Great Schools Together: Stewardship and Accountability (part 2 of 6)

Stewardship and Accountability cotinues the Great Schools Together series:

  1. Student Achievement and Well-being
  2. Stewardship and Accountability
  3. Faculty and Staff Excellence
  4. Engagement of Parents and the Community
  5. Diversity
  6. Facilities

 

As a reminder, these are taken from the Strategic Plan developed through the “Great Schools, Together” initiative back in 2007-2008. Page 10 of that plan covers one of the shortest strategic goals (the other being Diversity).

Goal: Align the District’s priorities and resources through a community-involved planning process implemented through focused action plans with regular progress reports

 

I think this is where the term “community-involved planning” originated, at least in the context of Unit 4. Another thing that I found interesting about this particular goal is that there are no mid-term (2011-2016) or long-term (2016-2013) actions – they are all short-term actions, and thus should have been accomplished already:

Short-term actions
A. Continue to engage in a long-term strategic planning and visioning process
B. Build an annual reporting process to the School Board that includes public input
C. Hold bi-annual open forums for the community to participate in upcoming school year plans and assess the previous school year.
D. Improve the District’s efforts to identify and pursue grant proposals
E. Continue to institute principles of fiscal responsibility
F. Actively seek private donations to build/maintain facilities

 

It is safe to say that many of the financial stewardship aims have continued on past 2011; Gene Logas and later Matt Foster have prepared many reports for several committees, including the Finance Committee and Promises Made Promises Kept, not to mention the many individual efforts of staff and administrators to seek out grants and donations.

 

I am not so sure about the “community-involved planning” pieces. I think the Board Retreats are counted as “open forums” in which the community is expected to participate in the planning process, but the number of community members that show up at those forums can be counted on one hand. There are tons of “reporting processes”, but which ones “includes public input”? I do not know the answer to that. Prior to September of 2011, how was the public involved in the planning process outside the small handful of folks that made committments to various committees? Mark Aber’s Climate Surveys? The Dejong-Richter experiment? The one and only avenue of “input” as part of a planning process (that I know of) that the community regularly provides is done at the Mellon Center, either at board meetings in a 3-minute window or during committee meetings.

 

A few months ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Wiegand and Stephanie Stuart to discuss “community-involved planning”. At the outset, we all agreed that it is difficult to see what good “community-involved planning” looks like because 1) we are sorely out of practice as a community, and 2) there are so few well-known examples to follow. Stephanie even boldly mentioned the need for accountability, which I was very much quick to support her in. To me, Accountability is one side of the coin, community-involved planning is the other. And here is the crux of the matter – why are these so important? Because the local community bears a majority of the financial burden of public eduation via property tax dollars, the community entrusts their children to the educational system, and the community elects board members. In short, as the Unit 4 Policy 105 so succintly and so powerfully says, “(t)he public schools belong to the people.” Or as Article X of the Constitution of the State of Illinois says:

SECTION 1.  GOAL - FREE SCHOOLS
    A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.

 

In general, our society has fallen into the bad habit of letting “someone else” do the work of staying informed, going to meetings, deliberating ideas and holding elected officials accountable; we feel we do our “duty” when (or if) we complain, maybe on facebook or as some anonymous online troller.

 

We need a huge paradigm shift; and the really bad news is that it has to come from the people. The people have to want to own the schools. We have to take seriously our obligation to provide for “the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” If you are unwilling to do so, then you forfeit your “right” to complain.

 

Letter to the Board

update: edited for better formatting (curse you WordPress!!)

Good evening,

I know each of you has been extremely busy with many different topics related to Unit 4; I thank you for serving on the board and fulfilling a much needed role.

I would like to take a moment and remind the three board members that were voted in during the April elections what you said you were going to do as a board member. The full list I culled together can be found here:
https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/another-look-at-the-school-board-candidates/

From that list, I would highlight a few things, especially as tensions rise around the topic of the CFT contract negotiations. The questions I ask below I ask out of respect and sincerity – I ask because I truly wish to learn.

Mr. MacAdam: You said you were committed to fiscal responsibility, especially given your background and experience with Busey Bank. One of your goals was to develop strategies so the school district can be financially sound. You also spoke about being transparent and speaking in public. What strategies have you developed in the past 6 months? How do you intend to communicate those strategies out to the community? How have your plans and efforts contributed to teachers feeling appreciated and valued?

Ms. Bonnett: Your campaign spoke significantly of engaging the community, earning trust, being transparent and having quality communications, among other things. I thank you that you have retained your facebook page as an effort to remind us of your goals and also to have an extra open door of communication. As the Board President, you are the voice of the Board. How have you striven to build, earn and keep trust and engender accountability with the community and among your colleagues on the board? How have you encouraged communication and aided community members in gathering and checking facts?

Ms. Stuckey: You have a goal specifically tailor for the CFT negotiations – one of your goals was to attempt to support budget talks with the CFT early in the process and to ease cooperation between the Board and the CFT. How did that go? You also spoke frequently of working to make sure that any budget cuts would have the least negative impact to children (or impacting the least number of children). You also spoke of motivating community members to get involved and (along with the other board members) board transparency. What work have you done to make sure children are impacted as little as possible? How much success has your efforts to increase community participation met with? Read the rest of this entry »

FOIAs: another step of accontabiliity and transparency

I have heard some rumors of FOIA activity in regards to the school district. Instead of propagating rumors, I am going to see what comes out in the public sphere. I have also asked 1) if the school district is currently publishing all FOIA responses, and 2) if not, will they consider it. I have since learned the answer to the first question is no – I am now waiting on the second question.

The University has a very nice FOIA page (a whole subdomain dedicated to FOIA):

http://www.foia.uillinois.edu/cms/one.aspx?portalId=1017570&pageId=1083933

I really love how they set the tone:

“The goal of the FOIA request log is transparency for the public and increased understanding of the FOIA process and timelines.”

The University FOIA homepage says:

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides public access to government documents and records. The new Illinois FOIA notes that it is “the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”

That last sentence is a kicker – wow. That’s right, you and I have a duty, and it is to talk about these public issues, make informed decisions and monitor government to make sure they are doing what we want them to do. Now how often does that actually happen?

So my question to you – in the grand scheme of things, how important is a FOIA index? Something I should push hard for? Or just send occasional requests? Surely there are “big issues” on the plate, and I am not sure this is one of them. However, from my point of view, it seems like low-hanging fruit that would be easy to knock out without much overhead at all.

Mantra: THE PEOPLE AND THEIR SCHOOL DISTRICT

I was recently reminded of this cornerstone policy while looking for something else entirely.

 

Board Policy 105 THE PEOPLE AND THEIR SCHOOL DISTRICT

The public schools belong to the people. The people govern the schools under rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and statutes of the state of Illinois. The people exercise their proprietorship through the elective process. They elect state and federal representatives, who establish through the Illinois General Assembly and the United States Congress the framework of law within which the schools operate. The people elect a board of education to represent them and to determine local educational plans and policies and to establish publicly endorsed educational goals and objectives. The board of education functions as an agent of the public within this framework.
The people are the ultimate governors of public education, and the Board of Education is directly accountable to the people. Accountability is a shared responsibility involving students, staff, the Superintendent of Schools, and the general public.

 

I personally think this idealistic statement breaks down in two critical areas

  • The people have lost the art of holding others accountable
  • Those elected* have lost the art of being held accountable

 

I say this is an “art”, much in the same sense as the “art of Chivalry”, or even the art of Civility for that matter. Accountability is not a blame game, it’s not pointing fingers and having a cow. I like how the Policy calls accountability a “shared responsibility”. There is deep truth in that.

 

So this is now my mantra. This is OUR school district! All of us who pay taxes, vote, work for, serve and are served by the district, the public schools belong to us. What do we want our public schools to do? It can only be as good as the people involved.

 

Part of my mission is to get more folks to acknowledged and accept this shared responsibility. And it is not a trivial responsibility. But I believe, in the words of Dr. Edna Olive, “[t]he education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”

 

* when I say “those elected”, I have in mind “state and federal representatives”

Thoughts this week about the school board

Walking in reverse direction down the path of my thoughts of the school board this past week:

Who are we?

I subscribe to a feed of the Wake County School District blog, and just this morning is a post about the new school board chairman of the Wake County school district (which, by the way, is frickin’ HUGE!). What is fascinating about his “acceptance speech” is that he casts an identity for the school board that unites it with the community; he readily acknowledges the rocky road they have been through (you think Champaign has an issue with Schools of Choice? Ha!) and the challenges going forward.

“We the Wake County Board of Education will provide the kind of exemplary leadership that is expected of us by this community, and I intend to lead us in that direction. I ask my colleagues around this table to join me in this commitment and this effort for we are Wake County.”

2013 Board Candidate John Williams, III

I am going to be reaching out to candidates as I find out who they are. Last night I had a great facebook dialog (be sure to click the tiny “See More”) with Mr. Williams. I am impressed by his convictions and desire to tackle some big issues. Better yet, not just desires but ideas on how to make them come to fruition. I asked him further about two points (getting the community to show up at meetings and pedagogy); he responded to the first by admitting there is a lack of community participation that is not solved by free food, the need to build relationships and the need for more open communication; to the second he agreed there is no “one size fits all” and very much wants to move away from lecture-laden approaches to engaging the students more thoroughly. What’s cool is that I see a number of excellent teachers already doing this. Hearkens me back to the Sir Ken Robinson video shown at the Futures Conference. Having said all this, don’t take my word for it – go read about John Williams yourself, or better yet, ask him some questions of your own.

As I find out who other board candidates are, I am going to make it a point to drop by and get to know them. Laurie, I have some questions for you next. *grin*

Transparency

I already shared how I attempted to address the board at Monday’s board meeting. Dr. Joe Davis was kind enough to follow-up with me (and CC: Dr. Judy Wiegand). He mentioned Gene Logas’ previous efforts to spell out “Where does all the money go?” I agree that this is a good first step in breaking down the complex tongue of finances, but it only goes so far (it is, after all, a first step). I responded with an example of Jess Bachman’s now famous “Death and Taxes” poster which gives an awesome overview of the Federal Budget. On top of this, I followed up with a member of the Promises Made Promises Kept (PMPK) committee; here is an excellent example where the district communicates a ton of information to a group of people that is open to the public, but the public has next to no clue what is going on because 1) very few community members attend the PMPK meetings, 2) the “transparent” reports take a REALLY long time to make it up on the website. In fact, the last one I can find is from December of 2011. So, first hurdle is to get this information in the public sphere, second hurdle is to get these reports so that we the common people can understand them. 🙂

Transparency is not about pointing fingers. It is about collaborating towards a common goal. As John Williams implied, accountability is a good thing, when done right. It helps all of us.

[PS – I hope that a letter-to-the-editor I submitted on this topic is printed soon]

More about 2013 Board Candidates

Meg Dickinson wrote an article on Tuesday in the aftermath of Tom Lockman stepping down from his position on the board. One particular quote of Mr. Lockman that I really like is:

I truly believe that public education is the most critical aspect of a community’s ability to succeed and develop…

Most. Critical. Those are big words, ones that should challenge our community. But back to Meg’s article about the candidates. She relates the Stig Lanneskog intends to run for the 2-year slot. She also says that seven people to date have checked out petitions from the Mellon Center. Note that the petitions actually come from the County Clerk’s office and that the Mellon Center merely provides the forms as a courtesy; since the forms are downloadable from the internet, there is no telling the maximum number of people that have expressed an interest. On top of that, just because someone picks up a packet does not mean they will get all the signatures and actually submit it by December 26th. What is most curious to me is, of the people that have picked up a packet, we only know about three (Ileana Saveley, Laurie Bonnett, John Williams and Stig Lanesskog). Personally, I really want to find out who the others are because I want to meet these people who are so interested in the school district that they want to serve on the board, which is not all fun and games. 🙂 Very worthy, no doubt, but a sacrifice none the less.

December 10th Board Meeting

Yesterday there were quite a large number of recognition.  First up was the talented Likith Govindaiah; perfect SAT and ACT scores. Wow! That makes my head hurt. Lots and lots of other things going on, including the cute “skin care” line from BTW sponsored on WCIA. Justin Uppinhouse was present along with some Edison parents for the Edison Academic Spotlight. And then we jumped into commentaries.

I happened to go first. I intended to address the board about Transparency and Accountability, using two specific cases; one was a challenge to have a Unit 4 5th grader able to understand the finance reports, and the second was about how the committees are not well known, nor what they are doing. I fear I totally bumbled what I wanted to say – I had a number of anecdotal stories and illustrations, by I lost ’em while at the podium.

Next up was a gentleman speaking about the School Resource Officers and a challenge of his own. He cited a recent NYTimes article about SROs (which I have been unable to find), and shared his own thoughts about how SROs are not academic officers.

Lynn Stuckey was next and final; she shared her angst about how hiring Dejong is (was?) a foregone conclusion, that we are merely repeating Great Schools Together.

I apologized if I oversimplified what these citizens spoke about. I was able to record the show on my TiVo, but I cannot get it off to post online. I am told that Unit 4 will be did popping it up on Vimeo “any second now”. 🙂

And then I Read the rest of this entry »