Another email discussion thread about HS siting and the #unit4ref

I sent an initial email to the “Friends of Champaign Schools” and “Keep Central Central” committees, asking that they set up a panel/debate/forum between their two groups. The thread kind of took on a life of its own, and I feel that enough of it is relevant and contains important considerations for the wider audience to chew on, if you feel so inclined to read a little bit. I wish these email tennis matches were in a completely different medium, since email tends to be very tediuous to piece together and make into a nice page.


I also hope that the folks engaged in this email exchange take it to the next level and actually have a public forum of some sort.

Asking the Park District board for Dodds Park

A group of folks, including at least one board member and a board member candidate, will attend the next Park District board meeting and inquire (again) about the possibility of securing a small portion of Dodds Park for the new Central High School. The News-Gazette has run several articles (1, 2, 3, and there are more, including letters-to-the-editor) mentioning that the school district would much prefer Dodds Park if it becomes available, and there are several folks in the community who also favor this site. If you are one of them, I encourage you to make your voice known at this meeting.


The meeting is Wednesday, Jan 14th, 7:00 pm at the Bresnan Meeting Center, 706 Kenwood Road (near Centennial).


Of course, I realize that there are those that think Dodds Park is a horrible location. Nothing stops you from attending the same meeting. 🙂

Jan 5 Special Board meeting

Even though it is two hours long, I encourage you to at least check out the beginning of the video of last night’s BOE meeting:

UPDATE: Public comment starts at 23:10


Nicole Lafond also did an article:


In talking with Kerris, it sounds like the plan that several board members had been working on was, for one reason or another, not highlighted. Chalifoux asked a question about it, but that is about all we hear. Kerris has told me he is going to do a little digging to see what the story is.

NG articles this morning; covering both sides of the referendum

A nice bevy of things to read in today’s paper:


Julie Wurth’s article goes into quite a depth covering both sides of the story, and references a study of which only a few pictures are included in the 6-page PDF, as well as previous studies. The editorial highlights two distinct viewpoints of the $149 million referedum, closing with “Next Sunday, The News-Gazette editorial board will offer its opinion on the Central/Centennial proposal.” I have not yet had the time to digest what both outstanding ladies have said, but I hope to do so later today. In the meantime, I recommend you read these articles as they are excellent windows into differing perspectives.

A report and opinions from the Chamber’s breakfast with the Superintendent

I was openly included on some email exchanges (not blind copied) – I am not sure why, and I am not going to opine at the moment, just put these out there so you can read it.

UPDATE: I created a page for this thread and will update the page as new emails are received. Feel free to bookmark this:


Letter to Dr. Wiegand and the Board from a community citizen

A letter addressed to Dr. Wiegand and the Board was copied to me, so I am adding this to the general ongoing dialog concerning the high school site selection and future facilities:



Three NG articles added to the NG Index

I purchased permission to convert three print-only News-Gazette articles to an electronic format and post here on this blog – all three have been added to the NG Index:

YMCA plans new facility (J. Philip Bloomer – 22 Sep 2002)

Champaign schools net high legal tab (Diane Haag – 06 Oct 2002)

Real results of Unit 4 Schools consent decree (Dr. Mike Woods – 01 Jul 2012)

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.

The third (or fourth or fifth) highschool idea

In regards to a couple of recent “letters to the editor”:


Again, I will go back to a presentation by Lisa De La Rue who suggested that, after doing an extensive literature review, the optimal size for a school is 600-900 students. Currently, Unit 4 is planning for two 1700-hundred-student high schools. According to the FAQ, allegedly this is “what the community wants”. I personally disagree with this general statement, based on the way the original Dejong-Richter questions were asked, and the fact that even Dejong-Richter mentioned that a third high school is worth discussing. It was never discussed.


To this date, Unit 4 has had a narrow focus of looking for 1700-hundred-student high school on a plot of land whose size requirements seem to bounce around a lot, from 35 acres to 80 acres to 47 acres. I have not heard Unit 4 talk about possibly doing a third high school altogether. And for that matter, what about 4 or 5 total high schools? You think I am crazy – the administrative and logistical overhead for that many high schools would make them cost inefficient. A very interesting thought, considering that the primary purpose of a public school system is to teach kids, not cut corners. If the focus is truly to make kids successful at life, we should be asking how does that best happen. And yes, I realize that there are many different theories, opinions and passionate arguments about how best to “do” education. Most likely, there is no one single answer, no silver bullet – our society, our technology and our understanding of the universe around us continues to change every second. Our approach to education and pedagogy must be equally agile. But since it has not been, we are stuck where we are today, arguing and complaining about where to put a so-called “21st century” high school.


Here are some quick thoughts on the “more than 2 high schools” scenario:

  • More flexible and dexterous in the long-run; a building can house a set number of students, but can be re-purposed as either a high school or a middle school or even a PreK building in the future.
  • Most immediately address physical space needs at the lowest cost – you don’t need to spend mega millions on brand new facilities that house a large population of students.
  • Infinitely more options open up where you can put that smaller building. Judah site? Bradley and Neil? Bristol Park? West of I-57? North of I-74? South of Windsor Road?
  • Yes, under the current model there would be more administrative staff. But do we really need all those positions at smaller schools? I question why we have so much overhead – is it purely because of all these myriad unfunded mandates from lawyers, the Koch brothers, DC and Redmond?


Lest we forget, this whole dilemma is much more than just a high school. This effects how we plan for the future, how we “do” education, and what we prioritize as a community.



“We’re going to live inside this ring”

Today’s subject comes from a News-Gazette article in today’s paper (“Since you asked: July 18, 2014“). In my limited experience, municipalities don’t appear to think about the end game too much – it’s all about growth. For example, several years ago I asked my village representatives what the goal population was, and the only answer was as big as possible. That is a horrible answer! The several local Comprehensive Plans and Strategic Plans I have looked at for Savoy, Champaign and Urbana are lacking in any kind of holistic picture of what population size we are aiming for.


There is another kind of growth that occurs without bounds. It is called cancer. And I think that pretty much describes our collective approach to planning these days – grab as much as possible, and damn the consequences.


In Thursday’s paper, the NG printed a copy of a column by Esther Cepeda, a resident in the Chicago area who has written quite a lot about Chicago and issues concerning education, politics, Latinos, ethics and poverty. The Thursday article is a very painful reminder of how a large city like Chicago has become extremely skewed, twisted and unmanageable. Bruce Knight (City of Champaign Planning & Development Director) tells me that Champaign is not Chicago, and while I totally agree, I also acknowledge that Chicago did not become what it is overnight, but rather over a century. It is the mentality of the people in charge that make the most difference. We have our own sordid stories of murder, rape and other heinous crimes; and if we were to map them all out (which I believe the City of Champaign does, but I cannot find it at the moment), those crimes tend to concentrate around specific geographic locations. I fear we are too “reactive” instead of being proactive. Please note that I am not laying the blame for our situation at the feet of any one person – rather, it is many long years of corrosion of the human condition. Just like cancer.


On several occasions on this blog, I have written about other issues like “social justice” (a term that is hard to nail down), poverty, racial and cultural inequities. I continue to assert that all these issues are interwoven with education, specifically free, public education that strives to equip all our learners with the tools necessary to succeed at life. It is my belief that a strong public support of this kind of education is not only a moral obligation (Dr. Edna Olive), but also one of the best forms of prevention for our societal health. Just like brushing teeth, eating healthy, exercising, and regular checkups. Or for another analogy, changing the oil in your vehicle and bringing it in for scheduled maintenance. And for those of you that like to think in business terms, the Return On Investment (ROI) is huge – for the little bit you put in day by day, you reap many more times in rewards and benefits.


Most likely, some day in the future we will have schools (plural, yes) north of I-74. Maybe we will have schools west of I-57. Maybe Tolono will put a school between Unity and Savoy. To me, all these are lesser of an issue than having a plan in place that will prevent the atrocities we see today. Yes, we are not the Chicago of 2014; let us not walk in the steps of Chicago of yesteryear. Pointing fingers at drug users, gang bangers and promiscuous women never solved the problem (“War on Drugs”? “War on Poverty”? “War on Terrorism”?). We need to address the root issues of these malignant behaviors in the first place, and I firmly believe that can successfully happen in the schools.


We do not know if we will have a massive November school referendum or not; we will probably see a question on the ballot about bumping property taxes significantly to build a new high school and to renovate one or more other schools. This community is widely divided on the issue of supporting such a referendum, because we are not on the same page at all. We have no overall plan for what is best for all of us. Instead we have personal agendas, rife with opinions, perspectives, history and experience. And too often our personal agendas are not compatible with others.


Board members say we have been talking for years (even decades). Yet with all this talk, we have no plan that maps out what our future will look like. Some say they are done talking and ready to walk. Draw me a ring.