Other Board Meeting tidbits

With all the hoopla surrounding SROs and the Central relocation saga, I did not see anything in the media that mentioned two other awesome things that transpired at the Board meeting on June 9th.


1. Parent Advocacy Committee

Three representatives of the Parent Advocacy Committee, including new Edison Principal Mr. Tony Howard and Edison Math/Avid Teacher Ms. Tomeka Whitfield, presented an update from the committee. However, the PDF by itself does not do their verbal delivery justice, hence I very much encourage you to tune into the Vimeo recording of the meeting and fast forward to 36:17.

For a little disclosure, I am listed as a member of the Parent Advocacy Committee, but I have not attended any of the meetings during the past school year. During that time the committee met almost monthly to hash out how to realistically implement recommendations they made to the board last year, as well as meeting with many area experts on the topic of family engagement. They have formed partnerships and come up with some tangible action steps; an “engagement” survey at several schools this year and planning to have a significant welcoming initiative in place for the 2015-2016 school year.

I have to confess, these timelines are … a bit slow for me, and I want to see “more” (more initiatives, more action steps, more people involved). *grin* However, I was completely inspired as I listened to Mr. Howard and Ms. Whitfield speak at the board meeting. They even roped in Board President Laurie Bonnett to participate and support their efforts. I think their ideals and the concepts they embody are crucial to the success of our community and the school district. There must be a solid sense of collaboration and cooperation between the schools and the community in order for us to succeed.


2. Trades and Unit 4 Partnership

Marc Changnon (Director of Education to Careers & Profession) is no less charismatic than Mr. Howard and Ms. Whitfield – it was a double-header of passionate people trying to make a positive difference in the lives of those around them. On this blog and in comments to various online NG articles, many folks have talked about basic skills needed for “the trades” (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, automotive, etc). What I really liked about Changnon’s approach is that he makes it clear that college isn’t for everyone, and that there exists the very real, very much needed, and rewarding alternative of pursuing a job sans a four-year degree. While this portion of the meeting got a little long-winded (another guest speaker was invited up to augment Mr. Changnon’s presentation), I was reminded of how much we need people like Mr. Changnon, Mr. Howard and Ms. Whitfield to champion these ideas before the board. And part of that work involves being persistent – many issues clamor for the board’s attention, so unless it is consistently percolating to the top, it will not see much action.


3. (BONUS) TALKS Mentoring

Last but certainly not least, I noticed in today’s NG an article about Rev. Harold Davis and his work with the “TALKS” mentoring program. As a mentor in the Unit 4 One-to-One mentoring program, I have rubbed shoulders with folks from TALKS on several occasions. I am glad Rev. Davis has been honored with this aware, but more importantly, that he had an opportunity to share his beliefs on the topic of mentoring and fathering, and how these small steps can have such a positive impact on our society.


ACTIONS: Acronym meaning “Alternative Center for Targeted Instruction and On- Going Support”

The news media has totally overlooked this one topic that easily took up half of the entire board meeting last night. For me personally, I was blown away by the reports. One student bravely stood up during public comment (that takes some chutzpah!) to talk about how he specifically has benefited from this awesome program. There were several other reports throughout the meeting. One student was quoted as saying “Thank you for suspending me” and went on to testify how his/her life has changed. Mr. Orlando Thomas will be forwarding me the presentation used at the board meeting (which for some reason is not on boarddocs), and I will post it here when I receive it.

There were several points that made an impact on me.

First was the desire and ability to target the needs of the child. I realize there is a segment of society that just wants to punish bad behavior and close the book; I believe that type of attitude is detrimental, not only to the individual child, but ultimately to society as well. Just take a look at our misnamed “correctional systems” – do you think everyone who goes to jail is “corrected”? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think these students are being pandered to in any way, their suspension is not a mere hand-slap. Instead, there is a serious attempt at reflection and building up a “next time” scenario.

Next, I rather like the emphasis on engaging the families. It is not clear to me how successful this actually is, but just the initial “enrollment” is somewhat of a choice. Somewhat. In the course of the suspension hearing, the child and the family is told that the child is assigned to ACTIONS, and the child and/or the family could (conceivably) choose to not take advantage of the opportunity, in which case the suspension would be like an out-of-school suspension (opposed to an alternative in-school suspension). It seems like a good thing that the staff realize the importance of involving the family. I am curious how the families on the receiving end view this whole thing.

In the end, it seems this program is empowering certain students who otherwise have difficulty functioning successfully among their peers. Empowering them in a very positive way. When is the last time a student got up at a board meeting to address the board, about his own struggle and how we overcame it, to boot? Board members also gave a shout out to other students who had emailed the board about various issues. The implication is that this was a very rare thing, but the board very much encourages this type of communication.

I am reminded of a Jim Dey editorial from 04/15/2013:


“Rather than suspend the students, they wish to create a special environment where these young people can develop social skills and improve their academics.

Good luck with that. It would be great to be wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that something so basic as what’s being proposed actually will have the desired effect.”

It would appear that this program really is having the desired effect. During the ACTIONS presentation last night, several numbers were quoted, including graduation rates and academic progress. When I receive the presentation, I’ll update the numbers – I think they tell a significant story. Special thanks was given to all the volunteers and mentors that helped to make this program a success. Which got me to thinking…. it would be awesome if more volunteers and mentors stepped up to the plate.

Board Member Jamar Brown made the point that while most people were concerned about the high school location, he considered ACTIONS to be even bigger. In a lot of ways, I agree. True, the new high school is going to hit our pocketbooks rather hard (speaking from the viewpoint of those who are already struggling), but a new high school does not in and of itself have any impact on transforming society. I believe ACTIONS does.


UPDATE: Mr. Orlando Thomas has sent me the powerpoint used during Monday’s BOE meeting – it is a good read:


A challenge: where would I put a new high school?

Mr. Craig Walker recently observed that I have not offered any alternative sites, while expressing in my “diatribe” a discontent for all current sites. Point taken. So here we go.

Disclaimer: I am not an architect, a planner, an educator, or any other  relevant profession nor do I claim to have a higher education in any relevant field of study that pertains to where to place a high school. What I express here is simply an answer to an implicit question, one that I felt was a valid question and worthy of a reasonable response.

First, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Why do we need a new high school? While some might posit that the current building that houses Central is “crumbling down”, I personally have not found that to be true at all; granted, it is an older facility and lacks common amenities like central AC and the structural power grid for upgrades. Based on the various demographic studies we have, most notably from DeJong-Richter, there is a very likely chance that our student population is going to continue to increase, and we are told that the high schools are already at (or maybe even over) capacity. We are also told that it is a huge pain in the ass to accommodate the needs of the athletic teams, since Central has no grounds attached to the site for practice or games. In the end, I agree, we need some way to manage a higher number of high school students and the various programs to support their educational experience.

But why are we locked into a two high school scenario? That confuses me the most. I am going to offer several alternative sites, but they all assume a three high school scenario (with variations on a theme), which has not been talked about much at all even though the DeJong-Richter discussions, surveys, dialogs and conversations suggest that this might be a good thing. I assume that in a three high school scenario, we could keep Central as a “tech/career” school, and that by having three high schools, we reduce the required capacity at each school individually. I am also going to focus on a location that is north of University, south of I-74, west of First and east of Mattis. The reason I wish to bound my suggestion in this manner is because the DeJong-Richter demographic information tells me that the highest populations of students is in and around Garden Hills; furthermore, the highest population of future high school students (using today’s data) is currently located in the same area. I further assume that community/family engagement is a huge priority, and that in order to realize this priority, we MUST consider transportation costs, even to the point of weighting them higher than the development cost of a potential site. My oversimplified version of the Consent Decree is that African-American families were getting jilted because they were overly bussed due to having underperforming and/or neglected local schools, not to mention a significant number of related equity issues including disproportionate representation in Gifted programs and discipline. I still see how the scars of that battle impacts the thinking of community members today, and I wish to make it a priority by reducing busing (as I have made it a priority in Schools of Choice as well). I would also point out that it is not only African-American families that are impacted by this; I would focus on those families that do not have the freedom to choose alternatives to public schools.

One more thought: I am torn about the need for athletic fields in general. But I’ll save that for another post.

With that said, here are some sites – not one, but three (happy Cyber Monday):

  1. The old AC Humko site, stretching to the land east of it as well. I realize this is no longer a feasible candidate, since Kraft has set it eyes on it. But consider this; the City wants to turn this area into a TIF district because it is “blighted” (a word I have many isses with). Yet this site is very close to a dense demographic population, and relatively easy to access. A high school at this location could beautify and enhance the surrounding area, and still have plenty of room for athletic fields.
  2. I still very much like Imani Bazzell’s Great Campus idea (as stated several times in other posts). Combined with Pattsi’s idea of utilizing all four corners of the Neil/Bradley intersection, this could be a viable high school location. The City has already planned to do drastic things in the Bristol Park area – I have to believe that if athletic fields are indeed a priority, we could work something out, maybe with Human Kinetics, maybe with the areas surrounding the Canadian National line. I am very much against displacing huge numbers of low-income families – is there a way to collaboratively make this idea work?
  3. Multi-campus locations: this is an extreme hybridization, and perhaps too radical for consideration, but if all we have are small sites within the stated boundaries, what about having tracks at various locations? Is it possible to have, say, all four grade levels in different buildings, or Fresh/Soph at one and Jr/Sr at another? I know, there are lots of bad things to go along with this – I was asked for alternatives, so I am giving alternatives. For instance, the Judah site (again, which is now not available but at one point there was a possibility), the Spalding Site (staying north of the railroad), and what used to be a gated housing development north of Bradley and west of McKinley, and the old Alexander Lumber Company (another site that is now spoken for, I believe).

A word about the reasons why the other two “internal” choices (Clear Lake Tract and Country Fair) were already dismissed as possible candidates. I was disappointed that the cited reasons included things like how a certain study might reduce acreage, or how dealing with local obstacles might increase development costs, or that there are IDOT costs. I mean, which school site is not going to have IDOT costs? Show me the hard and fast numbers of how much it WILL cost, and then we can weigh whether or not the costs are worth it. Right now, we do not have those numbers, yet we already went from 15 to 6 sites, and tonight we go down to 3.

To repeat, my suggested alternative sites make a few assumptions, namely:

  • a three-high-school scenario, not two
  • transportation and accessibility is a huge priority
  • bounded by Mattis, I-74, First and University


Take your family to school (today)

u4_parent_dayApparently, a flyer went home with all children last week, inviting families to not only visit Skateland in Savoy, but also:

Visit your child’s school
Visit your child’s classroom
Volunteer to read in the classroom
Have lunch with your child

Advocacy: what comes to mind when you hear/see that?

At tonight’s inaugural Parent Advocacy Committee meeting, the one major action item is to go out and ask other people how they define “advocacy”. It is expected that we all have different mental images of this concept, different dictionary definitions. And since I blog, you are my lucky audience and in this case, participants.  Don’t worry, I know a number of you trollers so I’ll be dropping you a personal email in the near future to ask about this. 🙂 I am hoping that at least 20 of you make a comment below.

What is Advocacy?

For those that want to read the meeting documents first, you can skip down to the bottom of this post.

The first meeting, as you might expect, was a “sending out the feelers” kind of gathering. Tony Howard and Cheryl Camacho introduced themselves and how Dr. Wiegand charged them to essentially research what advocacy is and how the district can best implement it; this idea came out of the June 21st Board Retreat, along the lines of creating safe environments for discussion and empowering parents to become more involved. Both Tony and Cheryl have done a lot of planning and both are obviously very passionate about this topic. In fact, when listening to Mr. Howard introduced himself, it was a pleasant surprise to hear how involved in the community he is. I am reminded that people all around us are already doing amazing things and most of the time we simply do not know it. One thing in particular is that Mr. Howard will be hosting a Minority Parent Round Table for anyone that considers themselves a minority at the Champaign Public Library next Tuesday from 6:30 – 8:00 pm. It sounds like this will be a great listening event when staff from Edison will simply listen to what Edison parents have to say. He has hopes of doing something similar with a larger audience and at venues like the Douglass Branch Library (there was a conflict for this time around).

As other committee members introduced themselves and spoke about Read the rest of this entry »

The Rabbit hole of Parental Engagement via the Illinois State Board of Education

While prepping for the Aug 20th BOE meeting, I noticed a URL at the bottom of one of the PDFs in the BoardDocs (“FY13 Title III Budget.pdf (100 KB)“); you can try typing it in yourself, but you will get an error – I suspect you actually have to log into the ISBE webpage, and on top of that, I think the URL is just the front end of a series of http POST (techy talk for saying that the full URL is not in the address bar). But enough of that. I went looking for the grant information via the ISBE search page and stumbled upon a Family Engagement page, buried deep in the Grants directory. Why? This is just so weird. I am pretty big on family engagement and I am online a bit, but I have never heard about ISBE efforts at family engagement. Why is it under “Grants” of all things?


But the fun doesn’t stop there. I was curious about this so-called “Family Engagement Tool” and dove into the link. With a bunch of rah-rah, they then point you to yet another link, IllinoisParents.org. I am impressed that someone did a bunch of work to compile a directory of diverse resources, and apparently a group of folks have got their heads together to think about how families should be engaged. But I cannot shake the feeling that this is all theory. I cannot sink my teeth into any of it. If you are still curious about the “Family Engagement Tool”, you are urged to continue deeper into the rabbit hole by going to the SchoolCommunityNetwork, yet another directory of resources and more theory-crafting. Eventually that leads you even further to Indicators In Action, a whole set of online courses designed to teach the aspiring learner about how schools are connected to communities via a series of videocasts. After following all those links and becoming more and more disappointed, the last thing I wanted was a 2-hour online video class that describes how somebody thinks schools are communities.



Somewhere down the line, I came across this definition of the Family Engagement Tool:

The Family Engagement Tool (FET) is a web-based tool that guides a school team in assessing every aspect of its family engagement programs and practices. The team creates and monitors an improvement plan based on indicators of effective practice.


Guides? I am so lost that I don’t even know what I am doing on these pages anymore. No wonder I have never heard of this beastly entity. 🙂


I will offer an alternative. Instead of getting enough credits to minor in Family Engagement, just use some common sense:

  1. Listen to what other people say – which means you might have to go to where they are, as they are not always (if ever) going to come to you
  2. Tell people what you heard them say
  3. Act on what you heard them say
  4. Tell them what you did and see what they think about it. And, *gasp*, you might just have to go back to where they are to do so


This whole thing of Family Engagement is tricky; most families are already so engaged they are drowning. It might be the family with two career parents, who are obviously engaged in their work places. Or the family where the kids have extracurricular activities 8 days of the week (not a typo, just seeing if you are reading this). Or the single-parent family where the bread-winner is scraping by on 2.5 jobs. Or natives from another country trying to make sense of our backwards culture. Some parents already go to every PTA meeting, or every school function, or volunteer every school day in classes. We are all in different places. But I’m with Vandana Shiva when she compares the non-locality of quantum theory to the interconnectedness of human beings – we are already community, and what we do is already shaping it.

Learning from others: "Crossing the Streams"

I apologize for subjecting you to yet another bout of news from Springfield; I had some excellent conversations today and am compelled to share them. This is a long post;  the top 2/3rds deals with Peggy Cormeny, the bottom 1/3rd with Pete Sherman. The overall theme is of bringing parents and teachers together. I am reminded of Ghostbusters and the power of crossing the “streams”. What you read below is very much like that.

[note: any factual errors are bound to be my own – if you know of any discrepancies, please let me know]

The first one was with Peggy Cormeny, the Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) at SSD 186. I have been trying to get a hold of her for a little while and our schedules finally overlapped. My first question to Peggy was about the history and genesis of FACE. To provide a full context, she had to rewind all the way back to the early 90’s.

Roughly 20 years ago the Ball Foundation contacted the Springfield School District and started a partnership that is just now winding down. The Foundation provided grant monies to fund teacher home visits and teacher collaboration initiatives, opportunities that allowed teachers the incentives to visit with children and their families. Peggy related a story of one elementary school in which the 5th grade teachers were able to meet and visit with all the 5th grade families before school began. Wow. Around the same time, the “Parents as Partners” program was kicked off, a vital bridge between home and school.

When Peggy joined the team, Read the rest of this entry »

Community Engagement: what does it look like?

This is a two-for-one post. I want to make a quick announcement that Majora Carter will be at the NCSA on Thursday. Just awesome stuff! More on this at the bottom of the post. Be there!

I have already talked about the fine work going on in the Springfield School District. I have decided to integrate that into my “platform” for tonight’s Candidate Forum (you will see that this is posted while I am being interviewed, and I have no electronic devices with me).

I spoke with a Springfield BOE Member, Scott McFarland, this afternoon. It is just so exciting to hear about what they are doing. The Faith Coalition for the Common Good continues to push forward; one of the many things to come out of the Education Summit is a Education Task Force Committee (cannot find a URL link, yet). One of the things that was really important to the SSD 186 was improving their website. As I mentioned previously, I was quite impressed with the website. I have recently learned that one of their employees, Dave Heinzel, is the man behind the curtains and largely responsible for the entire thing. He is an accomplished graphic artist and the website really shows off his skills quite well.

During our conversation, Mr. McFarland mentioned how FAITH working with SSD 186 procured a high school improvement grant which they used to build a special room dedicated to community collaboration, including holding classes for community members. It is a part of the initiative to use the building even after school is out, in the efforts of creating a community center. I love this idea!! Awesome stuff.

I was asking Mr. McFarland about his opinion of FACE (Family and Community Engagement), and a quote I am going to steal from him is “You have to have community buy-in before the Board pitches an idea.” How true, so very true. And this is a Board Member, keep in mind.

I also called the Springfield Administration Building and asked further questions. One more thing I learned is that FACE is essentially one coordinator (Peggy Cormeny) and her assistant. They have a “FACE team” at each school that either replaces or works along side PTOs (like our PTAs, kinda sorta). I am so envious. 🙂


And finally, back to Majora Carter. You have to go watch some of her videos (1,2). Here is someone with a passion for improving the lives of people around her, who is so overflowing that her sincerity and genuine concern drives her to push and push and push to get injustice eradicated. Her outlet is “environmental justice”, but that phrase means so much more than hugging trees.

New role model

Previously I mentioned a trip out to Springfield. In the last few days as I have attempted to define myself in preparation for the public Candidate Forums on April 16th, I have realized that many of my desires and goals coincidentally align with a very special department in the Springfield School District, Family and Community Engagement (F.A.C.E.).

The front page of FACE that greets you is not exactly the most impressive thing you can find on the internet. However, after digging around, I was very excited. Take for instance this quote from the “About” page:

“Springfield Public School District defines Family and Community Engagement as school, family & community partnerships built on trust and meaningful communication that creates strong academic support systems for all students.”

FACE has also  Read the rest of this entry »