And so the real work begins

Congratulations to the school district, administration and board – a very large facility referendum passed last night with solid support from the voting community. After many decades of deferred maintenance projects and shifting priorities, we will finally be able to address the many issues surrounding the buildings where the students and teachers interact.

 

And now we put shovels in the ground.

 

The district administration and previous boards have shown that they are willing to be quite open about finances, especially in regards to the “Promises Made, Promises Kept” committee; I have no doubt we will get PMPK v2 to help hold the district accountable for the promises of the 2016 facilities tax referendum. And this is important – accountability is good (very healthy), but it only works if you are involved and engaged. It’s not a one-way street.

Starting now, the school district is going to put many plans into motion – projects for each of the six schools listed in the ballot question, in addition to other facilities and fields; at least one intergovernmental agreement to work with Park District for cooperative use of resources, and probably another with the City of Champaign for street closures and/or one-way alterations; a high school redistricting effort in the near future; committees and design meetings with stakeholders to go over plans for new facilities. That’s just scratching the surface. And it will take quite a few years for some of the projects to even start.

 

But there is other work involved. While those who voted “Yes” celebrate, I believe it is incumbent upon us, as a community, to find ways around our differences and work together. We had an amazing 68.58% voter turnout in Champaign County, and of the voters within the Unit 4 school district, 14,325 people voted against the referendum (Source: Champaign County Clerk election summary). Why? A number of folks, including the editors at the News-Gazette, simply think the ask is too high. Others don’t want their taxes to go up (and they voted for Trump?!?). You also have a number of folks aligned with the Preservation group, who with good intentions want to preserve some of the historicity of Champaign. We still have to talk with and listen to those we disagree with. (Interesting to note that the “Build Programs Not Jails” group seemed to influence 70% of the voters to turn down the County sales tax referendum – how will the County Board work with those folks going forward to address many of the County issues?)

 

While the facility referendum has been like a snowball rolling downhill, growing in size and momentum, it has finally been given the green light. Now we can focus on other issues within the school district that have deep impacts. For example, the current Superintendent search – the school board is uniquely situated to hire one and only one person, the Superintendent. We the community need to continue to be actively involved in that process to get a superintendent that drives the school district in such a way as to promote the characteristics we value the most. Personally, I fully applaud the trend towards a more student-centered approach, and I would love to help speed it up if possible. 🙂 Additionally, earlier this week State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith issued a letter that highlights something called “Democracy Schools”, talking about the importance of our civic responsibilities and being educated, informed civic servants. 54 high schools are listed. I have asked our school board what it would take to get Champaign on that list; we already have amazing teachers like Christine Adrian and Zachary Caine (and I am sure there are others) who are holding mock elections in our middle schools (among many other excellent tactics they use in their classrooms). This past election cycle was a pitiful joke, and I am further convinced that people don’t know how to demand higher standards from their elected officials.

 

The fun has just begun.

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November 8 school facility referendum

According to the NG, the Nov 8th ballot will have wording for the school facility referendum as follows:

“Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, alter, repair and equip the Central High School Building, build and equip additions thereto, and acquire and improve the site thereof; improve facilities at Franklin Middle School, Spalding Park, and McKinley Field; alter, repair and equip the Centennial High School Building and build and equip additions thereto; demolish the existing Dr. Howard Elementary School Building and build and equip a new Dr. Howard Elementary School Building on that site; alter, repair and equip the South Side Elementary School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; alter, repair and equip the International Prep Academy Building and build and equip additions thereto; alter, repair and equip the Edison Middle School Building and build and equip an addition thereto; and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $183,400,000 for the purpose of paying costs thereof?”

 

It’s a mouthfull. So I wanted to take some time to break it down a little. If you strip out the details, the ballot question basically says “shall the Unit 4 BOE take out a loan (or several loans) not to exceed a sum total of $183.4 million?” The rest is “legally required” language that tells voters what this money will specifically be used for.

 

This grid groups and organizes the proposed changes as a way of visualizing the ballot question:

School Building Additions Site
Central alter, repair, equip build, equip acquire, improve
Centennial alter, repair, equip build, equip
Franklin improve*
Edison alter, repair, equip build, equip
Dr. Howard demolish, build, equip
South Side alter, repair, equip build, equip
IPA alter, repair, equip build, equip

*For Franklin, the School District is proposing to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Park District to “share” facilities at Spalding Park. “Add and renovate track and athletic facilities for Central.”

 

I grouped the schools high schools first, then middle schools, then elementary schools. For me, I found this easier to chew on and digest (compare and contrast).

What exactly is being altered, repaired, equipped, built, acquired or improved? To start chipping away at that question, you can read the recommended “schemes” that came out of the Tier II committee, or read Nicole Lafond’s summary of the board’s final decision (and deliberation) in her August 15th article:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2016-08-15/updated-new-unit-4-price-tag-lowered-482-million.html

 

But to spell it out more clearly, here is how the $208.4 million breaks down.

UPDATED with information from the Fact Sheet.

School Work Total
Central -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Three Story Academic Addition (with CTE)
-Gymnasium Addition (3 courts and expandable to future fieldhouse/LOWER LEVEL lockers & support)
-PE Fields/Competition Soccer (turf)/Competition Softball (sod)
 $87.1M
Centennial -Exterior Upgrades
-Interior Renovations (75% of total square footage)
-Two Story Academic Addition
-Cafeteria/Administration Addition
-CTE spaces
-Gymnasium Addition (2 courts/expandable to future fieldhouse)
-Football Field (turf)
 $63.3M
Franklin fields, McKinley Field, Spalding Park -Competition Baseball (sod)
-Practice Baseball (sod)
-Additional Tennis Courts
-Dugouts/Concessions/Restrooms/Bleachers
 $9.8M
Dr. Howard -Demolition of Existing School
-Three Story Replacement School facility
 $16.1M
South Side -Exterior Upgrades
-Complete Renovation with Health Life Safety Upgrades
 $11.1M
IPA -Interior Renovations: general minor renovations
-Addition: Cafeteria expansion, Gym, Library
-Secure Entry: Renovate to provide secure school vestibule entry
 $6M
Grand Total  $208.4M

As stated several times, the Nov 8th referendum does not address all the needs of the district; it is expected that the district will have to return to the voters for another referendum somewhere down the road.

Some items that I have not been able to find (I will update this post as I find them):

  • A detailed breakdown of proposed projects for each school
  • A final prioritization of all projects (HLS, 10-year Capital Plan, Tier II recommendations)
  • Plans to pay for future maintenance (such a plan is talked about at board meetings, so I believe one exists)
  • A cross-reference of which HLS and 10-year Capital projects are not covered by this referendum

 

Resources:

 

Finding the good: board meetings

finding_good_2

As with all posts in this “Finding the good” series, it is quite easy to find things that are bad, need improvement, or candidates for complaint. But the point is that there are also good things if one is willing to look a little harder.

 

finding_good_1Take Unit 4 school board meetings for instance. The current board has taken significant steps to listen to stakeholders, constrain their discussion of public matters to public meetings, and reflect openly on their progress. On top of that, there are often times many excellent informational items that broadcast the priorities of the district. Let’s look at a few examples.

Back in early February, the Administration kicked off a series of “Goals and Indicators” for High School, Middle School and Elementary School. Each document spells out the relationship between Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, fortified with details of the the players involved (and how they work together) as well as specific programs used to reach these goals. For indicators, the presentations focus on how tests are used, how often, what is being measured, etc. Over and above the documents by themselves, the “live” presentation (as one can watch via the Vimeo recordings) were much more charismatic, lively and the presenter often went into much more detail. My point in raising this as an example is that the district is throwing open the doors – there is nothing hidden here. If you want to know how education happens in Unit 4, you can dig into these resources.

Another example are the times when various programs are featured; lots of amazing awesomeness being shared with Operation Hope (and Operation Hope Jr), PBF (Positive Behavior Facilitation), social justice clubs (RISE, “Real Talks”), and recently at the July 11th meeting, Marc Changnon spoke about ‘Education to Career and Professions’ (ECP) and the Summer Youth Employment Program/Summer Trades Apprenticeship. This is just a very small sample of really cool opportunities that our students have. There are also the other partnerships and afterschool programs that we learn about; United Way, Champaign Urbana School Foundation, Tap In Academy, Freedom Schools, etc.

Train-your-mind-to-see-the-good-in-every-situationI will wrap up with the approach this current board has taken to governance. There have been changes, some small, some more noticeable; a new BOE blog maintained by board member Kathy Richards; the Board President now reads through and sometimes asks for details in the Consent Agenda; there is a metacognitive exercise in the form of the question “Whom did we affect and whom did we tell?” at the end of most meetings; communications to the board, in the context of the referendum and facility planning, have all been published on the district website, as well as any responses. In fact, did you know that a majority of the board members were always in attendance at every Tier Two committee meeting? I found that to be quite impressive. Last week, at the July 11th BOE meeting, the board took some extra time to talk in open session about their thoughts and opinions on the work and recommendation of the Tier Two committee. As Dee Shonkwiler was spotlighted as the only member in the audience, the rest of us can watch the video. I point out that the board took time to discuss in open session because, in my experience, this kind of lengthy dialog between board members while in open session is somewhat rare. Why should you care? Because you elected these people to make decisions, and here they are reflecting on all the feedback they have received and telling you what they think about it. We need to do our part and urge others to make their voice known as well – without your participation, there is no democracy. This board is listening to you.

Videos of Potential High School Construction Phasing

I happened to notice two new videos on the Unit 4 vimeo site (https://vimeo.com/champaignschools). After asking a couple questions, I learned that these two videos were played in a loop at the Central Town Hall meeting held last Thursday (June 23rd); they will most likely also be shown at the Centennial Town Hall meeting (July 14th). They have also been posted to the Tier Two Facility Planning website: http://facilityplanning.champaignschools.org/videos . And I am sure Kathy Richards will be blogging about them soon at u4boardcorner.blogspot.com (no pressure, Kathy *grin*).

 

So just in case anyone else wants to watch these two short, silent “what if” videos, here you go:

Potential Central Construction Phasing

Potential Centennial Construction Phasing

 

The Purpose of Education, part 4

A friend has suggested I read Ted Sizer’s “Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School“. I also checked out his “The New American High School“. I took a lot notes, and in reflection I was mostly concentrating on how Sizer defines the purpose of schools and education. Unsurprisingly, he came back to a couple similar themes time and time again; the goal of education is get learners to grow and exercise their mind such that they can learn on their own.

 

“Horace’s Compromise”, which was one report of three back in 1984, noted the challenge to the teachers of the time, which are still present today; teachers know of a better way to teach, but because of the box the system puts them in, they are constrained to teach according to the guidelines handed down to them. As stated in previous posts (“What are public schools supposed to do?“, Purpose of Education parts 1, 2, 3), there are many people who try to lay claim to what is important for our students, what they must learn and what they must become. An observation made by Sizer caused me to consider our own “mission statements” – Sizer found that most schools’ goals or objectives were very lofty but were not reflected by the day to day operations of the school. It makes me wonder how standardized testing and assessment helps all our students gain “knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to direct their lives, improve a diverse society, and excel in a changing world.” How does social promotion and strictly regimented time periods help in that endeavor?

 

Sizer has caused me to ask several questions about the architecture of modern public education. For instance, why is public education modeled on business, with a governing Board, a CEO/Superintendent, COO, CFO, etc? Why do we have over 500 pages of “board policies”, written by legal teams in legal jargon? (Even John Carver, of Carver Policy Governance, on which the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) is largely based, asks this question)

Where is teacher autonomy? We have some, but very little. Where is the student voice? I am thankful that efforts through the conduit of Dr. Taylor’s social justice team, more and more students actually have a voice and adults are listening. While it is trickling into board meetings via official student Board Liaisons and a little bit through the Facility Planning Tier I committee, we need a lot more.

 

Sizer has also taught me that we need to question the purpose of our local schools often – for the basic reason that the purpose should be constantly changing in a constantly changing world. Sizer recognizes there are no perfect answers to the messy chaos of relationship-based communities and their schools. Raymond Callahan pointed out in “Education and the Cult of Efficiency” that we run our schools like businesses for the sake of “efficiency”, but what we lose is the richness of human relationships.

 

Between the two books, Sizer has a number of practical, relevant an eye-opening chapters. I’ll close with one on “Space and Cost”, in which he talks about the physical buildings we call “schools”, as it is directly concerned with the current focus of the school board and an impending expensive November referendum.

“First, challenge the notion that we collectively – through the state – have the obligation to educate all our children by means of a formal, school-building-based collective schooling. Might there be effective alternatives, such as a mix of homeschooling and in-school schooling? Or computer-based lessons that can engage students anywhere? Or in space shared with other enterprises, such as a community college or public library?”

 – “The New American High School” page 113

He makes four more points (pg 114-115):

  • Alternatives to a dedicated building that is completely busy from 7:30 am through 2:00 pm and mostly empty otherwise – can it be used for other things, does the learning have to only occur during those times?
  • Are the state’s educational and assessment goals legitimate? If not, what are you going to do about it?
  • Which public resources that are already available to higher education, public libraries, public radio and public television could be applicable to elementary and secondary grades?
  • Examine (question) the plans for school systems; “human intellectual activity is not orderly and some human needs and abilities are crippled by too much uniform channeling” – do our systems constrict creativity?

 

More to come.

Another HS referendum option to consider

The details are not yet public, but according to the agenda published by Unit 4, it looks like the board is chewing on an another option for the voting public (and the newly formed Special Board Committee to Develop Facility Plan) to consider: refurbishing and expanding Central HS at its current location.

 

Please note that none of these details are set in stone by any means; they are just ideas, options for us all to consider. Board President Chris Kloeppel mentioned to me that he talked to several land owners in the area around Central, and to his surprise found that with only a few willing sellers, Unit 4 could easily expand the footprint of Central to the north, with cooperation and blessings from the City to close off Park Street and maybe even create a foot bridge over Church Street. This certainly opens up a number of ideas in regards to what can be done at the existing location, and keeps the Interstate Drive area essentially as a land-bank, or even possibly as one way to consolidate outdoor facilities for Central. Again, just ideas. Hopefully a map will be made available soon. And I expect Nicole Lafond and others will be getting a word in with Mr. Kloeppel as well. (UPDATE: Lafond’s article is now online: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2016-01-23/new-options-agenda.html)

 

I am lead to believe that the Board and Unit 4 administration have been approaching this carefully and ethically, talking to interested parties and addressing legal issues with the intent of making this option public at the Jan 25th Board meeting. As such, I believe that steps have been taken to legally secure an agreement with some of the various landowners in the suggested area. In fact, look at the Jan 25 agenda items:

D. Approval of Real Estate Purchase Contract – 711 Sherwood Terrace: Tom Lockman 

 

E. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 603 W. Church Street, 606 W. Park Street, 201 N. Lynn Street, and 203 N. Lynn Street: Tom Lockman 

 

F. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 605 W. Hill Street and 602 W. Church Street: Tom Lockman  

 

G. Approval of Real Estate Option Agreement – 500 W. Church Street and 606 W. Church Street: Tom Lockman   

 

In the end, the district has a strong desire to address the very serious and real needs of the physical buildings; the whole maintenance issue has been “kicked down the road” for far too long, and now the price of fixing buildings has snowballed. There is also an oft-repeated need for “capacity planning”, and we have frequently been told of the dire need to create more learning spaces as we are currently over capacity in our high schools, and quickly nearing capacity in other buildings. It seems like such an option is meant as a way to address all these concerns and make a future referendum more acceptable to voters.

 

One thing I hear others asking, which I would ask myself, is “what is the plan to make sure we don’t end up in this position again?” What are we going to do differently so that maintenance is not deferred to such an extreme in the future? It would be my expectation that the new special board facility committee will tackle that one.

 

UPDATE: According to twitter, Nicole’s article about this new option is on the front page of Saturday’s paper. It is not yet online.

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.