Future Facilities: do your homework and talk to the board

As shown by last Monday’s BOE meeting (March 10th), the school district’s Facility Committee has been plugging away at deciding what our future school configuration will look like. They have used feedback and data gathered from “Great Schools Together” (2008), the Dejong-Ricther “engagement” sessions (2012 – early 2013), as well as input from various consultants (ie, BLDD, RPC, Gorski-Reifsteck, etc).

My bet is that most people in the community had no clue this was even going on, much less what they have discussed. At the March 10th BOE meeting, they presented the results of their work to date, three middle-school configurations (or scenarios) chosen from an initial list of 11. At the March 17th BOE meeting, the Committee will again present information to the Board focusing on the “Live/Work” option of the current Central building once the school is relocated to north Neil Street.

What is “Live/Work”? What are the 11 options? What are the final three? Where did they come from? Who is making all these decisions? Your assignment is to try to answer these questions. Here are some hints as to where you might start looking:

There have been numerous articles, columns, editorials and letters to the editor in the News-Gazette. I draw your attention, again, to a Feb 6, 2011 letter by Laurie Reynolds, which describes a path the she sees would be optimal for the school district to follow in planning for a future Central. As you read through it, you can see that the district will readily point out they have followed some of the steps, but there are others that leave a bit of a hole. I believe her last sentence still rings loud and clear with preternatural accuracy:

“But if we continue the discussion along the lines we have followed so far, those options will never be explored, and the ultimate decision on Central will be made with incomplete information and without an understanding of all of the costs that new construction on a remote site will impose on the community.”

In yesterday’s NG, Heather Owen’s letter to the editor asks community members to chime in on the various K-8 options the Facility Committee is considering. Ms. Owen also emailed me directly, as well as emailing the Board with her concerns. I encourage all property tax payers to follow suit – read up on the available documentation and let the Board know what you think about it. Better late than never. I have a bit more to say on this particular topic, but I am closing off a couple other threads and want to present multiple perspectives; I have heard from one board member that takes issue with the letter, and I have another in-progress conversation with administration.

Personally, I was hoping for more community-focused engagement, along the lines of Springfield’s Education Summit and (not or) charrettes used by planners. I have asked the board and the district administration on multiple occasions to think about both of these ideas. What gets me is that Superintendent’s Goals for the District #2 is all about “Community Involved Planning” (also the title of a recent Spotlight video which is not yet available online). It is exceptionally difficult for me to reconcile the progress of decision-making that Unit 4 has taken so far and this particular goal. But perhaps I am cynical and/or naive.

So until I can wrap up my other conversations, I conclude with a recommendation that readers, tax payers and Unit 4 residents get acquainted with the available information and start asking questions. Make plans to attend the March 17th BOE meeting; yes, your speaking time will be limited to 3 minutes and you will not be able to enjoy a back-and-forth dialogue, but this is one of the very few opportunities you currently have to make your voice heard in a public setting.

Do not let other people make up your mind – make up your own mind.

5 Responses to “Future Facilities: do your homework and talk to the board”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    A decade ago, the suggestion was made to return sixth grade to the elementary schools (making them K-6) and to make Jefferson and Franklin each a 7-8 center, thus eliminating the need for repairing or replacing the ancient Edison at high cost to the district. We needed to build new elementary schools anyway to meet the consent decree, so it would have been easy to make sure we had enough space to host K-6 at the schools.

    “Not so fast!” the district said. We were told that best practices showed that 6th graders were too big and scary for the little kindergarteners. These 12 to 13 year old kids were on the verge of becoming teens and thus a far cry from the innocent little guys just starting out. Additionally, the older kids were ready to move on from elementary education and be more independent. Finally, parents, we were told, preferred not to have the big kids with the little ones.

    So, I find it hilarious that now we are talking about not only putting 6th grade with K-5, but also 7 and 8. That’s okay. I’ll wait. If we argue about this for another ten years, I’m sure the pendulum will swing back the other way.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      I think the sad fact is that any one of us can go out and find research that backs up any idea; I personally went to a K-6 school, and yes, some of the big mean 6th graders picked on younger kids. But that is going to happen in any situation – it sucks, and it just reflects the reality of our society. I do not know the “best” configuration for our schools, but I do know that unless adults can be better role models for all children, it is rather unreasonable to expect them to act better than us.

      We ought to be asking ourselves what the root problems are. The root problem is NOT whether we have K-5, K-6 or K-8. Rather, the root problem is that all of us have degrees of selfishness, pride and greed; you get rid of those problems and the school configuration is totally and utterly moot.

      Yes, the pendulum will always be swinging. Some research will reinvent some wheel down the line and the next generation will slap their heads thinking they have discovered something new. How many grade levels we stuff into one building is a bit of a red herring.

      @Rebecca, I thank you for speaking up and I hope you continue to be involved in this process. I hope others take seriously the task of coming to grips with what is happening in our public schools – they are but a window to larger things around us.

      • Rebecca Says:

        I don’t pretend to be up on reading best practices. I do think that K-8 probably works better in homogenous small towns than it might work here (as it seems logical to think that stability is one contributing factor to why K-8 might be desirable). We have lots of turnover for lots of reasons–from U of I relocation to socio-economics–in Unit 4 and you lose that benefit here. But this is just my instinct. I am sure, as you said you could find evidence on both sides.

        But because the pendulum is always swinging (I notice self-directed math is back and I thought that idea had crashed and burned when I was in school!), it is impossible for lay people to keep up with what’s in and why. Which makes it very difficult to have a dialog on grade groupings or pretty much any other topic. Add to that different agendas, different personalities, different . . . well, you get the idea, and we’re pretty much guaranteed to circle around and around and around.

        When we’re talking about this much money, however, we have to get it right. I think the last thing anyone wants is to build a new high school or a K-8 school or anything with a multimillion dollar price tag where we’re going to say in five or ten years, “Darn, we should have done this differently.” Which means we need to be holding the decision makers to higher standard now. OK, school board, you say K-8 is best. I’ve got an open mind. Prove it. Show me a similar district in terms of demographics and how K-8 is working there.

        The lack of hard facts and figures being presented to the public (on many issues) is very troubling to me. We shouldn’t be voting on our guts (as I said above, my gut is contradictory to what Unit 4 is currently saying on this topic). And the fact that large pieces of the puzzle on any given issue are missing (no transportation study on the proposed Central site, for example) means we can’t see the whole picture. As I’ve said in other posts, I pretty much come down on the side of the kids and want what’s best for them. Often, however, Unit 4 makes it REALLY hard to discern what that is. And that means we’re probably NOT giving them our best.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    @rebecca – well put. This is exactly what we need to be saying to the Board (and more than just two or three of us).

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    The “Community Involved Planning” video has been posted:

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