National Blue Ribbon



This post is about Central. According to the article: “Champaign Central was a two-time winner (1989, ’94)”


This is fascinating. Some think that Central is an “outdated piece of garbage school”, and while I agree that Central does indeed need major repairs and overhaul work, I think it is pretty clear that there is much to be proud of despite the conditions of the facility.


It would be very helpful to see a study that calculates the correlation between the average age of a building versus the notorious “standardized” measuring sticks we use to gauge academic excellence. I would be surprised if there were any strong correlation; is it not the people inside who make all the difference in the world? Which makes me very thankful for the totally awesome teachers we have at Unit 4.


Let us assume that the “National Blue Ribbon” is something every school should strive for. We could then look at every school that has won this prestigious award and find out what makes them tick, what makes them successful. Those elements should be our bread and butter, whatever they are. According to the Dept of Ed, there are two paths to achieving eligibility, “High Performing” and “Achievement Gap Closing”. Also, note that other Champaign alumni of this award include Carrie Busey, Dr. Howard, Garden Hills, Middle school at Columbia and Jefferson. Not too shabby, more so that they won before any of them were remodeled or built new.

Welcome back picnic and "Walk as One"


From Stephanie Stuart:


Please join Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand and the Board of Education today for a Welcome Back Picnic for all Champaign Unit 4 Schools staff and friends of the district at Garden Hills Elementary School from 4-6 p.m.


We will be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, so bring your family for an evening of food and fun to kick off the 2013-2014 school year. Performances include a DJ, faculty choir, and student groups from around the district.


Join us at the close of the picnic for the Champaign Community Coalition “Walk As One” Neighborhood Walk in the Garden Hills and Douglass Neighborhoods! No advanced sign-up is necessary. Walk registration begins at 5:30 and walk starts at 5:45. The first 400 participants will receive a free “Walk As One” t-shirt.


Friday, August 16, 2013

4-6 p.m.

Garden Hills Elementary School

2001 Garden Hills

Champaign, IL 61821

In case of rain, we will move the picnic to the gymnasium.


Attached is the event flyer for more information. We hope you will join us!


Best wishes,

Stephanie Stuart

Community Relations Coordinator

Champaign Unit #4 School District

Things keep hopping

There are a few things boiling internally at the Mellon Center. I’ll share the ones that have already become public, the others I have specifically been asked not to blog about. Which is really hard for me. 🙂 Isn’t that like giving a child some candy and telling him not to eat it? Not just any candy, but his favorite.

One of the rumors that finally got certified was that the former Garden Hills principal, Cheryl O’Leary has taken a position as the new Director of Special Programs while Cheryl Camacho has taken the position of Interim Principal at Garden Hills. Both effective July 1, 2013. In regards to this transition, I have spoken to parents, teachers (not at Garden Hills), administration and board members, and basically nobody wants to be quoted. So I am going to grossly summarize; some parents feel very agitated, some teachers feel like they can’t say anything, and the administration seem to have well-thought out reasons. But none of the folks I have talked with are talking with each other, which is very frustrating to me. I don’t believe one side is all wrong and the other side all right – I believe each has a story, a perspective, a slice of the pie. I am asking and hoping that some of these folks are willing to share their story.

I also spoke with two representatives from the College of Education yesterday, Jane E. Schingel and David Requa.  I was initially wondering what kind of research the College of Ed has done regarding Unit 4 and Unit 116. Both Jane and David were extremely helpful and our conversation was very enlightening. I learned that most research asks the question “how does this work”, whereas very little research goes to the next step of addressing how to make it work better. The fundamental roadblock is funding. But there is also the issue that most research asks very narrow and specific questions – nothing like a global “how to effectively run a school district” or “how to engage your community”. We also talked about the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, and in addition to some thoughts shared by Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the Center is currently undergoing some changes and there is a high hope and expectation that there will be an even higher level of collaboration between community interests (ie, local schools) and the Center when the dust settles. I hope to share more about that when information becomes available.


In regards to the FOIAs I heard about earlier, I am still trying to ferret out the truth and not depend solely on rumors. I have heard that some things are still bubbling, but nothing that is verified, yet. I fully intend to keep on them and share what I learn; again, it is not my desire to propagate rumors but to find facts and truth.


Lastly, pay attention to the board meeting on Monday. Or at least the announcements leading up to it.

June 3rd "special" board retreat

The June 3rd board meeting has been posted on BoardDocs. The agenda is extremely slim so I asked for some clarifying details:

I see that the agenda for the June 3rd retreat has been posted. The agenda is rather bare, showing only two items for Open Session (other than comments), both of which are HR Ken Kleber items. But no extra information is provided whatsoever. I am curious, what is the Administrative appointment and the reclassification?
Also, from talking to Board Members who have attended “retreats” in the past, I am aware that usually a lot of awesome things happen and/or are discussed at retreats. Is the bulk of the June 3rd meeting going to be held in closed (executive) session? If so, why? If not, I am curious what else is being planned?
Also, I noted that various reasons for Executive Session are being highlighted on BoardDocs – please pass along my thanks to whomever made that decision, I appreciate it.


Dr. Wiegand responded:

The administrative appointments will be for the Interim Principal at Garden Hills and the Administrator for the Alternative to Suspension Program.

The retreat on Monday will be facilitated by the Illinois Association of School Board representative, Patrick Rice.  Since it involves self-evaluation it takes place in Executive Session.  I do plan on holding on a Board/Admin Retreat later in June (date not yet secured) similar to what we did in the past, and this will be in open session to discuss goals for the 13-14 school year, along with our work on how to become a more student and family centered organization.


Having been to a a couple of the board retreats (the public ones), I encourage the public to pay attention and perhaps even participate if possible.


As to the Garden Hills Interim Principal, I have heard from a couple parents and I encourage them (you) to make your comments public as you see fit.

Garden Hills and the International Baccalaureate® Magnet program

This morning I took the opportunity to meet with Garden Hills Principal Cheryl O’Leary, Unit 4 Magnet Grant Directory Cheryl Camacho and a couple other staff – together we walked the halls of Garden Hills, popped into a few classrooms and talked about the International Baccalaureate® (IB) program. Why Garden Hills? Because I felt that of the three Magnet Schools, the IB program is the one I felt most confused about (I mean, just the name “International Baccalaureate” tends towards obfuscation).

Yet after meeting with these folks, I am quite amazed on various different levels. So this post will be unashamedly subjective, but I do hope to throw enough objective material in here to grab your attention. 🙂

First and foremost, the open door perspective was made quite clear; O’Leary mentioned this several times, but also the welcoming nature of just walking into a classroom and talking to students about what they are learning, and seeing the IB concepts plastered on a wall for all to see conveyed a feeling of “just come and see.” So that is the first thing I leave you with – if you have questions, ask; if you are skeptical, go check it out. You may disagree, but I very much doubt you will be disappointed.

For those of you that Read the rest of this entry »

New website for Magnet schools

Fresh from Unit 4’s Facebook:


Not too shabby; decent layout, nice javascript buttons, 6 nav buttons, each with one or two pages behind it. Simple, gets the job done. Kinda strange that it does not link to any other external pages – not even Unit 4’s own pages.


And just in time for tonight’s forum.

What's wrong with this picture?

As a child (and even as an adult, truth be told), I rather enjoyed the “What’s wrong with this picture?” on the back of Highlights magazines. There is a picture with several humorous “impossibilities” or “extremely unlikely” nuances, for instance, a fish walking a dog. Or a car with a doughnut wheel. Or a fire hydrant spitting out grape juice.

When looking at the school district, there are several things that just seem wrong. Unfortunately, they are far more serious. Read the rest of this entry »

My heart is warmed

This might be slightly atypical of me (to get all gushy and everything), but I was truly touched to read many of the stories behind the “40 under 40“. This reminded me that lots of good people are out there doing good things. Even if you never read about it anywhere else. I confess I spend a good bit of time complaining and griping – I hope to make up for that one day. 🙂


It is cool to know some of the people on that list as well. I am challenged to get to know more of them. Now I have to set aside time to read all those stories carefully. Shout out to Jamar Brown and Gavin Horn! 🙂


In similar news, Brian Nudelman emailed me information about the Parkland/Garden Hills homework club – they have some really cool stuff going on!! Lynn Peisker and Lauren Smith have talked about these in the past, but I finally got my radar tuned in. I am starting to think “Wouldn’t it be awesome if every school had a Homework Club?!” I know Stratton already started down that path, and a number of schools have Kids Plus (which is great, but I get the impression it is not quite the same thing).