small is beautiful, part 1

I have started to read E.F. Schumacher’s “small is beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”. It is a challenging read on many levels, including the fact that he writes as an economist using the language of the economist. I switched over to the 25th anniversary edition and have been benefiting from the additional commentary of many contributors.

One of the contributors made a statement early in the book (Chapter 2, page 12) that I believe captures the problem:

“Increasingly, it seems that change will come about after we have exhausted every other theory of greed and gain, and the winds of change are no longer metaphorical, but force five hurricanes destroying whole regions. That the world should become so immune to its own losses seemed inconceivable 25 years ago.”

— Paul Hawken


The idea of taking and expanding with no limits has dire consequences, not only upon our natural resources (which, being limited, are rapidly consumed) but upon our global psyche as well – there is no sense of “do we really need this?” or “how will my actions affect others?”


I am reminded of Lin Warfel’s sentiments July 18, 2014 (NG article), which I wrote about the same day:

“Our general position is to limit the use of farmland for housing and development, and so there is resistance to the expansion of the footprint of the city,” Warfel said. “We look longingly at Portland, Oregon, and what they’ve done there, drawing a circle around the city and saying: We’re going to live inside this ring.”


In terms of the growth of our cities and districts, I do not claim to know what size is optimal. But I do know that unrestricted and unfettered growth, like cancer, is ugly.


But here is the real key; we have to care about and for others (Lisa Delpit, Robert Putnam). Our current path is going to lead us to a place where the things we take for granted will no longer be readily accessible – not in our generation, and probably not in our lifetime, but it is inevitable. We can do better than that. People do matter, and we need a mindset that realizes the priority of human relationships. And I believe the schools is where that is going to happen, sooner or later, the easy way or the hard way.


It just economics. Elementary, dear Watson.



#webucation: learn and teach yourself

What amazes me about youtube is the vast array of humanity on display, from the really stupid to the really talented, and litterally everything in-between.

Recently, I stumbled upon this 11-year old girl who taught herself dubstep moves. While it is significant that she has no formal training, what really blows my mind is her philosophy: “If you’re on internet, you can really learn and teach yourself” (1:25)



Which led me to the term “webucation” (and tongue-in-cheek, I would say google it, because that’s the whole point).


Throughout my own journey, I have observed different learner-types, despite the alleged “debunking” via ( Some people (children, adults) will learn well from a tool like youtube, while others simply need a different approach or environment. Most likely, it comes down to a mix of access to resources. Like this little girls says, “If you have internet” – for some people, that is a big if.


I am convinced that there are learners all around us, and unlimited teachers, although most of them would be considered “non-traditional teachers.” Take nature for example – an amazing teacher, if you ready and willing to learn. And some teachers, like conflict and tension, will either break you or make you stronger.


What is most sad is a person who thinks they are incapable of learning. May we work against that.

Gems Computer Science Camp for Girls

From Heather Zike at @IllinoisCS:


For the first time ever we will be offering our camp to females in high school.  This camp will be for two weeks so that they will be able to work in more depth with a CS counselors on a project.  We know high schoolers have busy schedules and they do not have to commit to all day every day.  Once they register they can come during our open hours.


We have 4 themes for our middle schoolers, girls going into 6th, 7th or 8th grade.

Those themes are: Game Design, CS & the Environment, Wearable Computing, CS & the Arts

Students should rank in order of which camps is their top priority.  We may not be able to accommodate every student into all camps requested.  Themes might be the same or similar to past years, but it is a new curriculum that is developed each summer.


To apply and find out additional information please go to our website:



Follow our Facebook for current info.


We are also hoping to create more outreach opportunities within our community.  If you school or organization would like to work with us or would like help planing something CS related for the next school year please feel to contact us.

Finding the good: the many names of social justice

I found this post hard to write because there is so much awesome wrapped up in the broad label of “social justice” that it is hard to convey a sense of scope while trying to provide some details as well. And perhaps most vexing is how to convey why exactly I think “social justice” should be viewed by the community as an extremely high priority.


I’ll cut right to the chase – each of these efforts give an example of what a child-centered approach looks like. In my opinion, if public education is not child-centered, it has no place being funded by the public. Or in other words, you and I are are throwing our money out the window if it does not benefit the whole child, every child. I’ll come back to that.


In a Feb 19th U4 Board Corner post, Kathy Richards shed a little light on the social justice efforts going on within Unit 4, specifically focusing on the English learners of very diverse backgrounds. Ms. Richards closed by talking about the Social Justice Initiative; let me quote from the webpage:

During the 2012-2013 school year the social justice committee focused on learning about social justice by studying relevant literature and engaging in collaborative learning sessions. The committee generated a definition of social justice and a social justice framework for our district. Having met the two goals of creating the definition and framework, the planning group now provides professional development and project opportunities via social justice seminars and topic specific task forces.

At the February 8th BOE meeting, Dr. Wiegand and Dr. Taylor presented on the state of the high school curriculum; starting with page (slide) 35, they cover other social justice initiatives and partnerships (like “Culturally Responsive Education”, aka CRE), followed by this list of “action groups” on page 37:

  • Special Education Action Group
  • English Language Learners Action Group
  • LGBTQ Action Group
  • Homeless Action Group
  • Social Justice Educators’ Collaborative
  • RISE – Racial Identity Student Experience
  • Choose Kindness and Real Talks


We have some really amazing staff involved in these efforts. I have had the honor and privilege of meeting some of them and sitting in classrooms – I hope to spend more time learning about these action groups. Since many of these groups are student-organized and student-led, they don’t just allow any stranger (or blogger for that matter) to sit in, so it might be a while. *grin* I love it that students are taking these responsibilities seriously, and that the staff sees the vital importance of student voice and provide for these spaces to happen. That just blows my mind.


I’ll let another little secret out as well. Those that are following along with CTRL-Shift (notice the nice NSF grant they recently won?), it might be easy to get distracted by the focus in technology. I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think computers were ever the main focus of this group; instead, they strive to empower learners, regardless of finances or ability, by giving them the computational skills to tackle problems. I believe the “shift” is away from teachers monologuing to students, and instead providing a path where teachers transition to facilitators and create environments of student inquiry.


Which is a very common theme when I talk to teachers involved in social justice as well. Each of these adults realizes the importance of truly listening to the kids, of trying to learn from the child. I paid a visit to a local Montessori school, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that this is essentially the magic sauce behind what makes Montessori so attractive (there are other details the flow out of this methodology).


At this point in time, I feel strongly that as we look to hiring a new superintendent in 2017, one key priority of this new superintendent should be to maintain (the current efforts) and enhance (where we are lacking) a district-wide atmosphere of student-cenetered learning. And unfortunately for the folks at Pearson, this means we should turn away from standardized testing in bulk as a means of assessment; too much of what we currently do is adult-centered, and it is making me sick.


It doesn’t matter if you use words like “social justice”, the bottom line is that we are talking about people, not numbers. And young people at that. People with lives, backgrounds, personalities and gifts. We have a moral obligation to ensure that these young people (every single one of them, not just the privieleged) have an nurturing environment that promotes success at life. It comes down to relationships, of getting to know other people, and other people’s children, enough that you can care about them.


It’s easy to not care. But it is expensive.



“Tell me the truth! If you cannot tell me the truth, we cannot trust each other. If we cannot trust each other, we cannot have a relationship. If we do not have a relationship, we have nothing.”

— Dr. Joy DeGruy “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome



Some things that have influenced my thinking:

  • Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner “Most likely to succeed”
  • Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish “How to listen so kids will talk and talk so kids will listen”
  • Nikhil Goyal “One size does not fit all”
  • Jose Vilton “This is not a test”
  • Edna Olive “Positive Behavior Facilitation”
  • Trevor Eissler “Montessori Madness”


School district report card

At the Jan 11th BOE meeting, Dr. Wiegand presented the district report card (an annual event). The report card is available in several places, but the one submitted to ISBE can be found on ISBE’s website:

Additionally, Dr. Wiegand shares a little more on the district website:


I asked a few questions on the U4 Board Corner prior to the meeting, most of which were addressed during the Jan 11th meeting. My goals in “sharing back” here are:

  1. report on the public answers made at the board meeting (since they are not explicitly documented, one would have to watch the entire video otherwise)
  2. provide a little heads-up for the Feb 8th BOE meeting
  3. show you how you can engage the board with your own questions, and listen for answers:)


Note: the number in parenthesis denote how far into the video I found these items.

And a caveat: if you disagree with my interpretations below, feel free to leave a comment. Especially if I made a factual error – I would appreciate having that cleared up ASAP.


Question 2

According to page 1, the district has a higher school dropout rate, higher chronic truancy rate and a lower attendance rate than the state average; what can we do about those stats? (My question was a bit more oblique when I first posed it)


(43:58) Dr. Wiegand addressed the high rate of mobility and poverty, saying that these are certainly areas of concern that affect how the district responds and supports such situations. I did not hear anything about dropouts, truancy or attendance, however.


Question 3

How is it that we have 100% parental contact?


(44:38) It comes down to how “parental contact” is defined. The ISBE says that any type of communication, including any type of mailing or flyer sent home in backpacks, can be considered “parental contact”.
I would love to see us break that down an aim a little higher. For instance, what if we define parental contact as a phone call or face-to-face visit?


Question 4

I asked several questions about how much time we actually devote to teaching subject matters. I note that most of our high school periods are 47 minutes long, but everyone know you don’t teach every single second of the period.:) I am also curious about how much time is taken out for test prep and administration. (for a related but different can of worms, I am not a fan of how we do testing at all)


(45:20) Again, it comes down to what ISBE defines as time spent teaching, and apparently for the sake of consistency, it is purely by bell schedule.


Question 5

I asked several questions about the budget, specifically why we spend more on Operation than Instruction, and why we have a $8+ million Debt Service.


(47:47) I appreciated that both Dr. Wiegand and Mr. Lockman took the time to delve into this a little more. According to Mr. Lockman, “the devil is in the details.” Apparently, due to the district-wide Schools of Choice system for grades K-8, we have a larger-than-average bill to foot for transportation costs (Operational budget).  We also have a number of service professionals that have instructional capacities but are listed under the Operation category, such as librarians, social workers, psychologists, etc. And lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a bulk of the Debt Service ($7 million) is actually covered by the 1-percent Sales Tax, and our property taxes cover the rest (roughly $1.6 million). Of course, the obvious downside is that all the 1-percent money is tied up until 2025, affecting the conversation about the future referendum and how we do Capital expenditures.


Question 6

I asked about this strange thing called a “5-year graduation rate”, since our high schools are grades 9-12 (four years).


(53:12) Dr. Taylor responded that we have contingency plans and intentional support for two groups of students, 1) those with IEP plans that need to take things a little slower, and 2) those are highly mobile and enter (or re-enter) the system needing some remedial work to catch up. I found it interesting that Dr. Taylor would not provide raw numbers, even though Dr. Wiegand was kind enough to ask.:)


Question 7

I asked what the PARCC results really meant, since they show that the average school in Illinois has about 60% (or more) students not meeting expectations.

Question 8

And finally, what are going to do with all this information moving forward? What are we working on this coming year?

Answer to both

(55:50) I appreciate that Dr. Wiegand suggested to the board that there be a more in-depth reaction to the PARCC results at the February 8th BOE meeting. Dr. Wiegand has also indicated that she will be providing a report of Superintendent Goals to the Board in the near future (she did not specify a date, but I wonder if maybe we will see some of that on Feb 8th). I look forward to learning more on the 8th.

School Board member applications

The school board is hoping to receive a large number of applications to fill a current vacancy on the school board. I would encourage you to consider this opportunity, especially since now is an excellent time to be a part of the board. Most notably, there is already an excellent cast of characters on the school, so you would be joining a synergistic team.


Applications are due this Wednesday (January 27th). For more information, read the Unit 4’s news item:


If you have any questions, I implore you to ask.


Update: Here are the applications of the eight that were selected to be interviewed on Feb 1st:

G. David Frye:$file/Frye.pdf
Virginia Holder:$file/Virginia%20Holder.pdf
Holly Wilper:$file/Holly%20Wilper.pdf
Heather Vazquez:$file/Heather%20Vazquez.pdf
Jamar Brown:$file/Jamar%20Brown.pdf
Marisela Orozco:$file/Marisela%20Orozco.pdf
Gianina Baker:$file/Gianina%20Baker.pdf
Bruce Brown:$file/Bruce%20Brown.pdf



The video of the candidate “forum” is on Vimeo:



From the vimeo video, I have extracted the 7 questions that were asked of all the board member candidates, including timestamps of each section. I also took note of when Ms. Gianina Baker responded, since she was awarded the position; it is not my intent to sleight the other remarkable responses, I just have not yet bookmarked them all.


Opening Statements
Begin: 18:37   Baker: 18:37

Question 1: As a member of the board of education, you will be a representative of the community. How do you plan to communicate with various groups within the Unit 4 community?
Begin: 31:41  Baker: 41:08

Question 2: Expulsions ultimately rest on the shoulders of the BOE. What do you see as a strength and a weakness for you in this area?
Begin: 42:36  Baker: 50:15

Question 3: Please share what your experience and familiarity related to Unit 4 and the consent decree.
Begin: 54:10  Baker 1:02:11

Question 4: Please share what has been your level of involvement in community-based organizations.
Begin: 1:07:38  Baker: 1:13:49

Question 5: One hallmark of a successful school board is the ability to distinguish between board work and staff work. Please describe what this means to you.
Begin: 1:27:42  Baker: 1:30:16

Question 6: Do you support collective bargaining rights? Please explain why or why not.
Begin: 1:35:34  Baker: 1:37:26

Question 7: Describe the ideal relationship between the community, board, the administrations, and the union(s).
Begin: 1:44:45  Baker: 1:44:58

Closing remarks
Begin: 1:55:10  Baker: 2:04:33



#EdCampCU 1.30.16


Photo from EdCampCU
September 2015




EdCampCU is a place for teachers, pre-service teachers, administrators, community members, university students and faculty, high school and middle school students, as well as anyone else who is interested in talking and learning about education and ed innovation. EdCampCU is free professional development for you, by you.



EdCampCU will be held at the University of Illinois
College of Education

1310 South Sixth St.
Champaign, IL 61821


Folks will start gathering at 8, the fun starts at 8:30. Coffee will be provided – courtesy of Mid-Illinois Computing Educators (MICE). There will be bagels and light pastries from Pekara as well.

I’ll see you there.

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