Board meeting at Central HS tonight, with a special presentation on the Consent Decree

The Champaign School Board is going to start shaking things up a little tonight when they conduct their “Special Session” at Central tonight. Keep your eyes open for more changes to special sessions in the near future. Among the items on the agenda (available on the district’s boarddocs website) are an obligatory public hearing on the budget and formal acceptance of said budget, a presentation from Molly Delaney of the CU Schools Foundation who will be covering the CUSF strategic plan and summarizing CUSF initiatives (good stuff!), and a Consent Decree presentation from Sally Scott, an attorney from Franczek Radlet who represented the district during the Consent Decree; the presentation will set historical context for how we still have equity issues to address especially in regards to where a potential new high school is built. There are many documents on boarddocs that are related to all these presentations.

Also keep your eyes on the board’s nascent blog, u4boardcorner.blogspot.com. In fact, the latest post (“The trouble with transparency“) starts to address issues of transparency, which is kind of a hot button topic because it is a buzzword used very loosely in all sorts of circles – what does it really mean? Just this past weekend, I was talking with parents at an un-conference (kudos to EdCampCU!) about the current board, and there are a wide variety of opinions about how many steps backwards we might be taking or whether they are truly trustworthy. This is purely my opinion, but I think the current board has been making a number of steps that align to the IASB’s “Foundational Principles” vision, and I believe this will pay huge dividends in the long run, especially in generating and building trust, transparency and establishing healthy communication habits, not to mention a strong, public and shared idea of what the board does.

Update: Nicole Lafond writes about the Consent Decree in this morning’s NG:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-09-28/champaign-school-board-review-rules-building-locations.html

Unit 4 news: annual report, earlier date for physicals/immunizations, more

School has already started for students at Kenwood and Barkstall – everyone else is around the corner (August 19th). As the new school year kicks off, there may be some items of interest.

 

Most importantly, the deadline for physicals and immunizations has been bumped earlier in the year. NOTE: there is a free (for physicals) clinic TODAY! From board member Kathy Shannon’s Unit 4 facebook page:

This year’s deadline is much earlier–your children in Unit 4 MUST have required physical and immunization records turned in by September 1! There’s still one free clinic this summer:

Physicals & Immunization Clinic Saturday, July 25 at C-U Public Health District (201 W. Kenyon Rd.) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Schools Physicals: Free
Vaccine Cost: Billed to Medicaid, Health Alliance, and Insurance (must bring insurance card)
Uninsured and Underinsured: $23
Must bring child’s immunization records
For appointment, call C-U Public Health District: 217-531-4317

 

 

Dr. Wiegand has released her annual report:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/news/files/Annual%20Report.pdf

It is 12 pages packed with a number of positive things going on in Unit 4 schools, from U4 Innovate to the Art Society at Stratton, from Early Childhood and the International Prep to Novak Academy, with a snapshot of the budget, grants, faculty/teacher achievements and graduates.

 

The Education Equity Excellence Committee (EEE, or Triple E) is looking for some new folks:

http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/10730

The purpose of the EEE Committee is to support the Board of Education’s goal of providing an educational system that meets the needs of all students and leads to the attainment of educational excellence by all students, including students of diverse backgrounds.  Additionally, the Committee will foster two-way communication and collaboration between the District and its stakeholders.

 

 

As the new members of the board explore how to better “do” board meetings and fulfill their roles, keep your eyes for small changes here and there. A few weeks ago they posted a draft of the agenda. This week I found a document that lists out board meeting agenda items for the coming year (mostly recurring items that are already known):

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/Yearly_Board_Meeting_Agenda_Items.pdf?v=2015

 

 

Chat with Kerris Lee

Board member Kerris (up until a couple Thursdays ago, the newest board member) was out of commission for a few days, but we finally connected. I had initially contacted several board members about the Bambenek appointment, but our conversation morphed and took on much bigger issues. Which is a good thing; Kerris enlightened me on many of the awesome things he is in the middle of right now.

To do things a little backwards, I’ll start with my conclusion or my take-away, which I told Kerris at the end of our talk; somebody really needs to take an audio recording when talking to board members! *grin* He shared so many great things I fear I will miss some of them in my retelling of them. Yes, I realize having an audio record can be abused and might even stymie some of the more colorful expressions one might use. Baby and bathwater. Or maybe board members need an outlet to broadcast/publish without so many restrictive guidelines. I do not know any perfect solutions – I am just very inspired when talking to Kerris, and it would be awesome if more folks could have been in on the chat.

To that end, we covered the topic of “transparency” a bit. As with many other subjects we went over, there are two facets or aspects when it comes to the board; there is the “public” face they show to all of us, the portal through which we start to form our opinions and perspectives, and then there is the more private portion, where individual board members are doing amazing things, and even as a board, they are moving in various directions and covering some ground, but the public just has no clue whatsoever. As mentioned in my Bambenek post, I think it is important to recognize the progress that the board has made while also at the same time keeping an eye on the end goal. I had to agree with that, by and large, I believe the Board as a whole does not want to hide things; rather, I get the impression that there is an underlying systemic force that works against creative ways of communicating and sharing. On the whole, the board tends to err on the side of caution, or rather, on the side of being “informationally conservative”. Kerris indicated that he has talked to Superintendent Judy Wiegand and Board President Laurie Bonnett, as well as School Attorney Tom Lockman and Board Attorney Sally Carter, about addressing these fundamental roadblocks at the policy level. As with other board members, I have asked Kerris about all that goes on in Exec Session, and he has reassured me he is asking if more can be shared in Open Session.

We also covered AYP a bit. With NCLB pushing unrealistic goals (we are not aware of a single public school that meets 100% AYP across all subgroups), school districts are being faced with not only the temptation to “teach to the test”, but now are also being hammered with Common Core transitions. This topic alone was one of the big issues during the CFT negotiations (time outside of teaching time), and something I hear about from teachers as being a challenge to deal with. Again I asked how parents and the community can help shoulder that burden or at least do something about it.

In terms of the board engaging with the community more and along the lines of the board getting their thoughts out to the public, we lightly considered blogs, tweets and even a radio show. The fact of the matter is that nothing beats one-to-one conversations. What if the board did rotating shifts (no more than two board members each) at a coffee shop or other such venue? When Chuck and I were out at Houlihans every Wednesday, we were honored to be graced by board members every once in a while, and it was a great way to connect and catch up. I am curious, would members of the public take advantage of these opportunities? I am not looking for casual sounds of “sure”, but solid commitments; even though we made opportunities available at Houlihans, not many people at all showed up.

Kerris also mentioned that the board is preparing to make several presentations to the public about the high school referendum. He expressed a little bit of frustration in that the board is constrained to only communicate facts, and so being “informationally conservative”, their message may lack the soft edges of more embellished thoughts. I challenged Kerris with the idea of doing charrettes, of bringing in opinions and perspectives from students, teachers and community members. Even at this late stage, there is no reason why the district cannot see what people want. Kerris gave me some insight into some of the ideas that are being batted around internally (some of them sound really cool, like more focus on vo-tech), and again I had to ask where the community was in that discussion. I am hoping to hear back from Kerris in a couple weeks to see how these ideas are being floated internally.

Our conversation transitioned to Educational Technology, and this is where most of my excitement comes from in regards to our discussion. Most people already know, but for those that do not, Kerris has been a huge supporter of getting kids into programming, eToys and pushing technology in the curriculum (ie, STEM). Makes me wish I was a kid again. 🙂 As recently announced on the Unit 4 Facebook page, Kenwood is taking the next step to encourage kids to think “computationally” and pursue programming. The school’s new theme (Technology and Literacy in the Community) is benefiting from huge support from the University of Illinois’s Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (MSTE) department, headed up by George Reese. As a side note, Dr. Reese is also on the Advisory Council for the Center of Education in Small Urban Communities, which has been very involved in local education and will be doing a lot more. I mentioned that it is still hard for me to see the wedding of technology in today’s curriculum, but Kerris assured me that we are only going through the birth pains right now.

 

I need to circle back and ask about the topic of increased usage and interest in technology; what will “school” look like in 20 years? Will classrooms become more “flipped”? Will more students (and families) be able to learn at home (perhaps on school provided technology)? How does that play into the whole high school tax referendum?

 

One thing that really impressed me as I was talking to Kerris is that he is out there in the community doing things. Not just talking the talk at board meetings, but he is tracking down and researching policy issues and legislation that stands in the way of progress and is talking to pivotal decision-makers in an attempt to make things better for our children and our community. He is involved with United Way, the recently started Cradle to Careers and many other service-oriented ventures in town. To put it bluntly, the guy is just friggin’ nuts! 🙂

This post is just a sample of what we talked about. As with many other board members, Kerris reiterated that he is more than happy to chat with anyone. So give him a call or drop him and email. I warn you, he is extremely busy and you might have to be patient to hammer out a good time. But the wait is worth it. 🙂

December 10th Regular Board Meeting

Another quick post: the agenda for the Dec 10th board meeting is posted. Looks like a an amazing number of recognitions (Holy Achievements, Batman!), and an equal load of financial reports that are next to impossible to understand. 🙂 Some other things about School Assignment – of course, I am personally interested in that topic. What is interesting is that it is on the Consent Agenda, even though nobody has talked about it, yet. I have asked several questions (and emailed more questions this morning), but I am not getting much.

 

Again, I have not been able to go over the agenda with a fine-toothed comb – I will do that later. Go read it for yourself and come back and comment on it. 🙂

The Purpose of the School Board

This post started out as a deeper review and research of the recent Urbana School Board Policy 2:82 that got Jim Dey’s and Jim Turpin’s attention. But as I dug, I started asking bigger questions. Questions about the purpose of the school board and political engagement. But let me start from the beginning…

A few days ago, NG Editor Jim Dey wrote an editorial that stung the Urbana School District Board of Education and I started exploring his article in a post. Over lunch today, I took some time to dive into this whole thing with both feet.

First I contacted USD 116; I emailed the Board, Superintended Dr. Preston Williams and Assistant Superintendent Don Owen (and various administrative aides), asking where Policy 2:82 was published on the USD website. I must have missed it the first time looking through the Board Agenda, but the policy is indeed on the Board’s Agenda website:

http://www.usd116.org/files/boardmin1112/Board-Agreement-282-120605.pdf

As I was reading through it, I tried to ignore Dey’s perspective and form my own (which is rather difficult, actually). In reading through it, I can definitely see a sense of control being exerted. Control, in and of itself, is not inherently bad; I say that explicitly because even though it is obvious, we seem to want to escalate any desire for control into the realms of “bad” and “evil”. Certainly it can be used for bad. Is it? Also, I had to remember that these are expectations – when I read this, I did not see any ramifications stated if expectations are not met. Some call that kind of thinking devious, others call it thinking outside the box. (*evil grin*)

I also Read the rest of this entry »

Heading to the Board Meeting tonight

I don’t really want to go to a Board Meeting, but I am hoping to make a comment during the Public section. Here is what I intend to say:

“In early November, Board President Mrs. Grey and then Interim Superintendent Dr. Malito cosigned a letter to Unit 4 parents that gave a synopsis of what the Administration and Board were doing. I am unaware of such a letter being sent in previous Administrations; since this letter was an excellent first step in communicating what is on your mind, I would implore both the Board and the Superintendent to sent similar letters on a regular basis (perhaps bi-monthly). The letters should continue to update parents on the top priorities that Unit 4 is addressing.
Likewise at the same time, many Board Members were present at the PTA Council President’s Dinner, at which attendants were given the opportunity to interact with Board Members as a panel. Please create such opportunities several times a year, and please open them to the public at large.
Lastly, on January 2nd Dr. Wiegand participated in an interview with Sean Powers of WILL in which she acknowledged a lack of trust in the context of the community and expressed a desire to build bridges and open two-way communication. I realize the Public Comment time is not meant to ask questions, so allow me to say that I will be watching to see what steps the Board and the Administration take in the direction of building trust from scratch.
Thank you for your time.”

I wanted to say more, but I could not figure out how to say it in such a way that it would be easily heard and fit within 3 minutes. I think this is a good start, though.

UPDATE: My summary is in the comments below.

UPDATE: Reading Recovery video added: http://www.champaignschools.org/academic_spotlight/2012-01-09_academic_spotlight_Reading_Recovery.mov