Wednesday at Houlihans: update

So first off, no “official” gathering next week (Dec 21). But don’t let that stop you from reinforcing the habit of dropping by at 11:30 on a whim. 🙂

This week (Dec 14th), we continued to have some excellent discussion. Again, I fear I am not going to do justice to all that was said, so I am hoping (again) that others pipe up and share their thoughts. We had with us a Champaign Council rep, an EEE Committee member, a Prairie Fields Homeowners’ Association BOD rep, myself and Chuck Jackson. Looking back at that list, I am realizing that all those folks wear multiple hats as well.

Wanna hear what we talked about? 

Pattsi Petrie has encouraged me to read We Make the Road by Walking. I personally love the way these two men think and communicate. Even the title itself is so simple, so basic, so true. One of the sayings that Paulo Freire likes to say is “we start by starting”. This is me starting. The reason why I mention this book will become evident soon.

One of the topics we touched on was how to address issues in our school system. One issue is that our style of educating, our pedagogy, is not tailored to meet the needs of each student; rather, it is a blanket, one-size-fits-all solution that meets the needs of some students. Our style of education appears to be business-based, focusing on the bottom-line of efficiency. Again, while this works for some students, it does not work for all students. Some of the proposed ideas were:

  • smaller class sizes
  • teachers that understand the needs of each child
  • possibly k-8; as opposed to k-5, 6-8, 8-9, 10-12

We also covered the issue of sprawl. The District has utilized the services of a urban planner that is part-time devoted to Unit 4, part-time to the City of Champaign. We realized that it was no big surprise that the planner would encourage and influence any decision to increase building on the outskirts of town, especially north of Champaign. Last night, I took the opportunity to drive Olympian Drive; I was shocked how much is up there already. There is a housing subdivision off Prospect, and massive warehouses and industry over east of Market. The City wants to push for more and more in that direction. Why? One obvious reason is to attract new tax bases. But does this really help us? The logistical infrastructure to support such expansion seems to be a long-lost cousin; look at the mess of Prospect near I-74, it is horrible! We have not proven that we can do infrastructure well, why would we want to incur more of it? Likewise with the planning for the high school, why would we want to find a super-large chunk of land outside of town? I hear arguments about the “need” for 80 acres, the “need” for athletic fields galore, etc. Do we really need that? Sure, it sounds nice, but we must consider the ramifications and base our decisions upon reality, upon how the community is impacted.

For a dose of Reality Check, look at the current school district map and how that compares to where the schools are, and even where Olypian Drive is – it s rather scary how much surface area the school district boundary covers (might take a few minutes to load the first time):

Last week we popped the idea of confining ourselves into a synthetic box in which we must creatively explore how to use what we already have. We are not doing enough of that. Dr. Malito broke the ice a little in his latest high school options report (leave comments here), and I applaud that little effort, but we need more of it. We do not need a “planner” who serves two masters and is distracted by how the City wants to grow.

What we do with the high school is going to be big. It is going to be pivotal. It will decide much of our future.

Another influencing factor we discussed is the Teachers’ Union. I did some quick googling and discovered that the Union is called the Champaign Federation of Teachers. Unfortunately the website is growing weeds and the asphalt is breaking up. But I did make contact with Mrs. Deb Foertsch and Greg Novak (a former President). Another sphere of influence (or at least, potential influence) is that of the College of Education. Check – already doing that with the Rose & Taylor forums. I also suggested the PTA Council; I still believe (naively?) that the PTA Council is an awesome position to be a pipe or avenue through which the community engages the Board. There is a ton of untapped potential there. I am starting a conversation with the PTA Council officers about that (emailed them yesterday).

Why is this a big deal? When Imani Bazzell did all her awesome work with Great Campus (it is truly mind-blowing), the Board pretty much put their hands over their ears (note, it was a different Board than what we have now). Why was Imani not listened to? Sure, she is opinionated and perhaps rubs people the wrong way, but that is not a very good justification for throwing an awesome idea out the window. If the Board only listens to certain groups (and maybe in a certain way), it would seem prudent to tap those resources and bend their ears. Granted, all this humdiggery would be unnecessary if the community had a better relationship with the Board. I think we are slowly starting to move in that direction. We just want faster movement. 🙂

Two other issues came up during our talks that I found note-worthy.

Currently, busing is a huge deal. We spend a lot of time moving kids all over the place. We are hurting on bus drivers. Is Schools of Choice still really the best option? Even if we do not go 100% neighborhood schools, can we at least open up the can and start talking about alternatives? Again, let’s get the College of Education involved (what do they do again? *grin*).

And lastly, the vacuum of good teachers and good students. On the one hand, we have a Gifted Program that attracts top-performing students out of one school and isolates them in another. We do something similar with teachers; we have an excellent teacher, and all the sudden they become a Principal, slowly making their way up the chain to the Mellon Center. Why do we do this? And this is where Paulo Freire and Myles Horton come into play. Why not keep the talent near those that could benefit from such talent? Why not encourage those that are highly skilled to hang out with the less skilled and collaborate? Why take excellent folks and rob both them and their former companions of the opportunity to engage in a bi-directional learning opportunity that challenges both sides of the equation?

Just saying.


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