It takes a village, part 2


In Kijita (Wajita) there is a proverb which says ‘Omwana ni wa bhone,’ meaning regardless of a child’s biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.

Previously, I mentioned I talked with Angela Smith and Orlando Thomas on the topic of discipline, a conversation which ranged into the topic of community partnerships and collaborations. Specifically, Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas both suggested I talk to Ms. Karen Simms. It was great advice. 🙂
Ms. Simms presented at the Feb 13th BOE meeting – I encourage you to look through the documents posted on BoardDocs:
I recently had the privilege to speak with Karen Simms. I first gave a little background about why I had visited Ms. Smith and Mr. Thomas, namely Mr. Terry Townsend’s letter of complaint to the OCR. Ms. Simms indicated she was quite familiar with the Consent Decree and the Plaintiff class. She went on to say that one of goals of the Promise Zone initiative is to “build on the work of the consent decree”, specifically by changing policies and practices. This is important as district leadership and boards change over time.
When I mentioned that the information she presented on the Promise Zone looks like Imani Bazzell’s work with “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”, she said that Promise Zone “gives teeth to Imani’s ideas.”
I have a lot of respect for what Imani has done in regards to “Great Campus” and “At Promise of Success”. Here are two earlier blog posts on that topic:
I love it that certain entities have been working hard to create tailored environments for some of our most “at risk” children. I want to be careful about using a label like “at risk”; perhaps another way to say it is that Promise Zone creates a village for students that do not otherwise have a village. In Ms. Simms’ Feb 13th BOE presentation, on slide 5 she references the work of the Community Schools initiative (also shared at the Feb 13th BOE meeting) and that of Cradle to Career. At the bottom of the slide, she has a quote that is most apropos:

Community building must become the heart of any school improvement effort.
— Thomas Sergiovanni

A few years ago I suggested that perhaps we are asking the wrong question when we ask about money – we should be asking about how we can provide optimal learning environments. It seems to me that Promise Zone tackles this question for minority students that are currently not served well by the status quo.
In time, I truly hope this idea catches on and is able to scale up. I firmly believe we need more overlap and intersection between what we call “community” and “school”.
PS – for those that wish to watch the Feb 13th BOE meeting, it is up on Vimeo:

State of the District

Last night at the PTA Council meeting, Dr. Wiegand gave a “State of the District” presentation to those assembled – here is the PDF slidedeck of the presentation:


I am told there were some additional things shared by folks like Marc Changnon on the awesome progress with trades, and others on the topic of computational thinking.


At 50 slides, it doesn’t take too long to flip through them all. I would direct your attention to the slides on the “Great Campus” idea (what Imani Bazzell has re-christened as the “At Promise … of Success” initiative); obviously there is more behind the scenes then what you can read on those slides. Pattsi is going to ask “what more is behind the scenes?”, so I will reference an earlier blog post:


I believe Dr. Wiegand and Imani (and others) have been meeting on this topic a bit.


There are also a fair amount of slides on the U4Innovate initiative.

For me, I was disappointed about the lack of meat in the slides regarding Goal 2 (“community-involved planning process”). Also, the last goal (Goal 6) is about capital planning, and I would like to take some to chew on the HLS numbers a bit. I still very much want to see participatory budgeting come to Unit 4, especially in light of how the saga of the referendum is unfolding. My goal is to build consensus and ownership among the stakeholders so we are not constantly splitting votes down the middle and having these 11th hour pseudo-public debates about how to spend tax dollars.

Sept 8th board meeting has a number of interesting topics

There are some fascinating things being talked about at the Sept 8th BOE meeting next week. For those that are curious, you can view the agenda on boarddocs (you have to manually drill down, as the interface does not allow to “deep link” the agenda directly):


Three topics in particular jump out at me:

  • Community Schools Presentation: Dr. Judy Wiegand
  • High School Programming: New Central and Renovated Centennial: Marc Changnon
  • Memorandum of Understanding – School Resource Officer Program: Tom Lockman



Community Schools Presentation

This is the fruit of Imani Bazzell’s Great Campus labor; it is a reflection of the Coalition for Community Schools attempt to forge partnerships between the schools and the community. There is so much awesome wrapped up here, I hope you have an opportunity to look through the documents and digest this a little. Hats off to SisterNet, Root Causes, “At Promise … of Success” and everyone else involved; you all have done some amazing work.

One of the things that tickles me pink about this effort is that it specifically targets the special needs of at-risk kids, not by forcing them into some kind of standardized or institutional “program”, but rather it encourages the local community to embrace the children (and adults) in a way that is mutually beneficial. They are using the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model. I dearly hope that the larger community, not just the target zones on the north end, will be compelled and inspired to join hands with this effort as well. I know I want to plug in and play a small role in improving the community I live in.

Check out these links available on boarddocs:


High School Programming

Mr. Marc Changnon is just a really cool guy. 🙂 His presentation on being “college and career ready” is very similar to what board member Kerris Lee has been saying about the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS). There are a lot of imbedded ideas that really excited me about these initiatives, speaking as one who grew to abhor the traditional delivery of education the “higher” I got. I love the idea of project-based tasks, of students taking control of their educational path and empowering the students to think critically. I love the hands-on nature of these concepts, of not being satisfied with mere theory, but placing an emphasis on doing it, right now. And it really excites me that these experiences are being tied to larger, long-term life goals.


Memorandum of Understanding

Otherwise known as a MOU, this legal document is the result of the discussions and dialog surrounding the contentious decision to move forward with the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. It is my understanding that there is also a concerted effort to more frequently evaluate the program and provide a deeper level of accountability.



Of course, there are other topics on the agenda as well. If something perks your interest, feel free to share.

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


An incomplete historical snapshot of bond issues, tax levies and referenda

After attending and chewing on the Community Dialog about various school options (which all lead to big tax referendums), I got to dwelling on the the Elementary School options. Partially, as I said before, I was surprised to see them in the packet on Tuesday in the first place. So let me state right off the bat, I am fully aware and acknowledge that our school buildings, at all levels, need a bit of help. We have known this for over two decades. The sad part is that we have not come up with a good plan to deal with these issues, which has resulted in a snowballing problem, an escalating urgency that eventually borders on a crisis.

First some definitions and attempts to bridge the financial jargon.

  • Bonds (Sales Tax Bonds, Working Cash Bonds, etc): Basically, these are long-term loans, like mortgages.  The district gets a bunch of money from a bank to do stuff, and the district slowly pays back the loan (including interest) over 20 years (typically). To “issue” a bond is therefore to put oneself in debt to another.1
  • Tax Levies: This one is a bit harder for me to wrap my head around, but here goes. We pay property taxes, right? Various groups get a slice of the pie from those property taxes, and public education usually gets the biggest slice.2 The tax levy by the Board of Education therefore determines exactly how big that slice will be. 3 5 7 Gene Logas often bragged that Unit 4 has one of the lowest rates going.4 At the same time, Gene complained that “tax caps hurt”. 6
  • Referenda: The law states that when the school district wishes to acquire more money above and beyond what tax levies can bring in, the school district can ask the voters to approve more money via vote during an election in the form of a referendum. Obviously, this does not happen often because taxpayers typically do not want to pay more taxes. The Working Cash Bond is special because it slips under a certain ceiling that allows the district to raise property taxes without a voter approval.

(NOTE: Both Gene and Greg were amazing warehouses of information, but even more impressive was their willingness to sit down and explain things to folks like me)

Elementary School funding (and lack thereof)

While there is a rich plethora of statistics, financial data and worthy history, I am going to just rewind the clock to 1998 and focus on the elementary schools and related funding projects.

Gene Logas tells that Read the rest of this entry »

systemstate dump (aka, flushing out my head)

Over the past week or so, I have been reading and searching (is that called researching?). I am a bit overwhelmed and so for the sake of my own sanity, I am going to dump it all right here in a post. I apologize up front if this is in a format that is hard to consume.

Warning: Clicking “read more” may give you a link-heavy wall-of-text. Read the rest of this entry »

Wednesday at Houlihans: update

So first off, no “official” gathering next week (Dec 21). But don’t let that stop you from reinforcing the habit of dropping by at 11:30 on a whim. 🙂

This week (Dec 14th), we continued to have some excellent discussion. Again, I fear I am not going to do justice to all that was said, so I am hoping (again) that others pipe up and share their thoughts. We had with us a Champaign Council rep, an EEE Committee member, a Prairie Fields Homeowners’ Association BOD rep, myself and Chuck Jackson. Looking back at that list, I am realizing that all those folks wear multiple hats as well.

Wanna hear what we talked about?  Read the rest of this entry »