After speaking with School Exec Connect representatives Dr. Ed Olds and Dr. Kent Johansen, I come away with mixed feelings. Again. In some ways, I hope that this blog entry raises questions and invites folks to disagree. I always invite others to disagree with me – for me, that is a healthy and even necessary way to grow.
So here it is: I think this community is its own worst enemy.
Today, I and several others met with School Exec Connect on two different occasions. Once during a PTA Council session at the Mellon center which Gaby help set up, and another Junior League sponsored event at Centennial, for which about 30 (max) community members showed up. They presented a few bits of information, like what to expect next, how things are going to roll, and some stats on the surveys that some 850+ of us have filled out. A large majority of the survey respondents (515 I believe) were parents. I was also surprised by the top ranked characteristics people wanted in a Superintendent:
- “Student-first” philosophy
- Serve as a model for high standards (integrity, personal performance)
- Has administrative experience in a similar district
- Necessary leadership skills to respond to a ethnically diverse community
- Experience to select/implement priorities aligned to interests/needs of students & communities
- Develops a good admin team that progresses the district’s vision
Nothing about transparency, nothing explicit about communication, nothing overt about strengthening ties with school building staff.
Tonight’s session was, in a way, a turning point for me. Maybe only in small way. But it dawned on me how cynical we can be. For instance, try to come up with a list of stregths of our school district. Right now, make up your own list. See how long it takes. See if you can think of more than two.
My own list took a while (over 20 minutes) – allow me to point out some of the strengths I see in our school district, qualities that most people will probably agree with but spend a disproportionate amount of time pondering:
- We have some really awesome teachers
- Gene Logas; he might speak a different language, but he has set this district on solid financial ground
- Lynn Peisker; possibly one of the best decisions that the BOE and Administration has made in a long time
- Several community-engagement programs that do not often make the spotlight (Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Junior League of Champgin-Urbana, various backpack-stuffing groups/efforts, mentors, volunteers, after-school programs, college students who help out in various ways and several college courses that interact directly with students)
- Lots of exciting things happening in practically all the schools (thanks to Peikser’s newsletters)
- Some passionate school principals who have a huge heart for the kids
- Lots of good people with good intentions in Unit 4
- A majority of children are having a positive experience (if we take the Climate Survey at face value)
We can quickly point out the things we do not like about the school district, but it tends to be more difficult to find the positives. At tonight’s session, I heard a story that I have heard numerous times in the past; a couple is considering Unit 4, but they are finding it really tough to not sent their precious child to private school. To rub salt in the wound, they are a product of Unit 4. We heard from another well-spoken gentleman who is concerned about the lack of African-Americans in teaching positions. Read the negativity expressed by some commentors who graced chambanamoms recently (warning, some are flagrant trolls). I myself have contributed to the Pool of Distraught Outlooks as well, and have been decrying the state of IT in Unit 4.
There are problems with the school district. Most definitely, no doubt about it. But I think we whip ourselves up in too much of a frenzy about it. I am not convinced that we have to wait on Unit 4 to change, nor need we wait for a new superintendent, for a change in perception.
I really like how Dr. Johansen emphasized near the end of tonight’s session that the Superintendent is accountable to, and in fact is hired and evaluated by, the local Board of Education. The BOE is powerful! Or at least, should be. The BOE is elected by, and thus accountable to, the people. When the Superintendent does not work under the jurisdiction of the BOE and the BOE is not listening to the people, you have a very dysfunctional system. I think we had that system recently. I think we are slowly shedding the vestiges of the old system like an ill-fitting chrysalis. I think it is paramount that we see the fruits of this metamorphosis and work together to unfurl our wings and make something really good come of this.
What am I trying to say? It would behoove us to spend a lot more time focusing on the positive and less time pointing out the negative. I am not saying that we should stop saying negative things. By no means! Rather, that we should put a “constructive criticism” spin on them.
I know I am not pioneering a new path. Others have been down this road. Some burned out, some gave up, some turned back. Some just plain disappeared. But why?