Planning for the future

On Monday, March 10th, the BOE will hold a regular board meeting. According to the Agenda that is posted on boarddocs, it looks like a very short meeting (depending on how long people talk *grin*).

One of the items that caught my attention is the Spotlight Video titled “Community Involved Planning*”. I have asked if this video is available prior to the meeting and at the time of this writing, I have not heard back. Community Involved Planning is crucial for the stakeholders to take ownership of their school district. However, I think the tricky part is 1) we do not have a good sense of what this actually entails, and 2) those that do have a good sense of the work involved might just disagree on how to implement it. My perspective is that community involved planning is tedious, inefficient and downright messy. I say this not to slam such planning, but rather to be realistic and say we need to embrace planning as a whole community despite the challenges before us. I firmly believe the “bang for the buck” is well worth the cost.

*NOTE: “Community Involved Planning” comes straight out of Goal #2 of the District’s Goals. In fact, a number of the recent Spotlight Videos have been highlighting various goals from this page.

Speaking of “bang for the buck”, the sole item under “New Business” is a Quality Learning Environment Outcomes (QLEO) analysis report done by BLDD and the Facilities Committee. Most of the report deals with measuring the “Cost Benefit Ratio” (aka, CBR or “bang for the buck”) of various future school scenarios. For instance, 3 middle schools versus 4 with some variation of one or more K-8 schools. Or how to repurpose the building that currently houses Central once Central moves. I give props for folks thinking a little outside the box to come up with “Live/Work” ideas for the building – it sounds like crazy stuff! 🙂 Essentially, the Facilities Committee has whittled down a list of about 20 scenario options down to their favorite three; two involving three middle schools and a K-8, one with four middle schools. The high school options all pretty much stay the same. The “Lifecycle costs” of these options are going to blow your mind.

Also, as of this moment, the BLDD presentation shows that the high schools will have a capacity for 1500 students, but we really need a total of 3207 by 2022, and DeJong-Richter originally called for 1600 students at each high school. Odd. Matt Foster says he is looking into it.

And now we circle back to “community involved planning”. Recently, the one big push for “community involvement” was via DeJong-Richter. Prior to that, Great Schools Together. Both efforts had various levels of success (which varies widely depending on whom you talk to). It makes me very curious what this video is going to say. What is hard for me to determine is what our community really needs. I have my own thoughts (ie, we need a TON more involvement), and I have talked with a number of folks, some who agree and some who disagree (saying the district has tried, and in fact will continue to try, to get community involvement). On that note, Pattsi sent me a link about the “informed city” (which took place on March 4th) as a build-up to United Nations Habitat World Urban Forum; fascinating ideas, but I am left with “so what are the action steps?” What comes out of all this awesome dialogue and interaction?

For those interested, the only two documents available at the Facility Committee website are two meeting minutes, which give a little bit of an idea how the Committee debated various options over the last few months in 2013:

Cliff notes from the May 13 board meeting

As with my previous cliff notes, I apologize for the raw nature, and again, all times listed are elapsed video times.

boe May 13, 2013

Art Recognitions: 00:00 – 15:36
Service Awards: 15:37 – 27:53

public comment – 28:30
Chuck Jackson
Spoke about the DeJong-Richter Recommendations report. “What do we need and why do we need it?” There is a lot of information we do not have. Need more feedback on exactly what the weakness of each site are and why they are weaknesses. Be creative.
Recognitions: 32:19 – 38:29

38:28: Cheryl Camacho, Asia Fuller-Hamilton and Janelle Weinzierl going to Harvard for the summer:
Communcations 38:45
CFT (Cathy Mannen): welcome to new board members. Common goal to teach students.

Board members:
Stig: 40:20: important things going on. Facilities – very critical. Gotta move, waiting detracts from educational opportunities. Focus on best interests of school district, teachers and especially students.
Scott MacAdam: 42:07: mandatory board training. Enjoyed it
Kristine: 43:02: first year all the middle schools doing track and field, all three schools sending kids to state. Big kudos.
Ileana: 44:46: recognition from one of her schools, PBIS assembly, top scorers in Mathematics. Shout out to Robeson.
Jamar: 46:28: Marc Changnon taking all (45) students through a career program; graduation ceremony at the CPL, 30 grads. Shout out to Central. Shout out to 1-to-1 mentoring programs. Summarized involvement at Kenwood, including his adopted 5th grade class.
Laurie: 51:19: lots of diversity, learning the ropes.

52:47 Orlando – speaking about the Student Code of conduct.

54:06 Laura Taylor – High school graduation dates; can’t use Assembly Hall next year.

57:30 Future Facilities
Dr. Wiegand invokes a quote from “Great Schools Together”. Read the rest of this entry »

Notes from the April 8th BOE Meeting

Stig opened the meeting to give special mention of Dave Tomlinson’s last day on the Board, and to open the floor for Board comments praising Dave for all his work over the past few years. Stig honored Dave with a plaque, after which Dave shared how he feels best about advocating for teachers.

No public comments.

Board member comments
Tomlinson: talked highly of the early childhood center, good news about not RIFfing anyone. (note: RIF = Reduction in Force, a practice of letting staff go with the hopeful promise of being hired again)
Jamar: good stuff at college and career center, good “state of the district” address at Carrie Busey, good feelings all around at address; talked about how Dr. Wiegand met all her goals and is changing the perception.
Chalifoux: go vote tomorrow
Van Ness: one positive and one negative. positive = “Gold card” thing, college and career center. Negative = some schools still have no Proximity A – 1) either get rid of Proximity or 2) give every child Proximity A, the 1.5 mile thingy is IRRELEVANT (his emphasis).
Chalifoux: “Gold card” thing is good; asked about doing a REALTORS brunch. Wiegand responds that we are doing them, and in fact one is scheduled for May (if I heard correctly).
Stig: acknowledges present candidates again.
Upcoming events (among the many events, I focused on one)
May 6th, special board meeting to swear in new board members

Item D moved up to the front.

Future facilities presentation:
Steering Team Co-Chair Bruce Knight started; lots of background provided; enrollment projections need to be looked at annually.  I ask (and have asked previously) “who is going to do that?” More on this in just a little bit. Most dense population around Garden Hills. Population shift moving north and east.

In discussing the “opinion polling” by Fallon, Bruce Knight says a majority of they “yes” votes came from low-propensity voters. So his solution is to get more people to vote. I wonder about that; to me, it essential to make sure folks are first educated properly about the issues (and candidates where relevant). In addition to the above, the majority of “yes” votes came from the younger generation, while the majority of “no” votes came from those who are older. Are the older folks just stodgy? Are the younger folks just naive? We cannot really assume anything – we just don’t know.

Given all the Read the rest of this entry »

The State of the District

state_of_the_districtYesterday, Dr. Wiegand delivered her “State of the District” address to a group of 25 or so gathered in the Carrie Busey library. I asked for the powerpoint because I cannot find it online, and Dr. Wiegand sent it to me this afternoon, along with a promise of providing even more information. However, the powerpoint has a bunch of extra information hidden in the notes already – I recommend you take a look at the notes on each slide.


The Address has 6 goals and associated action steps. Here are the goals:

  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 across the District.


These are really good goals. In fact, as I was reading them I was reminded of the many promises and statements made by board members, especially the candidates. Dr. Wiegand is jumping in and setting the bar rather high, which is awesome! The Action steps sound reasonable, practical and relevant – again, read the notes because the bullets on the slide are often reinforced with extra information I found helpful.


Here is Meg Dickinson’s excellent writeup, focusing on “challenges and progress”:


There is also a WICD clip but it didn’t really say much.


In other news (sorry to bury it), the agenda for the April 8th Board meeting was finally published. There are a metric ton of items in the Consent Agenda (wow!). The only item in the “New Business” that I cared about at the moment was “Future Facilities Committee Update: Bruce Knight & Kristine Chalifoux”. I have asked several Steering Team Members about the “final” report that DeJong will give to the Superintendent, and I consistently hear that such a report is not yet ready. Which makes me curious about the presentation by Kristine and Bruce Knight – I wonder what the update is (since no document is posted on BoardDocs). Here is the text of the extra information we can see:

One of the goals of the District’s Strategic Plan, Great Schools, Together is to, “revitalize, build, and maintain facilities that are safe, sustainable, and allow equitable access to programming across the District.”  Through the use of the 1% sales tax revenue, the Board of Education has been able to address a portion of the facility needs in the District.  Existing facilities that still need to be addressed include Dr. Howard and South Side Elementary Schools and Central High School.  Current enrollment trends also indicate a need to evaluate the capacity of our middle schools and how best to deliver educational programs.

On September 10, 2012, the Board contracted with public engagement firm, Dejong Richter, to begin the process of working with the community to find out what their expectations are for some of our older school facilities, and to engage in dialogue on the prospects for a new Central High School.

This evening, Future Facilities Co-Chairs, Bruce Knight and Kristine Chalifoux will review the work done this year and discuss next steps in the process.


Side note: Yes, Great Schools, Together lives. Just don’t go visit the website that looks like it came out of 1995 and was last updated in 2008. 🙂

I believe the next steps are:

  • Steering Team approves the final report to go to Dr. Wiegand (soon!)
  • Dr. Wiegand presents recommendations to Board in May

We will see how far off I am.

Keep in mind that Chuck Jackson and I are holding a very relevant charrette on Sunday, April 7th – we feel very strongly that there is much more work to do in thinking about what to do with Central, and we feel strongly that any recommendation to come out of the steering team at this point is not going to be satisfactory. In fact, several board member candidates at the March 14th PTA Council forum offered similar comments. Please note, after talking to a couple steering team members, I am not trying to cast them in a bad light – I truly believe they have worked hard to understand and make good guesses.

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.

Feb 25th Board Meeting

First, an announcement. Unit 4 is urging parents to take a survey from the ISBE that basically asks parents how welcome they feel at the school. I am curious if paper copies are being circulated. It’s a relatively painless and short survey:

And then the Board Meeting this coming Monday. It’s a Special Board meeting, which means there are more opportunities for comments. I am unable to go, but I encourage you to attend and ask some questions. Because questions need to be asked.

“Opinion Research”

First up is Paul Fallon (Fallon Research) in association with DeJong-Richter. In the BoardDocs agenda, the blurb only states that Mr. Fallon will be talking about the two 90-minute focus groups. However, I cannot see how he can completely skip the 400-person phone survey they did as well, which was the whole point of the focus group. I still very much dislike how the raw data is being held until it can be provided in all the glory of the “historical context”. I didn’t like how that went down the High School Siting options presented at the Community Discussions. The really major bad part of it is that folks will not have time to digest the data and formulate questions while the expert is standing right there. Yes, we can look at the summary reports we have now, and we can ask questions based on that, but the questions most pressing on my mind are answered by the raw data that I cannot see. For example:

how many of the 216 people who responded favorably to 19A make up the 170 people who said they were less likely to vote for it in question 19B?

We cannot correlate 19A to 19B at all. We have to wait for the “big reveal”, and by that time I fear it will be too late to ask further questions. Hopefully Mr. Fallon will answer this question (and the related one for question 20) and any others the community has been asking. Lastly, I am still very concerned that the “research” really only touched some 430 people – that is less than 1% of the voting population. Not a good sample size, imo.

“Community Collaborations”

Marc Changnon has the pleasant task Read the rest of this entry »

“Everything You’ve Heard about Failing Schools is Wrong.”

The subject of today’s post is from a recursive series of quotes; Dr. Wiegand’s latest newsletter highlights an Atlanta Journal-Constitution (ajc) educational blog which is highlighting an essay by University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky about the bane of how media often portrays the dire plight of the public education system and he manages to ring the bell of anti-Bill Gatian assessments. Dr. Smagorinsky refers back to “The Manufactured Crisis”, which sounds like myth-debunking work aiming to de-teeth the many klaxons of war-mongering politicians.

I have asked Dr. Wiegand what she thought of the piece, since, to be honest, most of it is very general for me. I do acknowledge that Dr. Smagorinksy paints a very salient point; “to show one example of the perils of making judgments about people based on media images and accounts.” Which makes me wonder, what does the media hope to gain by pointing a crooked, shaking finger at tax-payer funded public schools in the first place? Does it really help to round up all the riff-raff and get people complaining? We will see what Dr. Wiegand says.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to disclose, or even uncover, the chinks in the armor, the weakest link, as long as the intent is to patch it up and make it stronger. On the flip side, there is also a time and a place to acknowledge all the many awesome accomplishments and positive direction, as long as it is not used to whitewash a rotting interior. Having said that, let us take a look at a few things.

On the “Pro” side, Stephanie Stuart (Unit 4 Community Relations), and Lynn Peisker before her, has done an excellent job of highlighting many positives; if you watch the Unit 4 website, the Unit 4 Facebook page or the twitter feed, you will find a frequent stream of recognitions, awards, certificates and accomplishments. Just today Dr. Taylor was recognized for receiving the McKinley Foundation Social Justice Award. Stephanie always collects success stories that are going on each school, as evident at each board meeting during “Recognitions”. Stephanie also co-hosted a “twitter chat” last week; the transcript is a little challenging to follow, but you can see how she (and Dr. Wiegand) interacted with various “chatters”.

On the “Con” side, Read the rest of this entry »

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:

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 »