Educating the Community

In just two more days, five brave volunteers will be sworn in as new board members. I for one am very excited, for I feel that this incoming group is set to make some very positive changes in how the school board acts as the agent of the community that elected them.

As you might guess, the agenda for the May 4th special board meeting is rather small. The old board will meet in executive session on last time at 5:30, they will go through the normal routine (public comment, communications, upcoming events, action agenda where new board members are sworn in) and then back to executive session with the new board members. Although it is a short agenda and a very specialized meeting, there is one item that I would like to highlight in today’s post. That of “Appointments – Board Committees/Representatives”.

First, it is my understanding that these are actually Superintendent committees; I believe they are commissioned by the superintendent and they report to the superintendent. Sure, they may make a report to the board from time to time, but legally speaking, they are not Board Committees as spelled out. Furthermore, I believe as Superintendent appointed committees, they are not subject to the Open Meetings Act. It is tricky enough to even find out the name of all the committees that have been created, let alone when they meet or find the agendas. (While researching the OMA, I found out that Evanston/Skokie School District 65 neatly spells out the function of board committees for their school district: http://www.district65.net/domain/66)

Here’s the rub. Based on my own experience, and hearing from others that have attended various committee meetings, there is a depth of excellent information reported at some of these meetings. For example, The Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee shares a ton of information about the achievement gap, and often has overlap with the Discipline Equity/Advisory Task Force in terms of inequities in suspensions and expulsions. Both the Finance Committee and the Promises Made/Promises Kept (PMPK) Committee share a wealth of information about the finances, and I know from personal experience that Gene Logas in the past, and Matt Foster currently, were more than happy to share their knowledge about finances. Some committees have become, over the years, much better about posting relevant documents (in addition to agendas and minutes) on a committee webpage, but there are still quite a few for which it is exceptionally difficult to learn about.

And now we come to the topic of this post – Educating the Community. The school district is all about education, right? The core of the Unit 4 mission statement says the school district “… is to guide all students in gaining knowledge …”. Are we to consider that only those aged 5-18 and enrolled qualify as “students”? *grin* Are we not all supposed to be “life-long learners”? So try this suggestion on and see how it fits with the so-called “Board Committees”. Given that committees are tasked with a project or responsibility, what if all committees were structured to address an audience that is not physically present? Maybe perhaps podcasts, prezi presentations, online documentation – basically, an online class. The face-to-face meetings can (and should) still happen as a way to have an organic discussion about the “lessons”, but the “lessons” should be able to reach a much broader audience. This means they are not only available, but also accessible and delivered in such a way that the average Joe can understand it. I have challenged the board in the past to make it so a Unit 4 5th grader can understand the content. The challenge still holds.

Let me close with one more example. The Facility Committee has had an interesting history, recently resurrected/reborn at the time DeJong-Ricther was hired. The Facility Committee was “ground zero” were members had an opportunity to chew on all the various high school location options. All those questions you see being asked in the News-Gazette online comment section were already asked and pondered 3 years ago by the committee. The number one problem is all that great discussion, debate and deliberation were all locked up in the four walls of the meeting. Worse, even though the public was invited to attend, the public was not allowed to particpate (based on first-hand experience). Yes, granted, some if trickled out via board meetings or the occasional News-Gazette column, but by and large, the community was not educated. The fact that the April referendum failed by such a large margin is a testament, in my opinion, to the lack of the community’s engagement in the process. This is why it was so easy for the Keep Central Central crowd and the tax-defeating interests of the Koch Bros. to sway votes.

The bells may ring at 8:00 am and 2:30 pm for most schools, but the School of the Body Public is going 24/7. We are students also – teach us.

PS: I gave the KCC a hard time about the billboard they put up near Judah. It has come to my attention that the flyers Unit 4 sent out cost significantly more than the billboard. I believe those full-color flyers were propaganda paid for with public tax dollars – I am still trying to determine the facts whether they were actually paid for with public money or private donations.

5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum

First off, hats off to the candidates that won a seat on the school board:

  • Amy Armstrong
  • Chris Kloeppel
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon
  • Jonathan Westfield (2-year seat)

UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

With a 10:4 ratio voting against the referendum, I was actually surprised with such a huge margin; I expected it to be much closer. Obviously, the Keep Central Central’s strong campaign efforts (and lack of a corresponding thrust by the “Yes” crowd) made an impression, which is also reflected in the choice of board members; every candidate that took a strong stand for the referendum failed to claim a seat.

So this is what democracy looks like at the ballot. Now the harder part – how do you get all those “No” votes to actually agree on a solution, and then sell that to the everyone else? This will be a challenge for the new board. Another challenge will be if they desire to choose a new president, and building bridges with the North End Breakfast Club (which I think is very important and healthy).

For the referendum, I would love to see a multi-staged effort take place. First, break the referendum up into pieces that actually address individual goals. One for Dr. Howard, one for the current Central (ie, the dreaded lack of AC we keep hearing about in the summer months), one for Centennial and one for a new Central. All of that needs to be put under the umbrella of a comprehensive and community-vetted long-term strategic plan than can be summarized in a one-page infographic. I would love to see an effort towards participatory budgeting whereby the guts of how finances work are simplified and made accessible to the average Joe, and give stakeholders a sense of ownership by giving them the power to vote on more granular items (as opposed to a carte blanche $144 million).

Here are a few short-term goals I am going to push the new school board to jump on.

  1. Figure out a way to have informal get-togethers that do not violate OMA but yet do not require an agenda, much less Robert’s Rules. Most of the candidates have already been practicing this; now to make it official. Happy Hours at Jupiters/Sun Singer/Blind Pig? 🙂
  2. Even though KCC won tonight, don’t let the referendum dominate your role as a board member. Keep things in perspective. Focus first (please!) on governance and serving the people that elected you.
  3. Connect with the North End. Make it a priority to adopt some of their issues, like inequities in discipline and the achievement gap. Jamar’s voice will be missed, so find a way to fill the gap.

There are very exciting times ahead. The public has voted in some good people, even if they are not the ones you wanted. Each of them has promised to bring a listening ear, so it is up to you to make sure they do exactly that.

Exam Cram: 2015 school board candidates

I know many of you are suffering withdrawal because Early voting is closed today; have no fear, you can get your fix here and learn all about the school board candidates. Recently I added Nicole Lafond’s News-Gazette interviews of each school board candidate:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/2015-board-candidates/#lafond

There are eight folks vying for four 4-year seats, and Jonathan Westfield is the sole runner for the 2-year seat. How to decide? Who are you going to vote for? With the two current board members in the middle of their own 4-year terms (Laurie Bonnett and Lynn Stuckey), plus Jonathan, there are 70 total unique combinations:

potential_school_board_combinations (excel spreadsheet)

Will you vote based on a single (big) issue like the $144 million referendum? Will you vote based on how well you know each candidate? How many yard signs you have seen?

I suggest you to think about what kind of board you want as a whole; what qualities and characteristics of a school board do you value the most? For myself, I am pushing for a board that adheres strongly and visibly to the Illinois Association of School Board’s “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance“.

After talking to many candidates and reflecting on the marathon of forums and other encounters with the public, I am very encouraged to hear that most candidates have already formed a strong rapport with each other; that even though they definitely do not agree on everything, they have already started to exercise respectful deliberation. One of the “Big Ideas” I am hoping shakes out of the new board are more informal “gatherings” where folks can simply hang out with board members and have agenda-less conversations, maybe even to the point of doing so with more than two board members. We shall see.

April 7th quickly approaches. While I encourage you to vote, I think it may be more important to be an informed voter. If you have questions, please ask.

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 / john@johnbambenek.com / 217-493-0760

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER JOHN BAMBENEK TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE WITH TRADE UNIONS ON UNIT 4 REFERENDUM ON MARCH 12 AT 8:30 AM

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.

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:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/news/files/StateoftheDistrict2015.pdf

 

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:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/sept-8th-board-meeting-has-a-number-of-interesting-topics/

 

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.

The pressure is on for Dodds Park

Just making note of conversations about Dodds Park recently. First, here is John Foreman’s Sunday article:

John Foreman: Dodds site makes the most sense

Next, here is a small portion of just one Twitter thread:

https://twitter.com/chambanalaura/status/564427275362258946

In that thread, I posted a copy of the Deed I have, plus draft versions of potential soccer fields at Interstate Drive which I received last year:

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/dodds-park-deed.pdf

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/interstatedrive_soccer_fields_1.jpg

https://thecitizen4blog.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/interstatedrive_soccer_fields_2.jpg

I am sure there will be more.

********************************************

UPDATE: There is now a petition active:

https://www.change.org/p/citizens-for-new-central-hs-at-dodds-new-central-hs-at-dodds-park?just_created=true

UPDATE 2: CPD says they will talk about Dodds:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-02-10/park-board-discuss-dodds-home-new-central.html

Another email discussion thread about HS siting and the #unit4ref

I sent an initial email to the “Friends of Champaign Schools” and “Keep Central Central” committees, asking that they set up a panel/debate/forum between their two groups. The thread kind of took on a life of its own, and I feel that enough of it is relevant and contains important considerations for the wider audience to chew on, if you feel so inclined to read a little bit. I wish these email tennis matches were in a completely different medium, since email tends to be very tediuous to piece together and make into a nice page.

 

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/emails-to-askchallenge-yes-vs-no-committees-on-unit-4-referendum/

 

I also hope that the folks engaged in this email exchange take it to the next level and actually have a public forum of some sort.