Finding the good: awesome teachers and excellent opportunities

Today I was watching the most recent Board Meeting (Jan 23), and I was reminded that I wanted to write a post (several posts, actually). Aside from the important-but-dry communications about legal issues, bonds, finances, “construction management at risk” (it sounds worse than it is, lol), etc etc, I have been very impressed by the Staff Spotlights, not to mention the occasional report about some really cool things at various schools, like what was hinted by the Kenwood presentation.

 

At this last board meeting, there was a double dose of Staff Spotlights, honoring three outstanding individuals – from the Jan 23rd 8A agenda item:

Ms. [Lindsay] Green sees her students as people. She wants them to be successful both academically and personally. She was recently touched by the tragedy of a student suicide. She has since looked at her curriculum and how she can wrap around students as people and as students. She uses literature to help students be successful and active members of our society. She creates a space where students are heard, valued, and helped. Her students know and recognize her as a person who can be easily identified for support and advocacy. She is a teacher that I frequently use as a model to emulate. She is a teacher that all of us hope to be. She is a life changer. She is a safe space. She is an excellent teacher.

Every day, regardless of any outside factors or variables, both Tami [Fisher] and Iyana [Jones] show up to work with an attitude that puts what is best for our students first. They are experienced, confident, and understand how to work with students at baseline as well as those in crisis. The most amazing thing about these two is the work they put in outside of school hours to benefit our students. Be it service projects, going to see student sporting events, helping gather donations for students whose families are in need, or just always keeping their eyes open for rewards/prizes/snacks that students have stated they like, their devotion to our students never seems to diminish.

 

We are blessed to have people like this serving in our schools. Likewise, a shout out to Nicole Lafond for having a weekly teacher highlight in the News-Gazette; I would encourage you to check those out as well. Nicole seems to range all over looking for stand-out teachers.

 

In addition to the Staff Spotlight this past Monday, the Board was also treated to a presentation, via four students, about the computational work going on at Kenwood. These kids are being exposed to some really fantastic opportunities at such a young age, not to mention the enviable partnership with the University MTSE via CTRL-Shift. On top of that, while it is not in the limelight, for several years students have been able to attend the renowned Students Involved with Technology (SIT) conference; just as one other example of how doors are being opened. There is obviously a synergy happening, especially when you have folks like Wendy Maa, Kära Tanaka and Trevor Nadrozny, all of whom were supporting the students at the board meeting (there are of course many others, Kenwood has quite an impressive cast).

 

At one point during the meeting, Board President Chris Kloeppel praised the Choice program – and I believe he was very much right in that Unit 4 has a lot of exciting schools to choose from.

 

I don’t know about you, but these things warm my heart. Yes, there are still many challenges to address. But I believe we can and we will address them. If Unit 4 is full of such amazing people, how can we not? 🙂

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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.

A totally new school board

Tonight’s short meeting resulted in four new board officers, and personally, I am glad that the President and VP votes were unanimous:

  • Chris Kloeppel (President)
  • Amy Armstrong (Vice President)
  • Kathy Shannon (Secretary)
  • Jonathan Westfield (Parliamentarian)

There were a number of tweets, and Nicole followed up with an NG article. It is exciting to witness and hear about the synergy that has already been building between various board members (new and old), not to mention some of the things they want to tackle. For instance, how to take advantage of social media? How to engage the community and make board meetings more “friendly”? How to work together as a board but still have individual passions? And with Mr. Kloeppel being the youngest board president in a very very long time (ever?), their path as a team will be both challenging and exciting.

My number one priority for the board is that they continue to more fully embrace the model espoused by the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), called “The Foundational Principles of Governance.” The IASB model does several things that I like, taking a lot of cues from John Carver’s Policy Governance; one of the most exciting things, in my opinion, is “Effective Community Engagement”. The model also establishes clear relationships between the board and the Superintendent, the administration and the community. And finally, it guides the school board in focusing on policy and school-wide direction, not falling into the trap of micromanagement, which I think has been a sand trap for quite a while now. All these facets will be even more critical as this school board contemplates the process to select a new superintendent in two years time.

The new board will have a Board Retreat later this month, where I believe they will meet with IASB representative Patrick Rice, Dr. Wiegand and other members of the administration to lay the ground work for their collective goals and ambitions for the coming year. In the meantime, I am going to go out on a limb and put forth the idea that board members (all of them) really want to hear from the public, so I encourage you to contact them at:

u4boe@champaignschools.org

5 new board members and back to the drawing board on the referendum

First off, hats off to the candidates that won a seat on the school board:

  • Amy Armstrong
  • Chris Kloeppel
  • Kathy Richards
  • Kathy Shannon
  • Jonathan Westfield (2-year seat)

UPDATE: Chambanamoms posted an Instagram pic if you want to see them

With a 10:4 ratio voting against the referendum, I was actually surprised with such a huge margin; I expected it to be much closer. Obviously, the Keep Central Central’s strong campaign efforts (and lack of a corresponding thrust by the “Yes” crowd) made an impression, which is also reflected in the choice of board members; every candidate that took a strong stand for the referendum failed to claim a seat.

So this is what democracy looks like at the ballot. Now the harder part – how do you get all those “No” votes to actually agree on a solution, and then sell that to the everyone else? This will be a challenge for the new board. Another challenge will be if they desire to choose a new president, and building bridges with the North End Breakfast Club (which I think is very important and healthy).

For the referendum, I would love to see a multi-staged effort take place. First, break the referendum up into pieces that actually address individual goals. One for Dr. Howard, one for the current Central (ie, the dreaded lack of AC we keep hearing about in the summer months), one for Centennial and one for a new Central. All of that needs to be put under the umbrella of a comprehensive and community-vetted long-term strategic plan than can be summarized in a one-page infographic. I would love to see an effort towards participatory budgeting whereby the guts of how finances work are simplified and made accessible to the average Joe, and give stakeholders a sense of ownership by giving them the power to vote on more granular items (as opposed to a carte blanche $144 million).

Here are a few short-term goals I am going to push the new school board to jump on.

  1. Figure out a way to have informal get-togethers that do not violate OMA but yet do not require an agenda, much less Robert’s Rules. Most of the candidates have already been practicing this; now to make it official. Happy Hours at Jupiters/Sun Singer/Blind Pig? 🙂
  2. Even though KCC won tonight, don’t let the referendum dominate your role as a board member. Keep things in perspective. Focus first (please!) on governance and serving the people that elected you.
  3. Connect with the North End. Make it a priority to adopt some of their issues, like inequities in discipline and the achievement gap. Jamar’s voice will be missed, so find a way to fill the gap.

There are very exciting times ahead. The public has voted in some good people, even if they are not the ones you wanted. Each of them has promised to bring a listening ear, so it is up to you to make sure they do exactly that.

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).

School Board Candidate filings

Per the News-Gazette and Gordy’s tweet this evening, here are all 10 candidates for the April 7th elections (the number following the name indicates either a 2-year seat or a 4-year seat):

  • Amy Armstrong (4)
  • Jamar Brown (4)
  • Azark David Cobbs (4)
  • Christopher James Kloeppel (4)
  • Kerris Lee (4)
  • Kathy Richards (4)
  • Prudence Runkle (2)
  • Kathy Shannon (4)
  • Jonathan Westfield (2)
  • Alissia Young (4)

 

I will be seeking out more information on each of these individuals; I am told that the media has already started to reach out to them as well, and I know the REWIND citizens group is contacting candidates. From memory, Cobbs, Westfield and Young have all tried for seats in the past. Brown and Lee are currently board members.

 

I am sure there will be candidate questions, forums (the PTA Council already has plans for one in April) and more media spotlights for each of them. Feel free to submit your own questions/thoughts here. I’ll publish what I have gathered soon.

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.