the consensus is that sometimes there is “too much” information – it becomes overwhelming and increases stress. Which is a very tricky balance. My goal is to decrease stress. How do we do that successfully for everyone? Ultimately, I think it comes down to being able to differentiate well; which is extremely appropriate because that is exactly what we want our teachers to do. This is no different. Think about this as a class in choosing a school for your precious child, and the FIC staff are the teachers.

For instance, here is a chart showing the trends of the first school choice (choice 1) made my parents who ended up with the infamous and dreaded label “unassigned”:

unassigned_summary_2015

You will notice that Barkstall dominates the top. In other words, of the people who ended up being unassigned, a majority of them chose Barkstall as their number one school. Further analysis of the disaggregated data shows that almost all of those parents did not choose any “underchosen” school as a “backup choice”. However, there is something else I wish to tease out from this graph. I will make it clear with trend lines:

unassigned_trends_2015

In words: for those that end up unassigned, more and more are choosing Carrie Busey as a first choice, and fewer are choosing Barkstall, Bottenfield and South Side.

Another group of factoids from the data. 19 total families chose Barkstall as 1st choice and had no priority (sibling, proximity, low-ses), and only 1 got into Barkstall (18 did not). So that is a 1/19 chance. For Carrie Busey, it was 0/12. 8 of those that chose Barkstall ended up being unassigned – right there is more than a third of the total “unassignees”. The lesson here is that if you do not have priority to a “overchosen” school, your chances of getting in are really really low. And the way the FIC will put that to you is that you are throwing away your first choice. :) Which significantly increases your chances of ending up with no school assignment.

As one parent recently told me, it would certainly be fascinating to find out “why” parents choose the schools they do. Unfortunately, the data we currently have is really bad at answering the “why” question; it is really good at answering the “what” and the “how” questions.

The district is (rightfully) rather proud that the number of families getting their first choice is relatively high. That translates into happy customers. How can we make even more customers happy? What is the next hurdle? For one, I think it comes down to understanding why parents make the choices that they do. I had a great email exchange with a parent from the 2015 School Assignment process that took the time to explain to me why she made her choices, and it totally makes sense. For this parent, being unassigned is stressful; even the ensuing aftermath of dealing with waitlists and being assigned to a second choice school that was (at the time) overcapacity was stressful. I believe the FIC could have done a better job to make this one parent less stressed; maybe by patiently explaining the trends shown above, and encouraging more choices. Or taking the time to listen a little more closely. In general, can we meet each and every single parent where they are at and try to learn what their needs are?

At the end of the day, I am really proud of our Unit 4 schools. I try to tell parents that no matter what school they end up at, most likely their child will love it and have a great experience.

Aggregate data for “Schools of Choice” choices

I submitted a FOIA request for the aggreate choice data for this year (2015) and last year (2014). The district FOIA officer (Mr. Tom Lockman) responded with the following two files:

Unfortunately, neither document is labeled with the year for which it represents, but once I analyze the data a little better, I think I will be able to tell just by the total number of choices (according to Stephanie, we had 697 in 2015 and 681 in 2014). My intent is to reformat the data for a database, then add new pretty charts to my Choice chart page.

Thanks to Mr. Lockman and the folks at Unit 4 for generating these PDFs. I especially appreciate that the data is actually a formatted PDF, as opposed to an image file. :)

I just happened to glance at one file and noticed some odd quirks. For instance, of the several families that made one and only choice for Westview, one family was assigned to their alledged 2nd choice, Carrie Busey, even though no 2nd choice is listed.

re-post: “Ted Talk: Shut up and Listen”

Todd Lash retweeted about Ernesto Sirolli’s TED Talk, which tickled a memory. Going through my email, I found that Chuck Jackson had posted about this 1.5 years ago:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/ted-talk-shut-up-and-listen/

 

I thank Todd for reminding me about this. I ask more people to listen to this TED Talk and see if it is relevant for Champaign, and more specifically, the school district. When I hear this talk, the filter in my brain hears that we need to build relationships, we need to get to know other people, we need to learn what is important to other people.

 

Please discuss.

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