Tech Committee: part I


Ok, so my bad feelings were pretty much are the mark. It was all about the e-rate, and Mr. Grinnip spun it up like how “we”, the hapless “volunteers” sitting around the table, have to help him fill in the necessary blanks on the federal form so he can submit it so we can get “big money”. It was a mess. There was some ….. maybe kinda-sorta interesting discussion, which is more than I expected, to tell the truth.

I don’t have time right now to go into too many details, so I’ll have to revisit this topic. I made time. But let’s start with something. Like interesting news (in my opinion – and boy, I have a lot of them tonight! *grin* ). Read the rest of this entry »

Unit 4 BOE putting agendas online

Back in May, Mr. Tommy Lockman informed me that Unit 4 was going to start putting the BOE documents online:


I meant to make a post about it, but never did. *sigh* Anyway, when I received the latest note that the BOE put their agenda for the September 12th meeting up, I went to take a gander. And I am impressed. While it is understandable that some agenda items are merely placeholders, there is a good amount of detail in things like 4.B. “Recognitions”, 8.B,C,D (Reports/Discussion), and others. 8.B. caught my attention. Administrative Salaries and Benefits. I am not going to witch hunt right now, but I know others have had to FOIA this information in the past, so I see it as a good step that Unit 4 is putting it out there. A good step, I said. 🙂


Other goodies in there. 8.C Report on the EEE. I am torn about this. Here are the posted “top recommendations”:

  • Provide high quality professional development for both academic and non-academic staff focused on teaching and supporting students of diverse backgrounds.
  • Create safe and competent spaces for staff to engage in ongoing discussions of diversity issues (particularly, but not limited to race and racism).  One model is Learning Communities.  It could be organized to make opportunities available
  • Create safe and competent settings for students to express what they are experiencing in school.  Provide opportunities for students to develop and express voice and resistance.
  • Develop and provide elective for credit courses at the high school level that identify and develop venues for students to critically engage issues of social history and race.


So these are all good. But here is the problem. Dr. Mark Aber recommended these back in 2000 and again in 2009 (which did not get “published” until 2011). Where are the “safe settings”? I mean, come on! All I see is talk. Where is the walk?


But this isn’t a post about the EEE, per se. That really needs its own post. Glad to see more information available online. 🙂


8.D. Preliminary report on finances. Holy documentation, Batman! A 67-page report!? Yikes. My hat is off to whomever put this massive thing together. But 67 pages?!? Who is supposed to read that? Again, I give credit to the author(s) for making these 10lb doorstops (funny old anachronism, eh?) a little more palatable; a sprinkling of graphs, some “slightly-easier-to-read” pages, and especially the last 7 pages, the “Conclusion”. In very “Promises made, Promises kept”-esque fashion, each objective of the report is detailed with examples of how the goal was met. I like that. And then I start to read them a little closer. Let’s take a look at that last objective:

5. secure community understanding and support of the fiscal requirements of a good educational program.

Examples of How the Board’s Goals Were Met:

  • Budget Presentation – “Where Does All the Money Go?”
  • … [ skipped because I have to type all this by hand ]
  • Implemented “Promises Made, Promises Kept” Committee to increase confidence in the District
  • Implemented “Facilities Committee” to continue work of the Vision Committee
  • Quarterly meetings of the Key Communicators Network to keep parents informed of Unit Four news


Each of those are old. I mean, that does not make less of them, but they are not new by any means. One could copy’n’paste this exact same thing into next year’s 2012-2013 Budget document. And yes, I am picking on this one for a reason. The other objectives have more concrete goals that have been achieved (and accompanying examples).


Why am I picking on this one? Well, let me ask, was the community’s understanding and support of the fiscal requirements of a good educational program secured? And is it appropriate that the measure of this goal having been attained are things that the Board and Administration did several years ago?


Unit 4 has an image problem, among other issues. Putting the Agendas and all this information online does indeed increase transparency. Due to this increased transparency, we can see some holes. What do you do when you see holes. Hopefully you patch them up. 😉 Putting all this stuff online does not instamagically mean that everyone knows the score. In fact, I only stumbled (in the true sense of web stumbling) upon these items because I was curious. Finding golden nuggets buried in Meeting Minutes and Agendas does not seem optimal. Depending on bloggers, online magazines and news papers to tout your qualities (and/or expose your weaknesses) also does not seem optimal.


So here is my own conclusion. Kudos to Unit 4 for moving in this direction. I realize it is a small step. Now it is the obligation of the community and the school district to collaborate (which means “work together“, to co-labor) on patching up the holes. Or tear it down completely and start anew. *grin*


Nathaniel Banks' letter to the BOE and the Central HS Committee

Mr. Banks has graciously allowed me to reproduce his letter here. In my opinion, he hits on a lot of things that the Education Equity Excellence Committee is supposed to be doing, but for one reason or another, is stymied. It is a bit of a read, but I think it is worth the bandwidth.

Dear Committee,

[…] I wanted to send my comments and concerns about the
planning for the new school.  First, I would like to express my gratitude to
the District for honestly seeking input from the community as to the
direction to be taken for the high school. I think that the planning for a
new high school should be used as a vehicle to examine the developmental
direction of the district pre-k-12 because it will be a capstone experience
for unit 4 students and families. I have a concern and several suggestions
regarding the high school.

I will express my concern first. I am very concerned that the District, when
thinking about its educational programs is still in a 20th century mindset
while trying to plan for 21st. century schools.  In its approach to
diversity issues, the District, as a part of the local community, still
struggles with 19th century attitudes of race and class. I encourage the
District to resist 19th and 20th century thinking in both areas when
planning for a new high school.  There are ways to do so.

One way is to enter the process with a full understanding of the “community”
that is to be served by the District. In my opinion there are several issues
and facts which should be preeminent for any meaningful discussion on how or
where to build a new school. These issues have traditionally been seen as
competing interests. I believe that meaningful dialog can minimize that
competition. First, the 21st century schools WILL reflect demographics
indicating that so-called minority groups in the aggregate will comprise the
majority of students in the District. Census data indicates that there will
still be a very large number of low income families with all of the
accompanying social dynamics. The other reality is that affluent families,
though in the minority when it comes to numbers will continue wanting to
consume a large portion of the District’s time talent and resources.  The
District must begin to examine how the ideas expressed in its mission
statement are to be actualized for both the affluent and low-income and
underrepresented families. No meaningful discussion can occur without
acknowledging that the local community in general mirroring societal
attitudes has a contempt for poor people, and questions whether or not the
poor -especially Black and Latino(a)- are worthy of the time and energy
spent to provide quality education to  them. And finally, but equally
significant, the whole notion of a 20th century model of labor and
management will continue to work, too often, at cross purposes with the
welfare of all of the children in the District. Responsible Board members
must consider all of these dynamics when determining the programs and
location of a new school.

So, what then would a good decision making process look like? I have several
suggestions. First, I would suggest that you incorporate a modified version
of the visioning process that was utilized for the “Great Schools Together”
initiative to drive your decision-making.  Perhaps begin the process with a
specific question such as: given the demographics of the community what is
our expectation that a typical graduate of Unit 4, should have and be able
to do upon leaving the District?  The make-up of the participants engaging
in this conversation is crucial to the process. The visioning process should
include proportional demographic representation. I would also place a
special emphasis on the current pre-k and elementary and school parents. In
other words, what would the school look and function like when it is time
for current pre k-5 grade to matriculate in high school? Therefore, those
families, care providers, and activities coordinators who are currently
working with those ages should also be significant contributors to the
visioning process. Certainly, the “blue collar” professions as well as
community and four year college personnel currently working or not working
with our recent graduates should be included in the conversations.  Members
from the local Chamber of Commerce should also be invited to participate.
It is equally important to include current stakeholders: teachers,
administrators, support staff, current high school and middle school
families, and representatives from other governmental bodies and social
services agencies.  This, by the way, is NOT re-inventing the wheel. Despite
the benefits of the last visioning process, there were significant gaps in
the proportional level of participation of those families who will actually
be in the District 5-8 years from now.

My second suggestion is directly in response to the facility issue itself. I
believe that Unit 4, rather than expending limited resources on an 80
million dollar complex, should consider moving to several smaller campuses.
The one-size fits all model of education does not include any meaningful
emphasis on 21st century vocational possibilities. There would still need to
be a basic level of expectation for the students feeding into the high
schools, but once they reach that level, they should begin experiences
leading them to some sort of career or at least a purposeful focus for their
post-secondary education. When it comes to low income students research is
clear that most successful educational programs targeting those students are
relationship based and conducted in smaller settings. I believe that those
students would be better served by several smaller campuses, not one huge
campus.  The campuses should be located closer to the centers of population
so that they actually become integral parts of the community. The campuses
should also be seen as resources centers for students and community alike.

I realize that much of what drives current high school culture is sports. If
the District wants to have and build nice athletics fields for its students,
I am all for it.  But we are a very mobile society. The fields don’t
necessarily have to be in the back yard of the facility.

In thinking about small rather than larger centers, we have to also
re-examine the ways that the educational program delivers its information.
Now that much coursework can be completed on-line, or even through
videoconferencing or Skype, we should be able to better address the
individual needs and paces of students. Therefore it may not be necessary to
build lots of 20th century classrooms when access to high speed internet
with the capability of bringing the world and its intellectual resources to
the laptop of any individual student will be a reality in the near future.
The ramifications of a delivery system that is on-line are many. The most
obvious being that there should not be a need to have students all in the
same physical classroom at the same time. Asynchronous learning could become
the norm rather than the exception. This has ramifications for attendance
issues as well. If students don’t have to be physically present but can be
virtually present, it eliminates the need to spend resources trying to get
them to “come” to school.  Time becomes less important than the successful
completion of work.  There could be small community locations where teachers
or facilitators would work with students who need one-on-one assistance.
Other students, at a certain point, could do most of their studies on line
while participating in internships, apprenticeships, etc. as part of their
educational programs. The facilities themselves would also be utilized as
full service entities where mental and physical health opportunities are
accessible. There are numerous local initiatives and entities capable of
working closely with the schools. Programs such as the Sankofa program or
the ACCESS initiative immediately come to mind.  These cooperative
relationships that could be built are not “add-ons’. They are crucial to
meeting the needs of the 21st century students of Unit 4.

These are my individual thoughts, after viewing the schools from far and
near about how they might envision themselves in a 21st century way.
However, I also am a 20th century “boomer”. There are many other individuals
and families whose children will be the beneficiaries, both positively and
negatively of the decisions made on behalf of their children. Now would be a
great time for the District, whose very nature unfortunately is still
insular to significant segments of the community, to envision itself as a
vital community resource, rather than a stand-alone governmental agency.
Let’s have the conversation.


Nathaniel C. Banks

Another invitation to come talk about Climate in Unit 4

I still have not found this in the NG – grrr!! And while Unit 4 technically added an agenda to the website, it is buried and not even announced!

Thursday, April 7th


Mellon Center

Later (ie, tomorrow) when I feel more awake, I’ll elaborate more on the questions I have been chewing on. My two big questions are:

  1. When is Unit 4 going to respond to this? Not in words, but in action.
  2. I want to get a few forums started. When and where? Not at the Mellon Center! But it would be great if Unit 4 folks came out.

If you want to come prepared, here is what I suggested to the EEE Committee members:

If you have not had a chance to take a peek at it, I strongly urge you to do so. Even if you only have time to read over the Recommendations (pages 5-7) and possibly the section on Discussion (pages 36-59).

Please tell others.

Climate and Equity

I looked for a public notice and was unable to find one, but I have heard from two involved parties that the School District is planning a special (early) EEE (Education Equity Excellence) Committee meeting to discuss Dr. Aber’s 2009 Climate Study.

Thursday, April 7th


Mellon Center

I am seriously considering going, especially if there is to be more of an open-discussion format, as opposed to a litany of reports and a monologue. Anyone else interested? If not, please continue to read. *grin*

Dr. Aber’s Study raises some very interesting yet subtle points. One the one hand, it would appear that the overall Climate has not changed much since the 2000 Study, despite the fact that much of the Administration is completely different (not to mention the School Board) and giant purple elephant of the Consent Decree is no longer stomping around in the middle of the room. A majority of the Whites still seem to hold on to terms like “color blind” and “reverse discrimination”, while Blacks decry a systematic racism that seems obvious to them. I would be very curious how the Latinos and other groups feel. On the other hand, there are some uniquely challenging opportunities that seem to spark with hope and progress. For example, a good portion of Dr. Aber’s Study branches out to talk about the impact of the Consent Decree and racism in general. In light of these big issues, Dr. Aber’s team held several focus groups after the Study was compiled and the respondents were given a chance to digest the bigger picture. This in particular opened up avenues of communication and made it obvious that some folks were simply not comfortable speaking their minds, either in their normal, day-to-day school lives or in the survey responses.

Another point which become obvious is that there is a huge blame game going on. Everyone is a victim and wants to project their failures unto something external; a system, a people group, sometimes even individuals. While I believe there is some merit at the root of these accusations (our environment has a bit of an impact on who we are), we must bear responsibility for ourselves. If there is an institutional problem, why not work together to address it? Are we not all human?

Dr. Aber, in both the 2000 and the 2009 Study, made strong recommendations for safe environments where opinions could be fleshed out, ideas put on the table and thoughts discussed. I think we can all agree that this in itself will not solve the problem of racism, inter-community conflict and a struggling School District. But I have to believe it is at least a step in the right direction.

There is a whole lot going on with Climate Studies. It is a lot to digest, but if you take it slowly and start with the Summary and work towards the Discussion section, I think it becomes manageable.

And this is where the Education Equity Excellence Committee comes in. Yeah, you thought I had totally digressed, eh? =)

Dr. Aber will be presenting this stuff to the EEE on April 7th. I dearly hope it is not a pure lecture format. I am pushing for more discussion, a chance to get the community involved. I hope the Committee members take the time to read at least a few pages of the Study and have questions, observations, comments and thoughts of their own. The EEE was intentionally diverse, and it seems like a good cross-section to discuss these kinds of issues. Since this is a special meeting called for this particular purpose (as a result of the Study being published), I hope they can focus on that.

So, are you going?

Education Equity Excellence Committee members named

The U4 BOE named 10 members to serve on the Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee. The following list was taken from the WILL site, which is the most succinct and easiest to read, IMO (although each of the articles seem to have typos):

  • Virginia “Ginny” B. Holder – attorney, farm manager and event planner
  • Lily Jimenez – bilingual teacher at Washington Early Learning Center
  • Annette McDonald Jones – Dir. of Trust Services, U of I Foundation
  • Dr. Christina N. Medrano – surgeon, founder of Hope Community Health care
  • Karl Radnitzer – education professor, Milliken University
  • Melodye Benson Rosales – commercial and educational publishing (NitrogenDesign)
  • Jamar Brown – member, Champaign Human Relations Committee
  • Rev. Jerome C. Chambers – President, Champaign County Chapter of the NAACP
  • Nancy Hoetker – President, Champaign PTA Council
  • Nathaniel C. Banks – former Unit Four School Board member, Director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Program

I was able to find information on all the above via google, with the exception of Virginia Holder. Interesting that Lily Jimenez is with the Urbana School District; from what I could find, she seems very active and a huge proponent of children and racial equity. I like the ethnic mixup – however, even though the WILL article mentions that the list includes members from the Asian American community, I am not sure who that would be.


I am personally looking forward to meeting and talking with such an excellent selection of folks, and I hope they allow their diversity to flourish and blossom for the benefit of the school district. Mr. Culver has stated that the meetings (initially  4 times the first year, possibly 2 times per year after that) are to be open and public. I am keeping my eyes on the U4 website to see when those meetings will be announced.


I am also keenly interested in the topics they plan to discuss; I see a huge potential to tear down ugly prejudices. Maybe not 100%, but at least start taking the bricks out of the walls. I strongly urge the community to get involved with these fine people and may we all look to take on the tough tasks of caring for all our children in ways that benefit the entire district.



Relevant articles: