Will we need a Plan B?

With Julie Wurth’s latest update (New Central High School: it’s back to Interstate Drive), prepare yourself for a November ballot question, “Will you spend x millions of dollars to build a new Central, refurbish Centennial, and possibly fix up South Side and Dr. Howard?”


There are several angles to this I wish to address. First I am going to defend the board and the administration. *grin* But I will not stop there, so please keep reading.


A large number of those who leave comments on the relevant NG articles (see my Index if you want a comprehensive list) demonstrate that they do not fully understand the historical context of how we have arrived at where we are. I will even go so far to say that some are being purely emotional and just spouting opinions that have no basis in reality whatsoever. It is easy to say the board/administration is not listening. Isn’t it odd that Unit 4 has spent over $200,000 on multiple consultants and experts to “prove” that they are listening (that is not meant to be flame bait – hold on a couple paragraphs)? Casting such a wide net of blame is not fair; “Wah! The board didn’t pick my favorite option, they must not be listening to me!! WAAAHHHH!” The board and administration have heard many things from the community; in all that, they have finally made a decision to act and are acting on a portion of community feedback that is easiest for them to work with, aka “low hanging fruit”. You know the saying, “haters gonna hate”? It is impossible to reach 100% consensus, so we will always have a group of people who do not like “the idea”, no matter what the idea is. To give credit to the board, they have not been idle; aside from the forums and other opportunities at various school district locations, individual board members have made themselves available and Dr. Wiegand has been on Penny for Your Thoughts to answer live questions, not to mention a twitter chat that some were able to take advantage of.


I must also remind the larger community that over the past several decades Unit 4 has done just about nothing to plan ahead for capital growth, not until the past 6 years or so when a semblance of a plan has been batted about. I cannot blame the current board and administration for that; it was an inherited problem. It should be obvious that we need to do something – renting out trailers to house additional students is a horrible long-term plan. That’s a black eye for any proud community.


Finally, way too many people are ready to cast stones without even going through the steps of representative government; if you don’t talk to board members, if you don’t show up at board meetings (*cough cough*), if you do not participate in the public “Community Conversations”, and if you don’t make alternative suggestions before the 11th hour, can you really expect to start complaining now and have it mean much?


And now I am going to flip it around. As much as the community has issues, so does the board and the administration. Karen has talked about the “Delphi” effect, and from the external evidence we have (not having access to closed board meetings, nor all the many conversations that do not happen in the public sphere), there is certainly the appearance that some group in the school district decided what direction this would take, and then went through the hand-waving motions of engaging the community. There are those of us (tax-paying, voting citizens who do not draw a check from Unit 4 nor sit on the board) who are very much engaged at various levels and yet we have an exceptionally difficult time trying to affect change. There are a lot of heads beating against walls, which leads to trust issues with the school district. Imani Bazzel had a super awesome collaborative effort all packaged up nice and neat for Unit 4, and all that effort and hard work all but disappeared from Unit 4 after the final presentation – never came up with Dejong-Richter or Gorski Reifsteck. Holly Neslon’s excellent work (for FREE!) was largely brushed under the rug as well.


To this end, I hold the board at fault for not fully adopting the IASB’s John Carver Governance model. Granted, it is relatively new and the IASB is still in the process of pushing it out, but the board for a long time (ie, at least over the past decade that I have been involved, and I hear longer from others) has had a hard time of demonstrating that they are beholden to the community. It is not that I want the board to do more, but rather, change what they are doing and how they are doing it.



Circling back to the topic of this thread, “Will we need a Plan B?”

The writing was on the wall back in January that the district was focused on Interstate Drive. Hiring Gorski-Reifsteck and considering Spalding were, I believe, just steps to pacify the angry mobs. 🙂 The district has shown that they are following a loose blue-print that came out of “Great Schools, Together” (GST), to the extent that the 1% sales tax and “Promises Made Promises Kept” were all about achieving some of the goals from GST. The November referendum is just an extension of that effort, to further address the goals outlined in GST. The problem is that the GST is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the community. Most people have completely forgotten about it. The Unit 4 website for GST was absolutely abysmal. Thus, it seems (feels) like this whole business about building a new school and vamping up the high schools is totally out of the blue. On top of that, it is obvious that there are many different ideas on how to proceed from here – the community is very divided.

At this point, I think Unit 4 has a pretty strong backing of followers who fully support any decision they might make. The last minute campaign, which was partially already put into play via the fine Shatterglass videos, will convince some people that yes indeed, Unit 4 is stuck between a rock and a hard place and we need to pass a referendum to build buildings. But there are also a lot of divided community members whose only common point is that they plan to vote “no”.

From where I sit, I believe the November referendum will fail. Why? $100 million dollars is a lot to ask for! Unit 4 has already asked for almost $100 million since 1998, and there is the promise that Unit 4 will have to ask for more again in the very near future. This is a huge burden on our lower income folks, and probably even the nebulous middle-class. Additionally, I think the style and method by which the board has conducted its business has not adequately crossed the chasm of distrust built up over the past couple of decades. And please note, I must again point out that I am not blaming specific individuals for this – rather, it is a huge systemic problem with the way we exercise governance. We need more people to rise up and demand changes. Voting helps, but is a very limited tool.


So what is going to happen when (if) the November referendum does not pass? One popular sound-byte reported by the NG is that Unit 4 will get more trailers. Obviously, that is not the only thing Unit 4 will seriously consider; most likely they will try for another referendum. Here is my challenge for all of us – if/when the November public school referendum does not pass, we need to figure out why. Yes, I hear the sentiment that we are “done talking” – however, it has been the wrong kind of talking, in my opinion. With all that talking we did, where are the 20- and 40-year plans? Supposedly we have a GST Strategic Plan and a Capital Improvement Plan, but I found them exceptionally hard to plot a course with. Yes, let us stop talking – let us do more planning charrettes; let us have a Unit 4 classroom that finds solutions for us; let us reflect on our true mission, collaborating with community to training up all learners to be wildly successful at life; let us volunteer for programs like ACTIONS, 1-to-1 mentoring, TALKS, or as a classroom parent or helping in the lunch room or with after-school programs. Heck, get involved with Pre-K and CUC2C.


If the November referendum does in fact pass, we need to stand up and support the schools still. Giving up is not an option. If 50.01% voters vote yes, that is what we have to live with and move forward.

Future Facilities: do your homework and talk to the board

As shown by last Monday’s BOE meeting (March 10th), the school district’s Facility Committee has been plugging away at deciding what our future school configuration will look like. They have used feedback and data gathered from “Great Schools Together” (2008), the Dejong-Ricther “engagement” sessions (2012 – early 2013), as well as input from various consultants (ie, BLDD, RPC, Gorski-Reifsteck, etc).

My bet is that most people in the community had no clue this was even going on, much less what they have discussed. At the March 10th BOE meeting, they presented the results of their work to date, three middle-school configurations (or scenarios) chosen from an initial list of 11. At the March 17th BOE meeting, the Committee will again present information to the Board focusing on the “Live/Work” option of the current Central building once the school is relocated to north Neil Street.

What is “Live/Work”? What are the 11 options? What are the final three? Where did they come from? Who is making all these decisions? Your assignment is to try to answer these questions. Here are some hints as to where you might start looking:

There have been numerous articles, columns, editorials and letters to the editor in the News-Gazette. I draw your attention, again, to a Feb 6, 2011 letter by Laurie Reynolds, which describes a path the she sees would be optimal for the school district to follow in planning for a future Central. As you read through it, you can see that the district will readily point out they have followed some of the steps, but there are others that leave a bit of a hole. I believe her last sentence still rings loud and clear with preternatural accuracy:

“But if we continue the discussion along the lines we have followed so far, those options will never be explored, and the ultimate decision on Central will be made with incomplete information and without an understanding of all of the costs that new construction on a remote site will impose on the community.”

In yesterday’s NG, Heather Owen’s letter to the editor asks community members to chime in on the various K-8 options the Facility Committee is considering. Ms. Owen also emailed me directly, as well as emailing the Board with her concerns. I encourage all property tax payers to follow suit – read up on the available documentation and let the Board know what you think about it. Better late than never. I have a bit more to say on this particular topic, but I am closing off a couple other threads and want to present multiple perspectives; I have heard from one board member that takes issue with the letter, and I have another in-progress conversation with administration.

Personally, I was hoping for more community-focused engagement, along the lines of Springfield’s Education Summit and (not or) charrettes used by planners. I have asked the board and the district administration on multiple occasions to think about both of these ideas. What gets me is that Superintendent’s Goals for the District #2 is all about “Community Involved Planning” (also the title of a recent Spotlight video which is not yet available online). It is exceptionally difficult for me to reconcile the progress of decision-making that Unit 4 has taken so far and this particular goal. But perhaps I am cynical and/or naive.

So until I can wrap up my other conversations, I conclude with a recommendation that readers, tax payers and Unit 4 residents get acquainted with the available information and start asking questions. Make plans to attend the March 17th BOE meeting; yes, your speaking time will be limited to 3 minutes and you will not be able to enjoy a back-and-forth dialogue, but this is one of the very few opportunities you currently have to make your voice heard in a public setting.

Do not let other people make up your mind – make up your own mind.

BOE meeting tonight, grassroots parent/teacher collabo, other news

Even though the Unit 4 schools are closed today, the BOE is still holding their “special” meeting tonight (“special” as in “every 4th week, a little more audience participation allowed”). Of course, there is Big News in that the Board is expected to disclose which property north of I-74 they intend to purchase for the new location of the high school; per Stephanie Stuart:

“Approval of Option and Contract Purchase Agreements for New High School Site” appears as item 8F on the attached agenda. District administration and board members will be available at Monday night’s meeting for comments/interviews regarding the new site.


A number of community folks, including Tod Satterthwaite, Patricia Avery, Minnie Pearson and Holly Nelson have stood up at board meetings in the past couple of months urging the board (in various tones *grin*) to carefully consider what a site north of I-74 will mean in the long run. There have been many questions about Country Fair, and Matt Foster responded quite thoroughly about why Country Fair would not work at the regular board meeting on Jan 13th. Personally, my issue with the whole thing is a lack of concrete facts, especially looking at the long-term. It seems that nobody knows for sure how much this is going to cost. Holly Nelson has done a good job to project possible transportation costs, but it seems that the Board is convinced those costs do not rule out a site north of I-74. Even MTD cannot tell us how much it will cost to bus students (and anyone else interested in going to school events).


I very much encourage you to attend tonight if you want your voice heard.


Additionally, there is a grassroots effort to bring parents, teachers and students together. From the CP4T facebook page:

“Our initial goal is to find ways to help empower parents with the education of their children. We are hoping to help build the communication between teachers and parents, and find ways to provide resources for parents. “

The next gathering will be February 6 at 6:30 pm, at the Champaign Federation of Teacher’s office located at 2902 Crossing Ct #B (look for the signs for Suite D – it is really close to that).


Finally, in other news:

  • PTA Forum tomorrow, Tuesday, January 28, 6:00 8:00 pm at the Champaign library to discuss transitions to Middle School (ie, from 5th to 6th grade). All are welcome. Sponsored by the South Side PTA.
  • The next (and first, since the other first one was cancelled) Schools of Choice Community Forum will be February 4th, at Barkstall Elementary School (2201 Hallbeck Drive in Champaign) at 6 p.m. All families with incoming kindergarten students are encouraged to attend.
  • Another “Community Conversation” with Dr. Wiegand; Sunday, Feruary 9th, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, at El Centro Romero (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), 612 E. Park St, Champaign.

"Superintendent Wiegand to Host Community Conversation at the Research Park"

community_conversationFrom Stephanie Stuart:

Champaign Unit #4 School District Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand will host a Community Conversation at the University of Illinois Research Park as part of series of informal community meetings be held throughout the school year.


“As Superintendent, it’s important that the work taking place in our schools is leveraging the diversity and expertise that exists within our community,” said Superintedent Wiegand. “The University of Illinois Research Park has put Champaign-Urbana on the map as one of the fastest-growing tech communities in the nation. We want to build strong partnerships with this.”


District and University of Illinois representatives will be on hand to share how Unit 4 is working to integrate technology in the classroom. Research Park employees and community members are invited to ask questions and share ideas how our schools and the CU tech community can work together to build strong partnerships.


“Developing a technologically savvy workforce is critical to our community’s future,” said Laura Frerichs, Director of the University of Illinois Research Park. “We look forward to learning more about Unit 4’s approach to STEM education, and how we can leverage the Research Park and its resources to work together meaningfully towards a common goal. Research Park is excited to welcome Dr. Wiegand and Unit 4 to discuss these issues and hope this event marks the beginning of a continuous dialogue.”


One collaboration that will be highlighted to kick off the conversation will be the work done through the Entrepreneurial Leadership in STEM Teaching and Learning (EnLiST) grant, specifically at Booker T. Washington STEM Academy.  These collaborations have included the development of several new high school science courses, middle school science units, and “flipping” classrooms.


“Over the past five years, EnLiST has collaborated with Unit 4 on developing the capacity of a cadre of fifty K-12 teacher leaders through intensive, long-term professional development coupled with the seeding and nurturing of innovative and transformative initiatives,” said Dr. Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, Curriculum & Instruction Department Head at the University of Illinois College of Education. “At Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, EnLiST faculty and teacher leaders have engaged elementary students with nanotechnology (3D printing and polymer balls), a “Drones for Schools” program, and inquiry learning in chemistry, entomology, and geophysics, all supported by a network of UIUC STEM faculty and graduate students, high school teachers and students, and BTW teachers. EnLiST continues to support Unit 4 teachers as they create and implement transformative innovations for K-12 students in STEM education.”


The event will be held November 5, 2013 from 5-6:30 p.m. at EnterpriseWorks Incubator (60 Hazelwood Drive, Champaign).


Stephanie Stuart

Community Relations Coordinator

Champaign Unit #4 School District


Facilities Community Meeting (Futures Conference, take 2)

I just happened to be browsing the futurefacilities website (since I have not been receiving updates, and I still haven’t got the RSS figured out – it is wordpress afterall), and lookie what I noticed, a brand-new, surprise community meeting about future facilities.

“There was a good turnout at the Futures Conference on November 1st, but we wanted to provide another opportunity for small group discussion for those who were not able to attend.”

I am really glad they are doing this; even though it is on a Thursday, at least this time it is later in the evening and both food and childcare is being provided. And it is at BTW. Good move.


Since this one is only two hours, I am thinking the “presentation” portion of it is significantly reduced.


For this event, I would love to see those of us who are over-zealous to begin with to start recruiting/encouraging others to go. 🙂 I strongly believe that the Steering Committee needs to hear from a lot of other people over and above those of us they normally hear from. Problem is, I don’t know exactly how to make that happen. While holding another as-yet unadvertised community meeting is a good way to go, I still want to see DeJong hold smaller meetups in various areas in our community (and maybe even one or two in Spanish). This is a good step in the right direction, though. Kudos for that.

Learning how to do community (a review of the Futures Conference on Nov 1st)

There are approximately 3,000 high school students in the Champaign Unit 4 School District.  If you were to start your school district from scratch, how would you best divide high school students?

If you had a sandbox, what kind of castle would you build? If you had a copy of SimChampaign, where would you put the schools, the municipalities, the commercial zones?

For me, trying to answer this question represents the challenge of the Futures Conference; it is both the fallacy that this question stands alone, and the social pressure of stating what you really think in front of other people (like that urban or city planner city sitting across the table from you). But let me make a very clear distinction – I think perhaps the most important part is the asking and the answering of the question. Not necessarily what the question is, nor the answer for that matter. “What is your favorite color?”, while possibly eliciting the odd “Blue! No, wait, Red! AAAAAAaaaaaahhhhhhh……”, just does not provoke the same kind of deeply held and possibly unconscious beliefs about “the way things should be.” I will come back to this.

There were a number of good things, and a number of challenge areas at the Futures Conference this afternoon. I’m a “give me the bad news first” kinda guy, so here goes.


I felt the presentation time was way too long. When I looked at the agenda and saw 70-85 minutes for opening introductions, an overview and the main presentation, I thought I could live with that. But by the time we got to slide 16 (out of 69) I was already wondering how much longer it was going to be. By slide 35 I had checked out. I couldn’t tell you what time it was, but I am pretty sure that we were already close to the soft “time limit”. Have you ever sat in a white church and looked around about 30 minutes into a sermon? People have this glazed-over zombie-like expression. That is exactly what I saw in the room. (I have been to a few black churches and have yet to find any zombies *grin*) I wrote down in my notes that Tracy Richter had some great momentum built up with the first two videos he showed at various points during the presentation (see “Strengths” below), but he killed that momentum. I so badly wanted to just start talking about the videos!

And those charming, sweet cute kids. How can I rip on kids? Don’t worry, I Read the rest of this entry »

Community Conversations: what next?

Last month I attended a Community Conversation on Healing; some of you were there so feel free to comment. 🙂 The organizers have generated a brief summary and asks for help in taking the next step:

Community Conversations 3 Harvest


As mentioned previously, the topic is a hard sell, but when I dig into it I very much feel this is crucial in a larger scope. Adding to that challenge is an expectation that some kind of healing will come out of said Conversation. I am not quite certain that happened, per se, but I do think it was a good first step. Hence the “what next?” I think the attached document attempts to answer that question. And one of the acknowledged shortcomings of this particular approach is that no specific action items were identified before folks walked out the room – there is no accountability to take any future steps. On the one hand, it is quite uncomfortable to be held accountable (anyone not find this true?), on the other hand a Conversation cannot simply be check-in for a feel-good appointment. That is my personal feeling about it.


Since I am a “doer”, I look through the summary trying to find things I can do. And this is very difficult. “Find ways to help/educate people about how to address their issue”; “So much of the crime in our community is youth-driven; focus on listening to them”; “We need to achieve something concrete as a community to prove that we can make change”. And my favorite “Build community within schools”


I think we are kind of already doing this on individual, small scales. Is that enough? I have this gut feeling we need something more, but what? Perhaps a solid sense of direction for the people of the community, but then (and this is critical) a commitment on the part of the authorities (whomever they might be) to take this whole thing seriously and be willing to engage in the inefficiencies of working out relationships.


Your turn.

Community Conversations: Healing (July 10)

  On Tuesday, July 10th from 6:30 – 8:30, folks from IBARJ and CUAP are teaming up with ACCESS Initiative and the NAACP to host a community dinner conversation around the topic of “Healing”. As space in the Robeson room at the Champaign Public Library is limited, they are asking folks to RSVP.

Healing. Interesting topic, eh? When I first read the flyer, I thought “healing” would be a hard sell so I asked a couple of the ladies who are spearheading this effort some further questions. Leigh Courtney responded with the following (in part):

[…] two main issues: first, the recent series of accidental shooting tragedies that have occurred, and second, the long-term rifts that have grown between neighbors and neighborhoods throughout the recent history of the C-U community.

When I read this, I think about the strained relationships between the African American community and the police department. I think about how many of our homogeneous cultural groups are fractured; you see a ton of people complaining, but not many people working for change and volunteering their time (and those that are, are very passionate and dedicated). I think about the ugly effects of racism, and in general the lack of cross-cultural understanding. I think about the Consent Decree that forms a part of the Unit 4 history. Yes indeed, healing would be good. Necessary, in fact.

What I love about our public school system is that it is one of the largest melting pots (if not the largest) of all our cultures, ethnicity and backgrounds. Our kids, irregardless of their skin color, their accent, their access to technology and what toys they play with, they are all getting together in the same classrooms. This wide variety means some kids thrive while others struggle. For me, the travesty and the pain is in how we attempt to force this living, dynamic miasma into our own mold, our broken mold. If only we could learn from our kids. If only we valued things like conflict resolution, cultural differences and basic, raw respect.