The April 7th vote: why I am voting YES for the $144 million

As Jim Dye of the News-Gazette said this morning, it is a very tough choice to vote “NO” or “YES” on the April 7th $144 million referendum item; there are major deficiencies on both sides of the fence, as well as really good points in favor of each side. As a voter, it is easy to have doubts one way or the other.

But the clincher for me happened yesterday at noon while I was driving near Prospect and Bradley. There is a very large billboard with the KCC (Keep Central Central) “Vote NO” ad. When I saw that, my mind was made up. That sign alone is responsible for catapulting me solidly over in to the YES camp. Why? Aside from my distaste for billboards in general, I personally view this particular ad as a colossal waste of money; if you care so much about public education, put your money where your mouth is.

If anyone spots a YES billboard around town, let me know before April 7th. 🙂

I encourage you to go read Jim Dye’s editorial this morning:

I would disagree with Mr. Dye on at least one point:

“the school district has put together a plan that’s about as good as it can under the circumstances.”

First I would give credit to many (many) people who have put in a ton of effort to this very end; a lot of folks have spent hours upon hours going over different alternatives, not just for a high school location, but also what to fix up, remodel, and renovate. I also give credit to some of the efforts in engaging the community in so-called “dialogues” or “discussions”, which opened the door to greater community involvement. But the current plan is as good as it gets “under the circumstances”? No, I don’t think so; no charrettes, no truly open public deliberation, no phased planning (all one lump sum, with everything else being deferred until 1% sales tax money is freed up). Instead, we have had a number of very vocal people come to the table again and again. I am also told that when the architects went to deliver the bad news to Centennial staff about the abrupt change in referendum dollars, they (the HS staff) were none too happy. Obviously the Dr. Howard folks are happy, the Centennial folks not so much. The changes for Centennial still do not make a lot of sense to me. But this is as good as it gets (“under the circumstances”)? I cannot swallow that.

We could go down the list of sins committed by either camp, and then match that up with the very valid and good points made by each side as well. In my mind, it turns into a zero-sum game, which I believe will be evidenced by the results on April 7th with a fairly close vote again. As I have said in the past, my hope is for a super-majority vote to agree one way or the other. Otherwise I would contend that we have failed to build consensus.

But what pisses me off the most are the political shenanigans and the underhanded tricks in both camps; the billboard was the last straw. That really needs to end on April 7th. And I truly believe that many of the school board candidates will help do that.

I like how Mr. Dye concludes his article (next to last paragraph):

“All that aside, however, it’s important the public meets its responsibility to fund a school system that provides all students an opportunity to learn and be successful.”

Or as Dr. Edna Olive of Rocket, Inc says:

“(t)he education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”

Ultimately, voters have to decide for themselves if a $144 million bond referendum fulfils the goal of funding such a school system. I already know several of you readers fall on one side of that question or the other.

Another school board candidate forum: CFT/CESP

cft_forum_flyerThe teacher’s union (CFT/CESP) is hosting a forum just one week before the elections. The following was copied from an email:

“We’re set for Tuesday March 31st at the IBEW 601 Hall in Champaign. The forum will begin in earnest at 5:30, but we’ve scheduled a brief reception at5:00 p.m. so that you’ll have the opportunity to get to know some of our members.

With respect to the forum itself, Greg Stock, who is a veteran teacher, steward and former CFT Vice President, will moderate. We’ll have quite a few candidates in attendance and would like to get our members home to their families starting right at 7, so Greg will keep things moving. Towards the end of the forum, we’ll have a quick Q&A session. For your part, please come prepared to be concise.
I’m attaching a promotional flier that we’re currently circulating with our members and the public. Feel free to share as you see fit. We’ll also be circulating a press release this week, so we expect some local media coverage leading up to, and at the event itself.
In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions. We’re looking forward to seeing you on the 31st.”

Board candidate index page:

IBEW 601 Hall in Champaign is at 3301 N Boardwalk Drive

Press Conference on Unit 4 Referendum: March 12, 8:30 am, Local Union 149 building in Savoy

[ NOTE: The below was copied from an email sent from Mr. Bambenek to me  ]

Contact: John Bambenek / / 217-493-0760


Bambenek and Union Leaders to Discuss Educational Programming Changes to Help Children be More Competitive in Today’s Job Market

Champaign, Il – Champaign Unit 4 school board member John Bambenek will hold a press conference with trade union leaders on March 12 at 8:30am to discuss to upcoming Unit 4 referendum and what it will mean for educational programming to help high school graduates be ready for the 21st century job market.

“This referendum is not just about 4 walls and a building.  It’s about changing the direction of public education in Champaign and making sure our graduates have access to 21st century educational programs like career technology so they can graduate our schools and go on to good paying jobs that we can’t fill today.  What a yes vote on the referendum means is new educational programs that end with good paying jobs going to our children raised her in Champaign instead of having to look to other communities to fill our skills gap,” said Bambenek.

John recently met with the local Building Trades council to share thoughts on better preparing Champaign students for adult lift.  The event will be held at the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 149 building at 1005 N Dunlap in Savoy in their shop training area.  The press conference will begin at 8:30 am.

Note: John Bambenek will be speaking in his political/non-governmental capacity and his views are his own and do not represent those of the Board of Education as a whole or of the Unit 4 administration.

Let the forums begin

Chambanamoms posted an article about the school board candidate forum marathon that starts this Wednesday, 7:00 – 9:00 pm at the Mellon Center:

This first one is put on by the PTA Council and moderated by Brian Minsker. Better yet, it will be televised on CGTV 5 for those who still have cable – not sure if it will go up on Vimeo for the rest of us, but I will ask.


Champaign School Board Forum Flyer 3-9-2015The marathon continues Thursday morning (March 12) at the Hilton Garden Inn ($10 if you want breakfast) from 7:30 – 9:00 am, put on by the Chamber of Commerce. That evening, the LWV, NG and NAACP will host a forum at the City Building from 7:30 – 9:00 pm. There is a bit of a breather until the last one I know of, March 19th from 7:30 – 9:30 at Mount Olive Baptist Church (meet & greet starts at 7:00 pm).


If you know of others, I am happy to post them. However I am thinking the candidates are already hard pressed just with these four events. In fact, some candidates have already mentioned they will be missing at certain forums (pre-existing conflicts).


What I have found from my own interactions with candidates is that we have a very strong pool of good people. I am hard pressed just to choose four of the eight 4-year candidates. Take your civic responsibilities seriously and take the time to at least read about each candidate; you can start on the candidate page I have been putting together:


UPDATE: The time for the forum at the Mount Olive Baptist Church was changed (from 6:30 to 7:30), and I also received a flyer which I attached to this post.

Referendum discussions; candidate endorsements

The Young Dems North End Breakfast Club and NAACP have called a Town Hall Meeting this coming Sunday (March 15); the first item on the agenda is about an hour of moderated discussions on the Unit 4 $144 bond issue referendum item (2:30 – 3:45, moderated by Imani Bazzell and Patricia Avery). The meeting will take place at the Douglas Community Center.


There is a fair amount of confusion surrounding another potential forum on the referendum; board member John Bambenek tells me that Unit 4 actually did respond to the initial email from the League of Women’s Voters, but only to say that they had a conflict on the suggested night. I expect that within the next day or two, we will have more information that will clear this up, and perhaps another (third?) forum.


UPDATE: Nicole Lafond has a late-night response to the KCC invitation:


Lastly, I have compiled endorsements for school board candidates into a table for easy cross-reference; I hope to add a couple more soon.

State of the District

Last night at the PTA Council meeting, Dr. Wiegand gave a “State of the District” presentation to those assembled – here is the PDF slidedeck of the presentation:


I am told there were some additional things shared by folks like Marc Changnon on the awesome progress with trades, and others on the topic of computational thinking.


At 50 slides, it doesn’t take too long to flip through them all. I would direct your attention to the slides on the “Great Campus” idea (what Imani Bazzell has re-christened as the “At Promise … of Success” initiative); obviously there is more behind the scenes then what you can read on those slides. Pattsi is going to ask “what more is behind the scenes?”, so I will reference an earlier blog post:


I believe Dr. Wiegand and Imani (and others) have been meeting on this topic a bit.


There are also a fair amount of slides on the U4Innovate initiative.

For me, I was disappointed about the lack of meat in the slides regarding Goal 2 (“community-involved planning process”). Also, the last goal (Goal 6) is about capital planning, and I would like to take some to chew on the HLS numbers a bit. I still very much want to see participatory budgeting come to Unit 4, especially in light of how the saga of the referendum is unfolding. My goal is to build consensus and ownership among the stakeholders so we are not constantly splitting votes down the middle and having these 11th hour pseudo-public debates about how to spend tax dollars.

Finding the Good: Spotlight on ACTIONS and Novak Academy

In the comments of the previous post, there was an unspoken but implicit challenge to find the good in the things around us. So I am kicking off a series of blog posts. They will be scattered as I find good examples to highlight. I am calling the series “Finding the Good”, and I fully believe it is not hard to find as long as we have open eyes and minds.


Today I am shining the spotlight on ACTIONS and the Novak Academy. I had an opportunity to visit both of these amazing places last week, and I extend my warm thanks to both Katie Ahsell of ACTIONS and Tony Maltbia of Novak Academy for making the time and opening the doors. Both initiatives are completely different, but they do share some similarities in that they offer alternative support for students who need that little something “more” than what the normal classroom offers.



The Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and ONgoing Support (website) actually serves the district in two distinct ways. The first is more obvious, taking in kids who are in some kind of suspension. The second floor of the Family Information Center (FIC) is reserved for a couple classrooms, which typically are split up between the older kids and the younger kids. But it changes all the time, as you never know who is going to show up. The other function provided by ACTIONS is more of an outreach program, whereby ACTIONS staff go out to other schools to offer support in classrooms, to provide adhoc on-site training or just to actively observe.

There is a lot that I really like about the underlying framework at ACTIONS. One piece is a weighty phrase that needs a little explaining, restorative justice. To borrow from Howard Zehr, “Crime is a wound. Justice should be healing.” My understanding of restorative justice (RJ) is that is seeks to mend what was broken contrasted with a penal system that segregates broken parties into victims and offenders, creating two separate and opposed societies. Since I am a big fan of couching life around the significance of relationships (which can be messy, hard, time-consuming and definitely NOT efficient), I personally see a lot of value in a RJ type of philosophy which also prioritizes relationships.

Another aspect of ACTIONS that tickled me pink is that there is an infusion of (in my opinion) critical social skills; conflict resolution, identifying and expressing feelings, and seeing from another point of view, just to name a few. Ironically, at one point I told Ms. Ahsell that I wish my daughter could go to a school like this. *grin* I hold that the purpose of education is to equip people to succeed at life, and I really like how MLK Jr. stated that schools are to prepare students to function in society. I cannot see that happening without the development of such social skills.

The last characteristic of ACTIONS I wish to bring forward is that of the focus on what they call “parent empowerment”. This is a six-week afterschool series that focuses on family bonding and building trust between student, parents, teachers and staff. Based on anonymized comments I read from participants, it seems to be a big hit. Parents also learn about advocating for their child, in addition to forming a team relationship with the teachers. I wonder what would happen if thousands of families had this opportunity….

I was exceptionally impressed with the dynamic nature of the work carried out at ACTIONS; this is certainly not for the faint of heart. Imagine going to work and not knowing if you were going to spend time with a 7-year-old or 17-year old who started a fight, or traveling to a school for the day.

As we were observing one classroom, the staff person displayed a video of a fight and facilitated a very candid discussion that honored honest, concluding with a reminder that even the students in the video who were standing around, laughing, or recording with their iPhones, were complicit as well, for they did not fulfil their moral obligation to step in and stop the fight. This is the essence of the anti-bullying message, I believe; standing up for what is right does not imply passivity in the face oppression.


Novak Academy

The Novak Academy (website) is just down the street from the FIC. Mr. Maltbia makes it clear that even though Novak Academy is an alternative setting for learning, it by no means is easy in any sense of the word; every day at Novak is like two days in “regular” school.

The heightened pace is due in part to the Apex Online learning environment, a classroom packed with computers, students and one facilitator. The other factor is well-trained staff in smaller classrooms. And by smaller classrooms, some felt almost as cramped as a closet. 🙂 It is my understanding that this approach allows the staff to offer an environment that is highly responsive to different styles of learning; one classroom was very hands-on, another was lecture-based supplemented with video, while Apex allows a kind of “go as fast as you can” opportunity.

One of the ramifications of the warp speed velocity is that attendance becomes much more significant, which is reflected in the consequences and occasional rewards. Students actually sign an attendance commitment, and if I recall correctly, missing a few days could get you dropped from the program (I need to look up the specifics when I find the brochure…..).

Mr. Maltbia also laid out some plans they have to utilize more of a project-based learning approach. Their ideas are still in draft form, yet I found them exciting none-the-less purely because I am a big fan of PBL. It will be interesting to see PBL mature at Novak Academy.

One of the things I loved about my visit is an emphasis on understanding the child, trying to figure out what works best for each student; one child may be quiet, another loud, do they both need the same thing?


Wrapping up

After visiting ACTIONS and Novak Academy, I had a visit with Dr. Wiegand. I offered praise for these wonderful programs, and thought it was a shame that too few people know about them. So that planted the seed for this article, the discussion on the previous post fertilized that seed.

I will point out that both have been covered in the News-Gazette; Meg Dickinson wrote about ACTIONS in August 2013, and Jodi Heckel covered what was then the Academic Academy in 2008 and 2009.


Where have you found good?