Quick update

First, I have the recording from Monday night’s Special Board Meeting:


I am also trying a box.com account – see if you like this better (same file, just possibly faster download):


I still have not yet had a moment to watch it all. I was actually at the board meeting for the first part of it, but had to leave when Cheryl Camacho [edit: sorry about the typo] wrapped up the Magnet programs. While that segment was a tad long, it was all very impressive! Representatives from each magnet school demonstrated what they were doing; we met the newly elected Mayor of Strattonville, heard various languages from Garden Hills and the board members got to play with a cool ProScope from BTW. At one point, Dave Tomlinson gleefully said that he could do this at every board meeting. 🙂 Maybe we will see a new trend….  Cheryl posted a metric TON of presentations on BoardDocs – good luck reading all of them. She went over a few during the meeting, and I am glad she did not cover all of them. I felt bad for the kids that were waiting and waiting and waiting to go – I guess you could say I empathized with them.

So even though I left right after Cheryl was done, I did see David Hohman warming up for his presentation. The slides he flashed up on the screen were definitely a heck of a bit more prettier than what is on BoardDocs, and I think he had quite a few more slides “live” as well. Strange that. I believe there is an EEE Committee meeting coming up soon, so I have no doubt that Monday was basically the preview in terms of the flood of reports that will be presented to the EEE. And hey, what do you know, the EEE webpage has actually been updated! The agenda for the meeting on the 25th is posted. I feel really bad for Angela Smith – I hope she can breathe some new life into that group. Or maybe even better yet, allow the group to morph itself into a living breathing thing – I get the impression it should be more “bottum-up” as opposed to top-down. Looking through the agenda….. just shoot me, a bullet-point called PowerPoint? Ouch. That hurts.

Sorry, I must have my cynical hat on tonight.

All the media outlets have covered the CFT negotiation pretty thoroughly (strange what determines a “hot topic”, or what smells like blood in the water….). Dr. Wiegand talked to Brian Moline on WDWS a little about that. They spent the other half of their time talking about the Futures Conference. During Public Comment at the Board meeting, Lynn Stuckey mentioned that this is a bad time (1-5:pm on a Thursday) for a lot of working people – what alternatives is Unit 4 exploring? The only thing mentioned so far (and repeated to Brian Moline) is that the documents/surveys will be available on the futurefacilities website. I am sorry, but that’s not good enough. And when I meet with Stephanie Stuart tomorrow about this very topic, I am going to again mention how we need to be going out to the community and hosting “satellite” or “mini-conferences”. I keep saying Shadow Wood and Rose & Taylor because those are two ready examples that I have direct experience with. I know you readers have lots of other ideas, so please share them – the more specific and applicable (with names and maybe even volunteers – woot!), the better. Pattsi outlined some of her suggestions for the Steering Committee, which plays into this discussion as well.

One last thing about the Board Meeting that just jumped into my memory (or is it jumping out of my memory?); Jamar Brown shared during Board Comment time a challenge for other board members to not limit their time with the schools to only those they have adopted, but to take the time to hang out at other school events also. I think that is a very good challenge to make, and I am glad he said it “on the record.” Now I am anticipating to see how board members respond to that challenge. 🙂

I think the Board and the Administration have progressed to the point that they are extremely open and wanting to hear from the community. Via the Community Relations person (Lynn in the past and now Stephanie), the school district has opened up the can of facebook and twitter, and the whole gang is presenting a side of the school district we have never seen (or heard) before. I think that is great, and I acknowledge this as progress accordingly. I think we need to keep going down that path and encourage the Board and the Administration to not merely be satisfied with waiting for people to come to them, but to go out, again and again, to where the people are at; libraries, churches, grocery stores, community centers, barbershops, etc. And obviously, the schools. A year or so ago Lynn Peisker gave me the word picture of a small rudder turning a very large ship; the ship is not any smaller, but now I think we have more rudders. The ship is still turning.

21 Responses to “Quick update”

  1. pattsi Says:

    Thanks for the update. Based on your report and the fold of paper work, etc., I am reminded of Clinton’s speech during the D. convention. Over 60 minutes flooded with facts, figures, and the word arithmetic, that even the many fact checks did not delve into the truth of what he spoke. 🙂

  2. Karen Says:

    How is using a ProScope a ‘marketable’ skill for elementary school kids? A resume??

    Why is it assumed that not meeting enrollment goals for ‘Strattonville’ is because of parents/people not understanding this magnet theme? Maybe parents don’t want it vs. don’t understand it. Maybe parents want their kids to have trascendentally ‘marketable’ skills such as basic mastery of reading, writing and math. Writing well will perhaps be one of the most marketable skills of the 21st century given (IMO) the (poor) direction in which public education is heading.

    Can Unit 4 Admin seriously say that the time/location of the Futures conference has not been intentionally chosen to ‘exclude’? Per NG article the consultants say parents would rather take time off of work than take time away from family time? But, aren’t (at-a-premium and sometimes difficult-to-get, if at all) personal days used for family time/issues, generally? My alternative universe suggestion would be something like a Tuesday 6pm meeting in the Stratton gym (if it’s going to be a one-shot deal) with no need for this small group faux consensus stuff. Short on time, just cutting to the chase, harshness of my tone duly noted.

  3. Cheryl Camacho Says:

    Hi Karen-

    This is Cheryl Camacho, Director of Magnet Programs. Thank you for your comments and your perspective. I think that diverse perspectives are important.

    I agree with you about writing begin one of the most important skills. Not only does strong writing provide a power base for engaging and participating in society, but the process of writing develops critical thinking and deepens comprehension. Critical thinking, analysis and the ability to effectively write is a focus at each magnet school. All of the tangible/marketable skills were developed at each school with a team of teachers and at times, community partners. We are very transparent in both our information and processes, so please feel free to contact me directly for more specific information or any of the magnet team at each school and we will do our best to answer your questions.

    As a magnet team, we have acknowledged that there are potentially a variety of reasons for why Stratton didn’t meet recuitment/enrollment goals. The most compelling of those reasons is what I outlined at the Board meeting. Having said that, we do recognize that our magnet programs are not for everyone. We are okay with that. However, for those who do decide they are a good fit with their educational philosophy and a good fit for their children, they do afford some amazing opportunities. My own child attends, and I can attest to his increased interest and engagement at school this year.

    My email is camachch@champaignschools.org if anyone has specific questions that I can answer.



  4. Cheryl Camacho Says:

    “recruitment” not “recuitment” 🙂

  5. Cheryl Camacho Says:

    “being” not “begin”…man, I’m sorry typing on an ipad is a struggle!

  6. Karen Says:

    @ Cheryl. Thank you for taking the time to weigh-in here. I think it’s great to have open and public discussion of issues. You likely don’t have the time, but, these terms keep coming up without context-specific definition/elaboration of what they mean (how they are measured, etc.). What do you mean by the following terms:

    equitable access
    critical thinking
    marketable (to whom and when)
    authentic (assessment)
    successful (in what context/s, when/where)
    rich (experiences)

    I think perhaps most critical to critical thinking is a broad knowlege base. The ability to read (well) is essential in building that base (IMO). Writing skills can build upon that base. But, education these days seems almost anti-knowledge (direct instruction; ‘memorizing’ information, facts; practice until mastery—-all seemingly frowned upon if not ridiculed despite what cognitive science tells us about learning, memory, thinking).

    ‘In theory, it sounds like a wonderful idea. … The problem is in the disconnect between the theory and practice of critical thinking as an educational discipline. … We saw a paper submitted by a 10th grader at a [Denver] high school who was assigned to ‘write down five things the U.S. government is currently doing that might be unconstitutional.’ The student offered two:
    1. Bushe cold have help the Katrina people whin it hapin.
    2. Bushe should’t be tipin in to people’s phone.
    “The student was given a grade of 40 percent for coming up with only two of five assigned items. Apparently, he got them both correct. If this is an example of critical thinking, there must not be any right or wrong answers, much less faulty reasoning.

    “Of course, this leading question just drips with political agenda. How would a student be graded if he concluded that the administration has not engaged in any unconstitutional acts? But even more troublesome is the obvious fact that this 10th grader is, at best, semi-literate. Do you really imagine that he has even the most basic understanding of the Constitution? Before he’s ready to tackle higher-order critical thinking skills, shouldn’t he have been taught how to read and write, and then introduced to the U.S. Constitution?” ‘

    ‘: “By claiming students learn ‘higher level thinking’ skills, the educational establishment exposes its true ignorance of how children learn. ‘Higher level thinking’ is virtually impossible without a foundation of automaticity of basic skills and knowledge. In other words, students can’t do higher-level thinking unless basic-level thinking has become automatic.” ‘


    I agree about ‘fit.’ But, I worry that parents are sometimes promised things with particular curriculums that cannot be delivered. Misleading claims. Likely not intentional. But due to ideas being improperly/ineffectively/prematurely (for lack of better terminology at the moment) translated into practice and often incredibly subjective and weak standards of measurement of outcomes.

  7. Karen Says:


    Where are the data? How were they going to replicate this study when they don’t seem to define or measure their observations? They cite other research, but, is it ‘research’ just like this ‘research’? If so, qualitative observations are being promoted to facts about learning in the absence of supporting data. This type of ‘research’ on learning is not grounded in science (cognitive or otherwise). Troubling (when it comes to Education ‘research’), given what’s at stake (children’s futures).

  8. Cheryl Camacho Says:

    Hello Karen-

    I will make time, however limited, to address your questions because it’s important to me that you and whoever else is reading this blog to know that we are not throwing terms around that we don’t understand or haven’t thought deeply/critically about.

    Here’s what I mean with the following terms:

    rigor- high level, challenging
    equitable access- all children have access to high-level instruction, high expectations, experiences
    critical thinking- children have to think beyond recall; they have to determine what they agree with/disagree with, and why
    marketable (to whom and when)- skills that make our children stand out, equipped for transitions to middle school, high school, college, workforce; skills that make our children especially attractive and desirable at each transition
    authentic (assessment)- assessment that goes beyond multiple choice, true/false; assessment that really pinpoints understanding, misunderstanding, and assessment that determines learning in a real world context
    successful (in what context/s, when/where)- context is important here. Ultimately, what we are pushing for is success in life, which requires children to have deep knowledge and skill/knowledge acquisition that can be generalized to different contexts
    rich (experiences)- experiences that stretch, challenge, and make learning go deeper
    relevance- learning has meaning to students, is applicable to their lives, and engages them because it is connected to purpose

    Writing and reading have a reciprocal relationship. Writing deepens reading interpretation/comprehension and reading comprehension/interpretation deepens writing quality. As a former 1st and 2nd grade teacher, I always used writing to help students deepen and extend meaning out of the many things that they were learning across contexts. I remember doing a training at a conference and showing the participants the writing from my first graders. Conference participants were amazed that the writing came from first graders; however I found in my time in the classroom that students are highly capable of producing high-quality work, especially when high expectations for the work are evident and supported through meaningful and purposeful instruction.

    There is a school of thought that emphasizes basic skill acquisition over higher level critical thinking/making meaning, but there is a competing school of thought that emphasizes higher level questions/critical thinking as being a foundation to basic skill acquistiion; much of the recent work in neuroscience/brain research supports the latter. I can personally attest to the need to have both approaches, as children are all different. There are former students of mine who needed to be engaged with high level thinking/questions to even want to approach the perceived drudgery of basic skills. There are former students of mine, who needed the opposite approach. To me, what is important is that we can provide all of our students who fall along a continuum with a variety of approaches and strategies and that the focus is always on taking basic skills and using them for higher purposes.

    I do disagree with the implication that all children need to learn in a sequential fashion: basic skills first and then higher order critical thinking. For example, there are many children who have, for a variety of historical and contextual reasons, not succeeded at learning their letter names/sounds and sight words first. My focus (when I was a classroom teacher) on critical analysis, higher order thinking, and writing often served as an impetus for them to become engaged and invested enough to learn those skills and then to use them in a way that was purposeful and meaningful. Have you ever had a conversation with a pre-schooler? The critical thinking skills of a pre-schooler can sometimes put to shame the critical thinking skills of a school-aged child and at times, adults. This is a sad state of affairs that can be directly attributed to a misguided focus/emphasis on basic skills over meaningful, purposeful instruction and learning that keep children engaged and invested in school; instruction that encourages and expects observation, thinking, and questioning.

    I am very passionate about this topic, so I do apologize for the soapbox. I went into education and became an educator because of my own personal negative experiences in school. I have seen too many children check out of school because their strengths were not acknowledged and/or validated in school and because the “big picture” and purpose of education was buried in deficit thinking and an isolated focus on basic skills. My purpose in being an educator has nothing to do with political agenda and everything to do with ensuring that all children attain the necessary skills and knowledge to be powerful in our society. Having basic skills is absolutely necessary, but it is not enough. How we get at this is incredibly important and can have incredible power over a child being meaningfully engaged and educated or a child being checked out. The stakes are too high for us to take this responsibility lightly. While you do not personally or professionally know me or the many dedicated educators in our magnet schools, I will say with confidence that what we are doing in our magnet schools goes beyond “eduspeak”. We are committed, dedicated professionals who value our children and want to see them be successful. We are critical thinkers. We engage and debate with each other over practice and pedagogy. We have integrity and don’t put on shows (for the school board or anyone else) to make ourselves look good. Transparency and reflection are highly valued and we adjust course when we find ourselves not aligned with our ultimate purpose, which is to educate our children in a way that gives them access and power in our society.

    I do understand the cynicism of the public, especially given my own educational experiences, which were incredibly negative. However, I do feel compelled to address this cynicism because the work that our magnet schools/educators have undertaken is incredibly difficult, largely unrewarded, and often misunderstood.

    I invite anyone to come and see the amazing work of our students, educators, and administrators in our magnet schools. Have conversations with our students, teachers, families, and administrators. I acknowledge that we have much work to do, but I also firmly stand behind our magnet programs and educators and am proud of the work that we have done and the lasting impact that we will have in our community.



  9. Karen Says:

    I appreciate you taking the time. I really do. I just find the definitions you supply containing more of the same terminology. I think it’s an ‘Education’ thing and it troubles me coming from a (professional) background that required concrete definition and measurement of outcomes.

    I would enjoy seeing the empirical citations for the neuroscience research you mention with respect to critical thinking preceding basic skill acquisition. While I have maintained my certification, I have much continuing ed to catch-up on so maybe I am not up-to-date on all the research coming out of neuroscience. I am just troubled, in general, how Education often grabs a single (yet to be replicated) correlational study and promotes it to cause-effect status and starts applying it in ways replete with erroneous leaps of logic to kids.

    The adult-child comparison of ‘critical thinking’ skills is problematic IMO. It is desirable to refine our thinking skills as we develop cognitively. It’s not an end-goal matter of quashing creative thinking. That is an erroneous and over-simplified characterization of the what is actually (a normal, desitable) part of the cognitive development process. Too lenghty to address, but, that’s my nutshell opinion.

    Marketable. With the elementary set I remain perplexed how almost anything done at that age/stage (no matter how cool or exciting) will be ‘marketable’ in adulthood. Basic literacy goals are not being met but they have other ‘marketable’ skills (that college admissions officers might regard as ‘stand-out’)? Kids who don’t have basic literacy skills down by third grade will greatly reduce their marketability later in life. Don’t have the citations handy, but, they’re out there.

    A very long time ago I worked in a Child Development Lab. So, yes, much exposure to/experience with young children (beyond my own at that stage of development). In my former professional life I was a Speech-Language Pathologist (primarily adult neuro/rehab after CFY, but, also supervised grad students in their clinical practicums with preschool and school-age pops at a university Speech-Hearing Clinic). I know how I see learning and progress occur

    Relevance. Several years ago now I remember sitting at a Community Forum hearing people speak about how science (phyiscs, chemistry) and math (equations) were not ‘relevant’ to the daily life of many students. I never really understood that, as most people are not exempt from the laws of physics or the nature of chemistry in their everyday lives (it’s all around us 24/7–how is that not relevant?). It’s learning about the universally experienced world we live in. ‘Math’ involves a whole host of cognitive skills (reasoning, analysis, comparison) that are not necessarily explicitly taught or thought about but that we definitely pick up/develop by engaging in all that ‘boring,’ ‘useless,’ stuff. Maintaining a boxed-in, relevant to one’s current life context focus is oppressive IMO.

    Sight words… 🙂 .

    Something is very wrong when it has to become a stated goal in the 21st century that children be able to read at grade level by 3rd grade. We are failing children on a grand scale. There is much complaint within Education about dominant culture. But, what kind of societal culture should we be preparing students for when we talk about ‘success’? One that they will have to function in when they graduate high school? Or for an idealized one that will not exist by the time they graduate high school?

    I, too, am passionate about educating all children well. My background and experiences with my own children have shaped my current perspective of grave concern about how ‘Education’ is done these days. I don’t doubt good intentions. But, that’s not enough, either.

    Again, thanks for taking the time. It is nice to have people willing to have open dialogue about Education issues.

  10. pattsi Says:

    I do not understand how the terms mentioned and then described in the above discourse are such that they can be quantified.

  11. Digging at the root of the matter (part 1) « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] conversations and deliberation can happen. I was reminded of this just yesterday witnessing an exchange between a parent (Karen) and a Unit 4 administrator (Cheryl Camacho); what is awesome is that […]

  12. charlesdschultz Says:

    You ladies have had some excellent exchanges. Cheryl, thank you so much for taking the time to address the concerns posited here, and a very public effort to more fully address public cynicism. Kudos!

    I do have one question for you Cheryl, one that nags at the part of me that is insatiably curious. From what you say, it is very obvious you have strong passions (as you admit) on this topic and that you are driven to be an educator. Please forgive my utter lack of understanding, but if you so much want to be an educator, why are you in administration? *grin* And yes, I see them differently, but perhaps you do not.

    Based on my own interactions with teachers, witnessing the odd committee at the Mellon Center from time to time, listening to Cheryl speak and what you have written above, I am blown away by how hard teachers strive to adapt and structure curriculum so that is it somehow relevant, impactful, meaningful and realistic. The hours upon hours invested and poured into these efforts is just amazing. I think perhaps a part of what Karen is getting at (correct me if I am wrong) is that sometimes parents/community members simply have a difference of opinion as to where teachers (and administrators) should be focusing their attention. Unfortunately, that is going to be a never-ending dilemma because we are never ever going to agree 100%. Just like how we as tax-payers want to lower our taxes while at the same time we want better schools, more public services and better entertainment – we all want to accomplish those things in slightly different ways.

    Cheryl, your comment about the high stakes reminds me of Dr. Edna Olive, Director of Rocket, Inc who stated in one of her top 10 belief statements for PBF:

    “The education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”

    Karen, now a question for you. If you were the superintendent, what would you change? How would you deal with both the children and the adults who do not share your opinions?

    I thank the both of you for your participation in this dialog; thank you for your thoughtful replies and the mutual respect. The soapbox is again open.

  13. Cheryl Camacho Says:

    Hi Charles-

    I don’t see teaching and administration as being entities separate from being an “educator”. Quite simply, I moved into administration to have more of an impact on more students. As an assistant principal and now as a director, I have continued to step up to teach children and model lessons. I have coached and supported teachers in my areas of speciality (planning, literacy and classroom culture), and I continue to mentor children. I love teaching and I love the potential of what is possible in a classroom and school.

    Karen, let’s agree to disagree.

    Thanks and enjoy your weekend.


  14. Cheryl Camacho Says:

    Almost forgot…here are some great places to find more about what I referenced regarding neuroscience and learning:

    http://radteach.com/ – Dr. Judy Willis’s website (she is a neuroscientist who became an educator and has done some very interesting work in this area); there are some good articles and references listed here.

    http://jaymctighe.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/UbD-Research-Base.pdf (article on “learning” which references cognitive science by Jay McTighe, who along with Grant Wiggins, created the Understaning by Design Framework).

    I’m at a conference and break is just about over so I need to get off of this site, but feel free to email me and I will get you more information, if desired.



  15. Karen Says:

    @ Charles……How would I convince people who don’t agree?
    The short answer: share the data from DI.


    WRT Judy Willis……as far as I can tell she is taking research, making assumptions (forming untested theories), and applying them to students. This is premature. fMRI often outpaces our ability to ‘understand’ the findings. Various correlational things are seen between tasks and areas of brain activation, but, often the meaning (if any) of such findings is not (yet) known. Correlational is not cause-effect. You can’t just take such findings and run with them anyway (as in without empirical support for application). But, this is what Judy Willis seems to encourage:
    ‘Teachers who are prepared with knowledge of the workings of the brain will have the optimism, incentive and motivation to follow the ongoing research, and to apply their findings to the classroom. These teachers can help all children build their brain potential — regardless of past performance — bridge the achievement gap, and reach their highest 21st century potential starting now.’

    If Education has the brain all figured out, please share with the class, so to speak, because neuroscience is still in the process of figuring it all out. If only it were so simple. These people (Willis, McTighe, Wiggins) market themselves well. It’s troubling (to me) that there is such a ‘ready’ consumer group to $upport it (because ulimately this affects children). My guess is this stuff would fall flat if marketed to Neuropsychologists. It’s unfortunate that Education doesn’t seem to prepare Educators to understand empirical research and/or critically evaluate it. While not exactly what I was looking for, the crux of what I am trying to say is in here:

    ‘at the Cambridge conference, prominent neuroscientists working in areas such as literacy, numeracy, IQ, learning, social cognition and ADHD spoke directly to teachers about the scientific evidence being gathered in scientists’ laboratories. The teachers were amazed by how little was known. Although there was enthusiasm for and appreciation of getting first-hand information, this was coupled with frustration at hearing that many of the brain-based programmes currently in schools had no scientific basis.’

    Agree to disagree. No problem.

  16. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Karen: Which data in particular?

  17. Karen Says:

    Per your email, I guess I am making this too short. I thought I was doing you a favor by giving you a short answer 🙂 . Per your question, what I am trying to get at (while having an ‘off’ brain day here–maybe I should just come back to this a different day) is I guess I would promote direct instruction because of the replicable findings of +ve effects demonstrated in project Follow-Through. The history of what happened to those findings is interesting (and IMO unfortunate). How would I convince people who didn’t agree? I would show them the data and invite them to counter with (emprically derived) data supporting more effective methods.

  18. Garden Hills and the International Baccalaureate® Magnet program « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] sea of repetitious ennui (see, I told you I was going to be subjective). In reading over the fascinating debate between Cheryl Camacho and Karen, I readily admit there are obviously pros and cons with various […]

  19. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Karen, the data only goes so far though. Let me twist the question just a little bit more – what systems do we have right now in Unit 4 (I am thinking each school is slightly different)? How about the parochial schools? Based on my conversations with the Principal at St. Matt’s, it sounds like they try to follow the Unit 4 curriculum as close as possible, but that leaves a bit of room for implementation and pedagogy. What theories are they following?

    I guess what I get hung up on is that there is no clear cut division; we have a mix of implemented theories, and a mix of results. There are tons of variables involved.

    Between you and Cheryl, the links on neuroscience kinda made me feel stupid. 🙂 I have a really hard time bringing that down to earth so I can chew on it.

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