Formalizing the Wednesday @ Houlihans group

Pattsi Petrie challenged me to add some sense of formality to our informal Wednesday @ Houlihans open forums group. First, I am thinking we need a name. 🙂 But that is merely so I can type less when I talk about it. I am using this page to document the journey of responding to that challenge. Overall, I find this exercise both exciting and scary. Exciting because I think a lot of good things can come out of this. Exciting because I see what the John Street group has done, and I know powerful things are possible when you mix in the right people. Scary because I am not confident I am one of those “right people”. Scary because even though I am not confident, I am going to try this out anyway. 🙂

“Using the various readings and the materials from the ABCD Institute give all of you enough to work with to cause change, not tomorrow, but in a year.”

The suggestion My first response
Having one individual being willing to call the meetings, announce such, write up minutes or report, invite significant people to join the conversations. You are already doing this at Houlihans and your blog. As mentioned, my blog is already fulfilling this role; I want to take it a step further and segment a portion of the blog dedicated to this so that it is not mashed in with everything else I write about. Merely using tags is not enough, I think.
Whoever will join you ought to create at least 3 scenarios of what could happen here and how to do so. All of the references and resources that I have passed along are the cognitive scaffolding that will help. Do you homework. Start doing homework. I am not exactly sure (yet) what a “scenario” might be, but I take a stab at it below. I realize that I have do a bit more reading on what ABCD is, what it does, and it gets things done. (Links to the John Street Watershed Project: 1, 2, 3, 4).
As you all meet, start testing the scenarios. Notice the reactions. You will hit a number of people who will respond positively. Start including them. A minor note on this one; I very much want to search out and listen to voices that do not agree with me. Why? Because I keep an open mind and I am continually learning new things. I pray for the wisdom to know when to listen and when to strive for solidarity.
Get the N-G on board to sponsor a community meeting to talk about the scenarios or do this in smaller settings, starting with the barbershop mtgs. Then take the show on the road. As one of my scenarios has to do with the Kindergarten Lottery, I already have the wheels turning with Superintendent Judy Wiegand and However, I do think it is a great idea to hold “community meetings” not controlled by Unit 4, expanding on what Rose & Taylor did. I am thinking the Junior League and the PTA Council are a couple other great resources to tap into. I intend to talk to Meg Dickinson (N-G) a bit as we grow and evolve.
Sign on one or two board members, periodically reminding them that openness is the goal, but this just did not work with the superintendent. I already have had some excellent conversations with Jamar Brown that broach these topics. I have excellent relationships with Tom Lockman and Greg Novak (from my point of view, not speaking for them *grin*), but I am not sure how much they want to walk down this path. Stig seems like someone I would want to engage in this context, given his involvement with “Great Schools, Together”; I just do not know him as well. Need to determine how much transparency is good, and what is meant by it so that the Board, the Administration and the community are on the same page. I think Promises Made, Promises Kept sets the stage beautifully in terms of theory (or at least, my theory), but I think the community has a hard time adopting it as the defacto transparency standard. Mostly because it does not appear to be all that open. 🙂
Emphasize the importance of building trust, rebuilding is impossible because trust has not existed for decades. And will not exist now due to this awful process–smoke and mirrors. I can tell this one is going to be tricky; I get the sense that building on the existing sandy foundation is not the best idea. I am not exactly sure how to go about this, but I firmly believe it is joined to the above point (openness). Both sides (Administration/BOE and the community) have to be willing to actively and humbly listen to each other, not be afraid to own up to problems and receive hard sayings, with the overall goal of establishing trust and respect in each other. In my mind’s eye, this is a dance, and each party has steps to follow to create a thing of beauty.
See if you can get some research projects on board in conjunction with the College of Education, Urban Planning, NRES–outside design, School of Architecture, etc. I kinda started down this path; made a number of contacts with College of Ed and the CII subdivision of GSLIS as blogged about previously. Not sure what NRES is (need to look that up). This suggestion sounds awfully similar to Imani’s previous attempt with the Great Campus scoping project (still trying to dig up online archival and repositories for that).
Crank up the R & D as to what is happening in like kind communities. What are like communities? The hard part for me is going to be figuring out which school districts (or combinations of school districts) share enough qualities with ours to make a reasonable comparison. Help?
You and your friends are very smart, You can create a willingness to change. The John St. grp is 8-12 individuals.
My response about all of these resources is the example set by the John St. group. We used all of the above and much of the ABCD Institute, though I never talked about this with the group. As I mentioned, I used the materials in my social planning class. When I taught at U of Wisconsin, Greenbay, neighborhood groups there, especially the Mungs, were following the publications page by page to help them organize.

Possible Scenarios

Kindergarten Lottery
Context is “first impressions”. Have to fight bad perceptions. What does the community really need? What does the District need? Have already opened a can of worms with Dr. Judy Wiegand, which turned out pretty well. I am excited about the possibilities; almost to the point of being impatient. 🙂

High School options
As stated previously, I think what we ultimately plan to do at the High School level is going to drive many keys decisions for the next 20-30 years. This is going to be a cornerstone, in my opinion. It is not just the high schools at play here; it’s what we decide to do with middle schools, whether to go k-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-12, or k-8, 9-12. It’s how we adopt our curriculum for the next decade. It’s what we decide what kind of products we are producing. Ultimately, it will be how we answer the question of “What is the purpose of Education?” You think I am getting melodramatic? Please tell me why. If I had my druthers, we would breath new life in “Great Campus” and “Great Schools, Together”, and take a long, cold look at the long-range strategic plan.

I have tried to understand what exactly about past Boards and Administrations have severed the bridge between them and the community. I do not claim to have a answer, but as I have watched the Consent Decree leave its mark in our shared history, it seems that our school leaders have gone off and done their own thing regardless of what the community has said. A number of activists and vocal members have given up (and given up hope) after years, in some cases decades, of trying to bend the ear of Unit 4. I do believe that the current folks manning the helm are slowly turning the ship. What is a reasonable expectation of change? Obviously, the community wants more. I am encouraged that Dr. Malito gave us a pretty good role-model to measure others against, and from I have experienced so far, Dr. Wiegand is taking that role-model seriously. One angle on this issue is that, in my opinion, there needs to be a shared communication such that the community and the Administration and the BOE all have 1) made known their “top 5” priorities, and 2) heard and understand what the “top 5” priorities of the other groups are.

Dr. Mark Aber has published two Climate Studies (sometimes called a “Climate Survey”), one in 2000 and another in 2009. In both, he makes virtually the same recommendations after finding extremely similar perceptions (from one study to the other) among the staff, students and community members. I find this quite distressing; Unit 4 has not adequately addressed the findings of Dr. Aber’s work, nor have they attempted to follow the recommendations (from what little I know). Part of it may be that the dominant culture (middle- and upper-class white) does not see a problem at all.

One Response to “Formalizing the Wednesday @ Houlihans group”

  1. Wednesday @ Houlihans: recap of Jan 4th and PTA tech invite for Jan 25th « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] given me quite a rather large reading list and I am slowly making my way through it. She has also challenged me. The latest challenge is to set up a real Open Community Forum (one not run by Unit 4) by April. […]

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