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:

Helping our children

At the August 10th BOE meeting (vimeo link, agenda items 9.F. and 9.G), we heard about the good work going on at Operation Hope, Operation Hope Junior and Lead 4 Life. One board member pointed out that given the positive impacts of these programs, why not have an Operation Hope Junior Junior (ie, pre-K).

There are many programs that are aimed at helping our children, and I love it! While caring for all our kids, we also build community and camaraderie. In addition to those already mentioned, several other programs I have learned about include Tap-In Academy (which had an amazing summer with field trips and impactful lessons), Freedom Schools (which I wrote about earlier), Tech-Time at Kenwood, the after-school homework programs at Garden Hills and Stratton, and the food program at Dr. Howard. I am sure there are many more. I am amazed that so many volunteers are doing good work to benefit our children. Thanks to all of you.

Freedom Schools is facing a very uncertain future for funding. As such, I have decided to help kick of a fund-raising campaign to raise $10,000 by September of 2016. I set up a donation page that gives a bit more information, and I will be seeking advice on how to do this fund-raising thing properly. I invite you to join me in donating monthly to build up this reserve SOS pool.

Fundraising page:

You will also see this donate button on the right-hand bar:


quick updates

I have been offline a bit lately and several things have been happening. I do not expect to cover all of them, but here are some highlights that have hit my mailbox:

Two twitter chats, today and tomorrow

The Champaign County Economic Development Corporation (@CHCEDC) and Champaign Unit #4 Schools (@Unit4Schools) will kick off a new series of Twitter chats during the first week of August that cover various topics relevant to the District and Champaign County. The first two chats—scheduled for Tuesday, August 6 from 4-5 p.m. and Wednesday, August 7 from 10-11 a.m.—will focus on all things back-to-school and answer questions on topics such as enrollment, bus schedules, physical exams/forms, food service, the new District website, and anything else participants would like to ask. Use hashtag #AskUnit4.


Part 2 of the Board Retreat (concluding the first one in June)

The Board and the Administration completed rolling out the 6 goals for the Superintendent this year:

  1. The Superintendent will foster high academic achievement, wellness, and well-being among all learners in a safe, supportive environment.
  2. The Superintendent will align the District’s priorities and resources through a community-involved planning process implemented through focused action plans with regular progress reports.
  3. The Superintendent will retain, hire, and support highly qualified faculty and staff that will best serve the District’s diverse student population.
  4. The Superintendent will effectively and efficiently engage parents and other community stakeholders resulting in strong partnerships.
  5. The Superintendent will leverage the strength of the District’s diverse population to create a rich academic and social environment in each of the District’s schools.
  6. The Superintendent will revitalize, build, and maintain facilities that are safe, sustainable and allow equitable access to programming services across the District.


The goals we have set are ambitious, but I am confident that we have the talent and dedication to rise to the challenges that lie ahead. Below you will find each goal and a description of how we will work to achieve it. As your Superintendent, I will work with each of you to ensure our collective success.


CSUF received a $100k gift for CUScholars


eToys and entrepreneurship

Kerris Lee was officially sworn to the board last night; he brings a bit of experience with the eToys program at Kenwood via the MTSE (Mathematics, Science and Technology Education) office at the University. He has a passion to instill entrepreneur skills in students of all ages, and I am excited to learn more about his involvements at the University, Parkland and Unit 4.

June 10th Regular BOE Meeting agenda available

I wish I could deep-link the agenda, but for the next week or two, it should be at the top of the list:


Aside from the pre-weekend flurry of news about Stig’s resignation, it looks like it will be a full meeting. I am sure Executive Session will continue to be interesting. *grin*

The public meeting kicks off with an Academic Spotlight of the Young Entrepreneur Program followed by a series of recognitions. I see that in the “Upcoming Events” the June Board Retreat is not listed, so perhaps the details have not yet been hashed out. I hope they still have one.

Under “New Business”, Dr. Wiegand kicks off with a presentation about CUSF (not online as of this writing). Next up Maria Alanis is posing an informational item that will become an action item at a future meeting; a new International Academy. It is not clear exactly how much this will cost as part of the funds are coming from a Title III grant. Apparently, the Board approved all the positions back in March. That seems really hard for me to follow – we approved the positions before the Academy was even approved? Maybe I am just confused. The next four items are all Policy changes being introduce by the school attorney Tom Lockman (movable soccer goal, education of homeless children, student abassador program, and using district networks/social media).


Nine items are listed under “Action Agenda” with quite a variety, most of which have attached documentation. One thing stuck out to me – we are hiring a consultant firm at a price of $60,000 to help with the Business Office. Since the word “transition” is used, this is to help the new Business Director Matt Foster dive in? That just seemed a bit odd to me. We are also leasing (to own?) two used busses for roughly $180,000 (to be paid over 5 years). And lastly, board appointments to various committees. I strongly advise the Board to consider transitioning this committees to Board Committees, as opposed to Superintendent Committees. Board Committees are a lot more formal and must report back to the board. Superintendent committees report to the Superintendent and there is a significant lack of public visibility on these committees as they exist today.


The “Consent Agenda” is packed with 18 items; a lot of change orders for the schools that are currently being renovated, a purchase order for more busses, HR changes, a “Rising Star Action Plan” (which I want to read more about), a Policy change and other sundry items.


Tons of stuff to read. Board members have their work cut out for weekend reading and preparing to meet on Monday. We the public have our own work cut out for us. This is our school district – it is our job to hold our school board members accountable. Ideally, this is a very good thing. *grin* But it takes the work of informing the public and taking the time to digest all this information.

Where does negative perception come from?

After speaking with School Exec Connect representatives Dr. Ed Olds and Dr. Kent Johansen, I come away with mixed feelings. Again. In some ways, I hope that this blog entry raises questions and invites folks to disagree. I always invite others to disagree with me – for me, that is a healthy and even necessary way to grow.


So here it is: I think this community is its own worst enemy.


Today, I and several others met with School Exec Connect on two different occasions. Once during a PTA Council session at the Mellon center which Gaby help set up, and another Junior League sponsored event at Centennial, for which about 30 (max) community members showed up. They presented a few bits of information, like what to expect next, how things are going to roll, and some stats on the surveys that some 850+ of us have filled out. A large majority of the survey respondents (515 I believe) were parents. I was also surprised by the top ranked characteristics people wanted in a Superintendent:

  1. “Student-first” philosophy
  2. Serve as a model for high standards (integrity, personal performance)
  3. Has administrative experience in a similar district
  4. Necessary leadership skills to respond to a ethnically diverse community
  5. Experience to select/implement priorities aligned to interests/needs of students & communities
  6. Develops a good admin team that progresses the district’s vision


Nothing about transparency, nothing explicit about communication, nothing overt about strengthening ties with school building staff.


Tonight’s session was, in a way, a turning point for me. Maybe only in small way. But it dawned on me how cynical we can be. For instance, try to come up with a list of stregths of our school district. Right now, make up your own list. See how long it takes. See if you can think of more than two.


My own list took a while (over 20 minutes) – allow me to point out some of the strengths I see in our school district, qualities that most people will probably agree with but spend a disproportionate amount of time pondering:

  • We have some really awesome teachers
  • Gene Logas; he might speak a different language, but he has set this district on solid financial ground
  • Lynn Peisker; possibly one of the best decisions that the BOE and Administration has made in a long time
  • Several community-engagement programs that do not often make the spotlight (Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Junior League of Champgin-Urbana, various backpack-stuffing groups/efforts, mentors, volunteers, after-school programs, college students who help out in various ways and several college courses that interact directly with students)
  • Lots of exciting things happening in practically all the schools (thanks to Peikser’s newsletters)
  • Some passionate school principals who have a huge heart for the kids
  • Lots of good people with good intentions in Unit 4
  • A majority of children are having a positive experience (if we take the Climate Survey at face value)


We can quickly point out the things we do not like about the school district, but it tends to be more difficult to find the positives. At tonight’s session, I heard a story that I have heard numerous times in the past; a couple is considering Unit 4, but they are finding it really tough to not sent their precious child to private school. To rub salt in the wound, they are a product of Unit 4. We heard from another well-spoken gentleman who is concerned about the lack of African-Americans in teaching positions. Read the negativity expressed by some commentors who graced chambanamoms recently (warning, some are flagrant trolls). I myself have contributed to the Pool of Distraught Outlooks as well, and have been decrying the state of IT in Unit 4.


There are problems with the school district. Most definitely, no doubt about it. But I think we whip ourselves up in too much of a frenzy about it. I am not convinced that we have to wait on Unit 4 to change, nor need we wait for a new superintendent, for a change in perception.


I really like how Dr. Johansen emphasized near the end of tonight’s session that the Superintendent is accountable to, and in fact is hired and evaluated by, the local Board of Education. The BOE is powerful! Or at least, should be. The BOE is elected by, and thus accountable to, the people. When the Superintendent does not work under the jurisdiction of the BOE and the BOE is not listening to the people, you have a very dysfunctional system. I think we had that system recently. I think we are slowly shedding the vestiges of the old system like an ill-fitting chrysalis. I think it is paramount that we see the fruits of this metamorphosis and work together to unfurl our wings and make something really good come of this.


What am I trying to say? It would behoove us to spend a lot more time focusing on the positive and less time pointing out the negative. I am not saying that we should stop saying negative things. By no means! Rather, that we should put a “constructive criticism” spin on them.


I know I am not pioneering a new path. Others have been down this road. Some burned out, some gave up, some turned back. Some just plain disappeared. But why?


Board of Education study session on Central High School

I don’t think the NG puts these out, so I might as well. They are on the Unit 4 frontpage, so that is good. 🙂

In addition to the regular meeting of the Board of Education tonight, the Champaign Unit 4 Schools Board of Education has scheduled a study session for May 23, 2011. The community is invited to attend the meeting in the Board room at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street, Champaign. The meeting will begin at 6 PM. The topic will be the options for a new Central High School. Ideas, questions and comments from the community are welcome. Those unable to attend may send comments to

Also, the BOE is meeting tonight, and they have another heavy-weight, massive Agenda in store:

Glancing through the agenda quickly, I see that low-bidder Grunloh is being awarded the Carrie Busey project, and CUSF is again being recognized for generous contributions.

Busy busy busy

For the past couple of weeks, I have been stumbling upon various initiatives, groups and “works in progress”. A whole lot of good things going on. And it leaves my head spinning – who can possibly keep track of all this?

[Warning, the following is link-heavy]

In previous posts, I mentioned the ACCESS Initiative, CUSF, IIRC and StudentsFirst. Recently, I have come across some more.

Voices for Illinois Children: I forgot who mentioned this to me (maybe papaathome?). I really like what I read on the website so I subscribed to the RSS feed. They recently published “Great at 8“, and again, am really impressed by what these folks are putting out. The focus of this particular paper is to highlight how important it is to build a solid foundation for a child’s education future. This foundation is not merely the ability to take a standardized test well, but moreoever having the tools and skillsets trained from an early age to deal with many of life’s issues. I recently emailed several of the folks involved with this project, and the Director responded with a thoughtful summary of what Voices does; in particular, they raise awareness and encourage citizens to become involved by contacting all forms of elected officials and representatives in an effort to persuade them to lobby on behalf of our children. While I agree that this is probably one of the most direct forms of active participation we can take, some times it feels like a no-win situation, given our national tendency to dump (waste) money in pork-barrel projects, paying off a billion+ interest charges on our debt and a crazy Defense budget.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: This was a tricky one to include. Let me say that I am using this as a segue to two other somethings more local and currently in-use.

My wife and I caught this on TV a couple days ago. As some of the reviewers have stated, this show might be sliding down a slippery slope with their recent inability to connect to school systems and attract large crowds. But what I took away from this idea is very similar to messages I have heard from documentaries like “Food, Inc” – basically, we are feeding ourselves absolute CRAP! Worse, some of it is federally subsidized crap. So this got me looking around to see what Unit 4 is doing about food….

CATCH: (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) This is not new at all, but my questions led me to how Unit 4, and especially Carrie Busey, has embraced CATCH. Our family has learned about foods that fall into three buckets; “Go”, “Slow” and “Whoa”. When talking with the CATCH coordinator at Carrie Busey (Ms. Wendy Starwalt), I was impressed by her passion for the program, but also her realism and honesty as she admitted various challenges. For instance, the economy and lack of state funding is making it impossible to implement all the CATCH ideas fully. I also made contact with the District Food Coordinator (Ms. Mary Davis) – she will be getting back to me later as this is an extremely busy time for them, but she seems very upbeat and excited. Ms. Starwalt had a lot of good things to say about Ms. Davis and all she has done in our district; for example, “She has consistently changed us to whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegtables as much as possible”.

Ready. Set. Grow!: While this did not directly come from my Jamie Oliver search, it did catch my eye from a recent post about snacking (loving the RSS feed). This is very much in line with the “Great at 8” idea, focusing on early childhood development.

PTA Council (no website?): As I become more involved in the school system, as I read more blogs and whitepapers, as I talk with more parents, teachers and administrators, I cannot help but want to make a positive impact on our society, specifically upon our children. When talking recently with a PTA Council member whom I have seen at many Unit 4 functions, I was impressed by her dipiction of what the PTA Council does. Believe you me, the last thing I want is yet another meeting! But I am now exploring this as a possible way to invest my time and energy. I like how the PTA Council represents all the district PTAs, and how they play a big role in keeping the Board and the Administration accountable to various promises and issues.

In light of the the last election, I really did not like character assassinations that went on (the NG’s treatment of Lynn Stuckey and even the UC-IMC, which I respect and like, did some dirt-digging on Chalifoux). I do not like the highly political nature of how the Board turned out, and as much as I want to become involved, I have a hard seeing myself sitting in all those meetings. If anything, I would want to totally reform how the Board interacts with the community and the Administration, but I simply cannot carve the necessary time away from family right now. So my next option is two-fold; 1) maintain my contacts and keep badgering (*sly grin*) the members individually and as a group, 2) join the PTA Council.

In some ways, all that you read above is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other efforts, both at the individual level and at a larger, coordinated group level, going on in our school district that it is staggering. I chatted with the District’s Community Relations Coordinator (Ms. Lynn Peisker) about how it would be a full-time job simple to maintain an index of it all. She has been doing an excellent job of highlighting various schools, staff, students and programs, and I look forward to seeing how she continues to put a bright face on Unit 4.

PS – Also, I realize that I only use two wordpress “categories” for all my posts. I have thought about using many more and retrofitting past posts, but…. I simply have not done it yet. 🙂