#EdCampCU, PBF, and the Achievement Framework

I have been wanting to post about several things, so instead of shoving them into the background again and again, I thought to wrap them up in a 3-for-1 deal.

edcampcu-9-26-15EdCampCU 9.26.15

On the last Saturday in September (back when it still felt like summer), a number of Unit 4 staff, area teachers, parents and community members gathered at Kenwood for the second EdCampCU. For those not familiar with an “edCamp”, it is labeled as an “unconference”, where participants bring the topics that are near and dear to their hearts, in the form of a question. It is specifically meant to be a group dialog, not a lecture/monologue at all; and the interaction is where cool things happen. It is an excellent way of exploring topics in a non-threatening manner. A certain board member attended as well, and wondered about the possibility of the entire school board being involved in a future EdCamp; the next EdCampCU will be in early February, so keep your eyes and ears open.

I love the conversations and the exchanges we shared. For next time, I personally would find it extremely helpful if we tried a few things:

  • Have a note-taker at each session that updates a public document (google doc, etherpad, etc) so everyone can read about other sessions during or afterwards
  • Have homework. What do we do when we leave the building? Or like Lekevie Johnson (recently in the News-Gazette) asks, “what can I do to help?”
  • Have a longer or more intense large-group discussion about the main topics covered in smaller sessions; common themes, action items, reflection, etc.

Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF)

pbf_bookA couple weeks ago I had the privilege to sit down with Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell to discuss discipline in Unit 4. As we were discussing numbers, Mr. Thomas started to share with me about PBF. PBF is not new to the district at all – we have been holding PBIS and PBF sessions for quite some time. However, with ACTIONS coming online within the past couple years, the district has started to train staff who specialize in PBF and are resources not only at the location housed with the Family Information Center, but also who go out to all the schools to observe, consult and proactively intervene.

I am a big fan of PBF and have written about it before. During my visit to ACTIONS, I was very much impressed by the focus on restorative justice and the way staff gave both respect and guidance to students of all ages.

But I also understand it isn’t a silver bullet – it is not the Holy Grail that will solve all our problems. At the September 28th Board Meeting (held at Centennial), Mr. Terry Townsend spoke about the Letter of Complaint he filed with the Office of Civil Rights. I also had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Townsend in early October to gain a very different perspective. I was encouraged that Mr. Townsend wants to work on these issues together; moreover, I think we all agree that the only way we can address issues of race, class, equity and discipline is by doing so together.


Achievement Frameworkachievement_framework

Back in April I took advantage of an opportunity to chat with Angela Smith about Unit 4’s Achievement Framework. There is a lot going on to help our students succeed, and I was quite impressed.

If you click on the image to the right, it will take you to a Word document prepared by Ms. Smith that explains the 10,000 ft view of the Achievement Framework. In her own words, “[t]his picture shows the relationship between our non-negotiable goals that will help all students achieve.  It refers to what we teach, how we teach, how we monitor, and how we grade.”

I asked a number of follow-up questions and Ms. Smith provided some excellent responses. For instance, I asked about differentiation, and I learned that in the middle school level, there are a number of built-in opportunities to accommodate different learning paces; FLEX time (a 40 minute block with variable content), ENCORE remediation supports and summer school slots that are prioritized for those who need it the most.

Ms. Smith also told me about “power standards”, essentially over-arching curricular themes that build in intensity over the course of several semesters (as opposed to being wrapped up in a single class). Taken in the context of the Achievement Framework, teachers can better track progress towards mastery and assess growth along the way. Student growth is important because not everyone comes in with the same skill set or the same educational background, so it is not helpful to compare students to each other, but rather the Framework allows students to be compared against themselves.

Ms. Smith also made a point to explain how teachers can make their practice “authentic” (her word) by “explaining, modeling, demonstrating, group-work, independent work” and allowing students to respond in their own way.

One of my concerns is that this is just a framework. A really good one, to be sure, but still only a skeleton. I wonder, how does it work when applied? What do teachers think of it? What do student think?

The other concern I have is how exactly children are assessed. If done organically and within the flow of teaching and learning, that’s cool. If the intent is to depend upon standardized tests, that does not sit well with me. Especially when a test result takes 6 months to come back! That is just insane.

#AmericaToMe and cultural awareness at Urbana 116

This week I had an opportunity to visit an Urbana school that hosted a screening of “America to me” with discussion leaders from a club at Parkland College, Urbana teachers and a large group of students.

[I am not directly involved in either group, and thus I am purposefully omitting names]


There was a brief introduction, then we watched Episode 7 of “America to me”, followed by a time of dialogue between the Parkland group and the Urbana students. I am going to use this post to detail some of my observations, but in summary (for the tl;dr crowd):

  • racial identity is tricky – germane to this episode, what does it mean to be white?
  • listening is important – especially true for white folks as we tend to try to fix things before we know the problem, and in doing so we talk too much and listen too little. But so true for all of us.


I have already commented on Episode 7 in and of itself; the observations below build on what I gleaned from the Episode guide and incorporate the experience from the screening.


Racial identity

During Episode 7, there is a point at which Ke’Shawn questions Diane’s “racial experience”. There was a very loud and dramatic reaction from the audience during this scene, prompting a very similar dialogue afterwards. Someone with lighter skin (like, very light) will have a certain experience that is utterly different than someone else with darker skin. It seemed to me that part of the issue is when a lighter-skinned person tries to say they “understand” (or attempts to relate to) the experience of a darker-skinned person. We saw this in earlier episodes with Mr. Podolner, and we see it later in Episode 7. But what about someone who identifies as “brown” and/or biracial? It was eye-opening for me to witness a live conversation between people of different racial identities and ethnicities, for they too are a little confused and are trying to hash it out. This was a great example of “real talk”, and I am glad everyone involved felt safe enough to participate.

Also during the post-screening exchange, the concept of white privilege was acknowledged as being a factor in one’s lived experience. It made me wonder about folks who are biracial – do they feel that they live a mixed racial experience with degrees of white privilege? One person said that it is important to not be perceived as something you are not. There was discussion about how even a person who is biracial and yet is still very white has a lot of white privilege and can use that to make changes.

What I found fascinating about this conversation is that each person has a very real story to tell, a very real experience that cannot be denied. To honor and respect those stories, it is paramount that we listen to each other.

Listening is important

During the screening, I was the only white male, and only one of three white folks in the room (the other two were students). I believe everyone else was Latino/a, African-American, and/or multi-racial. For me, I felt it was important to play a more passive role and allow others to share their stories, for these young people to find their voice and use it. Unfortunately, too many of us are comfortable with the status quo and do not speak loudly enough against it. Too many of us, especially if we come from a “Christian” background, are quick to assign blame and tell people how to fix things. Pointed fingers does not a safe and welcoming community make.

I think the discussion leaders did have some very important things to share; they are finding their own voice, and it is precious to see them living it out. I do wish that the students would have been given more opportunities to speak up. Several students did, and I applaud them – they shared a couple poignant issues that are local and real. Given the strong caricatures painted by the “America to me” episode, I was very curious if students related to any of the OPRF students featured in the film. I would want to learn and hear more details. One was expressed by a young, vocal, confident African-American girl who talked about the n word and how it wasn’t funny at all when white people say it. The discussion leaders did mention that there is an “America to me” episode about that exact thing – in fact the “America to me” student they spoke of, Jada Buford, has her own website and has posted her short film “Dear OPRF”:


I would also have loved to have had an opportunity to speak with the teachers, the coordinator and the principal a bit more. I have contacted them since the screening and will be meeting with at least one of the administrators – I feel I have so much more to learn. For instance, I would like to know more about the program that allowed three or more classes to carve time out of their school day to put on something pretty amazing like this. Is there a safe way for the community to get involved? What about more teachers and administrators who can witness what our kids need?


At the back of my mind, I am also remembering that Urbana 116 has been in the news lately in regards to an abrupt change in the discipline policy to adopt restorative practices; has the ongoing talks about and within cultural awareness had an impact on those decisions? Most of my exposure about the restorative approach is through Unit 4 and PBF, as implemented at the ACTIONS center. Knowing that Urbana 116 has been involved in social justice for a while now, it seems fitting that the administration want to pursue a practice that is more equitable and works to disrupt the status quo in regards to discipline.



I was honored to sit and take notes at this special cultural awareness opportunity. It helps me see issues from different perspectives, and clarifies, even if just a little, of how we all can fight against injustices we see around us. Observing a group of sincere and honest young adults grapple with their realities and the various experiences each lives with is quite humanizing and grounding. While there was a statement about finding and using one’s voice to make changes, I wish the message was pounded home much more vigorously – these kids can change the world. Some of them just might do that. But they can’t do it passively. I think part of my job is first to listen, then maybe to empower them (including the discussion leaders).

As I walked away from this event, my belief that we need to have more conversations like this is reinforced.



#AmericaToMe: Episode 2 Guide responses


E2 Episode Two

Living or Surviving: Whose Humanity is Valued?

As we meet more students at Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRFHS), we start to see where the students of color are able to live as their authentic selves, and where they’re just surviving. Extracurricular activities like Spoken Word Club offer safe, validating spaces for students like Charles and Chanti to explore their racial identities. Yet students like Ke’Shawn and Terrence are left searching.



Where at OPRFHS do we see students of color just surviving and where do we see them living? Why are extracurricular activities like chorus, cheerleading, and spoken word so appealing to the school’s students of color?

Just surviving: For the most part, it seems like the students featured in this documentary are just barely scraping by in their classes; Charles says he really does not like Science and needs to get his grades up, Ke’Shawn “hates school”, Terrence is struggling in the college prep track.

Living: As mentioned above, the clubs offer a chance for most of these featured students to really shine. And in a later episode we see Terrence really hit a home run in an Art class. Tiara is so smiley and full of joy it seems like she just brings life with her wherever she goes, and Chanti is that quiet servant-leader with a big voice unleashed at Spoken Word.

In the previous guide, I noticed that there are about 78 clubs at OPRF. We only get to view a small slice of that list. And we can’t really make assumptions about students of color in general. But for these students in the clubs in “America to me”, it would seem that they “feel safe” in these environments. Later we learn about painful conflict with Chanti at one club, but for the most part, these are uplifting, encouraging places where students can bring themselves. So I have to wonder, why can’t these students really be themselves in the classroom? I think Jess Stovall does a wonderful job trying to make her classroom a safe space, and it eventually means a lot to students like Ke’Shawn.


Consider how Deanna (the cheerleading coach) and Jessica (the literature teacher) interact with their students of color. What’s similar and different about their approaches?

Wow, my first thought is that there are so many differences… What is similar? For starters, they seem to both recognize that the black culture is different than the white culture, and thus the approach should be different. I think they both want their students to excel and have high expectations for achievement.

While I find some drastic differences, I will point out that Tiara says she loves her cheerleading coach (which totally shocked me) – the important part is that I am in no place to judge, and my opinions will be totally different than others.

The two women differ in their approaches in that one seems to be more gentle, more understanding, more comforting, while the other more like a “drill sergeant” (quote from Tiara). As such, the former comes across as building up her students, while the latter seems to me more to cut and tear down.


Teacher Jessica Stovall talks about her work being “life or death.” Administrator Chala Holland talks about “surviving” versus “living.” What distinctions are being made and why do you think Jessica and Chala use this language?

I get the impression that Ms. Stovall is a little more literal, given that she talks about a previous student who reminds her of Ke’Shawn, one whom she found out was killed. It broke her heart, and she doesn’t want the same thing to ever happen again. Ms. Holland is obviously very passionate about her job and the students, and she is exceptionally concerned that “we” (she meant OPRF, but I think most of us share the blame) are failing black and brown students. Instead of students sucking the life out of marrow of the school bones, some students are the ones getting sucked dry. That is just wrong.



What’s the racial makeup of your school, institution, and/or community? How does that shape your experience in that space?

This is a very similar question to the ones posed in the Episode 1 guide. According to wikipedia and the 2010 census:
“67.8% White, 15.62% African-American, 0.3% Native American, 10.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 2.7% from other races, and 3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino individuals of any race made up 6.3% of the population.”

“[The] median income for a household in the city was $41,403, and the median income for a family was $72,819. The per capita income for the city was $24,855. About 11.9% of families and 26.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.0% of those under age 18 and 7.6% of those age 65 or over.”

As with most communities, there is a disproportionate racial representation in various economic strata.

It is not exactly clear to me how this shapes my experience, but most of my social circles are majority white (work, church, dining, etc). As stated previously, most parts of of our town are racially identifiable. When I volunteer in schools on the north side of town, there is a higher percentage of students who are black and brown. It seems that there are more reports in the public news outlets of crime in the north parts of town, and more occurrences of poverty.

I lived on the north side for a few years after college. It was a fascinating mix of older white folks who lived there for 30+ years, and much more transient minorities. It was not uncommon to witness several police squad cars surround a neighboring house, or even to be woken up by gunshots or drunk drivers crashing nearby. There were occasional community meetings at a nearby school where a police officer would address concerns of the community (or rather, explain that they were doing “all they could” to fix problems). My wife and I moved out before we had children. We did not feel safe there.

I did have one experience that opened my eyes a little to white privilege, although at the time I had no idea what it was. I took a late-night walk in this north end neighborhood and upon passing a loud party with several young african-american men standing around outside, I overhead them speculating that I was a cop walking a beat.

On another occasion, while my wife and I were roller blading near our house a very young black kid (couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8) yelled obscenities at us and told us to get out of his hood. To this day I wonder what he was thinking.

We did have positive experiences as well. Two doors down from us was this wonderful older black grandma and grandpa. It was a delight to share stories with them. My wife and I were married out of town, and my dad drove our gifts back to our house; as he was unloading, our elderly grandpa friend confronted my dad and asked him what he was doing with our house. When the grandpa passed away, we spent some time with the grandma and learned more about them.

In our new neighborhood, even though the racial diversity is pretty amazing, just about everyone is middle- or upper-middle-class. I have neighbors of all shades and ethnic backgrounds, but everyone has a stable income. It is a totally different environment. The sense of trust is much more prevalent.


Where at your school, institution, or community do you see your racial identity represented and valued? Where do you not feel valued?

My racial identity is white, or “caucasian” (which never really meant much to me). Where is my racial identity represented? All around me (as stated earlier). Where is my racial identity valued? I do not know how to answer that. I have learned that one of the privileges of being white is not having to think about race. For the most part, my race (and more subtly, my ethnicity) is taken for granted (even by me). Further, as a white male, I am confused why it is that white males typically have “more” than everyone else. How did that come to be? Why is there so much inequity? And more importantly, how do I change the system? I feel, as a white male, I have the biggest responsibility and moral obligation to “fix” systemic racism (and let’s be honest, sexism as well). In that I feel I have potential value, but it is not yet fully realized.


At OPRFHS, it seems the teachers seeking change are women of color. How does your school, institution, or community value the voices of women of color?

I am much more familiar with our local school district, although I have glimpsed at the larger scope of our community a little through the lens of the public schools. To that end, I believe the most vocal women of color in our community are part of a group called the Ministerial Alliance. And since they interact with the school district, I have on occasion witnessed their voice and the various reactions. My opinion is that the collective voices of these strong women are not often received well, at least not by the school administration. Another voice in the community belonged to Imani Bazzell, who worked for many years to introduce programs targeted to bolster African-American and low-SES children. My impression is that those who heard her strong voice merely gave lip-service (if that much). There have been several other women of color who have gone before the school administration and it is hard to see if they affected change. Most recently, the women of Parent CommUniversity seemed to make a successful presentation to the administration, one that is gaining traction. I believe that, had it not been for all the others before them, the PCU idea might not been as well received as it was. But maybe I am wrong. There is a lot I do not know.



The ME in Media

Reflect on your first memories in which you saw your racial identity and culture represented in books, television and film. How often do you see your racial and cultural identity represented in those forms of media? Take some time to share your experiences with a partner.

Actually, in contrast, I remember watching episodes of Bill Cosby in my early years, and thinking about how a racially different family was portrayed in a relatively white setting. And later on it was the Prince of Bel Aire. These television representations were vastly different than my own childhood experiences, or even my exposure to different cultures in books. Seasame street was an interesting one, and even today I look back and think it might have been a good example of people (and “monsters”) of different backgrounds getting along together as a community.

But more to the point, as a member of the dominant majority, I saw my racial identity all over the place; in movies, in school, in church, in advertisements, in TV, in books, magazines, newspapers.


Spaces of Value (1 day)

Investigate who at your school is responsible for ensuring that students of all races and cultures are affirmed and valued. If no one is currently responsible, who should be responsible, and who should be held accountable? Come up with examples of what this looks like when it’s done well and when it’s not done well.

One thing I really value about Unit 4 is that we have a number of champions who value all races and cultures. Specifically, I shout out to folks like Laura Taylor (Assistant Superintendent) and Lindsay Aikman (High School English), who have a done a tremendous amount of work in regards to having safe spaces for discussions about race, equity and cultural relevance (there are many others involved in this work as well); I recognize folks like Sheldon Turner (Leaders 4 Life), Sally Carter (Tap In Academy) and those involved with Operation Hope (and Operation Hope Junior), who have done amazing work to show students of color their value in society and help provide them with self-efficacy; kudos to programs like Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF), Restorative Justice, ACTIONS and many other efforts that seek to help kids with discipline issues (who are disproportionately of color). There are more examples, so many things and opportunities where students of all races and cultures are affirmed and valued.

Could we do more? Why, with all this, do we still have a sizable achievement gap and disparities in discipline? I cannot answer that. Maybe this the face of institutionalized racism?






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Finding the good: board meetings


As with all posts in this “Finding the good” series, it is quite easy to find things that are bad, need improvement, or candidates for complaint. But the point is that there are also good things if one is willing to look a little harder.


finding_good_1Take Unit 4 school board meetings for instance. The current board has taken significant steps to listen to stakeholders, constrain their discussion of public matters to public meetings, and reflect openly on their progress. On top of that, there are often times many excellent informational items that broadcast the priorities of the district. Let’s look at a few examples.

Back in early February, the Administration kicked off a series of “Goals and Indicators” for High School, Middle School and Elementary School. Each document spells out the relationship between Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, fortified with details of the the players involved (and how they work together) as well as specific programs used to reach these goals. For indicators, the presentations focus on how tests are used, how often, what is being measured, etc. Over and above the documents by themselves, the “live” presentation (as one can watch via the Vimeo recordings) were much more charismatic, lively and the presenter often went into much more detail. My point in raising this as an example is that the district is throwing open the doors – there is nothing hidden here. If you want to know how education happens in Unit 4, you can dig into these resources.

Another example are the times when various programs are featured; lots of amazing awesomeness being shared with Operation Hope (and Operation Hope Jr), PBF (Positive Behavior Facilitation), social justice clubs (RISE, “Real Talks”), and recently at the July 11th meeting, Marc Changnon spoke about ‘Education to Career and Professions’ (ECP) and the Summer Youth Employment Program/Summer Trades Apprenticeship. This is just a very small sample of really cool opportunities that our students have. There are also the other partnerships and afterschool programs that we learn about; United Way, Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Tap In Academy, Freedom Schools, etc.

Train-your-mind-to-see-the-good-in-every-situationI will wrap up with the approach this current board has taken to governance. There have been changes, some small, some more noticeable; a new BOE blog maintained by board member Kathy Richards; the Board President now reads through and sometimes asks for details in the Consent Agenda; there is a metacognitive exercise in the form of the question “Whom did we affect and whom did we tell?” at the end of most meetings; communications to the board, in the context of the referendum and facility planning, have all been published on the district website, as well as any responses. In fact, did you know that a majority of the board members were always in attendance at every Tier Two committee meeting? I found that to be quite impressive. Last week, at the July 11th BOE meeting, the board took some extra time to talk in open session about their thoughts and opinions on the work and recommendation of the Tier Two committee. As Dee Shonkwiler was spotlighted as the only member in the audience, the rest of us can watch the video. I point out that the board took time to discuss in open session because, in my experience, this kind of lengthy dialog between board members while in open session is somewhat rare. Why should you care? Because you elected these people to make decisions, and here they are reflecting on all the feedback they have received and telling you what they think about it. We need to do our part and urge others to make their voice known as well – without your participation, there is no democracy. This board is listening to you.

What are public schools supposed to do?

I have often asked myself variations on the question “what is the purpose of school?” When asked, my then 9-year-old daughter offered her perspective, “to learn how to learn.” I asked her a year later about the purpose of the teacher, and she said “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, 3)


I find myself aligning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and many others both before and after MLK, who paints a picture that the purpose of education is to generate successful citizens. Citizens that can navigate and participate in society, that know how to collaborate and compromise, engage in healthy debate to voice different ideas, and overall “be family.”



A related question is “what is the purpose of the board?” (part 1, 2) Basically, the school board sits at the 10,000 foot level (right below the clouds) and determines where the bus is going to go in the long run.


Having laid all that out as a preamble, I now turn your attention to the November 16th school board meeting, the agenda of which can be found on boarddocs (I still do not have a way to deep-link the agenda – you will have to navigate there manually). In particular, the interesting presentation on High School Configuration. First, I think it is great that this board is trying to 1) be very open in their discussion, and 2) are trying to invite the community to the table on “big issues”.


The High School Configuration document is interesting because it starts off with a summary of Lisa de la Rue’s literature review. For those that want to rewind back to the June 11th, 2012, meeting, I have a couple notes you can look over; June 9th, before the meeting, and June 12th, after the meeting. Basically, there is a weak correlation between school configuration and student achievement (too many other variables). This current document goes on to list several pros and cons between a 1-HS model, a 2-HS model (current) and a 3-HS model. I noticed a trend in the carefully phrased “possibilities” – the single high school model might increase the number of opportunities/services while at the same time might decrease climate, while at the other end (not really an extreme) the three high school model looses the number of offerings (due to lack of consolidation) but increases the innate intimacy. Funny how the two high school model has one and only one “concern” listed. Oh, by the way, the current HS principals will be spearheading this presentation. 🙂


I am not shy about my own preference, but the point I want to make with this post is that I believe the board as a whole needs to focus first on what kind of students they want to produce. Regardless of configuration or location, when you hand a diploma to a kid, what qualities and traits will they have acquired because of Unit 4? What exactly is a successful citizen? What about those students for whom the current system is not working at all? What are we doing wrong if students (young citizens) are “failing” the public school system?


The district administration has recently taken a stronger stance in support of Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF, a concept originated by Dr. Edna Olive who has a book by the same title). Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell are pushing PBF, with good effect, with ACTIONS staff used throughout the district. During a recent email exchange with Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the district is looking at including PBF and cultural relevancy more thoroughly within Professional Development in the near future. Having read Dr. Olive’s book, I find myself agreeing with her belief that “relationships are everything.” In fact, Dr. Olive goes so far as to call PBF a paradigm not a program; it is more of mindset, a method of taking a step back and thinking about all the factors going on in a given situation, starting first with yourself.


My own high-level goals for any student going through Unit 4, regardless of the physical building they happen to be in, are:

  • her sense of curiosity, creativity and wonder are encouraged and enhanced; she is a critical thinker who, because she is a life-long learner, questions everything
  • although she is a single citizen, she is a valuable citizen who appreciates the value of others around her; ergo she seeks to resolve conflict, collaborate, and compromise as needed
  • alongside her repertoire of reading, writing and math skills, she also gains the confidence that she can acquire new skills as desired
  • she is both street-wise and world-wise


What goals do you have? What goals do our students have? And how will we realize those goals?


I hope lots of people show up for the chat tomorrow, and I hope many more continue to provide input on their own priorities. I urge the board to focus more on the purpose of Unit 4 schools, and provide course corrections to the administration as necessary. Personally, I don’t think the board as a whole should decide the location or the configuration; certainly as individuals and voters they have an opinion that should be expressed, but as a board, I see their job as setting the big picture first.


Let’s make learning fun. 🙂 And let us learn how to learn. Always.

“draft” agenda for the Oct 12th BOE meeting is up

For those that like to read ahead:


I bet we will see something soon on the U4 Board Corner as well. *grin*

Observations about this draft:

  • Why is the document typed up on a computer, then printed, then scanned in, then posted online?
  • Report from Angela Smith about EEE; the EEE website has not been updated in a while (since 2014).
  • Semester update from Orlando Thomas about ACTIONS; I had a fantastic chat with Mr. Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell a week ago on this topic – I hope they talk about the Edna Olive PBF book. Good stuff! I also chatted with both individuals about getting more information online.
  • 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan: Once this is actually online, I encourage folks to look through it (now online). The last time I saw it, it seemed to represent a very small percentage of the maintenance items the district has to work on. Like, A/C at Central was rated as a low-priority. 🙂 This will apparently be approved in the Consent Agenda.
  • Special Board meeting on October 26th at Garden Hills – I hope they have a huge turnout.

March 26th Special Board Meeting

The Agenda for tonight’s meeting has finally been posted (you can see a “clean” copy on BoardDocs – the agenda listed on the BOE webpage is a scan of a copy of a printout, which confuses me to no end).

One thing caught me eye – a tenured teacher is being dismissed. Wow. Makes you wonder what the circumstances are.

Dr. Wiegand will be presenting an update on the High School Initiatives. Unfortunately, that powerpoint is not online. Another item is a PBF blurb (again, no extra information online with a good executive summary available), and then we get the Gene Logas show.

Also, I have been trying to figure out what happened to Board “Study Sessions”. We have “regular” Board Meetings and “special” Board Meetings, but from my point of view, they look exactly the same. How are they different?

Meg Dickinson wrote two articles about Common Core which finally just became available online:



I believe these are both relevant in the High School Initiatives talk; with Common Core and online testing, how we “do” school is changing a little bit. We have to plan ahead and think about not just the high school, but the elementary and the middle schools as well.

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Social Justice in the curriculum

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit a Urbana High School class to see a curriculum that focuses on social justice. I am very intrigued by the premise, and I personally think some really good things can come out of this effort.


First off, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. Overall, the students were having a really hard time engaging – not sure why. Maybe it was a slow day. I have to keep in mind that I am dropping in right before Spring Break.


However, some students did have a few awesome observations and you could see the wheels turning in their heads. The topic for the week is to ask why behavior referrals (and grounds for suspension) were given to a disproportionate numbers of African Americans. What I like is the context – the teacher is asking the kids for their perspective and ideas on what to do about it. It is not some know-it-all proselytizing the world about his or her views. Their task is to go out and interview folks (mostly students, I think, but I could be wrong) and to learn more about the situations. An excellent point come up – is that nosy? If you get all up in somebody’s face about their business, why should they tell you anything? The class period ended before much discussion could happen on that thread. What came to my mind is “People don’t care what you know until the know you care.”


They also watched a couple videos, trying to discern who the target audience is and how the message is communicated.  While this is a very interesting exercise, it became a bit passive. 🙂 I have to mention the one video – it was a group of students reading demands they have of their school, their administration and their community. It was a very powerful statement. But as discussed, the audience is quite narrow – due to the vocabulary used, it was aimed at mostly “educated” folks. Even the kids reading the demands stumbled over the words from time to time, which makes you wonder “Who really wrote them?” Was it not the students themselves?


I continue to think that social justice is crucial in schools. I am not exactly sure how it should be implemented – I have not yet gone that far. But I leave you with two thoughts.


1. “The education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”
PBF Belief Statement #10 — Dr. Edna Olive, Executive Director of ROCKET, Inc.


2. The motto on the School Board letterhead reads “Better Schools Build Better Communities”; I am convinced that better communities build better schools as well – I view it as a symbiosis.


Education Equity Excellence

My head is going to explode!

For starters, this particular post is going to bleed a little away from pure Unit 4 stuff. I do not apologize for that, just giving you fair warning. =)

So I attended two “meetings” today, a presentation/private lunch with Professor Mark Abers on the topic of the racial climate survey done in Champaign centering around Unit 4, and the Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee meeting. In both cases I craved so much more interaction than I was allowed (thus the exploding-head syndrome). In both cases, the only little bit I contributed to the official meeting was 5 or 10 minutes after the meeting was supposed to end. The good news is that I had some personal conversations with relevant folks, and that is going to shape much of what I share in this post.

Prof. Mark Aber shared this PPT: http://www.psych.illinois.edu/~kbock/MarkAber.ppt

Some of you might be thinking “What does Education Equity Excellence mean, and what does it have to do with Champaign Unit 4 schools?” If you are asking that kind of question, the first few slides will paint a background for you. Dr. Aber is just one resource of many places that have documented the history and the significance of the Consent Decree – there are a couple more on my “blogroll” to the right. There is a ton (literally, I am sure of it!) of information about this topic.

Or maybe you feel fed up with the whole Consent Decree? Maybe you have heard the media and you are sick of the $2million/year expenditure.

Why do I bring it up? Again, I am not going to apologize, this topic fascinates me. You think I am weird, I can see it in your facial expression (WordPress is awesome, isn’t it?).

For me, here is the bottom-line. In fact, you can stop reading this blog entry after this next line:

People (in general, as a whole) don’t have productive conversations about race and other social issues.

I had a great conversation with Aber before his presentation. As it was a private lunch with about 10 others in attendance, I had a choice to sit at a table of 8 unknown folks, or 1 unknown person sitting next to someone who looks like Mark Aber. I really only had one choice. 😉 So we got to talking about his work with the Climate Survey, how folks have impressions that may (or may not) be based on reality, and he also started sharing about how he is wrapping up a brand new Climate Survey next week. We even meandered over to topics like Community Broadband (and I was able to drop Martin Wolske‘s name, as I had just met with him a few days before) and Sascha Meinrath, whom I found via google while looking for Consent Decree information. Sascha has taught classes with/for Professor Wolske, and has done research with Prof. Aber, but is now focusing more on Big Broadband. I am not exactly sure, but I get the distinct impression that “broadband” is coming up often in these circles because of its alleged benefit to the poorer communities that may not have ready access to the internet, like many richer communities (and individuals) do. I have not read the papers yet, so I could be way off my rocker. But that is my thought. During my talk with Dr. Aber, I also mentioned Dr. Alves’s work; Dr. Alves mentioned that there are factors (“institutional arrangements”) which keep society segregated, and Dr. Aber posited that one of the things Champaign needs to do is “change existing power relationships”. He covered this in his talk with more detail, but his point was that many folks perceive a particular group to hold more power over another, even if that perception is not based on fact. I did not have time (or the inclination at the moment) to ask specifically how power relationships can be improved, but I’ll have to keep that on my Mark Aber list. =)

So this got me to thinking. Here we are, covering a subjective survey (the questions all asked how people thought or what their opinions were). The audience was  100% white, predominantly women. If there are important, significant differences in perceptions between the races (and Dr. Aber’s research is evidence that there is), why are we not talking with members of other races to learn what their opinions are, what is the basis of those opinions and maybe even the context? Not to argue and expose weaknesses, but with the goal of understanding and listening. I see this being mutual, a two-way street.

I left with a small potential gift – Prof. Aber mentioned that he would send me a copy of his Climate Survey when it was complete. That should be interesting! =)

So, later in the afternoon I biked (upwind and uphill) to the Mellon Center. I had requested the dollar-amount we spend on Dr. Michael Alves, and it turned into an FOIA and several pages of budget line-items. *grin* Oh well, I can live with that, at least they answered my question. During the 2004-2005 school year, Unit 4 paid him $43,650. During 2009-2010 school year, we have already paid him $95,600. Interesting numbers. I personally think Dr. Alves is providing a valuable service; he is administrating a couple lotteries which gives us as much assurance as possible that the system is unbiased, professionally done and well documented. However, I do admit that it is hard to look at those numbers knowing that Unit 4 recently cut four staff from the payroll. Possibly with more on the way. Again, please take what I say here on this blog for granted; if I were to be quoted, know that I am not an authoritative source. (This should be obvious, so I am stating the obvious) It is merely that I was curious about these numbers since they did not show up in any of the public budget reports.

But my main purpose on going to the Mellon Center was the for the EEE meeting. Here is the agenda – look boring? Well, yeah, it was. I sat there for 1.5 hours listening to numbers, reports and a small bit of dialog between staff and EEE Committee members. To be honest, I was dismayed that a few members were absent (about 5 according to the name tags that were not claimed). But I totally understand that we all have lives to live and cannot possibly attend every meeting (thank God!!). After tonight, I am surprised about those that do come. This demonstrates the level of commitment that some of your elected officials and committee members have; you elected them, and they are sacrificing their time (unpaid time, that is) to attend these meetings. To be honest, I am so glad that my canidacy was politely rejected. Must have been a miracle. =)

Ok, enough of that. Let us talk about the good stuff. Those who presented information painted a picture that most things are improving; they went into detail and answered questions from the committee members well (way to go, committee members!). There was a bit of discussion on PBF (Positive Behavior Focus), PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) and SIPA (Student Intervention Parent Advocates, I think). There is a lot of work being done to address and curb disorderly conduct and truancy, factors which put a child on a downward spiral away from personal success. What struck me is if you have so many kids who qualify for special attention, who is fulfilling those needs? Do we have enough staff to go around? Mark Aber slid into this topic sideways earlier in the day by stating that it is incredibly hard to shape an entire school system to meet all needs using a blanket curriculum and a standard approach to everything. Which totally makes sense to me – you cannot possibly expect that what works for 90% of your audience is going to be perfect for the other 10%. So, my big question of the night is what do those 10% need? Even among them, are there perhaps different types of involvement and interaction needed?

As Dr. MacFarland mentioned tonight, let us also keep in mind that the school district is improving – that roughly 90% of the student population is well served and increasing their scores over the long run.

So, after the meeting the fun really started for me. Margie Skirvin and Imani Bazzell were both part of the audience with me. Margie had to leave a little early, and Imani was up and about taking care of a little one. When Dr. Hunter (the facilitator) asked if anyone in the audience would like to comment, I was the only one left. It was 5:45, 15minutes past the time the meeting was supposed to end. I asked when would the community have more chance to get involved in discussions, to be a part of the communication process. Part of the Consent Decree charged the school district with creating the EEE, which Unit 4 and was following through on. Yet, Dr. Aber emphasized (again, earlier, not like he was there *grin*) that the schools need to spearhead a forum for community members to get their perspectives on the table. EEE was not doing that. Yet. Dr. Hunter mentioned that they were going to try working more time in next meeting (JUNE 3rd, BE THERE!!).

I interacted with Imani and Melodye Rosales a bit afterwards. We all agree that we, our community, need more opportunities to come together and essentially hash things out. Sure, it might start with those of us who want to get our passionate feelings out on the table, but we want to foster an atmosphere and environment where people can share what is on their hearts. If there really are misconceptions and ill-founded perspectives, it would be my hope that by talking it out with others we could clear that up. Or at least start to. Yes, yes, yes, I realize I am presenting a highly idealized and perhaps overly optimistic thought. Yet even still I hope. Why can it not happen? What are you doing about it?


Let me give you one small example before I finally close this thing off. During the presentations, Imani was trying to bottle-feed and comfort a little baby girl (4 months? I don’t know). The little precious child was a little cranky and grew more so. Imani had to get up a few times to attempt to soothe her and try to lessen the distraction to the others. At one point, Melodye had this look on her face. Melodye finally got up and went to the back room where Imani was with the child. My personal thought was that Melodye was upset and had a word to share with Imani.

I was so wrong! The little child was Melodye’s granddaughter. Instead of Melodye being upset with Imani, Melodye felt responsible for the disruption but did not know what to do. If I had not stuck around and had that conversation with both ladies, I would left the meeting thinking that Melodye and Imani were not on good terms. And I would have had a very inaccurate belief based on a partial picture. Getting the complete picture from the source helped me understand and know the truth. The truth is powerful, friends. =) And to be honest, seeing that little girl in Imani’s arms made me miss my own daughter at that age; the sounds of sucking milk, the awesome closeness of a baby asleep on my shoulder.

Now my head feels less ready to explode.

Honk if you read this entire post. You crazy bugger.