Will we need a Plan B?

With Julie Wurth’s latest update (New Central High School: it’s back to Interstate Drive), prepare yourself for a November ballot question, “Will you spend x millions of dollars to build a new Central, refurbish Centennial, and possibly fix up South Side and Dr. Howard?”

 

There are several angles to this I wish to address. First I am going to defend the board and the administration. *grin* But I will not stop there, so please keep reading.

 

A large number of those who leave comments on the relevant NG articles (see my Index if you want a comprehensive list) demonstrate that they do not fully understand the historical context of how we have arrived at where we are. I will even go so far to say that some are being purely emotional and just spouting opinions that have no basis in reality whatsoever. It is easy to say the board/administration is not listening. Isn’t it odd that Unit 4 has spent over $200,000 on multiple consultants and experts to “prove” that they are listening (that is not meant to be flame bait – hold on a couple paragraphs)? Casting such a wide net of blame is not fair; “Wah! The board didn’t pick my favorite option, they must not be listening to me!! WAAAHHHH!” The board and administration have heard many things from the community; in all that, they have finally made a decision to act and are acting on a portion of community feedback that is easiest for them to work with, aka “low hanging fruit”. You know the saying, “haters gonna hate”? It is impossible to reach 100% consensus, so we will always have a group of people who do not like “the idea”, no matter what the idea is. To give credit to the board, they have not been idle; aside from the forums and other opportunities at various school district locations, individual board members have made themselves available and Dr. Wiegand has been on Penny for Your Thoughts to answer live questions, not to mention a twitter chat that some were able to take advantage of.

 

I must also remind the larger community that over the past several decades Unit 4 has done just about nothing to plan ahead for capital growth, not until the past 6 years or so when a semblance of a plan has been batted about. I cannot blame the current board and administration for that; it was an inherited problem. It should be obvious that we need to do something – renting out trailers to house additional students is a horrible long-term plan. That’s a black eye for any proud community.

 

Finally, way too many people are ready to cast stones without even going through the steps of representative government; if you don’t talk to board members, if you don’t show up at board meetings (*cough cough*), if you do not participate in the public “Community Conversations”, and if you don’t make alternative suggestions before the 11th hour, can you really expect to start complaining now and have it mean much?

 

And now I am going to flip it around. As much as the community has issues, so does the board and the administration. Karen has talked about the “Delphi” effect, and from the external evidence we have (not having access to closed board meetings, nor all the many conversations that do not happen in the public sphere), there is certainly the appearance that some group in the school district decided what direction this would take, and then went through the hand-waving motions of engaging the community. There are those of us (tax-paying, voting citizens who do not draw a check from Unit 4 nor sit on the board) who are very much engaged at various levels and yet we have an exceptionally difficult time trying to affect change. There are a lot of heads beating against walls, which leads to trust issues with the school district. Imani Bazzel had a super awesome collaborative effort all packaged up nice and neat for Unit 4, and all that effort and hard work all but disappeared from Unit 4 after the final presentation – never came up with Dejong-Richter or Gorski Reifsteck. Holly Neslon’s excellent work (for FREE!) was largely brushed under the rug as well.

 

To this end, I hold the board at fault for not fully adopting the IASB’s John Carver Governance model. Granted, it is relatively new and the IASB is still in the process of pushing it out, but the board for a long time (ie, at least over the past decade that I have been involved, and I hear longer from others) has had a hard time of demonstrating that they are beholden to the community. It is not that I want the board to do more, but rather, change what they are doing and how they are doing it.

 

 

Circling back to the topic of this thread, “Will we need a Plan B?”

The writing was on the wall back in January that the district was focused on Interstate Drive. Hiring Gorski-Reifsteck and considering Spalding were, I believe, just steps to pacify the angry mobs. 🙂 The district has shown that they are following a loose blue-print that came out of “Great Schools, Together” (GST), to the extent that the 1% sales tax and “Promises Made Promises Kept” were all about achieving some of the goals from GST. The November referendum is just an extension of that effort, to further address the goals outlined in GST. The problem is that the GST is, for all intents and purposes, dead to the community. Most people have completely forgotten about it. The Unit 4 website for GST was absolutely abysmal. Thus, it seems (feels) like this whole business about building a new school and vamping up the high schools is totally out of the blue. On top of that, it is obvious that there are many different ideas on how to proceed from here – the community is very divided.

At this point, I think Unit 4 has a pretty strong backing of followers who fully support any decision they might make. The last minute campaign, which was partially already put into play via the fine Shatterglass videos, will convince some people that yes indeed, Unit 4 is stuck between a rock and a hard place and we need to pass a referendum to build buildings. But there are also a lot of divided community members whose only common point is that they plan to vote “no”.

From where I sit, I believe the November referendum will fail. Why? $100 million dollars is a lot to ask for! Unit 4 has already asked for almost $100 million since 1998, and there is the promise that Unit 4 will have to ask for more again in the very near future. This is a huge burden on our lower income folks, and probably even the nebulous middle-class. Additionally, I think the style and method by which the board has conducted its business has not adequately crossed the chasm of distrust built up over the past couple of decades. And please note, I must again point out that I am not blaming specific individuals for this – rather, it is a huge systemic problem with the way we exercise governance. We need more people to rise up and demand changes. Voting helps, but is a very limited tool.

 

So what is going to happen when (if) the November referendum does not pass? One popular sound-byte reported by the NG is that Unit 4 will get more trailers. Obviously, that is not the only thing Unit 4 will seriously consider; most likely they will try for another referendum. Here is my challenge for all of us – if/when the November public school referendum does not pass, we need to figure out why. Yes, I hear the sentiment that we are “done talking” – however, it has been the wrong kind of talking, in my opinion. With all that talking we did, where are the 20- and 40-year plans? Supposedly we have a GST Strategic Plan and a Capital Improvement Plan, but I found them exceptionally hard to plot a course with. Yes, let us stop talking – let us do more planning charrettes; let us have a Unit 4 classroom that finds solutions for us; let us reflect on our true mission, collaborating with community to training up all learners to be wildly successful at life; let us volunteer for programs like ACTIONS, 1-to-1 mentoring, TALKS, or as a classroom parent or helping in the lunch room or with after-school programs. Heck, get involved with Pre-K and CUC2C.

 

If the November referendum does in fact pass, we need to stand up and support the schools still. Giving up is not an option. If 50.01% voters vote yes, that is what we have to live with and move forward.

Master Facility Plan slides

Since the original slides have not been provided, I have copied them out of the public April 28th BOE meeting Vimeo video. Hence the most horrible resolution. 🙂 There are two PDF documents linked below, one for the DLR Group’s presentation and one for Matt Foster’s presentation. I have a feeling that there text notes that were read during the meeting as well, but there isn’t much I can do about that – watch the video.

 

dlr_milestone_calednar_thumb master_facility_plan_thumb

 

 

Some notes

 

During Mr. Foster’s presentation, it seems like the district has decided to cherry-pick their favorite things from each of the three scenarios originally presented by Gorski Reifsteck over the past couple of months, thus forming a fourth hybrid scenario. Slide 5 has a summary of the things they like, including the plan to convert Dr. Howard into a 4-strand K-8 (900 students). Heather Owen spoke during public comment and concerns with existing discipline issues at Dr. Howard. Slide 6 goes into a little more detail.

 

Slide 2 of the DLR presentation shows a rough timeline from April 15th to May 21st, and Slide 3 has a couple more entries for July and August. A lot of “Co-Labs” in May. Also slide 5 has a little blurb about how DLR visited the high schools for a day and observed what a student’s life looks like for the purpose of “Context Building”. I thought that was a very interesting exercise – not a bad idea at all. 🙂 Maybe more of us should do that.

Next steps in Facility Planning

From Stephanie Stuart:

master_facility_plan_oneAt Monday’s meeting, the Champaign Board of Education heard an update from Gorski Reifsteck/DLR Group about the high school programming work that will be taking place in the coming weeks and months, and discussed a draft Master Facilities Plan for the District as a whole.

 

Champaign-based Gorski Reifsteck and the nationally-renowned DLR Group were hired at the April 13 Board meeting for professional architectural services that will assist the District to program and plan for a new Central High School and a renovated Centennial High School.

 

The two firms have developed a close-knit relationship through working on multiple school projects together over the past several years.

 

DLR Group is ranked number one among architecture firms in the United States in the education market for last five years in a row by BD World Architecture. It also plans and designs more high schools than any other architecture firm in the U.S. DLR Group’s national presence and expert staff, combined with its industry leadership, provide the team with a broad perspective on the latest educational facility opportunities, while Gorski Reifsteck brings a deep knowledge of the Champaign community.

 

Gorski Reifsteck/DLR Group will work with the District to determine academic programs housed at each school and ensure adequate space is allocated for the growing student population. The culmination of this work will be a recommendation to the Board of Education for the educational programming of a new Central High School and renovated Centennial High School.

 

Highlights of the programming process will include:

  • Examining available data
  • Visiting classrooms to observe teaching and learning today
  • Building programmatic data models to quantify space needs
  • Developing program diagrams to show how the high schools will work together
  • Working closely with faculty, administration, and Board members

 

Executive Director of Business Services/CSBO Matthew Foster also presented a Master Facility Plan based on recommendations from the Facility Committee and District administration (please see the attached draft plan). Based on Board feedback regarding the draft plan, this item will appear again for discussion at an upcoming meeting prior to any formal Board adoption.

 

 

Stephanie Stuart

Community Relations Coordinator

Champaign Unit #4 School District

217-531-0252

April 14th BOE meeting agenda has been posted

As I was typing up this post, it occurred to me that perhaps my tone is critical and even negative towards the school district. Know that I very much support Unit 4, and I love many of the things that are going on. Yes, I am critical – but I aim to be constructively critical. The main goal of this post is to raise awareness in the community on various issues and developments, to make people aware and maybe even to generate discussion. I am of the belief that the more we involve ourselves, the more we care and the better we can work together. Yes, we will always have differences of opinion. That is a good thing. 🙂

 

A number of items are on the agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting. One of the first things is a continuation of the future facilities discussion (aka, strategic planning):

We have spent time learning about several potential scenarios regarding our facility strategic plan.  The administrative team would like to recommend that the Board narrow the scenarios for consideration to Scenarios One, Eight, and Nine.    We believe that these three options have many positive elements to consider as we continue to work towards one comprehensive facility strategic plan. 

The three scenarios have been posted as well if anyone wants to compare them:

The meeting minutes from the last few meetings will be “approved” at Monday’s meeting, so we can’t see them, yet. For those that want to get “caught up” in this ongoing discussion, you will have to go back and watch the videos (Vimeo). The News-Gazette also has a bevy of relevant articles and “letters to the editor”. Several of those have a long list of comments from a small group of readers that make for interesting reading in their own right. If I had to summarize, I would say it like this.

The school district feels pressure to get a high school built because 1) previous administrations and boards didn’t do diddly squat to help plan or prepare for growth, and 2) the current projections for growth warn us that within the next eight years, we will be exceeding capacity at all schools. Right now, the school district is concerned that the high schools are already at 103% capacity. There also seems to be a huge amount of pressure to have schools ready for the “21st century”, but it is not clear to me where this comes from. On the other hand, the predominant voice I read/hear from those who are not Unit 4 employees orbit around feelings of frustration, anger and consternation. Especially about plans for land-hungry athletic fields, building out on the edge of town, contributing to sprawl and how much worse the traffic on north Prospect will be.

In the middle of all this, I reflect upon the district’s desire for “community involved planning.” There have been some token efforts in the past to engage and involve the community; much of the current planning and directives come from goals set forth in the 2008 “Great Schools, Together” project. Some of the decisions have been shaped a little by the 2012 DeJong-Richter work. And right now, the Facilities Committee is pretty much carrying the torch (the genesis of the “three scenarios” above). The deadline for the district to submit  a referendum for the November ballot is August, which leaves us with about four months. As expected, the Unit 4 PR machine is in full swing, with a lot of help from the sharp Shatterglass videos (more are in the works). What I long to see is an effort to build unity. How are we addressing some of the deeper issues in our community? What are the deeper issues of our community?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really awesome things going on in Unit 4 – there is a ton of positive energy and excitement all around. Stephanie Stuart has been a “veritable cornucopia” of many of those things; there are also lots of really cool things going on with the Magnet programs, STEM at various schools (not just BTW), cultural understanding and appreciation via efforts of a group out of NYU and also local activist Imani Bazzell. The list goes on.

Back to the agenda.

This next one really concerns me, and I have to get my ducks lined up to make sure I am reading this right.

Agreement for Consulting Services Approval: Tom Lockman

Administration is recommending the approval of the Agreement for Consulting Services with the team of Gorski Reifsteck and DLR Group.

Architectural and professional services would be provided under this Agreement for a fee of $120,000.

 

There is a lot going on here. First off, Gorski Reifsteck was hired to the tune of some $60,000 last year to help the district narrow down the list of 16 different potential high school sites around Champaign down to one. So the fact that they are now being hired to consult on and design the school on a site where they acted as primary consultants in choosing seems a bit controversial to me. Second, this isn’t just about consulting on the architectural designs – this is also about promoting and building support for the November referendum; Gorski Reifsteck is going to be tasked with making sure at least half of the Champaign community votes in favor of a $100+ million referendum.

These raise my eyebrows quite a bit. Like I said, I need to chew on this some more and read up to make sure that I understand this correctly.

 

And to round it off, that previous RFP for 180 second generation iPads was upgraded to fourth generation because nobody wants to sell 180 IPAD 2 units:

Administration recommends the award of the RFP for iPad 4’s to Apple Computer for $68,220.00.

 

I am concerned about the push for “21st century” technology, and all these cool little gadgets (not to mention all the other computer equipment being purchased). I did follow up and talk to a few folks about the World Language program and how these iPads will be used. Again, there is a lot of positive energy and even synergy at various levels. However, there are some downsides as well. One employee I talked to said that they do not even want the iPads because they do not support Flash, and many of their programs require Flash. If the district is pushing these devices, what input from field staff did they take? How are the people who are actually using these things playing a role in the decision and planning of the utilization of technology in the curriculum? Also, in my own experience, using tools like eToys is a bit of a challenge on the netbooks; the trackpads are not that great for general navigation, and some of the finer details are really hard to appreciate. However, in the end what amazes me the most is how kids adapt! You give them a challenge and you watch them figure it out. It is so cool when that happens. Yet we have to figure out how to work with those children for whom these technological approaches are not a good fit.

Nov 18th BOE Meeting agenda is finally posted

Lots of interesting things in here. I’ll hit a few highlights that stand out to me, but you should read it for yourself:

http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/public

 

  • Lot’s of Recognitions
  • Spotlight video on “building a high quality staff” – not yet on Vimeo so I can’t preview it
  • Newly hired high school site selection consultants Gorski/Reifsteck will give their schtick – no presentation available via boarddocs
  • District report card – only Bottenfield and South Side made AYP
  • Three high school students being recognized as Student Abassadors – interesting program, and I have a number of outstanding questions to Joe Williams about it
  • Local software company Codagami won the RFP bid for doing the Controlled Choice program to the tune of $98,500. No word on the actual contract, yet.
  • Other Misc items including a number of things about finances (change orders, Tax levy, grants, donations, etc).

 

Curious if anyone even cares about the Choice Policy anymore. 🙂 I mean, I do, but I have not heard much back from readers at all, yet. The final draft is going in the Consent Agenda (meaning, along with ten other items, it gets voted on in bulk). They threw in the fact that Choice program will also assign students for middle schools, and I take that to mean middle school students who are not matriculating from a fifth-grade Unit 4 school (otherwise they would follow the feeder program).

 

Lastly, I have asked for and am still waiting to see the RFP concerning the high school site selection consultant.

 

where are all the people?

There are several big things floating around, a lot of great achievements and some things to watch out for on the horizon, occluded by various rumors. I am going to try to keep this positive but not in the warm-fuzzy-feelings kind of way, but rather in the look-at-what-we-can-accomplish-together kind of way.

First off, I have to give a big huge shout out to the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ); they had a very significant victory over Champaign County’s plans to dump a ton of tax money into new jails. Instead, they have successfully argued for alternative approaches like new re-entry programs and services to keep folks out of jail in the first place. In my own personal experience, I have observed have fundamentally critical these two approaches are, and how severely they are lacking in our “modern” view of criminal justice. The folks at CUCPJ had an amazing uphill fight, but they carried the day. Perhaps what stands out to me is that CUCPJ operated within the confines of a hairy bureaucratic machine, which is no easy task in and of itself, but they did so with aplomb and perseverance.

On the topic of community citizens banding together for the good of the community, a reader forwarded the following story to me as an inspiration for what determined people can do:

http://youpower.democracyforamerica.com/petitions/northbrook-say-no-to-wal-mart

What these two stories tell me is that when people unite together for a shared central belief, they can be powerful. Granted, in both cases you have passionate visionaries who do not waver at the sight at lawyers and persist through obstinate challenges.

With that in mind, Read the rest of this entry »