Board meeting at Central HS tonight, with a special presentation on the Consent Decree

The Champaign School Board is going to start shaking things up a little tonight when they conduct their “Special Session” at Central tonight. Keep your eyes open for more changes to special sessions in the near future. Among the items on the agenda (available on the district’s boarddocs website) are an obligatory public hearing on the budget and formal acceptance of said budget, a presentation from Molly Delaney of the CU Schools Foundation who will be covering the CUSF strategic plan and summarizing CUSF initiatives (good stuff!), and a Consent Decree presentation from Sally Scott, an attorney from Franczek Radlet who represented the district during the Consent Decree; the presentation will set historical context for how we still have equity issues to address especially in regards to where a potential new high school is built. There are many documents on boarddocs that are related to all these presentations.

Also keep your eyes on the board’s nascent blog, In fact, the latest post (“The trouble with transparency“) starts to address issues of transparency, which is kind of a hot button topic because it is a buzzword used very loosely in all sorts of circles – what does it really mean? Just this past weekend, I was talking with parents at an un-conference (kudos to EdCampCU!) about the current board, and there are a wide variety of opinions about how many steps backwards we might be taking or whether they are truly trustworthy. This is purely my opinion, but I think the current board has been making a number of steps that align to the IASB’s “Foundational Principles” vision, and I believe this will pay huge dividends in the long run, especially in generating and building trust, transparency and establishing healthy communication habits, not to mention a strong, public and shared idea of what the board does.

Update: Nicole Lafond writes about the Consent Decree in this morning’s NG:

Next book: Rac(e)ing to Class

Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms – H. Richard Milner IV

This book was suggested to me recently while I was going through another research paper and also reading Putnam’s “Our Kids”. I just started reading Rac(e)ing to Class, and after a 26-page Introduction (with charts!) and scratching the first chapter, I can already tell it is packed with a lot of relevant and timely information. For starters, Milner makes a big point about not using the term “poor people” but rather “people who live in poor circumstances”; being poor should not describe or define a person, but if relevant, it should definitely describe the environment. Milner also is not afraid to tackle head on the correlations of race and poverty, but he makes some extremely astute observations. For instance, because Blacks and Latinos are over-represented in poverty situations, it is essential that we ask “why?”. But at the same time, on the quest to improve school for all students, the way we address inequity in education for other races in poverty situations will most definitely look different, while no less important. Milner, like Putnam, also highlights the significant role of after-school programs and posits that they can be tremendously advantageous for families classified as living in poverty. A little mischievous thought popped into my head – if afterschool programs are so great, why are they “after” school? Why not just do them all day? *evil grin*

Milner states that he desires a systemic change in the way we approach poverty via education, and he makes that desire explicit by yearning for the day when a superintendent will contact him and ask how to change an entire district (instead of being contacted by teachers or a principal). I get the sense that Milner is mainly targeting educators at all levels (teachers, principals, administrators), but not so much community members. I hope to learn more about this as I dig further.

It does give me a mind to do a bit of research on my own. How exactly has the “achievement gap” evolved in Unit 4 during the past 20 years (roughly starting with John Lee Johnson et al engaged the Office of Civil Rights about inequities for African-Americans)? What efforts have been measurably helpful, which efforts have had no apparent effect, and which efforts have been harmful? How do we gauge “help” and “harm”? What trends do we see with Unit 4 families that find themselves in challenging and vulnerable positions?

One last thought. As I read Milner, I am reminded of Michael Alves work; much of what Alves was trying to accomplish with his choice program falls in line with Milner’s method of determining how vulnerable a family is, using metrics like parent educational achievement, size of household and support network, above and beyond just enrollment in the Free and Reduced lunch program.

I will circle back when I have finished reading the book.

In other news, board meeting tomorrow (Monday). The Board posted a draft of the agenda more than a week ago (did anyone else see that?), and while some things have been altered (inserted or removed), I don’t see much of a controversial nature.

Terry Townsend’s letter of Complaint to the OCR

A few weeks ago, Reverend Underwood attempted to read Mr. Terry Townsend’s letter of Complaint to the OCR at the June 30th Board Meeting. There was a bit of a fiasco when she requested extra time over and above the 3 minutes normally allotted to public comment (watch the video if you are curious). But in the end, she had 3 minutes to VERY QUICKLY read Terry’s letter. I have finally received an electronic copy, and I think it is worthwhile to read through it.

Original version

Formatted for WordPress


And then afterwards, take a look at Mike Woods guest commentary in the July 1st, 2012 News-Gazette (not available electronically).


This dovetails with the ongoing discussion of suspensions* and how we deal with discipline issues.

* there are currently 30 comments to the Tim Mitchell and Noelle McGee NG article – while some are hard to read (they didn’t say that, really?!?), the overall “dialog” is a look into how some of our local people think.

A challenge: where would I put a new high school?

Mr. Craig Walker recently observed that I have not offered any alternative sites, while expressing in my “diatribe” a discontent for all current sites. Point taken. So here we go.

Disclaimer: I am not an architect, a planner, an educator, or any other  relevant profession nor do I claim to have a higher education in any relevant field of study that pertains to where to place a high school. What I express here is simply an answer to an implicit question, one that I felt was a valid question and worthy of a reasonable response.

First, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Why do we need a new high school? While some might posit that the current building that houses Central is “crumbling down”, I personally have not found that to be true at all; granted, it is an older facility and lacks common amenities like central AC and the structural power grid for upgrades. Based on the various demographic studies we have, most notably from DeJong-Richter, there is a very likely chance that our student population is going to continue to increase, and we are told that the high schools are already at (or maybe even over) capacity. We are also told that it is a huge pain in the ass to accommodate the needs of the athletic teams, since Central has no grounds attached to the site for practice or games. In the end, I agree, we need some way to manage a higher number of high school students and the various programs to support their educational experience.

But why are we locked into a two high school scenario? That confuses me the most. I am going to offer several alternative sites, but they all assume a three high school scenario (with variations on a theme), which has not been talked about much at all even though the DeJong-Richter discussions, surveys, dialogs and conversations suggest that this might be a good thing. I assume that in a three high school scenario, we could keep Central as a “tech/career” school, and that by having three high schools, we reduce the required capacity at each school individually. I am also going to focus on a location that is north of University, south of I-74, west of First and east of Mattis. The reason I wish to bound my suggestion in this manner is because the DeJong-Richter demographic information tells me that the highest populations of students is in and around Garden Hills; furthermore, the highest population of future high school students (using today’s data) is currently located in the same area. I further assume that community/family engagement is a huge priority, and that in order to realize this priority, we MUST consider transportation costs, even to the point of weighting them higher than the development cost of a potential site. My oversimplified version of the Consent Decree is that African-American families were getting jilted because they were overly bussed due to having underperforming and/or neglected local schools, not to mention a significant number of related equity issues including disproportionate representation in Gifted programs and discipline. I still see how the scars of that battle impacts the thinking of community members today, and I wish to make it a priority by reducing busing (as I have made it a priority in Schools of Choice as well). I would also point out that it is not only African-American families that are impacted by this; I would focus on those families that do not have the freedom to choose alternatives to public schools.

One more thought: I am torn about the need for athletic fields in general. But I’ll save that for another post.

With that said, here are some sites – not one, but three (happy Cyber Monday):

  1. The old AC Humko site, stretching to the land east of it as well. I realize this is no longer a feasible candidate, since Kraft has set it eyes on it. But consider this; the City wants to turn this area into a TIF district because it is “blighted” (a word I have many isses with). Yet this site is very close to a dense demographic population, and relatively easy to access. A high school at this location could beautify and enhance the surrounding area, and still have plenty of room for athletic fields.
  2. I still very much like Imani Bazzell’s Great Campus idea (as stated several times in other posts). Combined with Pattsi’s idea of utilizing all four corners of the Neil/Bradley intersection, this could be a viable high school location. The City has already planned to do drastic things in the Bristol Park area – I have to believe that if athletic fields are indeed a priority, we could work something out, maybe with Human Kinetics, maybe with the areas surrounding the Canadian National line. I am very much against displacing huge numbers of low-income families – is there a way to collaboratively make this idea work?
  3. Multi-campus locations: this is an extreme hybridization, and perhaps too radical for consideration, but if all we have are small sites within the stated boundaries, what about having tracks at various locations? Is it possible to have, say, all four grade levels in different buildings, or Fresh/Soph at one and Jr/Sr at another? I know, there are lots of bad things to go along with this – I was asked for alternatives, so I am giving alternatives. For instance, the Judah site (again, which is now not available but at one point there was a possibility), the Spalding Site (staying north of the railroad), and what used to be a gated housing development north of Bradley and west of McKinley, and the old Alexander Lumber Company (another site that is now spoken for, I believe).

A word about the reasons why the other two “internal” choices (Clear Lake Tract and Country Fair) were already dismissed as possible candidates. I was disappointed that the cited reasons included things like how a certain study might reduce acreage, or how dealing with local obstacles might increase development costs, or that there are IDOT costs. I mean, which school site is not going to have IDOT costs? Show me the hard and fast numbers of how much it WILL cost, and then we can weigh whether or not the costs are worth it. Right now, we do not have those numbers, yet we already went from 15 to 6 sites, and tonight we go down to 3.

To repeat, my suggested alternative sites make a few assumptions, namely:

  • a three-high-school scenario, not two
  • transportation and accessibility is a huge priority
  • bounded by Mattis, I-74, First and University


The Dilemma of Controlled Choice – community dialog requested

[warning: super link heavy]

In responding to Pattsi’s suggestion that I repost my many posts on the topic of Controlled Choice and Dr. Alves, I am remembering and re-learning various aspects of this program that had gathered dust in my own mind. After clearing away cobwebs, I am left with a quandary. At the bottom of this post, I will present an outline of earlier posts; major points will be post tags or general categories, with minor points covering a brief description of individual posts. I did think about doing them chronologically as suggested, but I think that gets a little too confusing. But all that is later. First we need to uncover a little history. [note: Brian Dolinar also provided a great historical piece via IMC]

The United States District Court contains a wealth of historical context for the Consent Decree. Relevant to where we are at now, pages 3-6 of the Controlled Choice Memorandum states 29 distinct goals for the Controlled Choice Plan. There are a number of eye-opening statements Read the rest of this entry »

questions, questions, questions

I am actually enjoying the pursuit of questions at the moment. Sound odd? Should I not be pursuing answers? As Pattsi Petrie has reminded me, I do not even know what kind of questions I should be asking at the moment.

So here are some of them:

  • Why exactly did the Supreme Court declare the previous racially-based kindergarten lottery unconstitutional?
  • What exactly are the institutional arrangements and contemporary individual actions that maintain a residentially segregated society (from Dr. Alves book)?
  • Are all magnet programs (and magnet schools) open to the Controlled Choice program? What are the details?
  • Why are schools like Barkstall and Bottenfield drastically chosen more often than Garden Hills and Washington?
  • What is being done to make underchosen schools more attractive?
  • Where can I locate a fuller set of statistics; for instance, broken down by ethnicity, determining factors like siblings, proximity, etc?
  • How many 2nd and 3rd Choice Applicant were there (2009)?
  • Where did the Unassigned students go?
  • What happens to unallocated seats? (Garden Hills has a whopping 42 + 4!)

On my journey to find more questions and even some answers, I have kicked into high gear:

  • Submitted an FOIA for the numbers from the 2009 kindergarten lottery
  • Received said numbers, which spawned a few more questions and a phone call into Ms. Sandra Duckworth
  • Submitted a request for a 2002 publication entitled “Student Diversity, Choice, and School Improvement” by Dr. Charles Willie, Ralph Edwards and Dr. Michael Alves (requested from I-Share)
  • Received said book a couple days later, started reading, taking notes, asking more questions (see 2nd bullet in first list)
  • Reached out to the local Family Information Center, spoke with Michelle and Ms. Hattie Paulk, both of which were very helpful and encouraging
  • Submitted questions to the Unit 4 Administration and School Board; questions about what steps are being taken to improve under-chosen schools and the make-up of the Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee, of which I have some serious concerns. Questions are still outstanding.
  • Came to the realization that as a middle-upper class white American, I am quite privileged, and that I am quite selfish and find it hard to grapple with giving up privilege so that others may be enriched. Have been challenged by Dr. Willie and Dr. Alves in this regard, that their purpose is to enhance the community as a whole, via both equity and excellence, not at the exclusion of one or the other.
  • Propagating this idea on IlliniPundit and within my church; how are we in Champaign-Urbana going to deal with this?
  • Came across a few links that talk about why and how Seattle overturned race as a deciding factor in Controlled Choice (1, 2, 3)
  • Found an article that analyzes Controlled Choice; within, I also found a point that does not agree with the work of Dr. Willie and Dr. Alves, even though the author quotes them in his work.  The point I highlight is that Dr. Harris relates schools to the market, whereas Dr. Willie et al clearly make the distinction that schools are not like the market at all. My favorite quote so far is “In the economic system, there may be unworthy buyers who are unwilling to pay the asking price. But in education, there are no unworthy seekers of knowledge.”
  • Contacted Mr. Phillip Van Ness and Margie Skirvin about the history of the Consent Decree; set up a meeting to chat with Margie on Friday at 10:am
  • Also contacted Susan Zola about more history on the Consent Decree and Champaign’s relationship with Dr. Alves
  • Had a wonderful talk with Ms. Sandra Duckworth; she was extremely wonderful and a delight to talk with, being very pragmatic artfully combined with a listening ear and a desire to place herself in my shoes. She explained many things about Unit 4’s relationship with Dr. Alves, explained the numbers from the kindergarten lottery a bit. I am hoping she is able to forward a request on my behalf to Dr. Alves for a meeting. Ms. Duckworth and Beth Shepperd are also looking into the possibility of getting those numbers made public so one does not have to file an FOIA.
  • Ran across Chip Bruce’s blog while looking for wordpress sites about Champaign Consent Decree.

In my last post, I failed to mention not only the date for the “Special Community Meeting”, but also the source for that reference. I found it at the Family Information Center (linky), and the full announcement is:

Special Community Meeting
– Jan 13, 7 p.m., Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., Champaign. Special Community Meeting with Michael Alves, the District’s consultant on the Schools of Choice process.

Ahh… now I am exhausted. =)

Plaintiff Class seeking extension to Consent Decree

In reference to the News Gazette article:

I have to admit I am getting rather annoyed of this. I have attempted to contact the plaintiff class and talk about their perspective, but have met a brick wall. How is it that they were blindsided by the “economic status” system, and yet I was not? And how is it that the plaintiff class is given free reign to continue making the situation worse, rather than working together? In my attempt to contact them, one of my questions revolves around what they have done to help our community, for I am not seeing the big picture. I do see some small things that are better as a result of attention to racial injustices, but I do not credit the Chicago law firm for that – kudos go to local activist and residents for that. I am extremely confused. Oh, wait, sorry. Instead of saying “the Plaintiff Class,” I wish to target my comments to Ms. Carol Ashley directly. What is wrong with this picture?

Well, I am going to fire off a few emails and I’ll be back.