Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Wiegand and ask her a few questions. It was a very informative meeting as we exchanged a number of ideas, and she was quite prepared with answers to those questions I had emailed to her. 🙂
I. Current priorities
- Finding a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO). In retrospect, I had expected her to say Chief Operations Officer (COO). According to the job posting, the position is “Chief Financial/ Operating Officer”. I also note that in the job posting, this is one of the few administrative positions (only?) not requiring any background in education.
- Getting ready for Barkstall and Robeson to open
- Strategic planning with principals. Dr. Wiegand gave me a worksheet that they are going to work through, basically goal-setting activities
II. Public engagement
Dr. Wiegand then addressed my question of public support and participation together, noting how so very little participation happens at Board Meetings even when there is a Public Hearing on a (what used to be) controversial topic. We had a very good discussion about this topic for a while, since it is near and dear to my heart (as readers will most likely know). I mentioned again how the Urbana Board (and indirectly, the IASB) is doing it wrong with more restrictive controls, and how Wheaton is doing it better by holding conversational meetings. I mentioned how I talked to the Wheaton Superintendent Dr. Brian Harris and Wheaton Board President Rosemary Swanson; later on in the day, I introduced Unit 4 to Unit 200 (Wheaton) and shared contact information. The point is not that Wheaton is a perfect example, but they are an example – there are so many ways we can be opening the doors. Last year Sue Grey was quoted “[w]e really feel like we need to — for lack of better terms — shut up and listen”; yet I have a hard time seeing how this is happening. This is a point I am going to come back to; the subtle ebb of this sentiment is felt in the undercurrent of many of my posts and with those I talk with.
III. School Assignment
In regards to the Task Force dealing with School Assignment (I had to interrupt and ask, “So, what is it called anyway?” to which she responded with a knowing smile something like “Well, we learned that ‘Choice’ doesn’t really work, so ‘School Assignment’ sounds like a good idea”), Dr. Wiegand spelled out an idea she has of holding an introductory, informational meeting in which she calls for community volunteers to be on the Task Force, and the group will have a definite start and a definite end with definite goals, to avoid the plague of previous committees that seem wander the desert (my words). She is waiting for Dr. Lizanne DeStefano to get back to town and is talking with Dr. Lisa Monda-Amaya; she is hoping these two University professors will help facilitate and guide the Task Force. That might happen later in the summer right before most schools start.
The School Assignment RFP….. She admitted the RFP was a bit clouded with legalese, having been written by the Unit 4 Legal Department (one guy?), and that only one person had responded (take a guess, and think far away). We discussed the need to go back to the local companies and somehow re-engaged them. After talking with some of you at Houlihans on Wednesday, the idea of scrapping the current RFP and re-writing it was put on the table. I took this back to Dr. Wiegand and she is going to check with the legal department about 1) cancelling the existing RFP, and 2) using local companies to help write a new RFP. I personally agree that this sounds somewhat iffy and presents a possible conflict of interest, but on the other hand, who knows better what the RFP needs to say than those whom we want to do the work? So I am hoping they hash out all the ethnical and legal particulars and we get a new RFP that is easier on the eyes and makes more sense. 🙂 Additionally, I suggested that perhaps the newly to-be-formed Task Force tackle the RFP. Maybe?
Another thing we discussed is that the current system of school assignment does in fact achieve its goals – it diversifies our schools. I was talking with Sheri Williamson and she asked “Why aren’t all our schools Title I?”, which is a totally valid question given the Consent Decree and this “Controlled Choice” program we have had for over a decade. And a question that speaks to how we have done it wrong for quite some time. With the new “Controlled Choice” guidelines aligned along SES instead of Race, we are seeing a slow shift in SES populations in our schools, such that Trevor Nadronzy recently announced Bottenfield now qualifies for Title I. This is big news! I am not sure that people realize what this means. According to the Illinois Interactive Report Card Unit 4 is 53% low income. Barkstall is only 38% low income (and didn’t make AYP), at the extreme low end of that +/- 15% spread. Garden Hills is 74% low income, over the 15% spread. I’ll have to see if the IIRC offers more data-mining options to plot these out and show changes over time. Having said that, there is still a lot of brokenness with the whole school assignment program, and I reiterated that the perception, the first-impression and user-experience are horrible. It is the front end of the process that needs attention, whereas the back end seems to be doing what it is supposed to be doing. That may be open to interpretation, but I have not heard any better solutions. I have heard lots of complaints. 🙂
IV. Purpose of Education
Dr. Wiegand also touched on what she thought the purpose of education is. Seeing as how the US was founded on the context of democracy, she believes that students should be raised to participate in that democracy (she said it a little differently – I did not write down her words verbatim). We talked a little about democracy and politics (especially in Illinois, egads!) which bled back into community engagement and participation. I still very much believe that it boils down to relationships.
I hope I have not misrepresented anything Dr. Wiegand said. You can always call her up and ask for verification or a quotable. 🙂
On the whole, I was very encouraged by our conversation, and I continue to be excited about the direction Unit 4 is going.
After our meeting, I stumbled across a National Campaign to make sure every child can read at grade-level by third grade, exactly what Dr. Wiegand has been stating since she started. I passed the link along to her, expressing the thought that perhaps we could add Champaign to the list of districts in Illinois (only 2 as of this morning).