Email threads concerning the future of Central

This evening an individual forwarded a couple email threads that involved the Unit 4 Board and various other members of the community and school district whom you might recognize. I feel that these email threads add to the ongoing broader discussion of how our local school district will plan, prepare and implement capital improvements in light of several facts including 1) our high schools are already over capacity, 2) it is projected that by 2022 we will be 120% over current capacity.

 

I have removed all email address, home/business addresses and phone numbers. I elected to keep names because I feel it is important to attach the thoughts shared by a person with a real identity. However, I do wish to point out that it is not my intent to go on any kind of witch hunt or cast judgement on individuals; rather, my perspective is that these are, more or less, a documentary of how people think and a small slice of persuasive factors that influence big decisions. This is the kind of community-wide discussion we should all be privy to, so that we can all participate (in my opinion). This is necessary for us, as a voting, tax-paying public, to take ownership of how our tax dollars are spent. It is also my understanding that emails sent to and from the board of education are automatically part of the public record and thus subject to the laws of FOIA.

 

(Note there are some personal jabs of one kind or another buried within – again, I was tempted to remove those, but I want to keep the emails intact as much as possible).

 

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I wish to also state that I hear a lot of folks demonizing other individuals or other groups. I will state publicly that the people/groups I personally know and speak with are trying their best to do their job. This includes members of the Unit 4 Administration, the Unit 4 Board and the staff at the News-Gazette. I am quite certain I could not do their job any better. However, that does not mean I agree with all their decisions, either. My opinion is that it is perfectly healthy and natural for any group of people to have disagreements and different ways of looking at things. This is the essense of life-long learning; which is why this topic is totally appropriate for a blog focused on local, public education. 🙂

 

UPDATE: I should also mention that News-Gazette’s Julie Wurth has been writing a lot about Unit 4, and the Central site selection in particular. On Saturday she published an article that mentions some of the players related to this email thread, including a follow-up article from Dr. Wiegand to the Park District Board:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-07-19/school-district-wants-dodds-land-central.html

http://www.news-gazette.com/sites/all/files/pdf/2014/07/18/7-1-14_Letter_to_Joe_DeLuce.pdf

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.

Community Dialog survey results posted

The survey results are now posted on the futurefacilities website.

The Report has 5 pages of Executive Summary – probably a good place to start reading.  There is a huge difference in the level of support from the “print” responses (pages 9-33) vs the “online” responses (pages 34-54). I believe the “Executive Summary” totally discounts the 161 No votes in the online responses. Interesting that.  My bad – I was totally reading the wrong chart. Sorry about that. The numbers of folks in support of the tax referendum is similar across the board. Also, I found it quite interesting that the Group responses failed to come up with a unified “No” vote, but there is almost a split between “No consensus” and “Yes” (all in regards to a $200+ million tax referendum).

I am sure there is a ton more interesting stuff in there. 🙂

I have not yet pored through the color-coded excel spreadsheet.

 

Update: Egregious typo on my part corrected.

Community Dialog: what to do with Central High School?

I attended the 3-5:pm Community Dialog, the latest in a series of public-engaging discussions put on by Unit 4 and DeJong-Richter. I have a number of mixed feelings about it. Before I jump in, those who wish to form their own opinions are welcome to peruse the futurefacilities links first:

  • The options themselves: 4 Elementary School (ES – Green), 3 Middle School (MS – Yellow) and 4 High School (HS – Orange) options
  • The “District snapshot“: A amalgam of previously released reports, updated with more information about the current schools and a bonus track with Holly Nelson’s work
  • The questionnairre: we did this both as individuals and as a group during the session today (note the online version can indeed be submitted online)

Also, here is Meg’s scoop on the options:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2013-02-12/champaign-unveils-11-options-schools.html

So here we go.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the presentation, having seen most of it before, knowing what was coming. I did browse through some of the new information, and I slowly realized that there was a whole lot of emphasis on the elementary schools. Let me emphasize, I was very slow to pick up on that. 🙂 With the benefit of hindsight, I see it much more clearly now. It was almost as if this “high school siting” project had morphed into this ravenous beast. To be sure, we already knew that this project wasn’t going to be merely about siting the high school, no matter what the initial RFP said; there is simply no way we could just find a new lovely plot of land and bit-a-boom-bit-a-bang have a new facility. We have too much other crap to deal with, especially the middle schools that will require some attention in the very near future. But the elementary schools had not been on my personal radar in the context of DeJong-Richter. Somehow I missed that. And now as I look back at the information packets, I Read the rest of this entry »

The big push: Unit 4 hosts Community Dialogs on Tuesday, Feb 12th

There is a deluge of email, Facebook updates, tweets, radio spots (tv spots?), flyers and word of mouth about the Community Dialog this coming Tuesday at the I-Hotel. If you are one of the few folks who has not heard about it, I would be very curious how they missed you. 🙂 They have arranged bus rides from several schools, translators for three different languages, and even a literacy activity to keep the youngun’s occupied.

In every message I am seeing/hearing, the school district is emphasizing the importance of feedback and input from the community. There are two sides to this coin.

On the one side, I think this is totally awesome! For too long, the school district has given the impression of operating under the guise of its own expertise. That landed us with a costly Consent Decree, and now we have too many kids and not enough seats, not to mention buildings that are horribly behind on maintenance. Oh, and a selection of schools that, for the most part, has not tracked with the shift in demographics. So, kudos to the district for seeking the voice of the community. I have really appreciated how DeJong (via Scott Leopold) has been quite open about the data they have collected and has kept us generally up to date on what is happening in the Steering Team meetings (which are also open to the public). Scott has been really great about talking to people, even to the point of carving away some time to meet us at Houlihans (hard to knock that, eh?).

And now the other side. Scott and I have agreed to disagree on how to present the options to the community. For me, I think it would be best to put the current options up on the futurefacilities website now (actually, last week would have been better…), since the Steering Team has already discussed and pretty much voted on what we are going to see. Scott has argued that he wants unbiased and virgin thoughts during the big reveal at the I-Hotel on Tuesday, so that the options may be presented objectively and in context. Obviously, there are pros and cons both ways. Sine this is my blog (cue evil laughter), I am going to expand a little on some issues with this approach.

We as a community Read the rest of this entry »

Updates from the schools

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The first of three “Community Forums” on the Kindergarten selection process will be tonight, Thursday, January 24, 2013 6:00 p.m. Stratton Elementary – 902 N. Randolph Street. This is generally for new (to the district) parents who will be going through the registration process and selecting which school they want their child to attend. As such, there is a short presentation about the selection process itself, followed by a general open house where visitors can visit booths for each school.

 

  • Meg Dickinson of the News-Gazette covered a really cool kick-off event for the Young Entrepreneurship program, matching local business reps with aspiring high school students in a mentoring-style relationship:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/business/entrepreneurs/2013-01-23/new-champaign-schools-program-has-local-pros-mentoring-high-s

 

  • The next iteration of the Future Facilities project will be a “Community Dialog” on February 12 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Both times will cover the same agenda. Note the translation services (Spanish, French and Korean) and shuttle.

http://www.champaignschools.org/news/news_view.php?action=view&news_type=press_release&id_news=673

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/275293649266997/?ref=22