Finding the good: the many names of social justice

I found this post hard to write because there is so much awesome wrapped up in the broad label of “social justice” that it is hard to convey a sense of scope while trying to provide some details as well. And perhaps most vexing is how to convey why exactly I think “social justice” should be viewed by the community as an extremely high priority.

 

I’ll cut right to the chase – each of these efforts give an example of what a child-centered approach looks like. In my opinion, if public education is not child-centered, it has no place being funded by the public. Or in other words, you and I are are throwing our money out the window if it does not benefit the whole child, every child. I’ll come back to that.

 

In a Feb 19th U4 Board Corner post, Kathy Richards shed a little light on the social justice efforts going on within Unit 4, specifically focusing on the English learners of very diverse backgrounds. Ms. Richards closed by talking about the Social Justice Initiative; let me quote from the webpage:

During the 2012-2013 school year the social justice committee focused on learning about social justice by studying relevant literature and engaging in collaborative learning sessions. The committee generated a definition of social justice and a social justice framework for our district. Having met the two goals of creating the definition and framework, the planning group now provides professional development and project opportunities via social justice seminars and topic specific task forces.

At the February 8th BOE meeting, Dr. Wiegand and Dr. Taylor presented on the state of the high school curriculum; starting with page (slide) 35, they cover other social justice initiatives and partnerships (like “Culturally Responsive Education”, aka CRE), followed by this list of “action groups” on page 37:

  • Special Education Action Group
  • English Language Learners Action Group
  • LGBTQ Action Group
  • Homeless Action Group
  • Social Justice Educators’ Collaborative
  • RISE – Racial Identity Student Experience
  • Choose Kindness and Real Talks

 

We have some really amazing staff involved in these efforts. I have had the honor and privilege of meeting some of them and sitting in classrooms – I hope to spend more time learning about these action groups. Since many of these groups are student-organized and student-led, they don’t just allow any stranger (or blogger for that matter) to sit in, so it might be a while. *grin* I love it that students are taking these responsibilities seriously, and that the staff sees the vital importance of student voice and provide for these spaces to happen. That just blows my mind.

 

I’ll let another little secret out as well. Those that are following along with CTRL-Shift (notice the nice NSF grant they recently won?), it might be easy to get distracted by the focus in technology. I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think computers were ever the main focus of this group; instead, they strive to empower learners, regardless of finances or ability, by giving them the computational skills to tackle problems. I believe the “shift” is away from teachers monologuing to students, and instead providing a path where teachers transition to facilitators and create environments of student inquiry.

 

Which is a very common theme when I talk to teachers involved in social justice as well. Each of these adults realizes the importance of truly listening to the kids, of trying to learn from the child. I paid a visit to a local Montessori school, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that this is essentially the magic sauce behind what makes Montessori so attractive (there are other details the flow out of this methodology).

 

At this point in time, I feel strongly that as we look to hiring a new superintendent in 2017, one key priority of this new superintendent should be to maintain (the current efforts) and enhance (where we are lacking) a district-wide atmosphere of student-cenetered learning. And unfortunately for the folks at Pearson, this means we should turn away from standardized testing in bulk as a means of assessment; too much of what we currently do is adult-centered, and it is making me sick.

 

It doesn’t matter if you use words like “social justice”, the bottom line is that we are talking about people, not numbers. And young people at that. People with lives, backgrounds, personalities and gifts. We have a moral obligation to ensure that these young people (every single one of them, not just the privieleged) have an nurturing environment that promotes success at life. It comes down to relationships, of getting to know other people, and other people’s children, enough that you can care about them.

 

It’s easy to not care. But it is expensive.

 

UPDATE:

“Tell me the truth! If you cannot tell me the truth, we cannot trust each other. If we cannot trust each other, we cannot have a relationship. If we do not have a relationship, we have nothing.”

— Dr. Joy DeGruy “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

 

PS

Some things that have influenced my thinking:

  • Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner “Most likely to succeed”
  • Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish “How to listen so kids will talk and talk so kids will listen”
  • Nikhil Goyal “One size does not fit all”
  • Jose Vilton “This is not a test”
  • Edna Olive “Positive Behavior Facilitation”
  • Trevor Eissler “Montessori Madness”

 

School district report card

At the Jan 11th BOE meeting, Dr. Wiegand presented the district report card (an annual event). The report card is available in several places, but the one submitted to ISBE can be found on ISBE’s website:
http://webprod.isbe.net/ereportcard/publicsite/getReport.aspx?year=2015&code=090100040_e.pdf

Additionally, Dr. Wiegand shares a little more on the district website:
http://www.champaignschools.org/pages/district/district-report-cards

 

I asked a few questions on the U4 Board Corner prior to the meeting, most of which were addressed during the Jan 11th meeting. My goals in “sharing back” here are:

  1. report on the public answers made at the board meeting (since they are not explicitly documented, one would have to watch the entire video otherwise)
  2. provide a little heads-up for the Feb 8th BOE meeting
  3. show you how you can engage the board with your own questions, and listen for answers 🙂

 

Note: the number in parenthesis denote how far into the video I found these items.

And a caveat: if you disagree with my interpretations below, feel free to leave a comment. Especially if I made a factual error – I would appreciate having that cleared up ASAP.

 

Question 2

According to page 1, the district has a higher school dropout rate, higher chronic truancy rate and a lower attendance rate than the state average; what can we do about those stats? (My question was a bit more oblique when I first posed it)

Answer

(43:58) Dr. Wiegand addressed the high rate of mobility and poverty, saying that these are certainly areas of concern that affect how the district responds and supports such situations. I did not hear anything about dropouts, truancy or attendance, however.

 

Question 3

How is it that we have 100% parental contact?

Answer

(44:38) It comes down to how “parental contact” is defined. The ISBE says that any type of communication, including any type of mailing or flyer sent home in backpacks, can be considered “parental contact”.
I would love to see us break that down an aim a little higher. For instance, what if we define parental contact as a phone call or face-to-face visit?

 

Question 4

I asked several questions about how much time we actually devote to teaching subject matters. I note that most of our high school periods are 47 minutes long, but everyone know you don’t teach every single second of the period. 🙂 I am also curious about how much time is taken out for test prep and administration. (for a related but different can of worms, I am not a fan of how we do testing at all)

Answer

(45:20) Again, it comes down to what ISBE defines as time spent teaching, and apparently for the sake of consistency, it is purely by bell schedule.

 

Question 5

I asked several questions about the budget, specifically why we spend more on Operation than Instruction, and why we have a $8+ million Debt Service.

Answer

(47:47) I appreciated that both Dr. Wiegand and Mr. Lockman took the time to delve into this a little more. According to Mr. Lockman, “the devil is in the details.” Apparently, due to the district-wide Schools of Choice system for grades K-8, we have a larger-than-average bill to foot for transportation costs (Operational budget).  We also have a number of service professionals that have instructional capacities but are listed under the Operation category, such as librarians, social workers, psychologists, etc. And lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a bulk of the Debt Service ($7 million) is actually covered by the 1-percent Sales Tax, and our property taxes cover the rest (roughly $1.6 million). Of course, the obvious downside is that all the 1-percent money is tied up until 2025, affecting the conversation about the future referendum and how we do Capital expenditures.

 

Question 6

I asked about this strange thing called a “5-year graduation rate”, since our high schools are grades 9-12 (four years).

Answer

(53:12) Dr. Taylor responded that we have contingency plans and intentional support for two groups of students, 1) those with IEP plans that need to take things a little slower, and 2) those are highly mobile and enter (or re-enter) the system needing some remedial work to catch up. I found it interesting that Dr. Taylor would not provide raw numbers, even though Dr. Wiegand was kind enough to ask. 🙂

 

Question 7

I asked what the PARCC results really meant, since they show that the average school in Illinois has about 60% (or more) students not meeting expectations.

Question 8

And finally, what are going to do with all this information moving forward? What are we working on this coming year?

Answer to both

(55:50) I appreciate that Dr. Wiegand suggested to the board that there be a more in-depth reaction to the PARCC results at the February 8th BOE meeting. Dr. Wiegand has also indicated that she will be providing a report of Superintendent Goals to the Board in the near future (she did not specify a date, but I wonder if maybe we will see some of that on Feb 8th). I look forward to learning more on the 8th.

What are public schools supposed to do?

I have often asked myself variations on the question “what is the purpose of school?” When asked, my then 9-year-old daughter offered her perspective, “to learn how to learn.” I asked her a year later about the purpose of the teacher, and she said “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, 3)

 

I find myself aligning with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and many others both before and after MLK, who paints a picture that the purpose of education is to generate successful citizens. Citizens that can navigate and participate in society, that know how to collaborate and compromise, engage in healthy debate to voice different ideas, and overall “be family.”

 

 

A related question is “what is the purpose of the board?” (part 1, 2) Basically, the school board sits at the 10,000 foot level (right below the clouds) and determines where the bus is going to go in the long run.

 

Having laid all that out as a preamble, I now turn your attention to the November 16th school board meeting, the agenda of which can be found on boarddocs (I still do not have a way to deep-link the agenda – you will have to navigate there manually). In particular, the interesting presentation on High School Configuration. First, I think it is great that this board is trying to 1) be very open in their discussion, and 2) are trying to invite the community to the table on “big issues”.

 

The High School Configuration document is interesting because it starts off with a summary of Lisa de la Rue’s literature review. For those that want to rewind back to the June 11th, 2012, meeting, I have a couple notes you can look over; June 9th, before the meeting, and June 12th, after the meeting. Basically, there is a weak correlation between school configuration and student achievement (too many other variables). This current document goes on to list several pros and cons between a 1-HS model, a 2-HS model (current) and a 3-HS model. I noticed a trend in the carefully phrased “possibilities” – the single high school model might increase the number of opportunities/services while at the same time might decrease climate, while at the other end (not really an extreme) the three high school model looses the number of offerings (due to lack of consolidation) but increases the innate intimacy. Funny how the two high school model has one and only one “concern” listed. Oh, by the way, the current HS principals will be spearheading this presentation. 🙂

 

I am not shy about my own preference, but the point I want to make with this post is that I believe the board as a whole needs to focus first on what kind of students they want to produce. Regardless of configuration or location, when you hand a diploma to a kid, what qualities and traits will they have acquired because of Unit 4? What exactly is a successful citizen? What about those students for whom the current system is not working at all? What are we doing wrong if students (young citizens) are “failing” the public school system?

 

The district administration has recently taken a stronger stance in support of Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF, a concept originated by Dr. Edna Olive who has a book by the same title). Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell are pushing PBF, with good effect, with ACTIONS staff used throughout the district. During a recent email exchange with Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the district is looking at including PBF and cultural relevancy more thoroughly within Professional Development in the near future. Having read Dr. Olive’s book, I find myself agreeing with her belief that “relationships are everything.” In fact, Dr. Olive goes so far as to call PBF a paradigm not a program; it is more of mindset, a method of taking a step back and thinking about all the factors going on in a given situation, starting first with yourself.

 

My own high-level goals for any student going through Unit 4, regardless of the physical building they happen to be in, are:

  • her sense of curiosity, creativity and wonder are encouraged and enhanced; she is a critical thinker who, because she is a life-long learner, questions everything
  • although she is a single citizen, she is a valuable citizen who appreciates the value of others around her; ergo she seeks to resolve conflict, collaborate, and compromise as needed
  • alongside her repertoire of reading, writing and math skills, she also gains the confidence that she can acquire new skills as desired
  • she is both street-wise and world-wise

 

What goals do you have? What goals do our students have? And how will we realize those goals?

 

I hope lots of people show up for the chat tomorrow, and I hope many more continue to provide input on their own priorities. I urge the board to focus more on the purpose of Unit 4 schools, and provide course corrections to the administration as necessary. Personally, I don’t think the board as a whole should decide the location or the configuration; certainly as individuals and voters they have an opinion that should be expressed, but as a board, I see their job as setting the big picture first.

 

Let’s make learning fun. 🙂 And let us learn how to learn. Always.

September 14th BOE meeting

For those that missed the September 14th Board meeting, or simply would like to get a refresher, I point out a couple resources:

One of my big take-aways was from a presentation by Dr. Charles L. Tucker III, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Innovation. This past week I contacted Dr. Tucker and asked for a copy of his presentation and his permission to post it online, which he graciously agreed to. Here is his presentation:

Champaign Unit 4 Remarks 091415

What struck me about his delivery was the large number of in-place and ongoing partnerships between the University and the school district – it was actually quite an amazing summary, both in its length and depth, which only highlighted a few opportunities. As Dr. Tucker mentioned, not only are there things going on that Dr. Wiegand might not be aware of, but he seemed pretty confident he did not even have a complete list. As he said, there is plenty of “good stuff” wrapped up in here.

One of the reasons I wish to highlight Dr. Tucker’s presentation is because I have often wondered “we have this really good University sitting in our backyard, how is Unit 4 benefiting from that?” I have heard many others ask similar questions. And this document helps to answer those questions. Moreover, there seems to be a perception that some things are broken (a topic for another post, surely), and thus the whole thing is broken. But perception is not reality. Many things are working well. Maybe not perfect, maybe not like how we expect or even desire.

Our challenge is to celebrate that which is good and constructively address that which is not. And we must do all this together.

A totally new school board

Tonight’s short meeting resulted in four new board officers, and personally, I am glad that the President and VP votes were unanimous:

  • Chris Kloeppel (President)
  • Amy Armstrong (Vice President)
  • Kathy Shannon (Secretary)
  • Jonathan Westfield (Parliamentarian)

There were a number of tweets, and Nicole followed up with an NG article. It is exciting to witness and hear about the synergy that has already been building between various board members (new and old), not to mention some of the things they want to tackle. For instance, how to take advantage of social media? How to engage the community and make board meetings more “friendly”? How to work together as a board but still have individual passions? And with Mr. Kloeppel being the youngest board president in a very very long time (ever?), their path as a team will be both challenging and exciting.

My number one priority for the board is that they continue to more fully embrace the model espoused by the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), called “The Foundational Principles of Governance.” The IASB model does several things that I like, taking a lot of cues from John Carver’s Policy Governance; one of the most exciting things, in my opinion, is “Effective Community Engagement”. The model also establishes clear relationships between the board and the Superintendent, the administration and the community. And finally, it guides the school board in focusing on policy and school-wide direction, not falling into the trap of micromanagement, which I think has been a sand trap for quite a while now. All these facets will be even more critical as this school board contemplates the process to select a new superintendent in two years time.

The new board will have a Board Retreat later this month, where I believe they will meet with IASB representative Patrick Rice, Dr. Wiegand and other members of the administration to lay the ground work for their collective goals and ambitions for the coming year. In the meantime, I am going to go out on a limb and put forth the idea that board members (all of them) really want to hear from the public, so I encourage you to contact them at:

u4boe@champaignschools.org

Around the district

The Jan 26th special board meeting agenda has been posted, which reminded me to write a post about several items.

 

Stephanie Stuart has been sending out notices of some really excellent news this past week:

“Thirty-five Unit 4 students will be honored in the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Creative Expressions Competition, including 12 winning entries and 23 honorable mention projects. Students will be honored at the Annual Celebration at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, January 24 from 10:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. This year, 182 of the 207 entries to the contest were submitted by Unit 4 students.”

Additionally, “nine Unit 4 high school seniors have received scholarships from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream” Scholarship Fund.” (Unit 4 news article)

Earlier today, Habeeb Habeeb dropped by Centennial to honor Aliyah Maldonado (Unit 4 news); I hear it was inspiration and emotional.

 

One of the items on the Jan 24th agenda is a presentation about Vision 20/20, which you can read more about on the IASB website; Dr. Wiegand serves on the Vision 20/20 Committee. There is also a short article in today’s NG about Tolono supporting Vision 20/20. I had an opportunity to chat with Unit 7 Superintendent Andrew Larson to better understand his purpose, and I was very encouraged to hear that others are getting sick and tired of the “same old same old politics” in Illinois, and want to take a stand against it, and stand for high-quality, truly accessible education for all children.

 

Nicole Lafond, Education writer for the News-Gazette, advertised the “first of many weekly school reports“. Among other things, we learn that Jefferson won a $5000 grant from Lowes to renovate the courtyard and improve the library, and mentions the “First Lego League Central State Tournament”, which sounds really cool to me. If you happen to attend, I would love to hear what you think.

 

Kenwood has been awarded $3500 to document the Kenwood brand of awesomeness; look for videos, tweets, demos and flyers that share not only what the Kenwood Stars are doing, but why they are doing it and what they are accomplishing. Along that line, CTRL-Shift will be at the first of two Schools of Choice Information Sessions showing support for Kenwood. I am sure the other schools will be showing off as well. 🙂 More info:

http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/10381

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 6 p.m. at Stratton Elementary School.

The Info Session will provide families with an overview of the Schools of Choice process, showcase each of the District’s 12 elementary schools, and provide the opportunity to ask questions of Choice staff members.

 

The DLR architects will be meeting with the folks at Centennial next Monday (Jan 26th) to discuss the recent changes to the proposed referendum and how that affects the expansion plans. You can imagine that there will be a lot of heated discussion. 🙂

 

Lastly, I have to give a final shout-out for the #edCampCU happening tomorrow (Saturday, Jan 24rd), 8:00 to 2:00 at the College of Education (1310 South Sixth Street).

 

2 day countdown for November 4th

Last week I received a copy of the email that was sent out to Chamber of Commerce members; in my opinion, the letter was very thoughtful and tackles both sides of the issues surrounding the Unit 4 $149 million bond referendum. I urge you to read it and take the embedded suggestion seriously – “(r)egardless of how you choose to vote, please remember to vote on November 4”:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/chamber-of-commerce-public-policy-update-on-the-unit-4-november-4th-referendum/

 

Aside from the numerous Opinion articles to appear in the NG today (letters and an editorial, all of which you can find on my index), Dr. Wiegand was recently (and timely) interviewed by Laura Bleill of ChambanaMoms.com:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/2014/10/31/judywiegand/

 

And if that were not enough, there were two related articles in the October 31st NG that caught my attention:

  • Since you asked: Behind the video of referendum supporters: Nicole Lafond wrote this article to address questions that the NG has received related to various promotional materials in support of the referendum. What I liked most about the article is how Shatterglass co-founder Brett Hays donated the time and energy used to produce the video. The video itself is well done, and as I told a couple of you readers earlier, I agree 100% with everything the students say in the video. They stayed on safe ground. 🙂 Regardless of whether this referendum passes or not, I sincerely hope that the support that has sprung up around Unit 4 continues to grow – it is afterall a community school district.
  • Flipping the script: The students have become the teachers: Another article by Nicole Lafond, this one focuses on how teachers and students in Urbana are exploring the concept of a “flipped classroom”. When I tweeted Matt Sly (an Educational Technology Coach in Unit  4) about this topic, he responded with “Flipping is alive and well in Unit 4!” I personally really like some of the core ideas with this approach is that it makes the entire classroom much more interactive. There are obvious downsides of course; for instance, what if a student simply does not do the “required” self-learning at home via reading and/or watching podcasts? I am not saying this approach is perfect, but I do like it very much. How is this related? I believe the recent surge of embracing technology as a tool to help “flip” classrooms and allow more versatility within the educational environment is the meat and bones of a “21st Century Education.” I could be wrong, but this is the way I am leaning at the moment.

 

 

We have big issues to tackle, but never impossible ones.