I had a really good meeting with Dr. “Bob” Malito this morning. He is full of awesome. 🙂 As much as I would like to, this isn’t a “We are not worthy” Excellent-Adventure-esque blog.
My first question for Dr. Malito was “What are the top issues facing Unit 4 and the BOE right now?” I quickly added “And my second question is, ‘Why doesn’t the community in general know what these issues are?'” He agreed that the community is not really cognizant of these issues, which in turn is one of the issues. But he gave me a list of five things (using five fingers):
- Curriculum (and the need to be more “rigorous”)
He stated that he addressed these issues to the BOE at a 5-hour “retreat” (isn’t that where you run away?). He has a good 40-page presentation he provided to the BOE. The summary of the overview of the 10,000ft view of that presentation is actually posted on the BoardDocs:
[note: I asked how the community can see his presentation, but he deflected]
You will note that discussion topics do not match 100% with the list I provided above. I am not exactly sure why. But Dr. Malito did spend a good amount of time speaking to the first issue (Curriculum)…
Apparently, Bob really likes statistical analysis. He gets some kind of drug-like kick out of looking at numbers and crunching them into meaning. He researched the progress of ISAT scores and the academic performance of 3-8th graders. Over the past 5 years, those scores have steadily gone up. No surprise there, as NCLB has taken affect. However, the big surprise came after that. Over the same time period, ACT scores (ie, highschoolers) have steadily gone down. Not at the same rate, mind you, but still. Dr. Malito is extremely concerned about this relationship. His conclusion is that the primary schools are not preparing our students for secondary education. In fact, he took a careful look at the distribution of those grades. In one case, we have 90 students who are doing an absolutely amazing job and scoring quite high. But in the same case, we have 180 students who are scoring 13-17 on the ACT. Dr. Malito spoke with the President of Parkland and for these lower-performing students, they would have to take 3 remedial classes just to get into the Freshmen level courses! This is bad. Bob really wants to see Unit 4 alter the curriculum to address this significant disparity. One way is to buckle down on the “core” concepts needed to thrive. He cited some kind of National Core Standard which I did not write down nor do I accurately recall – perhaps some of you know what that refers to.
We talked briefly about Facilities and Finances. Obviously, Finances are doing extremely well (thanks Gene!!). We are moving forward with the Facilities plan, and a lot of work needs to be done to figure out how to address the needs of the Middle Schools and the High Schools. In terms of Technology, Dr. Malito concentrated on wireless and providing some kind of computing device to students. This echoes a trend I have heard elsewhere. In fact, when I mentioned UC2B, Bob mentioned that he had already been in siginificant talks with Champaign Telephone Company and apparently Unit 4 is donating a whopping $622,557, the largest of any single contributor (http://uc2b.net/partners/). That is quite an interesting investment.
And finally “Community”. From what Dr. Malito tells me, he didn’t mince words with the BOE. He called them out and reiterated that the community has a “fear” and lack of trust in the School District. Both he and I agree that, like so many other things in Unit 4, even this issue is in flux – the BOE is changing, and so is the perception of the BOE and the Administration. Slowly, but surely. He stated that the BOE has “accepted the current reality”, which I take as a good sign. I know its tough; you get an Administration (Superintendent and supporting staff) and a Board with new faces every 4 years or so, and these entities have set the mood over the past couple decades. It is not necessarily the fault of any one person per se, or the fault of the current Board. Sure, they are not perfect (who is?), but I do see evidence that the current Board, headed up by Sue Grey, is taking on the mantle of responsibility in this case. I just happen to be impatient. 🙂 And I want to see faster movement.
Underlying all our points of discussion, Dr. Malito and I both agree that choosing our next Superintendent is going to be crucial to the future direction of our School District. We can go the conservative route, to “do things the ways we have always done them”. Or we can go the other direction; to dive headlong into the challenges before us, to acknowledge the discomfort of change and tackle it with eyes set on the long-term benefits. Which means we need to clearly spell out what those benefits are, connect the dots between here and there, and get the community on the same page. That is a tall order for a new Super. And this is what I challenge the BOE to find.