If only good words were enough

I don’t usually pay attention to what is happening outside Champaign. However, I have subscribed to “Voices for Illinois Children”, and today’s topic was about Gov. Quinn’s State of the State speech. Below I quote a small snippet relevant to Education:

http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/illinois-quinn-state-of-state-text-242613351.html

In the last five years, we’ve been getting the job done on education reform. Parents are now empowered with a report card on their children’s schools. Teacher evaluations have strong benchmarks. And performance is prioritized over tenure. In fact, our reforms have become a model for the nation.

Governor’s Birth to Five Initiative

But our unfinished job on education starts where it matters most: in early childhood.

Study after study has shown that high-quality early childhood education provides the best return of any public investment we can makemore than $7 for every dollar invested. That’s why our state invests in programs serving our at-risk children, from birth all the way to kindergarten.

Since I’ve taken office, I’ve always fought to preserve early childhood education from radical budget cuts. And we found a way to invest $45 million to build early education centers in high-need areas such as Dolton, Kankakee, and Cicero.

 

Voices4Kids advocate and Huffington Post writer Emily Miller points out that since 2009, the early childhood block grant has seen a reduction of about $80 million. Not exactly encouraging news. While the proposed 2014 budget retains the 2013 levels for the early childhood block grant, the fiscal future of our state is extremely bleak.

 

I have asked some follow-up questions of Voices4Kids and Ms. Miller – I hope to circle back here and update you with what I learn.

 

ACTIONS

ACTIONS: Acronym meaning “Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and On- Going Support”

The news media has totally overlooked this one topic that easily took up half of the entire board meeting last night. For me personally, I was blown away by the reports. One student bravely stood up during public comment (that takes some chutzpah!) to talk about how he specifically has benefited from this awesome program. There were several other reports throughout the meeting. One student was quoted as saying “Thank you for suspending me” and went on to testify how his/her life has changed. Mr. Orlando Thomas will be forwarding me the presentation used at the board meeting (which for some reason is not on boarddocs), and I will post it here when I receive it.

There were several points that made an impact on me.

First was the desire and ability to target the needs of the child. I realize there is a segment of society that just wants to punish bad behavior and close the book; I believe that type of attitude is detrimental, not only to the individual child, but ultimately to society as well. Just take a look at our misnamed “correctional systems” – do you think everyone who goes to jail is “corrected”? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these students are being pandered to in any way, their suspension is not a mere hand-slap. Instead, there is a serious attempt at reflection and building up a “next time” scenario.

Next, I rather like the emphasis on engaging the families. It is not clear to me how successful this actually is, but just the initial “enrollment” is somewhat of a choice. Somewhat. In the course of the suspension hearing, the child and the family is told that the child is assigned to ACTIONS, and the child and/or the family could (conceivably) choose to not take advantage of the opportunity, in which case the suspension would be like an out-of-school suspension (opposed to an alternative in-school suspension). It seems like a good thing that the staff realize the importance of involving the family. I am curious how the families on the receiving end view this whole thing.

In the end, it seems this program is empowering certain students who otherwise have difficulty functioning successfully among their peers. Empowering them in a very positive way. When is the last time a student got up at a board meeting to address the board, about his own struggle and how we overcame it, to boot? Board members also gave a shout out to other students who had emailed the board about various issues. The implication is that this was a very rare thing, but the board very much encourages this type of communication.

I am reminded of a Jim Dey editorial from 04/15/2013:

http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2013-04-15/new-approach-suspensions.html

“Rather than suspend the students, they wish to create a special environment where these young people can develop social skills and improve their academics.

Good luck with that. It would be great to be wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that something so basic as what’s being proposed actually will have the desired effect.”

It would appear that this program really is having the desired effect. During the ACTIONS presentation last night, several numbers were quoted, including graduation rates and academic progress. When I receive the presentation, I’ll update the numbers – I think they tell a significant story. Special thanks was given to all the volunteers and mentors that helped to make this program a success. Which got me to thinking…. it would be awesome if more volunteers and mentors stepped up to the plate.

Board Member Jamar Brown made the point that while most people were concerned about the high school location, he considered ACTIONS to be even bigger. In a lot of ways, I agree. True, the new high school is going to hit our pocketbooks rather hard (speaking from the viewpoint of those who are already struggling), but a new high school does not in and of itself have any impact on transforming society. I believe ACTIONS does.

 

UPDATE: Mr. Orlando Thomas has sent me the powerpoint used during Monday’s BOE meeting – it is a good read:

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/actions-boe-1-27-14.pptx

NG Poll: “Are you okay with Central’s new site?”

central_location_poll

Interesting little poll – if only people could leave reasons as to why they voted the way they did.

Update: NG now has a follow-up “What’s next” article (written by Jeff D’Alessio):

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-01-28/whats-next-new-central-location.html

 

Update 2: NG article “Early reaction to siting of new Champaign high school

The new Central will be on north Neil Street

80 acres. Wow!

Tim Mitchell did a great job covering the board meeting “live”:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-01-27/live-champaign-school-board.html

Jeff D’Alessio obviously had an inside scoop and an article ready to go:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-01-27/new-central-location-revealed.html

I watched the first part of the board meeting – no public comments at all about the high schools. Interesting.

What initially intrigues me is that it seems that the 80 acres we are buying for $3.2 mil is actually a combination of two sites (Ponder + Atkins), based on this image:

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/highschool_sites_explained1.png

Interesting that the Board decided to purchase two sites, committing money that we do not yet have.

Well….. this will be fun. There is going to be a war between those who want to expand and grow versus those who want to improve and make better what we already have. I have my own feelings, but I am still looking for numbers and hard research. Today I got to looking at the Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study (CUUATS), and it turns out I work not 25 feet from one of the folks who put a lot of work into the most recent study (they are done every 5 years). They stress a lot of sustainability options + rail, vs what happens when growth takes a higher priority than maintenance. I intend to do a bit more reading in the near future.

BOE meeting tonight, grassroots parent/teacher collabo, other news

Even though the Unit 4 schools are closed today, the BOE is still holding their “special” meeting tonight (“special” as in “every 4th week, a little more audience participation allowed”). Of course, there is Big News in that the Board is expected to disclose which property north of I-74 they intend to purchase for the new location of the high school; per Stephanie Stuart:

“Approval of Option and Contract Purchase Agreements for New High School Site” appears as item 8F on the attached agenda. District administration and board members will be available at Monday night’s meeting for comments/interviews regarding the new site.

 

A number of community folks, including Tod Satterthwaite, Patricia Avery, Minnie Pearson and Holly Nelson have stood up at board meetings in the past couple of months urging the board (in various tones *grin*) to carefully consider what a site north of I-74 will mean in the long run. There have been many questions about Country Fair, and Matt Foster responded quite thoroughly about why Country Fair would not work at the regular board meeting on Jan 13th. Personally, my issue with the whole thing is a lack of concrete facts, especially looking at the long-term. It seems that nobody knows for sure how much this is going to cost. Holly Nelson has done a good job to project possible transportation costs, but it seems that the Board is convinced those costs do not rule out a site north of I-74. Even MTD cannot tell us how much it will cost to bus students (and anyone else interested in going to school events).

 

I very much encourage you to attend tonight if you want your voice heard.

 

Additionally, there is a grassroots effort to bring parents, teachers and students together. From the CP4T facebook page:

“Our initial goal is to find ways to help empower parents with the education of their children. We are hoping to help build the communication between teachers and parents, and find ways to provide resources for parents. “

The next gathering will be February 6 at 6:30 pm, at the Champaign Federation of Teacher’s office located at 2902 Crossing Ct #B (look for the signs for Suite D – it is really close to that).

 

Finally, in other news:

  • PTA Forum tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28, 6:00 8:00 pm at the Champaign library to discuss transitions to Middle School (ie, from 5th to 6th grade). All are welcome. Sponsored by the South Side PTA.
  • The next (and first, since the other first one was cancelled) Schools of Choice Community Forum will be February 4th, at Barkstall Elementary School (2201 Hallbeck Drive in Champaign) at 6 p.m. All families with incoming kindergarten students are encouraged to attend.
  • Another “Community Conversation” with Dr. Wiegand; Sunday, Feruary 9th, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, at El Centro Romero (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), 612 E. Park St, Champaign.

More about Common Core

I recently had a good talk about Common Core with Trevor Nadrozny, the Director of Curriculum with Unit 4. I initiated the conversation by leaving a couple messages with questions about how and what data on my child is being collected. We found a time to chat on the phone, and here is what I learned.

First, Common Core is a very broad, very vague set of guidelines. If I may make a gross analogy, it is like saying you have to weigh 100 pounds in 6 months. “Pounds” and “months” have standard definitions so we can all measure them the same way, but the path to get to “100 pounds” in “6 months” is totally ambiguous. Aside from the fact that everyone starts at a different place, there are different ways to get there. Maybe one person will use the path of “liposuction”, maybe another will use the “Atkins Diet”, another may use a “ketogenic diet”. Maybe one person will take the journey of “working out for 3 hours a day”. Common Core doesn’t really care how you get there, as long as you get there. The hidden problem with this approach is that it makes it hard to reward those that tried really hard and just didn’t meet the goal – maybe they lost 29 pounds, but just couldn’t get the last one off. For the record, I am not a big fan of the Body Mass Index (BMI) – maybe this is what taints my own view of Common Core – everyone is different, so we cannot all possibly fit into the same pigeon hole. But Common Core, like BMI, allows us to all talk with the same measurements, and there is some utility in that alone.

To implement the goals of Common Core, Unit 4 is piloting 3 separate programs at the elementary schools:

  • Wonders – Carrie Busey, Stratton, Bottenfield
  • Journeys – Robeson, Westview
  • Reading Street – Dr. Howard, Kenwood

I did some digging; while I could not find any relevant information on the Unit 4 website (I have a note into Stephanie Stuart and Trevor about that), I did find some vendor information:

Trevor mentioned that he did not have enough budget dollars to pilot these programs at every grade level, so I am not certain exactly which grades at the aforementioned schools are actually going through this exercise.

In an earlier thread, Karen talked about the critical need for grammar. When I mentioned this to Trevor, he said grammar is actually actively taught right now. He used a Kindergarten class teaching Wonders as an example, where students were learning about nouns and pronouns. So obviously, it seems that grammar is indeed being taught at least in one situation – I am not familiar enough with each of the three pilots to know what importance or priority grammar takes, but a brief glance through the vendor pages (links above) indicate that each pilot program at least touches on grammar.

Trevor also explain to me how there are different levels of collecting metrics. On the one hand, the district uses generic literacy screeners by way of aimsweb. Trevor compared this to taking your pulse and blood pressure when you visit the doctor’s office – it doesn’t really tell you about any root issues, but it is a way of tracking general health. He also told me about “DRA”, which has been used in previous years; I didn’t catch what the acronym meant, but it was something about “diagnostic assessments”. Doing a search on the Unit 4 website, I see that DRAs have been talked about several times in board meetings – other than that, I am not finding much information (will keep looking & asking, and will update here when I find more). Trevor compares DRAs to being like a comprehensive blood test – much more thorough than aimsweb. Apparently, DRAs are used on an “as needed” basis.

Additionally, I learned that Wonders has assessments built in. It is foremost a reading curriculum aligned to Common Core, but assessments are kind of like a “bonus feature”. I did not ask, but I would assume that Journeys and Reading Street also have built in assessments.

A relatively new thing is something called “progress monitoring”, which is essentially a screener (taking pulse and blood pressure) on a weekly basis. I did not ask how this was implement or for how many students.

More to follow. My goal is to learn more about Common Core and what it means for our school district. I am hunting for facts. *grin* Call me narrow-minded, but I am focusing on facts that are relevant to Unit 4 and the Champaign community – broad, overarching details about the pros and cons of Common Core are less interesting to me at the moment.

To me, there is still a big issue revolving around how to prepare and move students from grade to grade. I have learned, via Voices for Illinois Children’s “Great at 8” initiative, the most critical years for building an educational scaffolding from which to hang the rest of ones educational progress occurs before a child reaches 8 years of age. The Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, teacher’s union) recently promoted a video highlighting the “Word Gap” between the rich and the poor, and how some privileged kids have a 30 million word advantage over unprivileged kids by the time they enter kindergarten. That bothers me. I think our schools have a huge challenge to tackle that gap – I don’t know how we are going to do it.

Scott MacAdam steps down from the board

From Stephanie Stuart:

 

Champaign resident Scott MacAdam has stepped down from his position on the Champaign Unit 4 School District Board of Education. On January 13, MacAdam submitted his resignation to Board President Laurie Bonnett and Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand. MacAdam states that he is stepping down from his position due to heart-related health issues.

 

“My resignation comes after a good deal of thought,” said MacAdam. “This comes at a very challenging time given all the work being done by our Board. I fully support the current efforts and decisions of the Board in its process concerning the new high school and related issues. I regret that I can’t be part of the ongoing plans and proposals, but wish the Board and District the very best of luck going forward.”

 

Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand said the District will work closely with the Regional Office of Education to fill the open seat until the next election in April 2015.