Voices: first thoughts as a response to a letter I received today

Today I received what appears to be a bulk mailing from Don Kermath asking folks to get more involved and speak up at the April 9th Board Meeting. For the curious, the following link is to a word document of my best effort to reproduce that letter electronically:

Don Kermath letter, April 5th


While in principle I totally agree it is awesome to get more folks involved at Board Meetings (and interacting with Board Members), there are a couple things that pique my curiousity.

1. Why isn’t the letter online? It is from “AVoiceforSchools.com” but not on that website. And not on the Voice’s facebook page. Weird. It’s not like the Board Member’s contact information is private.

2. I dislike the baggage of emotional buzzwords like “backdoor referendum” and “The Board broke its promise”. Maybe I am the only one of the 2300 petition signers that do not think these terms are appropriate. I kinda doubt it.

3. Where are the suggestions, the constructive critique, the alternatives? It doesn’t sit right with me to merely slap someone on the wrist.

4. Along that line, where is the consensus building? Granted, maybe I am hung up on consensus and blinded to more important things; but at this stage in my involvement, I cannot help but have a strong desire for some effort of working towards consensus. For me, that means the Board acknowledges (publicly) issues with the working cash bond and publicly expresses a desire to work on possibly alternatives, and that also means that the community steps up to the plate and offers those alternatives. That will involve coming to the table with facts in hand, being willing to set aside emotions for a time and try to not let too much subjectivity tint the glasses. (Yes, I realize my glasses are rose-colored right about now…..)


Chuck Jackson and I are cooking up an “open forum” for Monday, April 16th. It is still very tentative, but it will be in the evening and probably at the Champaign Public Library (can’t believe I have to pay $25 to rent a room…). We have not yet fully decided exactly how we want to do it, but I am very much inspired by Jamar’s open meeting from last week. How many people do you think we can expect?


Here is my own suggestion, my alternative, my constructive critique. A part of what is currently happening strikes me as bickering (not all of it, just bits and pieces). What would happen if the District compiled a historical and financial “Big Picture” (going all the way back to 2001 with the $200 million shopping list for maintenance) and said to the public “Ok, what do we do with this?” If the public cannot come up with any better ideas than what the Board is already doing…..  On the other hand, if there are things we (the District Administrators, the Board, the community) can be doing better, let us weigh out the pros and cons and get to it!


Maybe April 16th should be “how to do schools better” night. *grin* Or what about a working group to explore ways to tackle the budget? Or maybe a kickoff meeting for a summer of gatherings to plan out the high school options, the curriculum and the future of Unit 4?


Come, help me brainstorm.


10 Responses to “Voices: first thoughts as a response to a letter I received today”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    ‘Maybe April 16th should be “how to do schools better” night.’

    Maybe you should call it, “We don’t think the School Board can do these things right, so we’re going to do them ourselves.” Or, “First Meeting Of The Unit 4 Shadow Board Of Education.”

  2. Karen Says:

    Jamar’s wanting to spend the night in our wallets (vs. moving in) comment aside ; ), at the library forum last week something like: ‘It’s hard to get a referendum passed in this city.’ was said by Dr. Wiegand. I wonder if the number of people sending their kids to private schools around here has anything to do with that. When parents, for a variety of issues they have had with Unit 4, feel they need to send their kids to private school, I am not certain asking such parents to pay more money to Unit 4 sits too well with them. Your ‘school base’ should be the most willing to give for school stuff, right ? But, if people are already spending thousands of dollars a year to send their kids to private school, maybe it’s difficult for said people to get on board with this stuff. Unit 4 hasn’t served their kids well in some way, shape, or form. If I were Dr. Wiegand, I would be wanting to find out why it’s difficult to pass a school referendum in this city (if that were her point of reference).

    Some of these board members have been on the board for a good part of time it has been known these repairs, etc. were needed, but, ‘ignored’? If that is correct (maybe I’m wrong–happens a lot lately), I would like to hear them sort of answer for that. Why did you sit by for years and now come out saying how crticial and long over-due they are, etc. I know Jamar said they have been working on the WCB thing since November, but, to go the bigger pic route they are, it seems a little quick and dirty and not mapped out too well? Assuming, that is, there is in fact sincerity about wanting the community/tax payers on-board… Who are all these people behind the scenes that bring ideas to the board for voting? I think there needs to be something more than committees working things behind the scenes. I think we need a public think tank or something in which anybody is free to participate at any time. This sort of what’s best for the rest of us behind-the-scenes determination feels like we’re being ‘governed’ by these agenda-based? back-room/behind-the-scenes committees and the school board? But, which direction is the ‘control’ supposed to take (going with an either/or schema for the sake of argument)?

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    If I put both G. David’s and Karen’s comments together, I get a “let’s do a think tank because the School Board can’t”. Interesting path this conversation is taking. 🙂

    Karen, to shed a little light on the history of school board members, I actually have a list that goes all the way back to 1995. Note how Dan Nolen and Nicole Storch were on the Board for a majority of that time, up until 2007 when most of the Board was replaced with new members (although not necessarily new to Unit 4). To help answer that question, I am going to ask some of the historians their perspective. It would be interesting to hear Arlene Blank’s take, given her current re-involvement after a long history of time with Unit 4.

    Indeed, I would love to hear from those who chose to enroll in private school over and above Unit 4. In fact, I have already talked to one and have that lone perspective at least. Unfortunately (for me), I imagine most of them don’t care about a Unit 4 blog…. Guess I’ll have to hunt them down. Plenty of friends over at Judah. 🙂

  4. pattsi Says:

    Why not talk with more than just one previous board member–different perspective–though bias might still be active. Trying contacting the equivalent of PTA at the private school to find a sub population of parents who might share thoughts with you. The population ought represent all of the private schools because there will be cultural differences as to the sub population per school. Also if you talk with any of those parents ask what are the avenues of input and transparencies for the parents at each school.

  5. Karen Says:

    I continue to think manner is very important. Private sources of funding might be legal, but, ‘it takes time’ to develop those kinds of relationships. There have been decades to establish close working relationships with local businesses, no? They don’t exist, because…? ‘We’re coming off of years of mistrust…’ with the community… Maybe the same old manner of doing things isn’t working. We welcome more involvement, but, this is how we do things…meh–kind of discordant when it comes to true ‘engagement.’ Going forward in a manner that really is different than the way that landed us here won’t fix immediate problems, but, investment in it now (with goals and outcome measures) paves the way for securing what Unit 4/the board wants now, but, doesn’t have. Reap the benefits of a relationship vs. relying upon one-night-stands (in our wallets, lol).

  6. G. David Frye Says:

    It’s possible you were not able to read the cynicism in my comment? The whole notion of an ad-hoc group acting as a shadow BoE seems to me to be at best a waste of time, and at worst a huge impediment to the board moving forward on the most important issues of the district, which I think have already been clearly outlined. The downside of brainstorming is that brains get pretty stormy sometimes. I was reminded of that again the other night at the PTA Council meeting. It’s amazing how many people have an axe to grind about something.

  7. Karen Says:

    It’s not that Unit 4 can’t think, obviously. It’s just that who is doing the thinking and can we see/learn how they go about doing what they do. What is up with the EEE Committee? It just seems stalled out completely when it comes to the School Climate Survey of…2009. Is community input completely locked out once a committee is formed? The people on the committee were hand-picked from community applicants. But, is that where the community involvement ends? When committees gather to make curriculum decisions, is there a member expert in the science of empirical research present to make sure there is reason other than fad or social agenda to be basing decisions on? Maybe Unit 4 can make one of those Schoolhouse Rock videos (‘I’m just a bill…’) so people like me (it can’t be just me?) can learn understand how Unit 4/the board work.

  8. Karen Says:

    @Mr. Frye. Many people don’t have blind faith in Unit 4/the school board. There is reason for that and to suggest steamrolling through and ignoring people’s experiences/issues ultimately works against getting things done in the long-run. JMO.

  9. charlesdschultz Says:

    @G. David: That axe was ground all right, holy cow. 40 minutes of monopolized time….. but we digress.

    I would agree that the district has outlined what they consider to be the most important issues. And clearly Dr. Wiegand has been carrying the torch of the “Great Schools, Together” for several years. This is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. However, whether right or wrong, it does not seem to me that the media nor the vocal members of the community are on the same page. Granted, out of the 58,000 voting members of the school district, there are many thousands of people I am not in touch with. But given the track record of past voter referendums, it seems like there continues to be discontent for one reason or another. I am led to believe that the we have not yet hit what is “most important”.

    @pattsi, I like the idea of talking to the equivalent of PTAs at private schools – I had not thought of that. I’ll start asking google (or test the limits of Siri *grin*) and finding out who the contact people are.

    @karen: The EEE Committee, like many other Unit 4 committees, are, in my opinion, very top-down. This is my perspective after going to several meetings (EEE and PMPK) and talking to current and ex-members.

  10. Karen Says:

    What happened at the PTA meeting? What issue addressed by a community member? did you consider a monopolization of time? People have issues, and then when they talk about them at a forum/meeting…that’s not okay? Or, was it an issue not on the agenda that evening and a different time/place would have been more appropriate? If people speak out and are later characterized in a seemingly derrogatory manner as having an axe to grind—-as though their issue was just about being contrary vs. a ‘real’ issue—maybe they will feel like their opinions aren’t welcome (and so continues a long-standing communication problem with Unit 4). You are usually wiling to listen, Charles–no matter how opposite people’s views are to yours (mine would be a case in point, lol—–and that is why I think you would be a really good person to serve on the school board). So, I am wondering what was said and how.

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