Another HS referendum option to consider

The details are not yet public, but according to the agenda published by Unit 4, it looks like the board is chewing on an another option for the voting public (and the newly formed Special Board Committee to Develop Facility Plan) to consider: refurbishing and expanding Central HS at its current location.

 

Please note that none of these details are set in stone by any means; they are just ideas, options for us all to consider. Board President Chris Kloeppel mentioned to me that he talked to several land owners in the area around Central, and to his surprise found that with only a few willing sellers, Unit 4 could easily expand the footprint of Central to the north, with cooperation and blessings from the City to close off Park Street and maybe even create a foot bridge over Church Street. This certainly opens up a number of ideas in regards to what can be done at the existing location, and keeps the Interstate Drive area essentially as a land-bank, or even possibly as one way to consolidate outdoor facilities for Central. Again, just ideas. Hopefully a map will be made available soon. And I expect Nicole Lafond and others will be getting a word in with Mr. Kloeppel as well. (UPDATE: Lafond’s article is now online: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2016-01-23/new-options-agenda.html)

 

I am lead to believe that the Board and Unit 4 administration have been approaching this carefully and ethically, talking to interested parties and addressing legal issues with the intent of making this option public at the Jan 25th Board meeting. As such, I believe that steps have been taken to legally secure an agreement with some of the various landowners in the suggested area. In fact, look at the Jan 25 agenda items:

D. Approval of Real Estate Purchase Contract – 711 Sherwood Terrace: Tom Lockman 

 

E. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 603 W. Church Street, 606 W. Park Street, 201 N. Lynn Street, and 203 N. Lynn Street: Tom Lockman 

 

F. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 605 W. Hill Street and 602 W. Church Street: Tom Lockman  

 

G. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 500 W. Church Street and 606 W. Church Street: Tom Lockman   

 

In the end, the district has a strong desire to address the very serious and real needs of the physical buildings; the whole maintenance issue has been “kicked down the road” for far too long, and now the price of fixing buildings has snowballed. There is also an oft-repeated need for “capacity planning”, and we have frequently been told of the dire need to create more learning spaces as we are currently over capacity in our high schools, and quickly nearing capacity in other buildings. It seems like such an option is meant as a way to address all these concerns and make a future referendum more acceptable to voters.

 

One thing I hear others asking, which I would ask myself, is “what is the plan to make sure we don’t end up in this position again?” What are we going to do differently so that maintenance is not deferred to such an extreme in the future? It would be my expectation that the new special board facility committee will tackle that one.

 

UPDATE: According to twitter, Nicole’s article about this new option is on the front page of Saturday’s paper. It is not yet online.

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Central HS Social Justice Seminar

I was forwarded a PDF of a Social Justice presentation held at Central HS recently. I invite readers to comment:

 

Social Justice– Mental Health

The new referendum

re: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-01-09/updated-dr-howard-now-mix-champaign-ballot-proposal.html

 

At a reduction of about 3.36%, the overall price-tag of the proposed bond issue is not much different at all. The big element of change is what exactly that money is going towards: totally rebuilt Dr. Howard, needed upgrades and work at the current Central, at the cost of significantly reduced work at Centennial and no “turf” at the new Central. In my talks with Kerris, board members had also discussed a different version that weighed in at $139 million – still, not much but at least a token gesture. 🙂

 

I’ll say it up front – as I told Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield (chairs of the 2014 “YES” committee), right now I am leaning towards a “yes” on this vote. But I still have big hangups (six, in fact) that I fear never will be addressed.

 

Hangup #1

Why can’t we vote on pieces of the referendum? Why is it all or nothing? I think it is outstanding that the board and district administration FINALLY put Dr. Howard in the spotlight, and FINALLY decided to put HVAC at Central (tired of the trolls about holding Central students hostage?). I am still dumbfounded why those were left off the table in 2014. But we still have a $94.5 million high school being planned for Interstate Drive (I am not even going to get into Dodds Park thing now). That’s a lot of money, and still at a site that a large number of people do not support. From my point of view, it totally sucks that we have to vote for all of it or none of it.

 

Hangup #2

All the focus is on location, capacity and addressing the issues of aging physical plants. Show me the correlation between $1 spent and an increase in academic achievement. In 8+ years of talking, why do we still have unanswered questions in regards to how a referendum will boost the “output” of our school district? We have some excellent educational initiatives, including CTRL-Shift, CU Cradle to Career, and At Promise of Success, but these are not rolled into the language of the referendum at all.

 

Hangup #3

While I appreciate that board members met with each other, and someone met with some “no” voters (who talked to whom?), I don’t like that so much is happening behind closed doors. I appreciate that board member Kerris Lee has been filling me in on a number of details (like the $139M alternative that we still have not seen), but why is so much hidden from public view? I don’t get it that “we have been talking about this for 8 years” but then in a last ditch effort to “tweak” a failed referendum, some very important items are put on the table. There is something very wrong with this picture.

 

Hangup #4

I still very much want to see a super-majority vote. Counter to what the article says about the expected results for the 2014 referendum, I expected things to be close. I actually thought it might be a little closer. I expect this tweak is going to win over a few more votes; it is hard to say what the expectation will be given how voters in Champaign vote quite differently in a Spring Consolidated Election. But personally I want to see a vote that is 75% united. How do we get that? See my previous post about a successful school board and community engagement. There is a lack of ownership and concensus that is going to continue to make public support challenging.

 

Hangup #5

I still don’t see a big overall plan. Yes, we have the 20-year facility plan (which will now have to be updated to account for changes at Centenial, the current Central and Dr. Howard); yes, I understand that took a lot of work to compile, and yes, I realize it signifies that someone is trying to do some planning. But more importantly, how are we going to keep ourselves from winding up in this stupid place again? Tom Kacich had a good response in today’s “Tom’s Mailbag” about why we are where we are:

“As to how Champaign got into the predicament, my take is that school administrators and board members for decades were preoccupied with other issues and ignored their aging buildings and growing enrollments. Now that those issues have finally been addressed school leaders have taken note.”

Yes, decades!! That should be a little scary.

Here is the problem with the current referendum and 20-year facility plan – nobody is painting the big picture that we are going to have to go out for YET ANOTHER referendum to fix up all the still existing problems. My understanding is that we have a number of “Health/Life/Safety” (HLS) issues that are supposed to be paid out of a HLS fund, but my understanding is also that we have no such fund. I am still trying to seek out the facts about that. Beyond HLS, what about the expansion work at Centennial that is supposed to help us prepare for future enrollment? Who is going to pay for that? We have a number of things that are stacking up that might get paid when 1% sales tax money becomes available again (2024?). We seem to be spending money we do not have, hence our current annual $8 million debt service and the need to go out and get a $144 million bond issue. Ouch.

 

Hangup #6

We are getting a minimum of 3 new board members in April; in other words, at a bare minimum, three people who worked on crafting the current referendum will not even be on the board after the vote. The number of new faces could potentially be as high as 5 (out of a total of 7). And if Board President Laurie Bonnett should happen to win Frerich’s old seat and choose to resign from the board (my understanding is that this is her choice, it is not required), that will be a maximum of 6 or a minimum of 4 new faces. That’s got to be a little rough.

 

Conclusion

So with these hangups, am I stupid crazy to be leaning towards a “yes”? We have been totally screwed over by previous boards and administrative officials. As the general rule in Illinois now, we have for too long borrowed against the future, and now our debts are due. In fact, for me personally, it is more imporant who we vote in as board members than how we vote on the referendum. That is the reason why I wrote my previous post, and why I intend to follow-up with another post about characteristics I am looking for in board members (and the board president). If we want better results, we must change the very process itself. Unfortunately, it is easier to address the “surface” issues of a school site or whether we put in HVAC at an old building. I hope we begin to wake up to the fact that we will forever have disagreements about many of the details, but at some point we must work, and even collaborate, on the bigger issues.

 

Watching how democracy works

For those that watch/read the News-Gazette online, you will have seen that the Nov 4th Unit 4 referendum item is getting a lot of comments (1st, 2nd). It is interesting to witness how passionate some people are about their thoughts. Given all that energy, it is somewhat frustrating that these voices are not truly put to the test in a deliberative, public forum.

 

A little over an hour ago, Angelica Sanchez of Channel 15 emailed me; unfortunately, I had to decline an interview offer but was made aware of a petition that is making the rounds on facebook:

Find a more central site for a new Champaign Central High School

 

UPDATE: Those that wish to contact Angelica:

Angelica Sanchez

Multimedia reporter

WICD Newschannel 15

217-351-8538

 

UPDATE 2: Kathy Richards, who initiated the petition and one of many interviewed, will be on Channel 15 for tonight’s 10:00 pm news.

 

I believe this is a significant step up from the anonymous (or pseudo-anonymous) online comments for a newpaper website. Based on a number of those online comments, however, it is obvious that the stated new Central HS location is in fact a big deal to a number of people. Will we then have a petition for including Dr. Howard on the next referendum? What about reducing the size of the referendum? (all reasons stated in recent NG articles and online comments) Note, I think we should, and am tempted to start them myself.

 

This is but the start of a democratic process taking birth. Next, I would love to see a full-blown panel between those who strongly support the referendum and those who strongly oppose it. I would love to see open radio debates. (Eric Bussell, you reading this? *grin*) What I think we would find fascinating about such dialogs is that 1) a whole freaking ton of people agree that we need to do something about the buildings and we need to address capacity in some form, and 2) those who oppose are going to find it difficult to unite on an alternative resolution. If nothing else, I think the latter is one of the biggest challenges behind organizing the “opposition” group.

 

As I told Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield (co-chairs of the Friends of Champaign Schools), rather than a mere 1700 “no” votes that the district administration and board wants to convert, what about a minimum goal of 5000? Why can’t we have a goal of finding a solution that a super-majority of our voters can agree upon?

 

To help us towards that goal, I am ready to get my hands dirty. I am willing to help organize open public forums, panels, discussions (or whatever you want to call them). I am willing to go looking for people who are willing to debate on radio and TV. Let us set up opportunities in various neighborhood community centers where people can hash out their ideas. But I ask for your help; I cannot do this alone. What good will it do? People, we need to work together A LOT more than we do now. We are too divided. I love how grass-root movements like the Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice unite people around a specific cause and organize their efforts with positive results. There are other small groups like that around town that “get things done”, and it is so exciting when I hear about them.

 

The school district and board has said that we have been talking about this problem for (at least) 8 years now. It has probably been a lot longer. To that end, I believe the consultants we have hired have failed us on that count. We had an excellent start of a democratic effort in 2008 called “Great Schools Together” that totally lacked follow-through and accountability. I think we may have lost the art of healthy disagreement and public deliberation; we voted on November 4th, but yet it is unknown what we said.

NG articles this morning; covering both sides of the referendum

A nice bevy of things to read in today’s paper:

 

Julie Wurth’s article goes into quite a depth covering both sides of the story, and references a study of which only a few pictures are included in the 6-page PDF, as well as previous studies. The editorial highlights two distinct viewpoints of the $149 million referedum, closing with “Next Sunday, The News-Gazette editorial board will offer its opinion on the Central/Centennial proposal.” I have not yet had the time to digest what both outstanding ladies have said, but I hope to do so later today. In the meantime, I recommend you read these articles as they are excellent windows into differing perspectives.

“a fair shake”

Over the past couple of months, I have had several email conversations with Denise Martin (co-chair of the “Friends of Champaign Schools” campaign), board members, teachers, a student, Dennis Bane (architect for DLR), Stephanie Stuart, Dan Ditchfield (the other co-chair for “Friends of Champaign Schools”) and the Unit 4 Executive Leadership Team (Dr. Wiegand, Dr. Taylor, Dr. Zola, Mr. Foster). A couple Saturdays ago Mark Nolan knocked on my door as part of the “Friends of Champaign School” campaign effort to encourage people to vote for the Nov 4th Unit 4 property tax referendum, which is quickly approaching.

The title of this blog post is “a fair shake” because those are the words Dan Ditchfield used when I met with him in the context of me “covering” the campaign he is involved in. In writing this blog post, I will be pulling in observations from all the above conversations I have had.

You might ask, if I am opposed to the referendum, why am I spending so much time talking to people who obviously support the referendum? For me, especially on this particular issue, it is important to be informed. Better yet, I have learned so much about the people who support the referendum and I have been encouraged by a lot of commonalities between myself and those I talk with.

Both Denise and Dan asked a key question, and I have a sneaky feeling they conspired. *grin* “Do you trust Unit 4?” That is basically what this vote will boil down to. It is however a deceptively simple question – for instance, I cannot say “yes” or “no” because I trust certain individuals involved with Unit 4, but not all.

Yet the main impetus which drives me to write this post in the first place is because I absolutely love the public display of support by so many people involved with the “Friends of Champaign Schools”. As I have told Denise, Dan, board members and others, I do not want to hinder those who rally around our public schools, because I myself am a public school fan, and it is awesome to see so many people put forth the effort to help the schools succeed. I appreciate and value that many folks have volunteered to go knocking on doors, to meet with various groups (ie, churches) and project a very positive image of Unit 4. These passionate folks will need to continue building support regardless if the referendum passes or not because there is still a lot of work to be done.

On top of that, folks like Denise and Dan are not one-trick ponies; they are involved in many other ways. For example, Denise is helping to spearhead the Champaign Urbana Cradle to Career initiative, an awesome project in an of itself. Among other things, Dan is also a Unit 4 One-to-One Mentor and working with CTRL-SHIFT. As I talked with them, we all agreed that the referendum is not perfect, and that many years of neglect, bad decisions and “kicking the can down the road” has led us to where we are. We differ on some points, but we also agree on a number of points.

What points do we agree on? Capacity is a very real issue right now. I have been to Central on several occasions, and the classrooms simply are not designed for the number of students that curretly get stuffed inside. The science labs on the third floor might have been designed for half the number of students, not to mention the band room and other rooms. On top of that, I believe the general gist of the Dejong-Richter projections that things are only going to get worse for the next 8 years.

Next but not any less important are the deferred maintenance items that have been lingering for years. As a district (not just the decision-makers, but all of us) it is utterly irresponsible to let those items go unattended. Based on what I have read in the 10-year CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) and HLS (Health-Life-Safety) report, and from my own obsevations from being inside both high schools, I am aware that there are a number of conditions that have only worsened.

I think it is fair to say that the three of us also agree some form of property tax increase is imminent simply due to the neglect and poor planning of previous administrations and boards. At this point, we agree to disagree on the exact implementation and scope of that work. 🙂 And I believe we all agree that this referendum isn’t “the end” (pass or fail), because of the middle schools and Dr. Howard.

The Unit 4 Executive Team also invited me to a morning meeting to address my question of “What size high school is ideal for Unit 4?” To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Laura Taylor mentioned that her doctoral thesis indirectly addressed that very question; not to be cliché, but size doesn’t matter. Rather, it is the quality and quantity of “teacher care” that has the most impact. I find it quite inspiring that someone who has dwelled deeply and broadly on a contentious topic like the academic achievement of African American students (and the surrounding perceptions) is helping to shape the future of our schools.

One thing I have really appreciated about the folks at the Mellon Center, the administration, the student I spoke with, the board members and the “Friends of Champaign Schools” is the passion and energetic excitement they exhibit in regards to the future of our schools. It is rather intoxicating actually. To reiterate, this is something I want to see grow. When I spoke with Stephanie Stuart and Dennis Bane (before “Friends of Champaign Schools” kicked into high gear), I mentioned that all this awesome charisma almost seems locked within the four walls of the Mellon Center, and that the general public is not yet on the same page. I cannot help but think to myself “what if all this positivity and synergy spilled out into the media and around dinner tables two years ago?”

There is a lot to love about Champaign Schools. Denise Martin and Dan Ditchfield are only two examples of hard-working folks trying to share that love with others. I very much admire what they are doing.

So Dan, is that the “fair shake” you were expecting? 🙂

Math 4 moms and dads

re: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-09-25/math-event-figures-dads-moms-could-use-help-too.html

 

Nicole Lanford, newly in charge of covering Education for the News-Gazette, reports on an event tonight at Central. I would like to take you on a little journey that goes just a tad deeper. Slopes and parabolas are words, names we give to things.

mxb

Image provided by Wolfram Alpha

For starters, using the famous formula mx+b, here is a plot of various slopes (m) with various values for x:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=plot+mx%2B3%2C+m%3D2

 

If you just want one line (*yawn*):

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=plot+2x%2B3

 

 

 

 

parabola_contour

Image provided by Wolfram Alpha

Want that parabola?

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=plot+x%5E2

Or the 3d version:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=plot+x%5E2%2By%5E2

 

 

 

 

 
But it is more than just creating pretty pictures (and I love the pictures!). What is especially exciting about what Lindsay Polarek and LaDonna Fletcher are doing goes way beyond the words we use – it is the way they actually teach. I have spoken with both in the past, and I love their approach to teaching math concepts to students; they are throwing in the kitchen sink by allowing students to collaborate, deliberate and explore as they grapple with formulas, functions and visualizing. They make a point of relating new ideas to familiar ideas, to help make the “learning curve” a bit more manageable – ideas are connected, one to another. Students also work together on small projects. In effect, they are already doing “21st Century Education” in their practices.

 

Math 4 Moms and Dads is a way for parents to see how these teachers teach, or as the article says of Ms. Polarek, an “opportunity to connect with educators”:

“So many people have negative impressions of math, and we want to show that this doesn’t have to be the case,” she added. “We want parents to experience math the way their students are experiencing it — as opposed to how they may have experienced it when they were in school.” (quoted from Lanford’s article)

It is not so much about remembering how to find a slope given a pair of points or what the quadratic equation looks like. I believe it is more so parents can see and “experience” how their children are learning. And from what I gather, there is a lot more fun involved than when I was a kid. 🙂

 

The event is advertised for Central families (parents and students). But I would encourage you to talk with Ms. Polarek and Ms. Fletcher regardless.

 

Obligatory plug for Wolfram: while Wolfram’s products are not the only thing out there, I tend to like them because 1) they are local, and 2) their products are powerful and really cool. I am big on visualization, so I like being able to “see” what the numbers are trying to tell me.