It takes a village, part 2

takes_a_village

In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says ‘Omwana ni wa bhone,’ meaning regardless of a child’s biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.

 
 
Previously, I mentioned I talked with Angela Smith and Orlando Thomas on the topic of discipline, a conversation which ranged into the topic of community partnerships and collaborations. Specifically, Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas both suggested I talk to Ms. Karen Simms. It was great advice. 🙂
Ms. Simms presented at the Feb 13th BOE meeting – I encourage you to look through the documents posted on BoardDocs:
I recently had the privilege to speak with Karen Simms. I first gave a little background about why I had visited Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas, namely Mr. Terry Townsend’s letter of complaint to the OCR. Ms. Simms indicated she was quite familiar with the Consent Decree and the Plaintiff class. She went on to say that one of goals of the Promise Zone initiative is to “build on the work of the consent decree”, specifically by changing policies and practices. This is important as district leadership and boards change over time.
When I mentioned that the information she presented on the Promise Zone looks like Imani Bazzell’s work with “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”, she said that Promise Zone “gives teeth to Imani’s ideas.”
I have a lot of respect for what Imani has done in regards to “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”. Here are two earlier blog posts on that topic:
I love it that certain entities have been working hard to create tailored environments for some of our most “at risk” children. I want to be careful about using a label like “at risk”; perhaps another way to say it is that Promise Zone creates a village for students that do not otherwise have a village. In Ms. Simms’ Feb 13th BOE presentation, on slide 5 she references the work of the Community Schools initiative (also shared at the Feb 13th BOE meeting) and that of Cradle to Career. At the bottom of the slide, she has a quote that is most apropos:

Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.
— Thomas Sergiovanni

A few years ago I suggested that perhaps we are asking the wrong question when we ask about money – we should be asking about how we can provide optimal learning environments. It seems to me that Promise Zone tackles this question for minority students that are currently not served well by the status quo.
In time, I truly hope this idea catches on and is able to scale up. I firmly believe we need more overlap and intersection between what we call “community” and “school”.
PS – for those that wish to watch the Feb 13th BOE meeting, it is up on Vimeo:

#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.

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

For those that like to read ahead:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/meetings/agendas/10.12.15%20DRAFT%20Agenda_10615.pdf

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.

June 24th board retreat

This afternoon, the board held a Special Board Meeting dealing with the goals of/for the Superintendent, Dr. Judy Wiegand. Outside of the Unit 4 employees and the Board Members, I think NG staff writer Meg Dickinson, Chuck Jackson and I were the only others in attendance. There was a NG photographer who swung by, so depending on which pictures are made available, you will see that there were about 32-34 people total.

I appreciated that both Board President Laurie Bonnett and Dr. Wiegand made it very clear that public participation was very much welcome and that there would be a free-flow discussion. I like that format a lot; it probably would be a bit more challenging to adhere to that format if more community members (and more vocal ones *grin*) were in the room.

I was only able to stick around for the first hour. I believe that in that first hour, we only covered the first of the five goals outlined in the one public document made available online. Which reminds me, there were a number of handouts available for the public, but I do not know where they are online (maybe they are not posted? Yet) {updated} Documents now posted on BoardDocs – see the full slide deck for more details on what was covered. In that first goal, the Assistant Superintendents and the Superintendent spent a lot of time covering the “Achievement Framework.” I am still trying to wrap my head around it, and I cannot possibly do it justice here. At least, not yet. There was a lot of talk of utilizing more metrics and constant monitoring, of being very intentional and mindful of key waypoints (ie, Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade, 8th grade), and implementing Common Core with the idea of ultimately making all kids “college ready”.

Also, in a brief chat with the tech guys before the meeting, I learned that the “screen” (the computer monitor to display the various presentations) would be recorded, and Mr. David Hohman tells me that audio is going to be synchronized after the fact. I do not see either online, yet, but will keep my eyes open. My biggest concern, especially in regards to involving everyone who could not make it, is that the audio might be a bit lacking at times; they had technical difficulties with one microphone and ended up passing another one around which sounded a lot different; many times the mic cut out, and sometimes the speaker (ie, from the audience) was not near a mic. I hope the end result is enough for folks to bite into.

More later. I would love to get feedback from board members as well – we will have to see if anyone wishes to share their thoughts.

 

UPDATE: Vimeo video now available:

http://vimeo.com/69751582

May 3: talk, walk, talk and talk

Had a busy day today:

  • Mentored at Edison (which I do every Thursday)
  • Chatted with Angela Smith at Franklin
  • Walked the neighborhood around Douglas Park (BTW)
  • Had supper with the superintendent (BTW)
  • PTA Council meeting at South Side

I am a tad tired so this is not going to be a comprehensive post, but I wanted to get as much down as possible before it slips away.

My talk with Ms. Smith was quite enlightening and full of energy. When I asked Angela about her trip to DC and Florida, she mentioned that she had not even had time to debrief yet, her life had been so chocked full of “go go go”. She took a moment to catch her breath and related the story of her journey. Sure, seeing the President and speaking at a convention has the makings of grabbing headlines, but what she was really impacted by was all the events that led up to her arrival. It was a great personal testimony. She started with the email that arrived in her inbox; she thought it was a hoax and in no mood for games, but eventually someone convinced her to take it seriously. And decided it was not for her – she was too busy with her work at Franklin. But eventually, her community of friends and colleagues convinced her that it would be good to take the opportunity of a trip out to the nation’s capital. She relayed to me how her team rallied together to bolster her confidence, arrange for her to be gone and help take care of accomodations. She mentioned at one point that she realized she could not do this alone. And that was the root story of the success at Franklin – it is the community and culture at Franklin that is strong, heroic and embracing. So even though Angela is moving on up to the Mellon Center, the people that remain behind will continue to be strong and fostering a supportive environment for the next principal. When I Read the rest of this entry »

Follow-up to Franklin Principal's trip to the White House

re: School Reform
A little bit of a media blitz after yesterday morning’s Press Release:

  • WICD Channel 15: Probably the least substantial of the three major outlets this time around.
  • WCIA Channel 3: The printed version covers everything in the videocast, but has a lot of errors. Focuses on how Ms. Smith felt honored and was impressed, and the hard work that Franklin has done.
  • News-Gazette Julie Wurth: Julie mentions how Ms. Smith and Franklin have been focusing on “personalizing” their approach to education, and the honor of being recognized.
  • WILL: This was by far my favorite. It just dawned on me – if 80% of the schools are not meeting NCLB standards by 2014, then 80% of the Education budget can be slashed. Coincidence? Wow, this is such an awful way to justify our budget. I am glad that Obama is stepping up to the podium and saying “So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.” I just hope we see real meat, real results, come out of this.

In several of these articles (including Unit 4’s own release), Ms. Smith’s trip to Miami to participate in the NASSP conference is announced. Yet in all these, I am still looking for the details on NCLB; the little breadcrumbs I have so far is that state schools might be eligible for some kind of “waiver” from the strict standards of NCLB. I am really curious what Ms. Smith thinks about all this, given her involvement with NASSP and her exposure at the White House. Looking for that angle on reform. What really needs to change? I think we are forming a picture of “things we are doing well now” and have a fingerhold on things that would be helpful adapt our Education System for the current generation.

 

What an awesome opportunity for her! I realize she is still processing everything going on. Should be good stuff when she gets it all digested.

School Reform: A focus on Franklin and the Government

So I have been involved in a number of discussions about reform (and by now, I hope it is overly clear that the context is school, and specifically Unit 4 🙂 ).

This morning I hear (and now Unit 4 Facebook) about Franklin Principal Angela Smith heading off to Washington to speak with President Obama on the topic of the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. She and Franklin were recently awarded with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) MetLife Breakthrough Middle School recognition.

That sounds really awesome!

And now I want to learn more about this “reauthorization” act. And the MetLife award. Read the rest of this entry »