#cu4techcon

#cu4techcon

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hashtag/cu4techcon?src=hash

 

The 2nd annual CU4Tech Conference had a little bit of a rocky start as Krista Moroder attemped to facetime conference from Philly (tech problems on our end? Irony? *grin*). I think she did a great job of setting the tone for the conference, speaking to how technology is a but a tool meant to make the challenging task of teaching more efficient and more effective. Despite my own current revulsion at the mention of “efficient”, I begin to see how the whole point of a tool is to make something easier. My understanding of “Educational Technology” continues to evolve, and I begin to see that the infusion of current technology into pedagogy, curriculum and education is more about the way we do education in the first place that warrants the use of these kinds of tools. I mean, the pencil is a piece of old technology, but still a tool none the less.

 

The rest of the day was jammed packed with a lot of wise words, challenging insights, educational jargon up the wazoo (I didn’t go to Ed school), opportunities for networking, forming relationships and exploring the role of technology in one of the most empowering facilities of our society – educating learners. And a fair share of ongoing technical problems. 🙂 Mrs. Elizabeth Slifer (Carrie Busey) had an entire PBS presentation that just would not load up, so they adapted in real-time. Other presenters had slow videos or webpages to demo. Instead of pointing my finger and trying to complain, rather I use these as examples of imperfect tools and how people find dynamic, creative alternatives. We not only learn about the underlying tools and nitty-gritty details when we can (I just ask Dave Hohman), but we also learn to adapt. This is powerful. As we laughed about the technical difficulties later in the day, our lives are full of teachable moments and learning from mistakes – without which we do not grow.

 

Here are the sessions I attended, about 1/8th the total offering.

 

Google Apps in the Classroom (Erin Ludwick, Urbana High School)

classroom.google.com just came out, which Read the rest of this entry »

Couple things from Unit 4

Stephanie Stuart has posted a few things in the past few days.

Choice Forums

Because the first two forums got smothered by weather, Unit 4 has opted to hold “Choice Chats”, where you drop by the Family Information Center “and speak with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Susan Zola about the process and receive further information.”

  • Wednesday, March 5, 2014 – 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 6, 2014 – 5-6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 2014 – 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.

Stratton’s new focus: the Arts

The magnet program at Stratton (MicroSociety) seems to be evolving. It is not clear to me exactly how this will look or what the new focus will bring to the school, but it certainly has a prestigious sounding name: Stratton Academy of the Arts. Even comes with a new mission statement: “Stratton Elementary is dedicated to empowering students to become lifelong learners in pursuit of their dreams.” Now I know some are going to have strong opinions (one way or the other), but before you cast your stones I only ask that you do some homework. I for one would like to talk to Principal Stephanie Eckels and learn where this came from and where they are going with it.

Twitter #AskUnit4 tomorrow

In the past, Carly McCrory of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation (CHCEDC) and Stephanie Stuart have co-hosted a couple twitter chats, allowing the online community to tweet questions and receive answers from Unit 4 officials. I see that the NG is even promoting this event, most likely because of the “new high school” topic. The advertised time is from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm on Tuesday, Feb 11th.

That’s about it for now. I have not yet watched the board meeting, but I saw that it was about 1 hour and 43 minutes; I hope to watch it soon.

Unit 4 & PTA reps will be at Curtis Orchard today (October 19th)

From Stephanie Stuart:

Join us tomorrow (October 19th) at Curtis Orchard & Pumpkin Patch from 1-3 pm! We will be greeting families with Superintendent Wiegand, Assistant Superintendent Zola, PTA Council, and some of our elementary principals!

This is a rain date from the previous weekend; I believe they will be setting up station right outside the orchard store.

Choice Committee meeting, Friday August 9th

Attendance:
Dr. Susan Zola
Doretha Simmons
Michele Brown
Becky Laws
Charles Schultz
Laurie Bonnett
Stephanie Stuart
Amy Aviram
Maria Alanis

The agenda was initially split up between 9 10-minute segments to cover various things (including the Wait List, RFP, Registration, Transfers, etc); we started off talking about Policy 705.09, which actually covered almost half the agenda items. And we covered that one policy for the entire 90 minutes. 🙂

We had some really great discussion; I wish it was recorded so that more folks could listen and chime in, even if after the fact. (In fact, I just sent an email to Stephanie Stuart and Laurie Bonnett asking this).

Dr. Zola walked us through the policy. The first part is about parents choosing their top five schools and capacity (aiming for 23/classroom at the K-1 level, 24 if they have to really push it, 25 is almost unthinkable). I questioned the “top five schools” – why not open it up and let parents choose as many as they want. While the FIC staff currently allows this, the policies and the software (previously) did not. We did not come to a conclusion. Some did mention that some parents already struggle to fill in three choices (which is saying something in itself – if I really like one school, why do I have to “choose” 4 others?). My point is, just remove the restriction on the number of schools. When I thought about it, if you want to totally remove “unassigned” cases, one of the best ways to guarantee it is to either have everyone rank order all schools or simply just flat out assigned a parent if they don’t make their top n choices. The point is, there are ways to technically deal with “unassigned”, but what is the root problem? I pose that part of the problem is the sheer complexity of the system; another issue is the desire for “fairness”, for which nobody agrees on a universal definition.

We than got into a long chat about SES (the next section in the Policy). We all agreed that the language used in the policy has to be clarified significantly. Some of us also expressed the desire that SES be defined unilaterally across the district – no more where SES means one thing in one context and another thing in another context. We also talke about the need to clarify the precedence of priorities; Sibling has highest priority, but what about SES and Proximity? It’s a sliding scale, which further leads to complexity and confusion. We talked about the need to be as up-front as possible, even to the point of broadcasting the SES ranges (ie, +/- 15% of what?).

We next moved on to Sibling priorities. One thought that came up was allowing parents of siblings to register in February, or really any time. Which lead to the thought – if a parent knows where they want to go to school, why not just allow them to submit their choice anytime, instead of just a one-month period? Even if you still “run” a school selection month, you can pre-process a significant number of sibling applications thus allowing more accurate numbers for capacity.

Next in the policy is Proximity. Dr. Zola had previously submitted to the Board of the time a revision that was hammered out by the Choice Specialists; we revisited that revision this morning and liked it a lot more than the previous wording. Essentially, it removes Proximity B and simplifies the language. We also talked about removing the April 1st cutoff, since those with extenuating circumstances should be able to contact the FIC any time.

Last, we dove into Unassigned Students. A parent in attendance was able to share a specific case whereby the placement of unassigned students on the waiting list was done in a controversial manner. Via discussion, we strove to hammer that out a bit more, shedding light and sharing information on several different levels. For example, about 5 years ago an Assistant Superintendent had proclaimed that all unassigned students would bump up to the top of the wait lists, ahead of any students that were also assigned to any other school. We spent a bit of time talking about this, trying to figure out what is “fair”; in the end, I think it comes down to having integrity and being open about all the practices, instead of providing a kind of Gnostic special knowledge for only certain folks.

During our conversations, we talked about how some folks in the public have developed a negative perception of the school district in general, and maybe even more specificially various staff, because of the School Assignment system. While many of these perceptions may be formed regardless of reality, they in effect become a type of reality for that parent. I feel that this was an important made by certain members of our group this morning.

Personally, I felt it was an excellent way to hash out various perspectives – I only wish more folks could have benefitted from it. We agreed to follow-up in the near future, perhaps at the end of September after registration and school assignment dies down a little.

June 24th board retreat

This afternoon, the board held a Special Board Meeting dealing with the goals of/for the Superintendent, Dr. Judy Wiegand. Outside of the Unit 4 employees and the Board Members, I think NG staff writer Meg Dickinson, Chuck Jackson and I were the only others in attendance. There was a NG photographer who swung by, so depending on which pictures are made available, you will see that there were about 32-34 people total.

I appreciated that both Board President Laurie Bonnett and Dr. Wiegand made it very clear that public participation was very much welcome and that there would be a free-flow discussion. I like that format a lot; it probably would be a bit more challenging to adhere to that format if more community members (and more vocal ones *grin*) were in the room.

I was only able to stick around for the first hour. I believe that in that first hour, we only covered the first of the five goals outlined in the one public document made available online. Which reminds me, there were a number of handouts available for the public, but I do not know where they are online (maybe they are not posted? Yet) {updated} Documents now posted on BoardDocs – see the full slide deck for more details on what was covered. In that first goal, the Assistant Superintendents and the Superintendent spent a lot of time covering the “Achievement Framework.” I am still trying to wrap my head around it, and I cannot possibly do it justice here. At least, not yet. There was a lot of talk of utilizing more metrics and constant monitoring, of being very intentional and mindful of key waypoints (ie, Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade, 8th grade), and implementing Common Core with the idea of ultimately making all kids “college ready”.

Also, in a brief chat with the tech guys before the meeting, I learned that the “screen” (the computer monitor to display the various presentations) would be recorded, and Mr. David Hohman tells me that audio is going to be synchronized after the fact. I do not see either online, yet, but will keep my eyes open. My biggest concern, especially in regards to involving everyone who could not make it, is that the audio might be a bit lacking at times; they had technical difficulties with one microphone and ended up passing another one around which sounded a lot different; many times the mic cut out, and sometimes the speaker (ie, from the audience) was not near a mic. I hope the end result is enough for folks to bite into.

More later. I would love to get feedback from board members as well – we will have to see if anyone wishes to share their thoughts.

 

UPDATE: Vimeo video now available:

http://vimeo.com/69751582

"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 »

Registration 2013

A visitor to this blogged asked about the 2012 school assignment data, so I cleaned it up and got most of it working. I also responded to someone on Chambanamoms.com who just asked about registration. To top it off, Unit 4 put out there annual schedule of Choice Community Forums:

  • Thursday, January 24, 2013 6:00 p.m. Stratton Elementary – 902 N. Randolph Street – Champaign
  • Tuesday, February 5, 2013 6:00 p.m. Carrie Busey Elementary – 304 Prairie Rose Lane – Savoy
  • Tuesday, February 19, 2013 6:00 p.m. Temple Baptist Church – 1100 Broadmoor Drive – Champaign

Here are the visualizations I did of the “overchosen” schools, or basically, which schools folks selected for which choices (you get a grand total of 5 choices):
overchosen_visualization_2011

overchosen_visualization_2012_adjustedoverchosen_visualization_2012

The one the left is from 2011, the one in the center is 2012. A quick glance shows a very common trend (which has persisted for the past 4 years that I have been collecting data), with a very minor “flattening” effect in 2012 (just slightly more diversification). One interesting thing that popped up in 2012 is that Carrie Busey jumped up two spots while Barkstall dropped 3. I also added an “adjusted” graph to the right which shows how the magnet registration (done in February, prior to the March 2012 registration) affected the popularity of the schools. As you can see, the magnet registration pretty much filled up each of the three magnet schools (Garden Hills, Stratton and BTW aka Washington).

On November 7th (and December 7th and January 4th) I followed up with the district administration and the Board about Dr. Susan Zola’s proposed Choice recommendations. I am still waiting to hear back. I reiterated the need to go back to the four local software companies I identified last year in an effort to completely rework the Choice RFP. While this is a big deal to me, I am wondering if anyone else even cares. 🙂