There are several big things floating around, a lot of great achievements and some things to watch out for on the horizon, occluded by various rumors. I am going to try to keep this positive but not in the warm-fuzzy-feelings kind of way, but rather in the look-at-what-we-can-accomplish-together kind of way.
First off, I have to give a big huge shout out to the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ); they had a very significant victory over Champaign County’s plans to dump a ton of tax money into new jails. Instead, they have successfully argued for alternative approaches like new re-entry programs and services to keep folks out of jail in the first place. In my own personal experience, I have observed have fundamentally critical these two approaches are, and how severely they are lacking in our “modern” view of criminal justice. The folks at CUCPJ had an amazing uphill fight, but they carried the day. Perhaps what stands out to me is that CUCPJ operated within the confines of a hairy bureaucratic machine, which is no easy task in and of itself, but they did so with aplomb and perseverance.
On the topic of community citizens banding together for the good of the community, a reader forwarded the following story to me as an inspiration for what determined people can do:
What these two stories tell me is that when people unite together for a shared central belief, they can be powerful. Granted, in both cases you have passionate visionaries who do not waver at the sight at lawyers and persist through obstinate challenges.
With that in mind, I would like to turn our attention to the ongoing quest for the school district’s “future facilities.” To start off, I would like to introduce a paper by Wayne Hoy entitled “School characteristics that make a difference for the achievement of all students: A 40-year odyssey”; Dr. Hoy has found “[t]hree characteristics of schools were identiﬁed that make a positive difference for student achievement controlling for the SES: collective efﬁcacy, collective trust in parents and students, and academic emphasis of the school.” As I read through this paper I was surprised to find absolutely no mention of the physical structures of buildings, but rather an “academic optimism” in teachers, students and parents. Bear that in mind as we continue.
Last Thursday the Board held a somewhat abrupt and surprising “Special Board Meeting” to discuss the approval of a $66k contract for Gorski Reifsteck, an architecture firm tasked with narrowing down the newly increased list of potential Central High School sites (up to 15 now) down to 6. So many questions pop up on this. Unanswered questions. In no particular order….
Why is an architecture firm being awarded a contract to site a high school? I have gone looking for the original RFP which is not on the Unit 4 webpage and have an outstanding request to Mr. Matt Foster; does the RFP really describe a request for work typically done by this type of vendor? That seemed a bit odd to me. But keeping this upbeat, for all I know, maybe Reifsteck specializes in finding high school sites in our area – I really do not know.
And about that list of high schools. Meg Dickinson in her November 9th article listed out 6 new sites and 9 old ones (some of the old ones were actually new to me), and that she had gleaned this information from a map. What map? After asking Unit 4, they finally published a bare-bones map:
To keep it positive, I am thankful that they provided a map as requested. And relatively quickly (considering that Monday was a school holiday). If you look at Meg’s NG article side-by-side with the map, you can figure out what all the numbered stars are. It is unfortunate there is no legend. What is fascinating, to me at least, is of the 15, only two are within the I74-I57-Springfield-First Street boundaries. Two. Six are north of 74 and east of 57, one is right smack next to the planned Midwest Athletic Center (MAC, north of 74, west of 57). Aside from the first two, only one other site is anywhere near the young demographic center of future high school students, and that is east of the Canada National RR tracks, right off Bradley. Where did the six new sites come from? Do we really need a bunch more north of 74?
This concerns me. Does it concern you?
Here is another thing that seems a bit odd. DeJong-Richter came in (to the tune of $116k) for the purpose of “public engagement” and “high school siting”. The portion of the public that was engaged said things like they want one giant monster high school, two strong high schools, three smaller high schools, and keeping Central (and/or keeping it central) (from the DR Board presentation, page 13). On other pages, participants voiced their opinions over middle and elementary schools. The odd part is, I don’t see or hear the board talking about these things. There is no discussion of three high schools. The single high school idea got squashed when both high school principals made a strong case against it. I do not hear any discussion over K-8, or going in the opposite direction, Mahomet-like schools with lots of transitions. I am not saying these ideas are good or bad – my point is, some people of the community expressed their opinions, but I do not observe the board talking about these opinions.
As Pattsi and I have pointed out (many times), Holly Nelson has done an amazing analysis of various candidate sites (http://centralrelocationstudy.wordpress.com/). And this did not cost taxpayers a single dime (that I know of). Where is this analysis for all the other sites that have been introduced in the past 1.75 years?
Let me bring you back to Wayne Hoy’s “collective efﬁcacy, collective trust in parents and students, and academic emphasis of the school.” If we truly want all our children to excel and to do the best they possibly can, we have to all work together to make sure that happens. If and where we actually build a new high school is going to be rather insignificant, in my opinion, in terms of making a difference in achievement for all students. It will be expensive and the increased taxes will regressively hurt some of us more than others. Some people will absolutely love the new location, some people will detest and abhor it. Maybe even for the same reasons. But if we are not drawn together, and instead we are divided, our students will collectively suffer.
So here is my call to action, my “action steps” if you will. Don’t worry, there is something for everyone (even me).
- To the Administration: Come up with a plan to increase achievement and make it very well known; educate the public. Plot out the plan on a clear timeline. Empower teachers by unshackling them – allow more freedom and creativity.
- To the Board: Be the bridge between the community and the Administration – draw us all together. Re-establish a foundation of trust, embrace the community in ways unforeseen, keep the administration on task.
- To the community at large: Stop whining and complaining; get off your arse and get involved, even if only to learn the truth.
- To students: Commit to doing your best, and be willing to hold us adults accountable to the promises we have made to you. Don’t give up. Anything is possible.
- To teachers: Invite the community to help shoulder your massive burdens. We are in this together.
- To parents: Ditto – there is no law that says you have to be alone.
According to Wolfram|Alpha’s computation engine, there are an estimated 232,336 (as of 2011) people in the Champaign-Urbana metro area. Where are all the people?
PS – before I close, I have to recall a post about the “Education Summit” held in Springfield late in 2011, and what I learned from talking to the folks that organized the Summit – my biggest take-away was that we have a “[f]ailure to treat our public schools as a keystone of our democracy.”