Houlihans plans for the next few weeks

So after the last couple of Houlihans meetings, we want to be a little more intentional about our gatherings in December (and January, and February, you get the picture). So even though we are more intentional, the format is still open and welcome new & old faces alike. 🙂 Take special note (Laura B) that the third gathering is on a TUESDAY.


Wednesday, December 5th: Letter-to-the-editor day – if you show up, you are helping to write a letter-to-the-editor (due December 5th) or you have already done so this week. (this is a throw-down challenge issued by Pattsi)


Wednesday, December 12th: I am inviting a board member or two to join us and talk about the last official board meeting of the year (December 10th), what next year holds, answer questions (or even ask questions).


Tuesday, December 18th: Scott Leopold will be joining us to report on DeJong-Richter and Fallon. He has seen Pattsi’s questions and will respond to them at this meeting. They have a Steering Team meeting the day before (Monday, December 17th) and will talk about that. I am really hoping they have the “living document” (aka, Background Report) ready to see the light of day, or at least an early version of it.


No official gathering for December 26th. Not sure about January 2nd, but I am thinking no gathering since it is still kind of the holidays. 🙂



Updates from Stephanie Stuart in regards to Unit 4 and the PE firm

Stephanie Stuart, the Unit 4 Community Relations Coordinator, delivered a bunch of answers and responses to various questions I had. She has given me permission to post the responses “as is” and also to pass along an invitation to contact her with any further questions (stuartst@champaignschools.org or 217-531-0252). As such, I will forward questions from this blog as warranted, but feel free to contact her directly.


High School Retentions

First up, I asked about High School retention rates (ie, reclassification) as a follow-up to Meg’s article earlier this month. I asked why there is a special push in the first place when this should be bread & butter for any high school (right?). I pondered how social promotion played into this and what other ramifications are at play. Stephanie responded with:

“I have attached a document that will give you some statistics on the percentage of students who did not advance to the next grade over the past few school years. Admittedly, this is a topic that is quite involved and Dr. Wiegand let me know she’s happy for you to come in and speak with her, and perhaps the executive team, if you would like. I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions!”

I am glad the numbers decrease significantly for 10th and 11th grade. I am however extremely concerned about the obvious over-representation of A.A. (African Americans). Something isn’t working out well. What exactly is the issue, and more importantly, how can we Read the rest of this entry »


So 11 of us showed up at the Tech Plaza for Fallon’s Focus Group, and they only chose 9 of us. The two of us that were rejected still received the “Honorium” (I haven’t opened the check yet, but I assume it is $75).


We had some light discussion as we were crowded into a narrow hallway waiting for our names to be called like jurors or something. Not everyone was clear that this was about Unit 4, much less anything tied to the Futures Conference (one lady did make a connection after reading an article in last week’s News-Gazette – thanks Meg! :)). It sounds like every one of us is a Unit 4 parent with children at all levels of school (and at least one parent that also had a child at Judah). Demographically, it was not very diverse at all – probably only two were not white, and one of them was with me on the short list. The “Chosen” were 4 males, 5 females. Fortunately I am good friends with one of the guys so I am bugging him to tell me about it. *grin* I am hoping they did not have to sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement).


I chatted a little with the african-american lady as we walked out the building. She was really concerned about the attempted child abductions (a very valid concern!), but she was also very appreciative of how quick the school district responded (including a police sketch of the suspects). She also wanted to participate in the discussion to hear what others were thinking. And that’s pretty much what I wanted to do. I am wondering if perhaps that is something buried in our DNA, to be curious what others are thinking and what they will say. That and the innate desire to speak our own thoughts. 🙂


It will be interesting to watch what Fallon does with these focus groups. There was a group leaving before us (I was told by one of the others who got there before me) and I saw a bunch of names on a signup sheet (didn’t recognize any of them); impossible to know if they were also a Fallon focus group, but it’s possible.

Learning how to do community (a review of the Futures Conference on Nov 1st)

There are approximately 3,000 high school students in the Champaign Unit 4 School District.  If you were to start your school district from scratch, how would you best divide high school students?

If you had a sandbox, what kind of castle would you build? If you had a copy of SimChampaign, where would you put the schools, the municipalities, the commercial zones?

For me, trying to answer this question represents the challenge of the Futures Conference; it is both the fallacy that this question stands alone, and the social pressure of stating what you really think in front of other people (like that urban or city planner city sitting across the table from you). But let me make a very clear distinction – I think perhaps the most important part is the asking and the answering of the question. Not necessarily what the question is, nor the answer for that matter. “What is your favorite color?”, while possibly eliciting the odd “Blue! No, wait, Red! AAAAAAaaaaaahhhhhhh……”, just does not provoke the same kind of deeply held and possibly unconscious beliefs about “the way things should be.” I will come back to this.

There were a number of good things, and a number of challenge areas at the Futures Conference this afternoon. I’m a “give me the bad news first” kinda guy, so here goes.


I felt the presentation time was way too long. When I looked at the agenda and saw 70-85 minutes for opening introductions, an overview and the main presentation, I thought I could live with that. But by the time we got to slide 16 (out of 69) I was already wondering how much longer it was going to be. By slide 35 I had checked out. I couldn’t tell you what time it was, but I am pretty sure that we were already close to the soft “time limit”. Have you ever sat in a white church and looked around about 30 minutes into a sermon? People have this glazed-over zombie-like expression. That is exactly what I saw in the room. (I have been to a few black churches and have yet to find any zombies *grin*) I wrote down in my notes that Tracy Richter had some great momentum built up with the first two videos he showed at various points during the presentation (see “Strengths” below), but he killed that momentum. I so badly wanted to just start talking about the videos!

And those charming, sweet cute kids. How can I rip on kids? Don’t worry, I Read the rest of this entry »

Awesome conversation at Houlihans today

We had a record turnout today (7 + one who came later), which perhaps contributed to some excellent deliberation and healthy arguments. Thanks to Scott Leopold and Stephanie Stuart for dropping by and joining with us. I cannot possibly do justice to the breadth topics that we covered, nor even the depth to which we took some of them. So I ask you who attended to fill in with your own recollections.


As you might imagine, things started a little slow, making introductions, shooting the breeze, thinking about what to order, etc. I don’t know how others felt, but I am extremely glad we did not have an official agenda – it was a very organic conversation, starting off with football (Illinois is playing Ohio this week? Scott is somewhat of a Ohio fan, btw), trick-or-treeting and politics.

We sauntered over to educational topics and Scott had an opportunity to share some of the questions they are thinking of asking at tomorrow’s Futures Conference. Throughout our gathering, we Read the rest of this entry »

Fallon Research is making the phone calls

Just a heads up that Fallon Research is making phone calls asking folks to join focus groups. I have no idea how they are selecting names – I kinda rather doubt they happened to draw my name at random. First focus group is Nov 8th.


The weird part is that are totally ambiguous about their goals – the gentleman on the phone merely said they are asking about issues in our community (and totally slaughtered “Savoy” and “Urbana” – obviously not a local *grin*). Is that even remotely attractive to folks? With all the electioneering and robocalls going on, I can only imagine how hard it is to get folks to talk about open-ended issues. “What is the biggest issue facing the community?” Wow, how do you answer something like that? I gave him three, all pretty related to each other:

  1. lack of working towards a common goal
  2. lack of open, healthy deliberation
  3. lack of collaboration and cooperation (too many complainers)


Since Fallon is all about engaging the public and collecting opinions, I am very curious how they do that. They have rented out the UofI Tech Plaza are offering light refreshments and compensating attendees at $75 a pop. It must be a small focus group – else they would burn through their budget pretty quick.