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. 🙂

Things keep hopping

There are a few things boiling internally at the Mellon Center. I’ll share the ones that have already become public, the others I have specifically been asked not to blog about. Which is really hard for me. 🙂 Isn’t that like giving a child some candy and telling him not to eat it? Not just any candy, but his favorite.

One of the rumors that finally got certified was that the former Garden Hills principal, Cheryl O’Leary has taken a position as the new Director of Special Programs while Cheryl Camacho has taken the position of Interim Principal at Garden Hills. Both effective July 1, 2013. In regards to this transition, I have spoken to parents, teachers (not at Garden Hills), administration and board members, and basically nobody wants to be quoted. So I am going to grossly summarize; some parents feel very agitated, some teachers feel like they can’t say anything, and the administration seem to have well-thought out reasons. But none of the folks I have talked with are talking with each other, which is very frustrating to me. I don’t believe one side is all wrong and the other side all right – I believe each has a story, a perspective, a slice of the pie. I am asking and hoping that some of these folks are willing to share their story.

I also spoke with two representatives from the College of Education yesterday, Jane E. Schingel and David Requa.  I was initially wondering what kind of research the College of Ed has done regarding Unit 4 and Unit 116. Both Jane and David were extremely helpful and our conversation was very enlightening. I learned that most research asks the question “how does this work”, whereas very little research goes to the next step of addressing how to make it work better. The fundamental roadblock is funding. But there is also the issue that most research asks very narrow and specific questions – nothing like a global “how to effectively run a school district” or “how to engage your community”. We also talked about the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, and in addition to some thoughts shared by Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the Center is currently undergoing some changes and there is a high hope and expectation that there will be an even higher level of collaboration between community interests (ie, local schools) and the Center when the dust settles. I hope to share more about that when information becomes available.

 

In regards to the FOIAs I heard about earlier, I am still trying to ferret out the truth and not depend solely on rumors. I have heard that some things are still bubbling, but nothing that is verified, yet. I fully intend to keep on them and share what I learn; again, it is not my desire to propagate rumors but to find facts and truth.

 

Lastly, pay attention to the board meeting on Monday. Or at least the announcements leading up to it.

systemstate dump (aka, flushing out my head)

Over the past week or so, I have been reading and searching (is that called researching?). I am a bit overwhelmed and so for the sake of my own sanity, I am going to dump it all right here in a post. I apologize up front if this is in a format that is hard to consume.

Warning: Clicking “read more” may give you a link-heavy wall-of-text. Read the rest of this entry »