Next Choice Committee meeting: November 3rd

A “save the date” was recently sent out for the next Schools of Choice Committee meeting:

Please save the date for our next Schools of Choice Committee meeting on Tuesday, November 3rd from 10:0011:30 a.m. at the Family Information Center!

Additionally, here is a link for the meeting minutes from the last meeting (June 2nd):

I expect that an agenda will be sent out in the days before the meeting. I am quite pleased that the district is considering the possibility of posting historical data for the purposes of showing trends and informing parents; as such, this may be the last Choice meeting I go to. In my opinion, the next big hurdle is dealing with the frustrations that come out of being unassigned, and the inherrant confusion for parents trying to choose only one or two schools. I believe the district is very much aware of these issues, and it seems like they are going down a better path than previous years.

Schools of Choice will always be contentious; we will always have parents that move near a school and expect/hope to go to their nearby school (which makes a lot of sense, who wouldn’t?!?). But because our housing patterns are very much segregated, the current approach to promote and promise diversification of our schools is to assign and bus students hither and yon. On that note, the late Greg Novak had an idea to address these issues:

Personally, I really like the idea of community schools, and I would augment Mr. Novak’s plan by placing one or two “community schools” in traditionally low-income areas – if anything, those areas are more in need of community (I think, I could be wrong). The one big question is one of equity (as opposed to equality); how do we ensure that every child is receiving and has access to all the tools they need to succeed? Every. Single. Child.

Ultimately we must answer the question “What problem are we trying to fix?” My response to that question is that I see a problem of kids who drop out, commit crimes and end up in a punitive, misnamed “correctional facility”. It is our moral and societal obligation to do all we can to make sure each child is successful and supported, and we have to do that while working together.

"A Possible Plan" by Greg Novak

The following was sent to me with permission to post from members of Greg Novak’s family. It is my understanding that Greg wrote most of this while he was in the hospital in January of 2012, and shared bits and pieces with various board members and people close to him. We have waited to allow an appropriate amount of time to pass to give respect to Greg and his family. With the recommendations from DeJong-Richter now in Dr. Wiegand’s hands, which will be presented to the new board this coming Monday (May 13th), I felt the time was right to give light to Greg’s thoughts as a way of continuing the ongoing discussion of what to do with our schools. Speaking on a personal level, I tend to listen whenever Greg speaks because he knew what he was about and was no slouch in the research department.

One final note: it’s totally ok to disagree. 🙂 All I ask is that you present a viable alternative.

A Possible Plan
By Greg Novak

Champaign High School (Country Fair)
Grades: 10-12

Champaign Academy (Centennial)
Grades: 8-9

Champaign Middle School (Franklin)
Grades 6-7 (North-East Regions)

Champaign Middle School (Jefferson)
Grades 6-7 (South- West)

Elementary Specialty Schools

Garden Hills
Dr Howard (2 strand +gifted)*
South side (2 strand K-7 balanced calendar )*
Westview (balanced calendar K-5)

*. These two buildings would be three strand at K-1, and two strand above that level. Dr Howard would have additional gifted

All of the above schools would have class limits imposed and monitored

“Neighborhood” Elementary Schools

Boulder Ridge

These six schools would each have a large “neighborhood” assigned – and any student from the “neighborhood” would have a seat there. Class size is NOT capped at neighborhood schools.

Families would have a choice of either their “neighborhood” school or attending one of the magnets.

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 »

Jan 14th Reg Board Meeting: new school board members, new school attorney, lots of data


It was an interesting board meeting tonight, although I fear “interesting” does not do the meeting justice. I don’t have the energy to write about it all now, so here are some highlights:

  • Another bevy of recognitions, including plaques and commendations for Greg Novak and Gene Logas, presented to Donna Novak and Nina Logas respectively.
  • Scott Leopold presented a veritable plethora of data and information about the targeted phone surveys (I hate using the word “quantitative”) and the latest update about the research efforts of Dejong. Overwhelming in fact.
  • Agenda line-item 10.a was removed from the agenda and then put back on the agenda at 9:50 pm after basically everyone had already left (and the tv cameras had stopped rolling I am sure); Tom Lockman will be the new school district attorney. Vote was 4-1 – oh how I wish I could write more about that.
  • As reported by Meg, a new (permanent) program for emotional disabilities/mental health was approved – board members asked some good questions
  • Oh, also as Meg reported (*grin*), two new board members; Arlene Blank and Phil van Ness. A few other candidates were also in attendance and stuck around to the bitter end.

UPDATE: Meg wrote another article about Lockman:

More about High School Configuration

Apparently, Unit 4 has been putting some serious thought into a part of Greg Novak’s “master plan” (I’m not sure that is what he called it, but that is what I am calling it). When looking through the June 11th Board Meeting agenda, one of the first presentations is by a University Master student:

The high school options under consideration include a change from the current grade configuration of K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.  One of the options under consideration includes changing the middle school grade configuration to include grades 6 and 7, a prep academy that would have grades 8 and 9, and one high school grades 10-12.  Previous presentations from Central and Centennial Administration highlighted the positive aspects of this configuration, along with the limitations.

In order to inform the Board and the Champaign Community, a thorough literature review was conducted by University of Illinois Graduate student, Lisa De La Rue.  This evening, Lisa will share her findings as it relates to grade configuration, student achievement and participation.

[Note: the “[p]revious presentations from Central and Centennial Administration” were mostly negative towards this configuration :)]

School Configuration – A relatively short (22 pages) look at how “configurations” affect achievement. Basically, there are tons of factors that affect achievement and one kinda has to roll the dice on configuration. More significant factors are probably the downstream effects of the configuration; for example, how resources are allocated, the number of transitions, the climate of the school atmosphere, etc. Great short list of “quick points” starting on page 19.

Bibliography – Includes an almost one-page summary for each of the 23 sources cited


It is interesting that Unit 4 is stepping up the ante by engaging the University this way. I think this is what some of us have been wanting for a while. I also wonder if Dr. Wiegand is taking advantage of the fact that she graduated from the College of Education from the University. 🙂 That would so totally make sense.


So if you are at the Board Meeting on June 11th, you are going to get a double whammy of high school options. Come prepared with thoughts and comments.


Looking at the rest of the agenda, I am amazed at how huge it is. Wow! And most of it is via Dr. Wiegand. This is going to be a challenging meeting for her; Gene was such a core piece of the team and carried a lot of weight, and now not only is Dr. Wiegand picking up that weight, but she also has to deal with the loss of a person. My thoughts and sympathies go out to her.



Houlihans: Board President Sue Grey to join us March 21, and a recap from previous Houlihans

First, just a reminder that Sue Grey has agreed to meet with us tomorrow (March 21st). I have asked her to give me an update once a month what is on the Board’s plate. The last time we met, Sue mentioned that the Board is rather concerned about “pension funding, transportation funding and the early childhood  programs funding”.

I realize it is Spring Break; but if you are around and want to chat, please drop by.


And finally, I want to wrap up some thought from previous Houlihans gatherings, which I have not yet properly documented. And unfortunately, I didn’t take notes so I am going strictly from memory and using my announcements to jog them.

In attendance at the February 29th Houlihans, we had Greg Novak, Pattsi Petri, Chuck Jackson and myself. Greg made a joke about now being a tyrant (in light of the Feb 27th Special Board Meeting). Also, Tom Lockman dropped by to say ‘hi’ (woot! Two Board Members – a new record), but he was really meeting someone else. He did clarify a couple points for us, but I do not recall them off the top of my head. Greg reiterated points he had been making about the need to address deferred maintenance. We had some back and forth discussion about communication (and the lack thereof), about perceptions and how the Board and the community are not on the same page. We talked about how we thought the pricetag associated with the wireless technology was rather high, and we questioned why one of the schools (BTW? I forget now) had, on average, 3 computers per child.

In a follow-up email on March 6th, Read the rest of this entry »

Greg Novak's website has been re-opened

William Vavrik has re-opened Greg’s old website. Please stop by and leave comments, discuss, etc.


We have opened up the comments on this site to allow everyone to leave a comment that the family, friends, and community could read and share about Greg Novak.

Information on the services is provided below.

Sunday March 11, 2012
4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.
Morgan Memorial Homes

Funeral Mass
Monday March 12, 2012 – 10:00 A.M.
St. Patrick Catholic Church – Urbana, IL

Posted in Community. Tags: . 1 Comment »

Special Board Meeting: March 8th

When I found out that the Vavriks were going to the Special Board Meeting tonight, I decided to go and show support. I had no agenda whatsoever. It was quite emotional; Gaby McClellan shared some very heart-felt sentiments on behalf of the PTA Council, affirmation of Greg of the family, and how Greg took her under his wings as she started getting involved in the school district. The Board moved into executive session and we chatted with the media a little, trying to remember things about Greg. Gaby did a great job! You’ll see her on the news and in the paper.


The more people I hear and the more stories I read, it is amazing how many lives Greg touched. For me personally, that in itself is a testimony of who Greg was. As I stated to the WILL reporter when asked what his greatest accomplishment was, I said Greg won everybody’s respect, no matter where they were in life. I also begin to see the many interwoven relationships. How Judy Wiegand was good friends with the Novaks. As well as Tommy Lockman. How Donna Novak was, at the very beginning, both Greg’s boss and girlfriend. 🙂 How Greg spoke so highly of Jamar Brown when he was elected to the Board. I could go on and on…. I’ll defer to the historians to record the deeds of one of their own.