School board candidate forums

Chris Kloeppel informed me of four (count ’em) opportunities for you all to get out and meet the 2015 school board candidates. I have updated my candidate page to reflect these forums:

Candidate forums (nifty facebook page)

  • PTA Council: March 11, 7:00 pm, Mellon Center
  • Candidate Breakfast (Champaign County Chamber of Commerce): March 12, 7:30 am – 9:00 am, Hilton Garden Inn ($10 for breakfast)
  • Champaign County League of Women Voters, the News-Gazette, and NAACP: March 12, 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Champaign City Building (102 N Neil St.)
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church: March 19, 6:00 – 9:30 pm, Mount Olive Church (808 East Bradley Avenue)

Additionally, I have included links to campaign websites for Chris Kloeppel and Kathy Richards.

UPDATE: added facebook campaign pages for Kathy Shannon and Alissia Young.

UPDATE (17-Feb): added questionnaire and resume for Kerris

Most of the groups hosting forums have also conducted interviews and/or submitted questionnaires to candidates, some of which will be published in the near future (keep your eyes open).

Seeing the trees, or a forest?

The “Keep Central Central” group, formerly known as “REWIND” (and with slightly different leadership), is making a push to argue for a site for the “new” Central to be almost anywhere except Interstate Drive. Well, anywhere south of I-74. There is a press conference advertised this coming Saturday (Jan 31) at 10:00 am at the Champaign Public Library; the doors will open at 9:15 am for the room for people to gather and mingle. And this morning, Bruce Hannon has a letter to the editor in the NG.

Even though these conversations are happening WAY TOO LATE in the game, I am glad that they are finally happening. Moreover, I wish more people were involved in those conversations, especially new voices.

But here is where I have a problem – I will use a quote from Mr. Hannon’s letter to make an example:

“Only a no vote will cause this board to work with our citizenry toward the best solution, a central city location.”

No, Mr. Hannon, I think you missed the bigger picture.

 

Rather than direct my arguments against Mr. Hannon, with whom I have never spoken nor communicated, I will address this as an open letter for all of us to consider.

First and foremost, there is an even bigger vote that just happens to be on the same day (April 7th) – voting for 4 school board members (there is one more seat that is uncontested). If the citizenry were truly earnest in wanting a board to work with them, they would be very mindful about whom they elect to represent them, and then hold those elected agents accountable. Voting “NO” on the referendum and also not focusing on new board members is a complete waste of time, energy and votes.

Second, stop being so passive aggressive! I have heard quite a few members of the “citizenry” complain about the board, but leave out the most crucial aspect of having a voice – they do not offer constructive criticism or viable alternatives for the board to address such complaints. If you think the board is not working with the stakeholders or “owners”, how do you suggest they do so? Believe you me, I have already made my own suggestions, and have been talking with board member candidates about changes I would like to see (see my IASB post).

 

So in my opinion, we have spent way too much time focusing on the “trees” of a high school site. Yes, it is an important issue, and obviously a lot of people feel passionate about it; it is not my intent to mitigate that. However, we must keep in mind the whole forest – what is it that the Champaign Community Unit School District #4 does? You could answer that question by looking at the Mission Statement, crafted quite a long time ago and tweaked over the years. More specifically, what do you want our fine school district to do? What does Unit 4 produce or provide?

 

In our community of some 80,000 odd people, we have 80,000 different ways to answer those questions. I believe that is a problem. So why not have passionate discussions about this root issue? Why not form citizen groups around this topic?

 

One way or another, the “tree” of a new high school site will pass away in a few years, and will be replaced by other “trees”. If we do not contemplate the gestalt of public education, we will forever be bickering about which tree to tackle next.

 

So here is your homework. Figure out what you want public schools to do. From there, determine which school board candidates are willing to make that an Ends for Unit 4, or persuasively convince them – it is the job of the elected school board members to exercise governance over the school district. Period. Take this conversation to existing school board members as well – we already know that two of them are in the middle of four-year terms.

Your homework is due on April 7th. Turn it in at the County Clerk’s office.

 

PS – one final note. The NG tells us that recently in Danville the public had an opportunity to “meet and greet” two of the seven school board candidates. I am calling on the nine Champaign school board candidates to hold open “meet and greet” times as well. Kerris already has semi-regular “office hours”, take advantage of it! I collected their contact information on a separate page if you want to reach out to them; most, if not all, are more than happy to meet and talk with members of the community.

Started a new page on the board candidates

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

 

I don’t have much, yet, but I will be adding more content in the near future. Some candidates I have had the opportunity to communicate with a lot, others not so much.

 

I also added this as a “navigation menu” at the top of each page (navbar).

A few more board member candidates

I found out that this morning three more folks submitted all the necessary paperwork and signatures for the April 2014 BOE positions (I’ll try always listing candidates in alphabetical order by last name):

  • Chris Kloeppel (I pronounce it “Kleppel”)
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon

 

Both Kathy R and Kathy S hang out here from time to time, and I know they would love to answer your questions and/or interact with you. I know Chris personally and would be happy to pass along questions to him if the need arises.

 

There are a couple other folks that I am waiting to hear the final word on. All in all, it looks like April is going to be an interesting month. I encourage you to learn as much as possible about the issues and candidates.

The Purpose of the School Board, part 2

Two years ago, I wrote a post about “The Purpose of the School Board“. Recently, a number of events have persuaded me to revisit this topic. In particular, at least two groups (possibly more) are actively seeking to form a slate of board member candidates for the April 2015 elections. I have asked, but I am not yet at liberty to disclose more details. I will say that I am involved in one of those efforts.

 

But this post is more about what role the school board plays. Or to look at it from a different angle, what would happen if there were no school board in Unit 4 as it currently exists? Who would hire the superintendent? What else would be different?

 

I have an ongoing conversation with Ms. Cathy Talbert of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB). She has been very helpful in giving me a broad, 10,000ft picture of how the IASB’s stance towards governance affects the way they train board members. I have also learned that John Carver’s “Policy Governance” has had a huge impact and heavily influences how those perspectives are formed. Ms. Talbert has warned me that while Carver’s philosophy is definitely a significant ingredient, it by no means implies that the IASB follows “Policy Governance” 100%; while giving me some ideas of how to get started in my understanding of IASB’s philosophy, she mentioned that I should read John Carver’s books and also cherry-picked a few IASB websites for me to look at.

Diving into John Carver’s world is kind of like swimming in an ocean; it is vast, deep, and not much land in sight. I started with “Boards That Make a Difference“, the official primer for Carver’s “Policy Governance”; in this post I’ll focus on that which seems ideal for our school district. And hopefully I can present a much simpler, much more concise version while still being true to the source material.

 

The purpose of the school board is to be the moral compass of the school district. Not strictly dividing “right” from “wrong”, but more generally painting the long-term description of the “products” or “benefits” that the “owners” desire of the “organization.” There are several salient points that make this fundamental and critical:

  • The people who pay the taxes and vote are the owners; they must fully take ownership of the public school district (Unit 4 Board Policy 105).
  • The board merely represents the will of the people; they are not necessarily experts in education, but they are the people when it comes to the boardroom table.
  • As such, the board is obligated to build relationships with the community over and above the staff; an inherent part of a board member’s job is to seek out diverse opinions and to make himself or herself readily available to the “owners”; they are to be collectors of opinions and perspectives across the wide gamut of community members.
  • The board policies should be very broad, very global, categorized into perhaps 4 distinct groups, and able to be easily summarized in 5 pages such that every decision made by the school district can be measured against those 5 pages. Carver calls this the “Policy Circle”, and allows for more detail as necessary, but the starting point and the thrust is that these are overarching statements of motivation which drive the direction of the entire school district; in other words, the board policy should succintly determine “who gets what benefits for how much”.
  • The board’s business should boil down to deciding whether or not anything put in front of them is in alignment with the clearly documented, widely communicated, simplified board policies.

 

The IASB’s official “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance” reflects many of the virtues espoused by Carver, going so far as to adopt Carver’s terminology and use of “Ends”. I wish to clarify that while the Board’s primary job is to govern and take responsibility that these Ends are clearly defined and adhered to, it is the people who give breath to the Ends in the first place. The Board cannot and should not adopt Ends as put forth only by the organization and/or its staff, but the board should be engaged “in an ongoing two-way conversation with the entire community. This conversation enables the Board to hear and understand the community’s educational aspirations and desires, to serve effectively as an advocate for district improvement and to inform the community of the district’s performance.”

 

The IASB has another page dedicated to “connecting with the community“; this page repeats much of what is already on the “Foundational Principles” page, but also links to a new report that strives to put forth good community relationship building practices.

 

I do have one major criticism for IASB, and I’ll have to think of a polite way to ask this question of Cathy Talbert when I talk to her next; “If the IASB is responsible for board member training, why the hell do we struggle so much to exercise that ongoing two-way communication?” Obviously this criticism does not apply to all board members – I place this on the IASB shoulders because they are the ones telling board members how to do their jobs.

 

Five seats are up for board positions in April; five out of seven. I think people sense that if they truly want to make changes to the board, now is a really good time to do so. Here is the measuring stick I am going to urge the entire voting community to consider when contemplating board members candidates and even whole slates (taken directly from the IASB “Foundational Principles”):

  1. The Board Clarifies the District Purpose
  2. The Board Connects With the Community
  3. The Board Employs a Superintendent
  4. The Board Delegates Authority
  5. The Board Monitors Performance
  6. The Board Takes Responsibility For Itself

 

This is what board members should be doing. This is what I will want successful board member candidates to set their agendas on. And for any slate, I would want them to fully embrace these guiding principles. Granted, this calls for a lot of work – we have a lot of bad habits we need to correct. I love how Carver casts the ideal board meeting; it should be lively, filled with debate, but also well kept on track (“moral compass”). A 4-hour, boring board meeting means you’re doing it wrong. A board policy manual that measures 8 inches thick when printed means you’re doing it wrong.

 

The people elect school board members to exert their will upon the school district; those five people you elect will effectively become your voice.