Supporting the Unit 4 November 8th facility referendum

Friday afternoon I submitted a “Letter to the Editor” for the News-Gazette (UPDATE – now published in Tuesday’s edition):

I will be voting Yes on November 8th to support the Unit 4 facilities

It was not an easy decision to make, nor is this an easy letter to write. In
regards to the Sept 25th NG editorial “School tax plan is just too big”, I
understand this is a heavy tax burden. There are some that do not want their
taxes to go up. I respect that – I certainly do not want my taxes to
increase. It is important that we support public schools, and I am willing to
put my money where my mouth is.

I believe the current referendum does in fact move us forward. Therefore, I
encourage you to vote in favor of the school district’s plans on November
8th. I would further invite deliberation with those that believe the
referendum does not move us forward.

There has been a lot of useless “talk” in regards to the funding our local
public schools, and this is a responsibility I lay at the feet of our
community as a whole. The current school board has bent over backwards in an
effort to gather feedback and discuss their options in open session. I would
even say the board has done too much; our community is too complacent and in
general, we fail to exercise real democracy.

To vote is good. To be an educated voter is even better; weigh your arguments
against others. But best yet is to care about other people.

Charles Schultz


In Sunday’s Opinion section, I see that the League of Women Voters has also thrown in their support in favor of the referendum. I heard from a Chamber of Commerce member over the weekend that the Chamber recently sent out a vote, so it will be interesting to hear their opinion as well.

I like the way that the LWV’s letter put it – sure, there are things we would rather change about the referendum (and/or the process that we have taken to get here), but overall, the good outweighs the bad. I have another blog post that will be published soon that is an interview I had with Board President Chris Kloeppel, and the bottom line that came out of that chat was “Does the referendum move us forward?” And I believe it does.

What I would have liked to have seen happen differently is that I would want the board (and administration) to take a step back and force the “Yes” folks to deliberate with the “No” folks, in multiple venues and settings. The community has not owned this discussion (for many years), and thus the community is not well educated. Just read the NG editorials and comment sections for proof. 🙂 And even though Unit 4 goes through the formality of a public budget hearing, there is essentially nobody there. So my one biggest gripe right now is that the voters do not fully understand the budget picture, nor the bigger context of facilities and how all that affects education. As I have said in the past, we do not have a clear correlation between dollars spent on facilities versus academic achievement – granted, it is exceptionally hard to prove it one way or the other.


For an interesting stroll through public opinion against the referendum, I encourage readers to go through the 28 pages of the Online Survey Open Ended Responses, or the 14 pages of the Phone Survey Open Ended Responses. I am thinking a forum on that alone would be a good place to start off a “town hall meeting.” 🙂

Upcoming community-engagement events

As we head into the last month before the election (November 8th), there are a number of opportunities for the community to engage in various aspects of decision-making within the context of the school district.


Now through October 19th – Online Superintendent Search Survey

On Wednesday, Stephanie Stuart stated that a superintendent search survey is now available online. I encourage you to consider what kind of traits and priorities are most important for a superintendent and respond accordingly (note – there is a free-form response section as well).

Champaign CUSD 4 Board of Education is conducting a search for a new superintendent.  The selection of a new superintendent is probably the most important decision a board of education has to make; therefore, the Board has hired the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) to assist in this process.

The Board of Education is seeking community input in the search process.  The Board requests that community members complete an online survey provided by the IASB, linked below. The survey will stay open through October 19.

The results will be tallied and used by the Board and Screening Team to develop a brochure to advertise the position.

Thank you for taking time to complete the survey.

English version:
Spanish version:
French version:

October 6th – Alliance to Reclaim our Schools Walk-in Day

Walk-in events are being planned at  Robeson, Jefferson, Westview, Carrie Busey, Garden Hills, Edison, Franklin, Stratton and Central. You can learn more about the Alliance at the AROS website:

They have 5 basic tenets:

  • Full funding and support for neighborhood-based community schools: don’t close or privatize them
  • More teaching, less testing
  • Positive discipline policies and an end to zero tolerance
  • Quality, affordable education from early childhood through college, including for undocumented students
  • A living wage that lifts people out of poverty


I know Carrie Busey has put information on their PTA email list, and I hope others will as well.


October 11-12 – On-site Superintendent Search sessions

At the September 26th Board Meeting, Board President Chris Kloeppel mentioned that two IASB representatives will be meeting in various locations all day October 11th and 12th. There will be specific sessions for teachers, students, community members, etc. Keep your eyes open for more news.


October 13 – PTA Council hosts a tax referendum Q&A session with Unit 4 + BOE

The PTA Council has announced that they will be hosting a session that allows the public to interact with representatives of Unit 4 and the school board on the topic of the November 8th Facilities Tax referendum.

We have scheduled the first meeting! We have been able to work with Unit 4 and the School Board to create an open venue to ask any questions you may have about the district and upcoming referendum. We will also talk about how the Council works with the district and take nominations for a new slate of officers.

Date: October 13
Time: 6:30pm
Topic: Connecting with the District: Open Forum to discuss the upcoming referendum
Location: Mellon Admin Building
Dinner provided.

Please do let me know if you are able to attend so we can have enough food.
Everyone is welcome to attend, please share this information with your schools.
Thank you,
Anna (



In other news, Unit 4 has updated their Referendum FAQ – a number of relevant questions have been asked and answered:


Referendum Fact Sheets

Stephanie Stuart just released some fact sheets in regards to the Nov 8 facility referendum:

What projects are included in the referendum and how much do they cost? How do I calculate my tax impact if the referendum passes?

Find the answers to these questions and more by reviewing the attached fact sheets.

Find these fact sheets, the long-range facilities plan, and more at the District’s website:

Referendum Fact Sheet

Tax Impact Fact Sheet



Post at the U4BoardCorner – Kathy Richards explains a little more about where the district is at with presentation information and answers in regards to the referendum.



The facilityplanning website has been updated with a lot of information (blog-style) – this is a good place to start reading:

#EdCampCU at The Pyg – September 16-17

EdCampCU Sept 17 FINAL


EdCampCU is excited to announce a screening of the award-winning film, Most Likely to Succeed, to take place in conjunction with the Pygmalion Music Festival.  The screening will occur at the Art Theater at 5:30 PM on Friday, 9/16 to be followed by discussion.  Our goal is to use this screening as a way to bring people from all parts of our community together to engage in honest and productive discussions about the current and future direction of education and how it can best meet the needs of all students.”

Join us and weigh in with your opinions; Friday’s discussion will spill over to the main EdCampCU event on Saturday. And don’t forget to enjoy the rest of the Pygmalion festival.

Register for the Friday screening of MLTS

Register for the Saturday EdCampCU un-conference

November 8 school facility referendum

According to the NG, the Nov 8th ballot will have wording for the school facility referendum as follows:

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, alter, repair and equip the Central High School Building, build and equip additions thereto, and acquire and improve the site thereof; improve facilities at Franklin Middle School, Spalding Park, and McKinley Field; alter, repair and equip the Centennial High School Building and build and equip additions thereto; demolish the existing Dr. Howard Elementary School Building and build and equip a new Dr. Howard Elementary School Building on that site; alter, repair and equip the South Side Elementary School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; alter, repair and equip the International Prep Academy Building and build and equip additions thereto; alter, repair and equip the Edison Middle School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $183,400,000 for the purpose of paying costs thereof?”


It’s a mouthfull. So I wanted to take some time to break it down a little. If you strip out the details, the ballot question basically says “shall the Unit 4 BOE take out a loan (or several loans) not to exceed a sum total of $183.4 million?” The rest is “legally required” language that tells voters what this money will specifically be used for.


This grid groups and organizes the proposed changes as a way of visualizing the ballot question:

School Building Additions Site
Central alter, repair, equip build, equip acquire, improve
Centennial alter, repair, equip build, equip
Franklin improve*
Edison alter, repair, equip build, equip
Dr. Howard demolish, build, equip
South Side alter, repair, equip build, equip
IPA alter, repair, equip build, equip

*For Franklin, the School District is proposing to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Park District to “share” facilities at Spalding Park. “Add and renovate track and athletic facilities for Central.”


I grouped the schools high schools first, then middle schools, then elementary schools. For me, I found this easier to chew on and digest (compare and contrast).

What exactly is being altered, repaired, equipped, built, acquired or improved? To start chipping away at that question, you can read the recommended “schemes” that came out of the Tier II committee, or read Nicole Lafond’s summary of the board’s final decision (and deliberation) in her August 15th article:


But to spell it out more clearly, here is how the $208.4 million breaks down.

UPDATED with information from the Fact Sheet.

School Work Total
Central -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Three Story Academic Addition (with CTE)
-Gymnasium Addition (3 courts and expandable to future fieldhouse/LOWER LEVEL lockers & support)
-PE Fields/Competition Soccer (turf)/Competition Softball (sod)
Centennial -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Two Story Academic Addition
-Cafeteria/Administration Addition
-CTE spaces
-Gymnasium Addition (2 courts/expandable to future fieldhouse)
-Football Field (turf)
Franklin fields, McKinley Field, Spalding Park -Competition Baseball (sod)
-Practice Baseball (sod)
-Additional Tennis Courts
Dr. Howard -Demolition of Existing School
-Three Story Replacement School facility
South Side -Exterior Upgrades
-Complete Renovation with Health Life Safety Upgrades
IPA -Interior Renovations: general minor renovations
-Addition: Cafeteria expansion, Gym, Library
-Secure Entry: Renovate to provide secure school vestibule entry
Grand Total  $208.4M

As stated several times, the Nov 8th referendum does not address all the needs of the district; it is expected that the district will have to return to the voters for another referendum somewhere down the road.

Some items that I have not been able to find (I will update this post as I find them):

  • A detailed breakdown of proposed projects for each school
  • A final prioritization of all projects (HLS, 10-year Capital Plan, Tier II recommendations)
  • Plans to pay for future maintenance (such a plan is talked about at board meetings, so I believe one exists)
  • A cross-reference of which HLS and 10-year Capital projects are not covered by this referendum




How fast is education changing?

I sometimes teach an evening class at Parkland College. In my “Intro to SQL” class, I have been experimenting with open digital badges. One of my latest excursions led me to, a badging platform that incorporates online portfolios and attempts to form bonds between the educator, the student and the employer. Recently I had an excellent chat with Ben Roome, co-founder of Which led to me reading his own blog post on the intersection (or lack thereof) of higher education and employment:


Ben makes a strong point about how the pathway from “school” to a job is changing. Specifically, the growing trend where learners are taking learning into their own hands:

Millennials have grown up in a social-media-saturated environment where an individual’s contribution is measured in part by their ability to navigate the wilds of the internet and extract meaning without external guidance. This growing importance of self-directed learning can be seen as a natural response to the increasingly rapid pace of change all around us. But this trend also represents something of a cultural shift away from industrial age hierarchies and towards internet era meritocracies–collaborative communities of empowered individuals.


He uses the example of HackReactor, which sounds very impressive (12-week commitment, 98% of grads get a job). But this got me to thinking…. we here in Champaign-Urbana have grown up in a Big Ten University town. This “industrial age” research institution is still pulling in significant numbers of students, and the baby sister Parkland is not doing half-bad either. This tells me that there are still large numbers of students who believe the “old school” school is the way to go.


As I talk to more and more people, I see that “education reform” is happening all the time – it’s just faster in some places than in others. And it doesn’t always look the same, it really depends on what one needs. As cool as things like HackReactor and open digital badges seem, I realize they are not for everyone. The “industrial age” school works for some people. Not for everyone.


So the question I have to ask myself is two-fold: 1) who is not being served well by the current system, and 2) what can we do about it? And while I am ready and willing to support those who are not well served, it is not my place to judge or label anyone. I stand ready to help, just let me know how.


If you want to measure the speed of change in educational systems, ask some key questions. What is the purpose of education? What does education look like? What exactly is a “school”?


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.