Just yesterday (March 19th, seems like a long time ago), I drove out to Springfield to meet with Shelly Heideman, Executive Director of Faith Coalition for the Common Good (FCCG). A couple weeks ago I mentioned an Education Summit out in Springfield; after a few phone calls, I got a hold of one of the key people behind this effort and took her up on her offer for a meeting on her turf.
There is a whole heck of a lot going on; I cannot possibly encapsulate everything, but I hope this gets at least one fire going.
The Education Summit was born out of many hours of preparation, training and gathering many different facets of community together on one page. Probably the first significant and public action was the decision by the FCCG to hold a “listening event”. About 100 folks from different walks of life attended a brainstorming session where they developed a comprehensive list of issues facing the community. Pattsi is not going to like the “un-ABCD” nature of focusing on needs instead of assets (*grin*), but I believe that assets were indeed eventually identified. Anyway – out of this brainstorm session and listing hundreds of issues, the organizers boiled it down to 4 main categories; things like light rail (transportation), City services, family services and Education. As you may have seen from the WCIA coverage, the Summit attracted parents, teachers, students, activists, community leaders and all kinds of media. I have a printed copy of some of the things that came out of the Summit. One is further brainstorm of issues with Education (ie, Springfield School District 186 – slick website, btw), with issues ranging from bullying and behavior problems to special education, lack of effective communication, desegratation, books and food. I am compelled to highlight one in particular:
Failure to treat our public schools as a keystone of our democracy
Wow! Talk about hitting the nail on the head.
Another print out I have talks specifically about the opinions and solutions offered by students (Pattsi will really appreciate this), parents and other community members. Each identify issues an possible solutions to those specific challenges. On the one hand, they have identified such things as “miscommunication” and “misconcetions”. On the other, things like reading the handbook, visiting the website, knowing your rights and attend a workshop.
Throughout my conversation with Shelly, I could not help but be totally amazed at the amount of overlap I observed with Champaign. At one point, Shelly indicated that these problems are happening all over the nation. Rather scary, if you ask me.
But this just scratches the surface. I am going to mention two more things. One direction is the church, the other is the school. Strange combination, eh? =)
Some might be uncomfortable with the “Faith” in FCCG. If that is the case, you may wish to skip this paragraph; however, I think this will be worth a read. FCCG is physically housed at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Kansas Road in Springfield, a rather depressed area not much different than certain neighborhoods north of University in Champaign. This particular church has an Alternative Academic school for students that do not learn well in the traditional classroom (sound like Academic Academy?). At the Alternative Academic school students can not only work towards a GED, but they can even earn a diploma; they can receive instruction one-on-one, take part in a well stocked art class, and learn basic computer skills in the computer lab. And now here is another twist on FCCG; it is comprised of many inter-faith members and local Unions; Electricians, Plumbers, Carpenters, etc. It is crazy! What in the world are Unions teaming up with churches for? Well, they have this really cool project where they focus on a neighborhood in need of a facelift and they essentially do their own “Neighborhood Makeover”. The trade unions go a step further and offer special apprenticeships to residents via the partnership with FCCG. It is an amazing setup, IMO.
And now the Springfield School District. Shelly is very impressed by the District 186 Superintendent, Dr. Walter Milton; apparently he has a big heart for community engagement and that tends to be high on his priority list. When I did some calling around, I came across Peggy Cormeny, whose job within the school district is to head up the Family And Community Engagement (F.A.C.E.) Department (yes, they have a whole department for that!). I chatted with her briefly over the phone and was absolutely amazed at how much they strive to engage parents. I was rather inspired. (*hint hint* can Unit 4 do something like this??) I mean…. go click on that link and check them out. 🙂 I cannot do them justice by typing it up here.
I currently have an outstanding email out to the Springfield School Board in an effort to gather their opinions and thoughts on all this stuff.
I am going to have to end with that for now; very tired (a very long two days for me). But we will talk more about this.