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.

Interacting with Unit 4 on Central locations

Unit 4 has advertised two meetings, inviting folks to listen to the current information so far and to provide feedback. From Stephanie Stuart:

“Gorski Reifsteck/DLR Group also shared that the recent community phone survey on the District’s facilities has been extended and refined.


The District is currently in the process of evaluating the possibility of building a new Central High School at one of two sites: the Spalding Park site and the site at Interstate Drive and Neil Street, purchased earlier this year. At the meeting, community members were encouraged to participate in the upcoming Spalding Park Community Meeting on June 13 and the Central High School Community Meeting on June 17.


The June 13 meeting will aim to gather feedback from neighbors on the possibility of building a new Central High School at Spalding Park. The Community Meeting at Central High School on June 17 will allow community members to provide input about the high school location as well as educational programming.”


Some of us received invitations via regular mail as well.


June 13:

“The informal meeting will be held in the Franklin Middle School gymnasium on Friday, June 13 from 5-7 p.m. Pizza will be provided and families are welcome to attend any time during the two-hour time period. Informational materials will be available and representatives from the School District will be present to talk with residents.”


June 17:

“6-8 p.m. Central High School

Join us to learn more and make your voice heard as we plan for the for a new Central High School & renovated Centennial High School!”


If you are able to attend one or the other of these meetings, I would very much appreciate your feedback.


UPDATE: Julie Wurth has a couple early articles about the meeting tonight:

Registration 2014

welcome_to_kindergartenThe infamous “Kindergarten Lottery” has been in full swing, having started a couple months early this year (January as opposed to March). Aside from policy changes and a new Kindergarten program (Dual-language immersion housed at the revolving door school building on Kirby), I learned a couple things from Stephanie Stuart today.

First, she played a major role in curating a bunch of relevant information and teaming up with a graphic designer to produce a “Welcome to Kindergarten” booklet. The booklet does a really good job of explaining the complexity of Schools of Choice, why we have it, how it works and even has a little lexicon for icons used on the registration form and the jargon used in the Policy. It also includes a list of frequently asked questions (with requisite answers, of course *grin*), and a two-page spread that introduces and highlights each of the 12 elementary school choices. And the very end, the Policy of Controlled Choice is laid out in 6 pages. Overall, the booklet is 42 pages – a little meaty, but it is packed. I am anxious to hear what other parents think of it.

Secondly, I feel like a buffoon for having missed this, but parents this year will not be using an online registration program at all. Last year, the District debuted  a program from Dr. Alves that was problematic, but it got the job done. This year, the District contracted with Codagami, and apparently the contract called to replace only the internal part of the tool, such that Unit 4 staff will utilize the new program. Parents are dialing back to 2012 and having to fill out forms which they submit to the Family Information Center. The current form does not appear to have any of the helpful icons from the booklet, so I am a little confused as to whether the form listed on unit4registration website is really the same form parents are filling out or not.

As stated on the Unit 4 webpage, here are some dates for those wishing to attend a scheduled information event:

  • February 27th, 9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.: Tours at all elementary schools
  • March 3, 6:00 pm: Schools of Choice Community Forum at Stratton Elementary School
  • March 5, 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.: Informational Choice Chat at the Family Information Center
  • March 6, 5-6 p.m.: Informational Choice Chat at the Family Information Center
  • March 11, 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.: Informational Choice Chat at the Family Information Center

UPDATE: Please use the Proximity App, not the old WebQuery tool.

In an interesting little twist, the district’s web version of “EduLog” (a program that tells the distance from a given address to all schools, sorted by proximity) called “WebQuery” even includes St. Matt’s and Prairie Elementary. 🙂


Controlled Choice Community Forums


From Stephanie Stuart:

Champaign Schools will hold informational forums to discuss the Schools of Choice registration process, which will run from January 2-March 31, 2014. Children must be 5 on or before September 1, 2014 to register for kindergarten.

Forums will include a Showcase of Schools. This will provide an opportunity for parents and guardians to meet and talk with individual school staff members. Please see the attached flyer.

Community Forum Meetings

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 6:00 p.m. Stratton Elementary

902 N. Randolph Street – Champaign

(Parking is available on the north side of the building)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 6:00 p.m. Barkstall Elementary

2201 Hallbeck Drive – Champaign

(Parking lot is located on the east side of the building)

Elementary School Tours

Thursday, January 23, 2014, Tuesday, February 11, 2014 and Thursday, February 27, 2014. All elementary schools will offer tours at 9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. on these three days.


Elementary Schools Evening Open House

Evening Open House/School Tours are on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 from 6:00 p.m-8:00 p.m., at any of the twelve elementary schools. Families unable to attend a scheduled Open House should visit the Family Information Center for assistance with the Schools of Choice process.

Middle School Open House

Jefferson – Monday, April 7, 2014; Edison – Thursday, April 10, 2014 and

Franklin – Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

All Middle School open houses are scheduled from 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

6th Grade Registration – April 7-11, 2014

Stratton & Washington 5th Grade Students

*5th graders attending their cluster school do not need to register at FIC.*

Elementary & Middle School Transfer Requests For 1st – 8th Grade – May 1-30, 2014


For more information, please contact the Family Information Center:

1103 N. Neil Street – Champaign IL 61820 – (217) 351-3701

Targeted community forum

From Stephanie Stuart:

Central High School will hold a Community Forum on April 4, 2013, at the Champaign Library from 6:00-9:00 p.m. Three communities are invited to join the event – Shadow Wood, Douglas, and Bradley & McKinley neighborhoods. Central representatives will discuss various topics with families, specifically attendance.  Transportation will be provided to the library and back to each neighborhood.  Food, babysitting and prizes during the event will be available. A number of community organizations have been invited, including MTD, Parenting with love and limits, Champaign Housing Authority and others to connect Central Families with community resources during the event.


Since I have been involved with other initiatives involving Shadow Wood, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about this one (in fact, I had deleted it and then undeleted it). As I search, I cannot find this announced anywhere else, which is a bit odd. I wonder if perhaps this event was intentionally not announced in the normal fashion because they (Unit 4) wants to focus on specific communities.


However I am announcing it because I think it is an awesome opportunity, and I fully support Unit 4 in this endeavor. IF (and this is a HUGE BIG IF) the intent is for Unit 4 to listen. The skeptical voice inside my head has a few mumblings about “what if Unit 4 administration wants to go in and preach attendance?” Hmm… well, if that is the case, that would be bad. So, I’ll just ask Stephanie and Dr. Wiegand what the expectation is. 🙂 I do find it a little odd that it is being held at the CPL, but I give kudos for the organizers for taking care of transportation, child care, food and even prizes. I like the idea of connecting families with community resources. A lot!


More to follow.

"What is Controlled Choice?"

It is interesting to watch the school district attempt to answer this question. Perhaps the biggest issue is attempting to communicate a concept that is for all intents and purposes totally foreign to most people, using loaded words like “choice” and “proximity” and “priority”. Another interesting thing is that there are SO MANY different attempts to explain choice, it’s quite crazy. For instance, the title of this blog post is taken from one of the hand-outs at the Community Forum tonight. However, I cannot find that hand-out on the Unit 4 website. Instead, I found 6 others of varying degrees of aesthetic appeal:


And you wonder why parents are confused. *grin*


I have blogged about these Choice Community Forums several times in past years (2010,  Jan 10 2012, Jan 26 2012). I am glad to see some small improvements like the FAQ (“What is Controlled Choice?”) – they capture some of the key questions, most of which were also asked tonight during Q&A. As I mentioned last year, the video is much better than the previous incarnations, but I still think we need another spokesperson to emcee. Dr. Zola got up at the end of the presentation time and did a great job of engaging the audience and basically putting on a show. I suggested to a few folks that Dr. Zola should kick off the entire thing. Even with these improvements, it is obvious to me that parents still struggle mightily with the concept of “Choice”, “proximity” and “priority”. The pro tip on the FAQ is killing me: “Let your priorities work for you!” What in the world does that mean? Don’t get me wrong, I know what it means; but a new parent?


So Read the rest of this entry »

I'll be at the Choice Community Forum tonight

The school district is holding their second community forum on the Choice process tonight at Carrie Busey in Savoy. I’ll be there – my goal is to observe how the community forum is being run, what information they share with new parents, and how parents react to the information. Maybe we will even get down to the nitty gritty details of numbers. 🙂




Tuesday, February 5, 2013 6:00 p.m. Carrie Busey Elementary – 304 Prairie Rose Lane – Savoy
(Parking lot is located on the east side of the building)

Track My Steps (Wake County): Education Inequality Forum

From the news-observer again:


Track My Steps is hosting a public forum tonight on the state of education in Eastern Wake County.

Forum organizers say there is a “crisis in public education in eastern Wake County and that they want to “break the silence on education inequality.” The forum will focus on the challenges faced by Eastern Wake students and parents in the areas of early education, student discipline, student/parent rights and resources, course selection/availability and student achievement.

“Eastern Wake residents are calling for education reform in their part of Wake County to create a better Wake County,” according to the press release. “Participants will introduce a plan of action to change the perception of education in Eastern Wake.”

When I read the Track My Steps information, it reminded me a lot of what we are trying to do. I am following up with them to learn more. I also very much wonder about the details of the reform – they seem to have some important folks on board.

Plan for Houlihans tomorrow

I am thinking that tomorrow (Wednesday, May 9th) at Houlihans, the main purpose will be to drive around and deliver flyers for the next Community Forum on Education. I have contacted a few churches already, but only one has gotten back to me with a green light to post a flyer on a bulletin board. I have also contacted quite a few individuals and asked them to help me reach their own circles of influence.


So my plan of attack for tomorrow is to meet up at 11:30, wait until 11:40 and then take off; either deliver flyers or talk to group representatives.


If you want to join us, please let me know so I can print out flyers for you. Or if you just want to hang with us, that is cool also. 🙂

Tonight's Open Forum

For our debut Open Forum, we had two Board Members (one for each hour :)) 4 parents and 2 media folks. And a whole heck of a lot of discussion. I cannot possibly do justice to all that we covered, especially since I am tired. But I am going to convey the notes I took. In addition, I am hoping Meg Dickinson will write up an article, and we have a video (not sure about the quality). I am also hoping that those who were there (looking at you, readers!!) will fill in the blanks and continue this conversation.

[in no particular order at all]


  • Achievement expectations are low
  • Behavior expectations are low
  • Does not support a lot of learning
  • Teachers should dig into the backgrounds of their students
  • Don’t compare students to each other
  • Turn org chart upside down
  • It is time to truly focus on kids, not adults (and not merely give lip service)
  • More diversity
  • High Mobility correlates to low Performance; schools of choice correlates with high mobility at some schools