Review of the Oct 8th Board Retreat: the conundrum of public education

Tonight’s post is partially inspired by an Old Spice commercial featuring Bruce Campbell and an intriguing statement by Henry Ford. You can google the commercial if you like – I am not going to link youTube because that can lead to all sorts of unknown troubles, but it starts of “If you have it you don’t need it. If you need it, you don’t have it.” The quote from Henry Ford I am going to steal is “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.”

First off, a couple of announcements came out of the retreat:

  • The state of Illinois is going to mandate a state-wide climate survey. This year! (I presume this school year, not this calendar year) Upon asking Dr. Wiegand for more details, she indicated that she is going to pass the buck to the Executive Director of LUDA and hopefully get back to me.
  • The Board and the Administration will hold another retreat in the Spring (TBA)
  • Unit 4 is forming two ad hoc teams/committees, one for Parent Advocacy and another for Transitions (ie, entry into Kindergarten, 5th to 6th, 8th to 9th). I ask for and received assurances that each committee would have its own dedicated webpage on the school website and that the chairs would be asked to keep the web spaces well maintained.

Dr. Laura Taylor got us started off with her “Social Justice Wheel“. This is the same wheel that was used for the Social Justice Committee (Sept 27th); in fact, Dr. Taylor even divided the room between those who already started that conversation so they could jump to the next application – what keeps parents and children out (in the context of the night’s focus on “Services for Parents and Students”)? We discussed this at each table – I ended up at a table with administrators since there were like…. zero other “parents” there (and by “parents” I mean someone who was not either a Unit 4 employee, Board Member or Media). In fact, I highlighted this point, sweeping the room and saying “look who is not here  – why are they not here?” For truly, in my mind, we had an excellent working example of a group of people being “kept out” as it were. Is it the Mellon Center? Is it the format? Is it the time? Lack of advertisements/invitations? Is it even the people who are there that keep others at bay? All these kinds of questions came up. I kinda wish I knew the answers, or at least the responses, to those questions.

Next we listened to Audrey Mock, Vanessa Elam and Judith Martinez share about their services to the district and bridge-building activities. I was actually quite impressed by much of what I heard. And I also noticed that the new IT Educational Director was busy flying away on the keyboard typing up notes as we went; that was awesome – a great way to summarize on the fly. I hope those notes are posted soon. The downside is that these three wonderful ladies took up a large portion of our time. But again, they shared some really awesome things. Audrey spoke about how she is part of the “soft” committee and attempts to meet basic needs, like distributing coats to children on a cold Friday who were obviously under-dressed  Vanessa, as the Homeless Liaison, shared how she helps connect needs with resources (Asset-mapping anyone?). Judith allowed us to get to know her better and talked about her work with English Language learners. One thing she said which really caught my attention was how building trust has a high correlation to participation. Indeed!

We then jumped into more table discussions. I do not recall what the subject was (and didn’t write it down). We then had more whole-group discussions, which I think went really well. It was great to see the Board jumping in as well. There was talk about 504 plans and IEPs (education plans for various special needs). As the discussion was moved into talking about Transitions,  many ideas came up about what the district does well and what needs improvement (again, lots of notes were taken by others and I hope they are summarized online). A thought came to my head, and at least one other person mentioned something – the “lighted schoolhouse” thought. Why not do more in schools when they are typically unoccupied*. For instance, make them more of a social hub or community centers. We heard from various building-level staff who spoke of the efforts they take to minimize the threat and obstacle of Transitions. One idea that floated around as we got ready to wrap it up all up was “Early Literature” or a “What to Expect” kind of handbook. I know Chuck Jackson has been pounding on that for a few years now. 🙂 A parent who came in a little later did make a point to emphasize that these forms of communicating (ie, “What to Expect”) must not be limited to electronic-only formats, as there is still a significant population that does not communicate well electronically.

*note: I wish to acknowledge that many, if not all, school buildings typically have faculty inside well after children have left the building.

I had to leave after just that one portion of the retreat had already run long; I missed out on the architecural presentations but I see that Meg covered them quite well for the NG. I had emailed the Board early Monday morning and warned them that I intended to share during Open Comment, but eventually I decided against it. Here is what I wrote to the Board:

I request that the District again seriously consider a full-time planner; we keep hiring folks from out-of-state to analyze our demographics, and we are constantly at the whim of the City in terms of how the future looks. DeJong is going to eventually give us a very solid footing for the next 10-20 years or so, but I firmly believe the district needs a rolling long-term plan to help us continually look forward and more importantly, have a much stronger voice at City planning meetings (right now we have none, I believe).

As Meg mentioned, the district has received a proposal for $2.5+ million in expansions to accommodate recent growth. This is on top of the millions already set aside for expansions (present and future) at Carrie Busey. I am sorry, but this is blowing my mind. I realize that Capital Funds is a different budget bucket than the one we pay teachers out of, but it just looks bad when we have these CFT negotiations going on at the same time. Not to mention that we have hired out-of-state demographers for the second time in less than five years.

Getting back to the overly banal sophistry of Bruce Campbell’s seemingly sagacious and cleverly filmed walk around a circular office, I find it ironic that when the schools have money, we don’t need it for building schools, but when we need to expand, we have no money. We need a planner; if we don’t buy one, we will end up paying for it later and still not have a good plan. Same for parent/community involvement – we talk about how to get it, but we certainly don’t have it in the way we want it.

The biggest problem with the Oct 8th Board Meeting, in my opinion, is that we talk about how being a “student and parent oriented organization” and “partnering with the community” to do education, but those folks are not at the table. But I feel it is important to end on a positive note – because positive things are indeed happening. Relationships take time, as does building trust from the ground up. I see the district (specifically, Dr. Wiegand and Dr. Taylor) doing this. I know Dr. Taylor is reaching out to folks at the Rose & Taylor Barbershop as well as Shadow Wood; I believe she realizes the ideology of the Mellon Center is not overly attractive to other groups. And I am looking forward to see how the Board Members adopt various schools and become more visible that way. There are tons of little, good things going on and it pleases me to hear folks like Audrey, Vanessa and Judith share about them.

For those that have made it this far in the post:

  • Supper with the Superintendent on Thursday, October 11th at Carrie Busey in Savoy
  • Panel with the Board (I personally invite you) on Thursday, November 1st at either Central or Centennial (I think the location was recently changed)

One Response to “Review of the Oct 8th Board Retreat: the conundrum of public education”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    Dr. Wiegand responded with the recent changes observed by the folks at LUDA:

    Recent Reform Legislation

    PERA (The Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) (Senate Bill 315; Public Act
    96-0861) requires “one or more instruments to provide feedback to principals on
    the instructional environment within a school.”

    Senate Bill 7 requires “…an instrument to provide feedback from, at a minimum,
    students in grades 6 through 12 and teachers on the instructional environment
    within a school…”

    Revised report card statute requires “2 or more indicators from any school
    climate survey developed by the State”

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