Meg Dickinson with the News Gazette is going to be running two stories in the next few days; one about the Open Forum that Chuck Jackson and I are planning, the other a kind of “getting to know the Unit 4 Board candidates“. After chatting with her, we agreed it might be good if I put the full version of my response here since she is going to have to edit some of my responses and will not be able to include the whole thing.
So first, here are the brief interview questions for the Open Forum:
1. What made me decide to plan this forum?I have had a strong desire for over a year now to have some kind of open community forum. The root of that desire came out many years of observing how the school district interacts with the public; after witnessing how public interaction was severely limited at Board Meetings and Committee Meetings, I felt that there needed to be a more open environment in which a more dialectical approach could be taken.I have also been very inspired by the Education Summit held in Springfield in late February – that is a model I am hoping to eventually follow.2. Who am I hoping will attend?Ideally, I would love to see a large cross-section of residents; diversity across ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, profession, etc. I am hoping that activists who represent various subgroups are willing to drop by, as well as University/Parkland academics and those affiliated with Unit 4 and Unit 116 (Board Members, Administration, teachers, students). I would hope to see those in the editorial staff involved in the local news media show up so they can gain an understanding of the players and maybe even to share their perspective.3. Are there any topics of discussion that I hope will come up?I have general hopes, but not for a specific topic, per se. I hope to eventually address communication issues which leads to trust and bridge-building. I hope to address how both the community and the Administration can support our front-line workers who teach our precious children day in and day out. Some of those discussions will involve academic excellence and discipline/bullying.4. What is the goal of hosting it?Our purpose is to open communications.In addition, we have started to map out future meetings. We very much want our conversations to be “sticky” in the sense that they do not die once people leave the building. The first forum may be involve more than just voices – for instance, we are talking of using post-it-notes to write questions, comments, and observations, which will then be assembled on a display and pictures taken to show that each attendee participated, and that we have homework/follow-up action to do.Tentative plans for future forums:May 15th, 7:pm – 9:pm, Lewis Auditorium at the Urbana Free LibrarySeptember TBA, possibly Salem (unconfirmed as of April 11th)Tentative ideas:We would like at least one forum in which we invite only teachers to come and share. We may invite other relevant groups as well.
Age: 37What made me apply for the open school board seat?This is a very exciting time to be involved with the school district – with a new Superintendent and a Board of Education that is ready to move in several directions, I would love to bring my strengths to aid the Members of the Board in their current endeavors. There are three specific areas I believe I can help the Board enhance; they are communication, trust and climate. In terms of communication, I have a strong desire to bring the Board and the community closer together. I see the Board expending a lot of energy to propagate information via board meetings and in various smaller settings via individual Board Members; to this I would like to help make the Board’s message even more available to the public by sharing additional information online (e.g., via a blog, pushing out tweets/sms, etc) and continuing to network with various interest groups. At the same time, I wish to extend the Board’s efforts to collect input from the community by holding open “listening” meetings and providing a written account of ideas that have been shared. I believe these efforts of transparency will further bankroll the commodity of trust between the School Board and the community. Lastly, it is my hope that ever-increasing trust will also give rise to greater numbers of safe environments, not only between the Board and the community, but also the Administration, the building level staff, students and parents. These safe environments allow true conversations to address ongoing difficulties found in the current climate.I see Dr. Wiegand and the Board of Education already striving in these areas – it is my desire to accelerate that which is in motion by continuing to seek out relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders, listen to all types of critique, comments and suggestions, and integrating into the Board’s current efforts to build bridges with the community.Why do I think I am the person for the job?Since launching my blog in 2008, I have slowly established not only trust and a reputation of listening and conversing with visitors, but have also provided a medium in which the community can interact with the Board in a very public, courteous and open manner. Yet my efforts on the internet are only a facet of how I engage others in communication; I also co-host weekly open meetings and seek out conversations with teachers, PTA members, Administrators, Board Members, parents and residents. When I see a challenge opportunity within the school district (like the Kindergarten School Assignment Process), I pour my energy into finding the facts, learning what the involved parties desire and persistently making humble suggestions and offering my help in any way I can. I listen actively and with a sincere, earnest goal to understand. I collaborate with others and because of my transparency, am a known quantity. I am driven by the observation that sound, healthy relationships, as messy and as difficult as they can be, are one of the key elements of a thriving community.I have been involved in school district issues since 2006, four years before my daughter started Kindergarten. My passion to uplift and bolster education as the centerpiece of our society has only grown stronger; I am in this for the long haul.