Finding the good: board meetings

finding_good_2

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.

What are public schools supposed to do?

I have often asked myself variations on the question “what is the purpose of school?” When asked, my then 9-year-old daughter offered her perspective, “to learn how to learn.” I asked her a year later about the purpose of the teacher, and she said “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, 3)

 

I find myself aligning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and many others both before and after MLK, who paints a picture that the purpose of education is to generate successful citizens. Citizens that can navigate and participate in society, that know how to collaborate and compromise, engage in healthy debate to voice different ideas, and overall “be family.”

 

 

A related question is “what is the purpose of the board?” (part 1, 2) Basically, the school board sits at the 10,000 foot level (right below the clouds) and determines where the bus is going to go in the long run.

 

Having laid all that out as a preamble, I now turn your attention to the November 16th school board meeting, the agenda of which can be found on boarddocs (I still do not have a way to deep-link the agenda – you will have to navigate there manually). In particular, the interesting presentation on High School Configuration. First, I think it is great that this board is trying to 1) be very open in their discussion, and 2) are trying to invite the community to the table on “big issues”.

 

The High School Configuration document is interesting because it starts off with a summary of Lisa de la Rue’s literature review. For those that want to rewind back to the June 11th, 2012, meeting, I have a couple notes you can look over; June 9th, before the meeting, and June 12th, after the meeting. Basically, there is a weak correlation between school configuration and student achievement (too many other variables). This current document goes on to list several pros and cons between a 1-HS model, a 2-HS model (current) and a 3-HS model. I noticed a trend in the carefully phrased “possibilities” – the single high school model might increase the number of opportunities/services while at the same time might decrease climate, while at the other end (not really an extreme) the three high school model looses the number of offerings (due to lack of consolidation) but increases the innate intimacy. Funny how the two high school model has one and only one “concern” listed. Oh, by the way, the current HS principals will be spearheading this presentation. 🙂

 

I am not shy about my own preference, but the point I want to make with this post is that I believe the board as a whole needs to focus first on what kind of students they want to produce. Regardless of configuration or location, when you hand a diploma to a kid, what qualities and traits will they have acquired because of Unit 4? What exactly is a successful citizen? What about those students for whom the current system is not working at all? What are we doing wrong if students (young citizens) are “failing” the public school system?

 

The district administration has recently taken a stronger stance in support of Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF, a concept originated by Dr. Edna Olive who has a book by the same title). Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell are pushing PBF, with good effect, with ACTIONS staff used throughout the district. During a recent email exchange with Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the district is looking at including PBF and cultural relevancy more thoroughly within Professional Development in the near future. Having read Dr. Olive’s book, I find myself agreeing with her belief that “relationships are everything.” In fact, Dr. Olive goes so far as to call PBF a paradigm not a program; it is more of mindset, a method of taking a step back and thinking about all the factors going on in a given situation, starting first with yourself.

 

My own high-level goals for any student going through Unit 4, regardless of the physical building they happen to be in, are:

  • her sense of curiosity, creativity and wonder are encouraged and enhanced; she is a critical thinker who, because she is a life-long learner, questions everything
  • although she is a single citizen, she is a valuable citizen who appreciates the value of others around her; ergo she seeks to resolve conflict, collaborate, and compromise as needed
  • alongside her repertoire of reading, writing and math skills, she also gains the confidence that she can acquire new skills as desired
  • she is both street-wise and world-wise

 

What goals do you have? What goals do our students have? And how will we realize those goals?

 

I hope lots of people show up for the chat tomorrow, and I hope many more continue to provide input on their own priorities. I urge the board to focus more on the purpose of Unit 4 schools, and provide course corrections to the administration as necessary. Personally, I don’t think the board as a whole should decide the location or the configuration; certainly as individuals and voters they have an opinion that should be expressed, but as a board, I see their job as setting the big picture first.

 

Let’s make learning fun. 🙂 And let us learn how to learn. Always.

“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.

Aug 24th BOE meeting (with new “candid conversation”)

Just dashing off a quick post here, but last night’s meeting was certainly intersting. The News-Gazette’s Nicole Lafond has a couple articles, one from the meeting itself, one from others who were not able to make it:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-08-25/enrollment-increase-spurs-unit-4-facilities-talks.html

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-08-25/just-1-question-top-priority-unit-4.html

The district also posted a Vimeo video of the entire thing so you can watch it yourself, and I imagine the live-typing notes will be available in the very near future (probably already is online, just have to find it).

Lots was said, and there will be more. One thing that stuck out to me is that the board is going to try to host a moderated forum for Q&A with the community. They will start by asking that community members send email to u4boe@champaignschools.org, and they will then post those on a forum where they will respond. I imagine that will evolve – almost seems like it would be better to have a truly moderated forum and just bypass the email. But we will see.

More to come.

UPDATE: Live notes posted, via the new U4 Board Corner blog:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7NP1K1OYcJOTXhzTTA1blMwSHc/view

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.

Questions posed to the school board about the April 13th board meeting

Here is a small list of questions I emailed to the board in regards to the April 13th board meeting. I also included newly elected board members, who will be sworn in next month.

I was looking over the April 13th BOE meeting agenda, and wished to find more information when you have an opportunity.

  1. Under “Recognitions”, there is a fascinating mention of how 24 HS students participated in a Khan Academy course, and how Mr. Jim Linnenburger will receive $100 per student. Were all 24 students participating in the Google/DonorsChoose program (ie, “traditionally underrepresented”)? Did students participate while at school, or was this done outside school hours? Please note, I personally think this is a very good thing, as rudiementary skills in javascript are extremely helpful in the current software development job market, and outlets like Codeacademy and Khan Academy have made these skills very accessible. I can easily see hundreds of additional students taking advantage of these resources.
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  2. Under “Reports: New Business”, line item A (“DLR innovation challenge”) briefly mentions the outstanding success of four HS students and a teacher mentor. Will the team’s innovative solution (sustainable vertical farming) be shared in detail at Monday’s meeting? Will there be materials online that others can read about? And more importantly, can any of those ideas be implemented here in Champaign? I would love to see more students tackling broad problems and applying solutions at a local level. 🙂
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  3. Line item B (“Juvenile Delinquency prevention” with IL State AG Julia Rietz) mentions a report; can that report be shared online? I am sincerely hoping that Ms. Rietz will focus her report on the work of restorative justice, as highlighted in the News-Gazette a couple weeks ago.
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  4. Action Agenda line item B (Administration Compensation): the summary says “A list of eligible administrators is attached”, yet there is no document attached in boarddocs available to the public. Please attach said list to the agenda and/or make available online. Personally, I fail to see why administrative salary percentage increases need to mirror teacher percentage increases; the justification about remaining “regionally competitive” is not enough for me.
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  5. Consent Agenda line item J (HLS Implementations): I know Consent Agenda items are typically discussed under “New Business” at earlier board meetings, but I was unable to find where this one was discussed when I looked at all board meetings in 2015. I see the bid on the Unit 4 website, but I do not see where the details are. What is being done for $424,000? Furthermore, I know the HLS reports in the past have detailed many millions of dollars worth of needed work (prioritized into three categories of urgency). I assume the $424k takes care of the most important items. Does it address all the Category A items?
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  6. Lastly, Consent Agenda line item M (Renewal of Superintendent’s contract): May we please see the current contract, and for how long the renewal will be for (starting when, ending when)? The summary on boarddocs is completely and utterly blank.

@KerrisLee_ @CafeKopi 11am-5pm, Monday, Jan 12th

From Kerris Lee’s tweet:

I will be at Cafe Kopi at 11am-5pm for open discussion on school board items tomorrow 1/12 for community input.

 

For those curious about the agenda for Monday night’s regular board meeting, you can find it on boarddocs:

  1. Go to http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/board.nsf/public
  2. Click on “Jan 12, 2015 (Mon)” (on the left)
  3. Click on the “View the agenda” button that appears in the right pane.